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OP Winter Steelhead with Jeff

This is part 3 of a 3-part Winter Steelhead trip. Check out…

OP Winter Steelhead with JeffAfter some tough fishing conditions with Dave, and then a few more weather-challenging days with Brandon…

…things were finally turning for the better.

Unfortunately, both Brandon & Dave would be missing it.

Brandon was back behind his desk in Seattle and Dave had returned to the Bay Area to tend to his own obligations.

But… Jeff couldn’t have timed his trip any better.

I picked him up from Seattle last night and this morning we were now on our way back out to the peninsula. Along the drive I’d recapped all the previous days’ fishing and crappy conditions and reiterated to him countless times, “Dude, you couldn’t have timed it better.”

Jeff had fished the Klamath in the summer & fall with me a number of times for small steelhead, with small flies & light gear, under stable, predictable conditions…

…This was his first trip for big winter steelhead with big rods, skagit heads, huge, heavy flies, and drastically fluctuating rivers that change by the hour.

We finally made it to the river around noon and I was in full-fledged fish-nazi mode, anxious to fish that run Brandon had lost that fish in yesterday.

I was wadered-up with rigged-rod in-hand by the time Jeff had his waders unpacked. I tossed him a radio and the truck keys and said, “Fish this run here and get used to casting the bigger spey rod…

I’m hiking down to fish a run a few hundred yards down river.”

“Oh yeah, and keep your radio on!”

Jeff Spey Casting Hoh River

Jeff Spey Casting

It was a long walk down, but when I got there, the water was perfect and looked about as “fishy” as a winter steelhead run can get. The run is huge, and changes with water level so I started up higher than normal to make sure I didn’t miss a thing.

Within a dozen casts I got that slow, stopping, winter-grab. “It could have been the bottom”, I thought to myself, but then came the angry head-surge… and the Hardy began to growl…

“FISH ON!!!” I yelped into the radio.

He instantly replied, “On my way!”

It was a seriously long way to ask someone to come for a photo, but hey, Jeff didn’t know any better and, uhhh… I was, ummm… too busy trying to stay connected with the fish to tell him not to worry about it – yeah, yeah, that’s it…

…It all turned out good in the end. I got pictures and someone to high-five, and not only did Jeff get to see his first Washington Nate, he’d cash-in on the good Karma a little later…

Doug Fighting Hoh River Steelhead

Doug with Hoh River Buck Steelhead

Hoh River Buck Steelhead

We fished-out the rest of the short day checking out a few other runs and one particularly sweet one that was just coming together…

Fly Fishing Hoh River Steelhead

I’m pretty sure I had a grab in it at the end of the day and we both agreed it would be our first-light run in the morning.

The Next Day…

While crossing the side channel with headlamps in the early morning, I asked Jeff, “Top or bottom?”

He called, “Top.”

As I reluctantly walked down to the lower stretch, I noted to myself, “He’s finally catching-on to this… “

I’m gonna have to start switching-it-up on him.

Within 10 minutes of fishing, the radio called-out, “Fish On!”

And Jeff was hooked-up at the top… I knew it!

Jeff Fighting Hoh River Dolly Varden

I laid my rod down and headed up as I got the camera out. On the way I radio’d,“Steelhead?” Jeff replied, “I think so… “. I then asked, “Is he taking line or jumping?”

“He’s not taking line, or jumping. It’s a nice fish though.”

I didn’t say anything at the time, but our rule-of-thumb here is… if you’re not sure, it’s almost always a Dolly, particularly if it doesn’t take line or jump (or “bull trout”, or whatever we’re supposed to be calling them now – I still prefer, “Dolly”, and I’m sticking to it).

Sure enough… Jeff had got into his first DOLLY.

And a really Nice one at that!

Hoh River Dolly Varden

Jeff with Hoh River Dolly Varden

..After some quick pictures we got back to it.

Man, I wanted to fish the top of this run, it was ridiculously sweet… I was expecting to hear Jeff over the radio any second with another “fish on!”

…I was coming to the end of my section, still thinking about how awesome the top of this run was, when suddenly, I got freight-trained, way out in the middle.

The fish NAILED it – Fast and Hard!

“WOOOOO… HOOO…. !!!”, I yelled over the radio back to Jeff…

The Hardy was SCREACHING and the fish was tearing it up…

…I keyed the radio with the Hardy’s screaming for Jeff as he headed down with the camera…

Hoh River Hen Steelhead

It was still pretty early so we decided to head back to the truck and see if we could beat the driftboats to the run I’d got the fish in yesterday…

Jeff Wading Hoh River Side Channel

Me, with Camera Ready, Hoping to Catch Jeff Getting Knocked Over

Wading Hoh River Side Channel

Jeff, with Camera Ready, Hoping to Catch Me Getting Knocked Over

…We pulled up to the next spot and were relieved not to find any trucks or trailers in the parking area. But as we were hiking down the long gravel bar we could hear the noisy driftboat trailers bouncing their way to the water above. Hopefully they’d spend time fishing the upper run, but just-in-case, we decided to split-up the good water to cover it quickly.

My fly was still in the fast, heavy water when it got taken…

…it caught me completely off guard! I’d over-cast to give the fly time to sink, but just as the line came tight from the mend, I was hooked up.

She was an awesome, hot fish and luckily Jeff was nearby. She wore herself out quickly and we had just enough time for a quick picture before the first boat rounded the corner into the run…

Hoh River Steelhead

Hoh River Steelhead Closeup

It’s pretty comical the games you’ll play to protect a good piece of holding-water you’ve found… But hey, these fish don’t come easy – and if they do, you either got real lucky, you’ve put in your time, or you’re fishing with bait.

Hoh River Steelhead Closeup 2

It hadn’t been 24 hours yet since Jeff had joined me on this trip and I’d already got three steelhead (oh yeah… ), and no complaints!

…but now it was time to start focussing on getting Jeff hooked-up.

It’s only a banner day when EVERYONE nailed-em.

Hoh River Log Jam

Though Jeff is the cool kinda guy that would seem just as happy catching, or not catching anything…

Jeff Winter Steelhead Fishing

…it’s my opinion that he’d be a hell-of-a-lot happier if he got into a big, mint-bright nate of his own – whether he knew it or not.

Olympic National Park Trail

We’d covered a few runs in the upper & middle river – without a bump.

So we headed down to the lower river, way down…

I’d been giving Jeff the best pieces of water all afternoon in the upper/middle river and continued to do so when we got down to the lower river.

The first run we hit down here was only big enough for one guy so I told Jeff to take it and I’d poke around in the crap-water above with my radio on and my camera ready.

This was total crap-water. It was way too fast and way too shallow. On my 3rd cast I nailed a small dolly and radio’d the report to Jeff.

My next cast snagged the bottom… or what I thought was the bottom. As I pulled up to dislodge the fly a mint-bright double-digit steelhead porpoised into the air, with my big gaudy marabou fly in its jaw…

…It didn’t take off – like it should have, but instead calmly cruised right up in front of me, and rolled (like a king). I could clearly see my fly in its jaw. I put some pressure on and the hook pulled free.

I radio’d to Jeff and told him about the fish – still not believing it myself. He’d heard the Dolly report, and now the steelhead report and was on his way up.

I pointed out the spot, still in disbelief myself and traded him spots – at his call. The objective was to get Jeff hooked-up so I could go back to fish-nazi mode, and not feel bad about it.

I got down to the lower run he’d been fishing and started working out casts. As my fly was swinging-in I was looking down at my boots noting the clarity. The water was still pretty murky, but at waist deep, I could still make out my boot laces…

…Suddenly a silhouette caught my attention about 6 feet away. As I focused-in I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – it was a big, dark buck steelhead, in the high 30″ range.

Apparently I could do no wrong!

I backed up and never was able to get him to grab. Jeff hadn’t done any good up river either so we headed for the truck and moved down to the next run.

We walked out to the next spot, an absolutely awesome looking run, just above tide-water. It hurt, but I told Jeff to take the top. I’d walk down to explore around at the end of the bar and then head back up and follow him through with a different fly.

It couldn’t have been more perfect…

Fly Fishing Hoh River Winter Steelhead

I’d walked quite a ways, it was begining to rain pretty heavily, and the radio went off…

“Fish On! STEELHEAD!!!!”

Jeff’s got one of the most mono-tone voices you’ve ever heard – virtually no expression, whatsoever…

…This was a new tone.

I did a 180 and started the long run back up river with the camera…

Jeff Fighting Hoh River Winter Steelhead

Jeff Fighting Hoh River Winter Steelhead 2

Jeff Fighting Hoh River Winter Steelhead 3

Jeff Fighting Hoh River Winter Steelhead 4

Jeff French Hoh River Steelhead

Hoh River Winter Steelhead 1

Hoh River Winter Steelhead 2

Jeff French Winter Steelhead

Think I’ll have any problem convincing him to come back up with me next year?

This is part 3 of a 3-part Winter Steelhead trip. Check out…
PART-1: OP Steelhead with Dave
PART-2: OP Steelhead with Brandon

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