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Steelhead, March 2007

Winter Steelhead Fly Fishing - WashingtonIt’s Sunday morning and I’m sitting here at the airport gazing out the window as I wait to board my return flight home.

A temporary break through the low, grey ceiling is revealing a brief glimpse of the eastern slope of a magnificent mountain range lit up in the late morning’s sun…

…My previous 3 days were spent on the opposite slope of those impressive peaks picking through limited fishable water in search of the Pacific North West’s finest – Big Native Winter Steelhead.

The recent “Pineapple-Express” had pretty much obliterated all of the rivers last weekend, quickly pushing them near and beyond flood stage as the unseasonably warm weather smashed into the Pacific Northwest – dumping huge amounts of warm rain on a winter’s worth of snow just one week before the planned trip to my home stomping grounds.

Our first impulse when hearing of the oncoming storm just days before our trip was to postpone for another week but further investigation into the weather forecast for the days following the storm suggested that it could be OK.

A day after the storm, the rivers were dropping as fast as they’d risen and the weather forecast called for continuing dry weather and cold temperatures; just the ticket for what “could” be near perfect conditions. Perfect steelhead conditions this time of year always come with a risk, ALWAYS.


Fully dressed and ready to do battle

Day 1: The western rivers still appeared to need a day or two to drop so we made a run for an eastern watershed that was controlled by a dam and reportedly still “in shape”.


Careless logging practices have decimated native steelhead stocks

The first sign of life came as we walked a mile long overgrown railroad path to a well known run.

It sounded like somebody was throwing bowling balls into the river from the hillside above us. It turned out to be a big beaver announcing his irritation with our presence. The next sign came as Brandon fished his way down river from me to the halfway point of the run where his fly was engulfed by a big dolly. The nice thing about fishing behind somebody through a run is that you get the added bonus of fishing not only your fly, but, with a little imagination, their’s as well. You also get to witness when they screw a cast up and yell down river and ensure that they are aware that you saw it. The bad thing is that they typically get the fish.

Later that day the tables were turned and I got to go through first. This gave Brandon plenty of opportunity to return the observation that when my fly wasn’t tangled in the overhanging trees behind me, it was caught in the brush below me, or up river of me. Fair is fair. In return, I not only got to announce the numerous grabs I was getting as we worked down the 150 yard run, but I also got to put on a few dolly hook-up shows of my own, which by the way, continue to be very difficult to photograph.

Day 2: We arrived on the west side. The river was still a little high and would need a couple more days before any of it below its South Fork would be fishable. Typically this would be fine, but due to storm damage up in the National Park, the upper river was closed just a mile into the park, limiting our fishable water to only a handful of mediocre runs.


Road Block

We quickly fished through what we could


Too bad it was only the bottom

and then decided to do a little exploring on a neighboring drainage where we found a pretty decent run that fished really well, but with no fish.

Day 3: By far the nicest of the 4 days. The previous day’s rain had prevented the river from dropping or clearing any more and had even raised it a notch but the upper river above the South fork was still fishable and we even managed to find a few more dollies.


The hook-up


The wiggle


And finally a decent shot

One of which was unusually cooperative for the camera as it stabilized itself on its pectoral fins long enough for a few shots.


Far from a tight loop


The swing


The hook-up


The shot

The weather was great, even allowing us to ditch the jackets through the afternoon.

Day 4: The rain was back with a vengeance. We got a good run in during the morning before the weekend crowds arrived but after that we decided to bag it. With such limited fishable water and everybody compressed up at the park entrance it was just way too crowded to fish so we decided to check out a few runs on another river on our way home where we found some nice solitude, but no fish.

In conclusion:
4 days, 2 rods, 4 rivers, 0 Steelhead. The problem with catching fish is that you’re anxious to get back out there and do it again. The problem with not catching fish is that you’re that much closer to your next one, and therefore that much more anxious to get back out. I can’t wait to get back up there!

A few more pictures


Rain forest rivers can be a vicious place


This is an area where we typically assemble our pontoon boats. It was hard to believe that it was under water just a week ago.


An example of some of the hazards encountered when floating the river, especially after recent high water


Cutting through the woods requires clambering over some pretty impressive downed trees


The boat launch just inside the park


The USGS graph highlighting our days fished

Check out last year’s Post, Steelhead, March 2006.

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