Sometime in July, when the last of the winter’s snow has melted out of the mountains, a clear river comes down to summer level. This is not the extreme low water of a late, dry fall, when waterworn rocks are high and dry on either side of the narrow channel, but a good normal sweeping flow of water against which the bars show clearly and the known rocks stand out with the current folding gently on their shoulders. -Roderick Haig-Brown, A River Never Sleeps
I spent yesterday over on the Olympic Peninsula fishing for steelhead. It’s been a couple years since I’ve been there which is a damn shame because it is without a doubt, my favorite place on Earth. I grew up in the Deep South and haven’t traveled that much, but I’ve seen a bit of the world outside and inside the US. Even so, I have never felt as much like I’m in the right spot as when I’m on the OP. Every time I go back and cross Hood Canal bridge, I feel it starting. Once I get past Port Angeles and pass the turn that splits the path to the interior and Forks or up the Strait of Juan De Fuca to Neah Bay, it’s like a veil has lifted and I’m where I need to be. Not sure if it’ll ever happen given the pure pragmatics of life, but I’d really like to lay down some roots over there, even if it’s just a little cabin to escape from Seattle.
Yesterday was just plain amazing. I fished one of the smaller rivers with well known guide Jim Kerr owner of Raincoast Guides. I don’t fish with guides very often due to the expense but in this case it was well worth the investment. I hooked and caught more steelhead in one day than I have in the past two years on my own. More importantly, through his comments/subtle instruction while I was fishing and his demonstrating techniques, I learned more about fishing than I have in any book or video. I hope to fish with him again as soon as I can make it happen. He’s the kind of guide you’d recommend to your closest friends and secretly hope they’ll ask you to come along…
We started early and although the flows are still high for this time of year, they were just about perfect for wading and swinging flies with a lightweight spey rod. The fly of the day was a small, sparse black fly that Jim tied. I’m not a good spey caster at all (really, no false modesty here) but other than the occasional flubbed anchor, at 60-70′, distances weren’t a problem on this river with a light spey rod. However, the brushy banks were high and tight to the river which would have made fishing the far bank impossible with a standard fly rod for most people.
The first fish came on the first or second real cast. The fly was nearing the end of the swing and I was shooting the shit with Jim when all of a sudden I had a “WTF!” moment as something tried to pull the rod out of my hands… My heart was lodged right behind my tongue as I fought the fish waiting for that dreaded sudden loss of tension on the line signaling a ‘long-distance release’. With maybe a bit of luck, I got the fish to a some soft water by the bank downstream. It was a buck showing a little color due to having spent some time in the river. There were other fish rolling in the flat water below us so we stayed put for a bit chatting and casting to the fishy looking seam across the river. Not much later I got what steelheaders crave for, the solid pull right when the fly begins it’s swing. Skunk-pressure having been relieved by the first fish, I was a little less nervous fighting this fish, a brighter hen, and was able to make use of Jim’s instruction on how to handle the control & tire the fish.
After checking the fly, I moved back up the run and continued fishing. Working down a ways, we spotted a roll slightly downriver in line with the far side of my swing. A few casts later, lightning struck for the third time. This time a bright hen got up to some craziness and really made the Hardy Bougle sing with some nice runs and jumps.
Jim was kind enough not to mock my clumsy efforts at holding the first two fish and took pity on me by showing me the proper way to tail the third, this chrome hen. A slippery trout is one thing. A slippery-ass still steelhead, even a smaller summer fish is tough to hold onto if you haven’t done it a lot and are naturally fumble-fingered to boot…
We did a good bit of hiking to get to some less pressured runs and I had four more solid grabs during the day but wasn’t quite skilled enough to make them stick. When walking through a meadowed area we came up on two beautiful cow elk. Jim called to one of them and got a pause and maybe a dirty look(?) from one before she called bullshit and turned tail.
Great weather, wonderful scenery, fantastic guide, and steelhead! I think I must have made a big withdrawal from my karma-bank.
Next up – a ‘no set plan’ road trip with Angus to Idaho to hunt Westslope Cutthroat Trout!