A Season Of Hope
Happy New Year from Chrome Chasers and all the best to you and your families in 2022. My hope this year is that we can move on from a world dominated by divisiveness and Covid protocols back to some level of normalcy. A winter and spring of steelhead arriving from the Pacific to the rivers of Washington's north coast in abundance. That always brings with it hope! Hope for the next fish of a lifetime.
We still have some prime dates available in February and March, 2022. Give us a call to get on the calendar! Cell: 253-255-5963 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Trend I Can Get Behind
If you believe everything you read online these days, some may be thinking they'll never catch a steelhead again. Runs sizes are down from B.C. to California. River systems up and down the west coast have been missing their escapement goals for a number of years now, with the north coast of the OP being an exception. But in a brief moment of positive news these days, NOAA fisheries released its revised Ocean Ecosystem Indicator " Stoplight" chart this past month and some key indicators are beginning to turn around for the north Pacific. We've been in a warm ocean current situation north of the 45th parallel specifically for the past five years, but the new data released from late 2020 thru 2021 shows greatly improved cold water and favorable conditions for salmonids. Not a single "poor" condition rating of any key factor in 2021, and the 2nd best overall conditions for the past twenty years. Assuming this trend continues we should see a rebound in fish survival rates in the ocean, that's great news for steelhead and salmon anglers. Hopefully this La Nina cycle hangs around.
While it's not our native land, I have always had an appreciation for the amazing landscapes of British Columbia and western Alberta. This past August, a fellow guide and I decided to head to Terrace, British Columbia for an impromptu steelhead trip. This was primarily because we were still licking our wounds over a second year of having a trip to Norway to swing flies for Atlantic salmon cancelled because of Covid restrictions. We jumped through all the hoops with a same day covid test, dropped off the dog with a friend, and made our way to the border. We were in sight of the border crossing at Sumas when my phone rang. It was Tom, an industry partner, he said to pump the brakes "the word is they are going to close the Skeena system any day!" Larry and I are looking at each other in disbelief, yes the word was it was a down year, but close the Skeena system entirely? We're both thinking the same thing, you have got to be kidding. I called another guide in Terrace whom I've known for a few years and he said it was possible but thought they wouldn't close it before September 7th...so less travel time we would get close to a week of fishing in before a potential closure. Considering our other options, chasing summer steelhead somewhere on the Columbia basin, we decided to go for it.
After two days on the road, hauling my travel trailer, we finally arrived on Sunday in Terrace to an OP type of rain...it was an absolute down pour. We scrambled on Monday to find someplace to fish, most everything was blown out of course, but by Tuesday things shaped back up and we we're able to spend the next week swinging flies in a beautiful place and having actually a reasonable amount of success considering we were fishing on foot unguided. We both landed several nice fish the first day and felt pretty satisfied with our efforts. Over the course of the next week we had enough success to keep us fishing hard and tired at the end of each day. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever traveled to and feel fortunate to have gotten the opportunity one more time. I hope to be back soon.
Speaking with fellow industry professionals involved in the fishery in BC, it seems that much of the problem with the decline in steelhead numbers recently has very little too due with angler pressure and a lot more with commercial interests and the government's attempt to supplement the commercial fishing business. Much of the upper Babine sockeye spawning grounds have been "enhanced" by BC Fisheries to quadruple the spawning habitat available. That sounds good until the consequences of a booming commercial sockeye fishery out in the delta of the Skeena river system during the prime part of the wild steelhead migration are in conflict. The steelhead aren't declining as much as they are the victim of by-catch of the commercial fishing industry. Again, the shear arrogance of men to think that we can do one better than mother nature and "enhance" sockeye returns, over steelhead that bring hundreds of millions of tourism dollars to these small communities for a catch and release fishery is bewildering.
In the world of sport fishing here in Washington we are in a constant battle as angler's with commercial fishing interests, the various native tribe's fishing rights, special interest groups, and lastly environmental conditions. When do any of us become greater than the fish themselves? We fight over who has the right to kill the last few fish. When do the fish get their own voice? Why can't people stop killing them? In every fishery that I've been around, when people stop intentionally killing fish, the fish thrive. When can we "manage" fisheries for abundance instead of Maximum Sustained Yield? I do believe in harvest where appropriate, but every salmonid fishery I've been around, we take runs that are relatively healthy and we abuse it until we can't meet the escapement model, invented by us, and then modify the management to conform to the new reality. We refuse to see our inevitable future.
This past fall salmon season was a great example of how misguided our "management" is. We had one of the best coho "catching" seasons in a long time. The state decided, thankfully, that low forecasted "wild" fall coho runs precluded a retention season for them. It was therefore determined that only hatchery coho should be retained, but each angler would be allowed to keep a wild fall chinook from all the rivers of the north coast. Now for clarity, this years return of fall chinook were for the most part fish coming back from a spawning year that was closed to all sport fishing for several weeks because of overharvest of chinook by one of the local tribes here on the OP. Yes, you read that correctly, they told us to kill the few chinook coming back this year from a poor spawning cycle five years ago in order to save the wild coho returning this year...What? Unbelievably most of the area guides and anglers did exactly what the state told them to do, they killed kings at the highest rate that I've seen in a long time. A very short sighted correction to an impending problem. Why didn't they close it to retention of wild coho AND wild chinook. Now your probably wondering why the coho season was so good if it was a poor return... well, turns out if you don't kill them there tends to be a lot more fish in the river. Maybe the state will recognize its mistake and close it to all wild fish retention on the rivers in the future until we see a major recovery in stocks.
A Favorite Guide Moment From 2021
The winter/spring of 2021 was a complete game changer for the peninsula's steelhead anglers including no fishing from a boat. For the spey angling community this was a huge bonus, fewer fish were being interacted with from both fly and gear anglers alike from boats, so in theory more fish should be holding in open water. Regardless of where the steelhead were hanging out one thing was obvious...we had more prime water conditions than I'd seen in a number of years on the Hoh and the fishing was pretty darn good overall.
This particular day started off fairly typically, a "ROUGH" launch start, dropping the raft off a 20 foot cliff to the river. My primary concern was getting Mike down to the boat without breaking his neck or his hip, he's over 80 after all, but he must have been feeling good that day because before I knew it he was standing on the gravel bar next to the raft waiting for me. I was needing a few minutes to get myself together so, we started swinging the run at the put in. Mike sauntered across the gravel bar to where I indicated he start his swing and I rounded up a cup of coffee from the thermos and joined him. I'd been doing well in this run, but virtually all the fish had come from one bucket, we'll call it the white rock. To be honest, it looked like the river might be a little too low that day to hold one there. I explained to Mike where in relation he was to the white rock and when he was close to slow down and work the area thoroughly. As he neared the rock, I told him it should happen in the next few casts, always good to create confidence that he's in the right spot and it's about to happen from my experience. I turned around to snap a picture of the fog lifting up over the trees that morning...took a sip of coffee...and heard over my shoulder "oh yeah...oh yeah...OH YEAH BABY" and he was on. After a nice wrestling match between Mike and this steelhead I was able to slide the net under the buck, wishing I had brought the bigger net but managed to shuffle the fish into the basket. We got a nice photo and a great highlight to his spey fishing career with one of his largest steelhead ever. Those are the moments that remind me why I enjoy doing this so much, that will last a lifetime for both of us.
The 2022 Hoh River Winter/Spring Steelhead Forecast
It's all in the name, I think a change to "Conservation Management Plan" might if nothing else sound better. On the bright side the 2022 season forecast is about 10% above last year so there is some silver lining in here. Interestingly, the state has adjusted its mortality rate for catch and release bank fishing from about 8.5% to around 13% last season. This is a revision from last year's creel survey and the estimated mortality rate increase of no boat angling. So according to the state we actually killed more fish as a whole by bank fishing, conservation goal met? Do they truly believe that or is this a way to quantify a larger share of mortalities to sport anglers to reduce tribal take? I'm still a little confused by this one.
After an obviously difficult and bizarre 2020 for everyone, I was particularly looking forward to getting back to our winter steelhead season here on the Olympic Peninsula. Not just because I'm a steelhead addict, it was something I could look forward to...that daily workflow of being on the water 6-7 days per week and avoiding hearing about the news and the nonstop negativity that seems so pervasive these days. Then on December 8th, we had a pretty significant announcement by Washington's Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, changes in our fishing regulations for Washington’s coastal steelhead for the 2021 season. That E-Rule change and my feelings about these regulations are below...
December 14th, 2020, marks the official start of the new WDFW E- Rule change for Washington's coastal steelhead. "State announces changes to coastal steelhead recreational fishing season to meet conservation objectives while preserving angling opportunities" per the December 8th, 2020 WDFW News Release. My immediate reaction to the decision was anger, frustration and a concern for our steelhead fisheries. How will this impact my livelihood and our guides, the fishery I've been involved in for 35+ years, the local economic impact for a small coastal community, and the overall impact to the steelheading community itself. If we stop fishing for steelhead, what voice will be there to protect them? Whether you are an avid nymph angler, die hard swinger, or gear fisher…your angling experience on the Olympic Peninsula, for better or worse, has been changed. That said, I’m getting a lot of phone calls from clients, friends and other industry pros about what the rule changes will do to our fishery as anglers and what it means for the OP’s steelhead. Much negative press is already being published online about the imperiled steelhead of the OP…funny how when a fishing regulation change is made as dramatic as this everyone yells “fire”. It wasn’t being written about last month in every blog, e-mag, sporting magazine and newspaper in the northwest until last week. In reality, everyone I’ve spoken to was excited for the upcoming season, there have been discussions going on with state management for several years about conservation measures moving forward, but until December came we did not expect such a knee jerk reaction from the state. Nothing will be significantly different about this season versus last season except how we fish for them.
Let’s take a look first at what changes this means for our fishery as angler’s. The new regulations changes include no fishing from a floating device, selective gear rules including no use of bait or scent and one single point hook only, release of all wild rainbow trout and coastwide river closures as of April 1st, 2021 during the primary spawning cycle this coming spring. All of these rule changes are straight forward so let’s discuss how it changes our fishery directly.
First off, the big one obviously is no fishing from the boat which impacts us in several ways. Primary being that we clearly cannot cover the amount of water that we did prior to the rule change particularly when we’re nymphing. We will still be floating pristine rain forests, but the time between fishing locations get’s extended giving us time to take it all in, instead of staring at an indicator for hours waiting for a take. Instead we will quickly move to premium fishing spots that we catch 90% of the fish in anyway. Here we can swing, nymph, center-pin, spey-dicator or use any other technique a client wants to. My concern is how many anglers will be "racing" to the next spot creating a backup at prominent fishing spots. For me, I will be avoiding this race, instead likely taking my time and fishing more margins.
Second, it dictates the water that an angler can reasonably fish while wading. This one took some thought, I can’t expect to guide every angler in the same manner, angler wading ability is going to dictate what areas can be fished. What about anglers with a physical hinderance? As it turns out, WDFW has made an exception for those that have a disability that prevents them from wade fishing with an application process that takes approximately 20 days for approval to fish from a boat. So we will have to make fishing location decisions based upon these kinds of factors including angler abilities and their safety. Is it going to be a more difficult fishery, of course, there is no way around that but I also feel like we have an opportunity to have a more meaningful connection to the outdoors and the fish themselves by catching them in more challenging ways. Anglers are going to need to learn new or improve on existing skill sets, I don’t see that as a bad thing. That’s our job, to help reduce that learning curve for clients. Think back to the first time you fished the peninsula throwing around a ridiculously long, super heavy nymph rig or 12’ of T14 on a Skagit line with a 3” bug that felt more like a wet sock than a fly. It wasn’t easy but with time, practice and good coaching we all get better at those skills. I believe that it will have a positive impact for steelhead overall and we become better angler’s because of it with a little time.
As for the last two rule changes including no bait and single point barbless hooks, obviously helpful to the fish. No retention of wild rainbow trout, while I don’t know anyone that does keep trout on the OP, it is important in protecting resident steelhead which are active spawners with adult anadromous steelhead and help to promote genetic diversity across the run.
The fishery has changed. If you haven’t been fishing the peninsula for a decade or more you probably haven’t noticed it. For most, it’s still a world class steelhead fishery… and it remains just that. The peninsula is home to the largest winter steelhead in the world… that makes it a world class fishery, much like the mighty Kenai rivers huge chinook salmon. I have been told by many of our clients over the past several seasons they can’t believe how good the fishing can be on the OP compared to other wild steelhead fisheries they have been active in. But reality is that the numbers are down and have been declining for some time, particularly for the past 5+ years. The north coast of the Olympic Peninsula hasn’t seen as significant a decline as the rest of Washington’s coast, however, it is still down and had the states fisheries managers only made regulation and season changes to rivers outside of the north coast then the entire states worth of winter steelhead enthusiasts would have descended upon the area in numbers that likely would have imperiled it’s steelhead in the future. State fishery managers and the commission who recommends policy changes to the state understood that I believe, and made the decision to go coast wide with the rule. Right or wrong, and I have my own opinion which I’m happy to discuss with anyone, that’s what was done.
Rule changes were made in 2016 because of declining numbers including no bait after February 15th, no retention of wild steelhead, single barbless hooks, and no fishing from a floating device in the upper reaches of the Hoh. Were these rule changes significant enough or the correct changes to give coastal steelhead a better chance to prosper? Well, we know now that they weren’t and some of those changes actually had a negative impact. We don't even have any evidence/facts from the state as to how these rule changes impacted the fishery. Unfortunately, the football has been punted down field ever since to address the problem and now it’s third and long. Is this the hail mary? Should we stop fishing entirely? Are the fish in peril?
Let’s cover some bases first about the current status of coastal steelhead. First, the north coasts numbers on most rivers are not below the state escapement numbers, meaning spawners. In fact, in the Quillayute system, including the Bogachiel, Sol Duc and Calawah rivers the numbers are still 3300+ fish above the states escapement guideline, or about 40+ percent above the escapement floor of 8200 steelhead. In the glacial rivers like the Hoh, Queets and Quinault that numbers dips to about 10+ percent above escapement on average, a number I strongly believe to be inaccurately low based upon my time on the water. Overall, fishery managers have a tendency, because of forecast models, of over forecasting returning fish counts. Past projections have been reasonably accurate here on the north coast, but that’s a problem for much of the central and south coasts systems which are barely making escapement numbers currently or, are well below the necessary number of returning adults. So I think in the short term it’s important that we continue to fish, be watchful that all anglers, including tribal co-managers, are following the rule changes and reducing impacts on the fish overall. Tribal fisheries are the single biggest damaging impact to these fish locally… nets strung across the lower reaches of the river kill more native steelhead on the north coast than any other impact in freshwater. We can discuss ocean conditions, sport angling mortality, derelict gillnets in the river, commercial fisheries impacts outside of the rivers and many other less significant issues like in river predation by seals and sea lions, that all make a difference for steelhead. Gillnets are the single biggest issue when steelhead enter their home waters, no question. We need to be active users of the fishery if anyone is going to protect it. I can assure you that two enforcement officers for the entire upper peninsula are not going to be able to protect our fisheries… pointing fingers at the state about not doing it’s part to protect the fish by enforcement, rules or management hasn’t worked, but as the largest user group, we can make a difference. Here’s a little information you may not have known… do you realize that when we are creel surveyed at the end of our fishing day, the number of steelhead that we report as caught is projected by the state to have a 10% mortality rate. That figure is the sportsman’s share of the run total…if we don’t catch those fish and the tribe can prove that the minimum number of spawners required has been met then the tribe get’s to “catch” those fish that we didn’t presumably kill by mortality rate of catch and release. We all know that our impact is much less than 10%, however it’s imperative that we catch those fish to save them from being gillnetted under the existing tribal co-management strategy. So under the existing management plan by the state/tribes they can really never significantly exceed their own escapement model. That's the real problem to address sooner than later.
I'm still looking forward to the 2021 winter/spring season for a lot of reasons…probably the biggest being the challenge of a changing fishery. We have gotten really good at catching steelhead, both us as guides and you as our clients. It’s almost like we get to experience a new fishery, one that we are intimately familiar with the rivers water, but get to create new techniques to be effective and improving on existing ones with all of you, our great clientele. I’m ready to get on the water and start that process this week. We’ve been seeing some wild and broodstock fish down south already so time to get to work. I have faith in most anglers that they want to do the right thing on the water. Let’s put on our waders, prep the gear and get on the water… there’s still world class steelheading to be done!
It's been quite some time since I've not had a 4am 'ish alarm going off...we ran over 90 days with only a couple of off days. The winter season started off really well in December with good numbers of wild fish showing in the Hoh and a few in the Bogi and Duc. The Calawah was a little tougher...the hatchery steelhead season started off well then quickly began to fizzle with not a lot of early return natives showing there. So into the New Year we go with some "normal" rain events thru the middle of the month and then SNOWMAGEDDON started. Holy crap, what a nightmare...feet of snow occurring each week with no reprieve in sight. Boats getting destroyed to and from the river...battling with tarps to cover boats or worse, being to tired to bother and waking up the next day with 6"+ in the boat. It was a disaster thru the third week of February...some days snowing to hard to even cast a fly line at times.
Amazingly, I have to give our clients a lot of credit...they pushed thru the snow and nearly all made their guide days. Many were rewarded with some really nice Steelhead...not huge numbers most days but some really quality fish. Then like someone flipped a switch in March it went into mid 60's-70's weather. By mid March I was using sunscreen everyday to avoid making the prior days sunburn any worse. We went from almost no rainfall...just snow, then early summer temps in the matter of a couple days.
The lack of precipitation made angling very interesting. Last years low flow conditions were somewhat more "normal" than this years. Super low and clear on all the area rivers and what I would call medium traffic most days moved the fish out of the normal holding water. Most of the fish were being caught in traffic lanes, heavy chop, shallow lies under wood etc. Seemed strange to not be finding many fish in the heads of the deep holes...almost like the fish were seeing to many presentations in these zones and were moving away from them. It made fishing definitely slower than normal, but I will say that the additional effort required did make the fish to hand even more rewarding. Most days were a few fish to the net...somedays many more and a couple of none. That's steelheading...what else would you expect. What I tried to make our anglers understand is that each opportunity needs to be capitalized, don't miss them. Whether a poor hookset, slack line, poor line management, bad hook angle, it really didn't matter what the reason was but you needed to be on point to put up the numbers that people expect. Often times we started late to work around the high mid-day sun/traffic and were rewarded for our efforts. Here Parker holds the largest steelhead I've ever put in the net on the swing. It was around 6:30pm...steelhead were rolling all over the place. He's working down the run paying "extra" special attention to the area I told him to work hard and a HUGE fish rolls about 5 feet off his fly and then BAM...game on. I grabbed the net and ran about a hundred yards downstream in pursuit. After a few minutes I got a pretty good look at the fish and yelled to Parker that it was at least 22-23lbs...he in typical fashion told me to "Shut Up!" as he usually does when he hooks a big one. I gave him some encouragement and told him "We got this!" as he's still telling me to "Shut Up". His family and friends all watching as it's going down...I could not have been happier to reach out and stab that BEAST with the net...well kind of, only the front half fit into the net and with some lifting and shaking of the net it finally went fully into the basket. Everyone ran into the river to take a look and we all stood there with some disbelief about what just happened. There was a lot of Holy S*$t, Wow, That Things HUGE...high fives and hugs. Most of all I was happy for him...he'd just reached the pinnacle of his steelheading career...a massive buck on the swing. We'll never really now how big...the boat was a couple hundred yards upstream and I didn't want to hold the fish that long to get my tape. I made a reasonable guess by marking my net handle as I stepped away for the hero shots. I measured it later when I got home in the shop, I was alone, and when I put a tape on it I was stunned. In the big picture it really doesn't matter. Congrats man, fish of a lifetime! We ate Ribeyes, had drinks and relished in an awesome day.
Below - A June Hoh River Steelhead Get's The Better Of Us
A June Opener On The Hoh
An early start on the Hoh this summer allowed for some salmon and steelheading opportunity we don't often get this early in the year, with a forecasted return of hatchery origin summer Chinook being the reason. There were some late spring fish to be caught as well as some early summer Steelhead between salmon. Typical with the Hoh during early summer months, when the weather is in a cooling pattern it tends to fish well and when we are in a warming trend the diurnal cycle is more prominent and seems to put the fish mostly off the bite. When the weather cooperated fishing was pretty good with multiple fish per angler most days. That trend started to diminish once the majority of spring fish out migrated and we were still a little early for much abundance of summer steelhead.
Effort by the tribe however was in full force, likely due to high prices for salmon, with no noticeable net schedule in play. I saw nets up to seven days a week in the lower river depending on the week, and a few very disturbing situations involving protected fish species being discarded blatantly. Yes, I know they can fish for purposes other than resale. Unfortunate that some people just don't seem to care about the overall health of the river. There is no excuse for a net pattern to be that small when your supposed to be targeting Chinook! Ridiculous...
Summer Salmon Season
When flows were good during May and early June the springer fishing was excellent with good numbers of fish in the Sol Duc...once the snow pack run-off dissipated however, the fishing was much more difficult. Not unusual for springer's, a notoriously fickle salmon species. For as long as I can remember I've tried to catch these fish on the fly and the truth is they just don't care about a swung fly 99.9% of the time...and then there's that one moment they do. It happens for me about once or twice a spring...the rest of the time it's bait or bust! It doesn't stop me from trying, I just have reasonable expectations so I'm not disappointed.
With unusually low precipitation during this past February and March we just didn't get the snow pack necessary to carry good flows into summer on the spring fed rivers of the OP. Concerning in a time of receding glacier systems. The graph below shows the rain and snowfall at the Buckinghorse gauge near Mt. Olympus. This is ground zero for snow pack totals and it's clear from the end of January till mid-April we didn't get much. Hopefully this isn't a trend moving forward. Summer Coho and Sockeye seem to be arriving later this year. I don't know if it's related to the low flow or just seasonal variation, time will tell. Last year by the third week of June we were catching lot's of Coho...this year it was late July before fishable numbers showed. To make things worse flows are slow low in the Sol Duc at this point I don't think we'll get much of a shot to catch them. The river is virtually un-navigable except in the middle floats where portages aren't numerous. Bummer...I guess we'll be walking in some days!
Looking Ahead To Fall Salmon And Summer Steelhead
If sight fishing to large groups of fall Coho and Chinook salmon and chasing summer Steelhead sounds like fun, September and October are great months to be on the OP. In particular, the Hoh and Queets offer some great sight fishing for salmon and between the good salmon spots we chase summer Steelhead while nymphing and/or swinging flies. Far and away one of my favorite times of year...there's endless opportunity, what's not to like. If fair weather and good fishing sounds like something of interest give us a call and let's plan a trip that's perfect for you! Come to think of it, rain is in the forecast. I'm going mushroom hunting soon...
Winter / Spring 2019
You just never know what mother nature is going to give you. I'm not complaining about having such a dry winter season like 2018, it's not likely to happen in back to back years. With record low precipitation we were blessed with being able to fish the Queets more than the past three years combined during the winter steelheading season. I can't recall such a dry winter on the OP... it was EPIC as far as fishing goes. There's wasn't anyplace you couldn't go to catch steelhead... the Queets, lower Hoh, upper watersheds if the lower's weren't producing that well, you name it! Opportunity was everywhere and that's a rarity in a place that averages 120-150 inches of rain during fall/winter/spring months if not more. I'm asked regularly what the state of winter Steelhead is and how it looks in the future here on the OP. If this past season is any indication then the future is very bright for these amazing fish. A LOT of very healthy Steelhead were caught and released as quickly as possible without the need of a photo. I'm not much of a picture guy and that seems to be well received by the majority of our clients. The less handling the better. If we do it's a quick lift from the net and away they go AFTER being FULLY revived. I could not be prouder of our clients/guides and how they take such care of this rare place and it's amazing fish.
Our calendars are filling up fast for this coming season so if your planning on fishing with Chrome Chasers we need to hear from you sooner than later. March/April are about fully booked and dates in January and February are going fast. Let's get something on the calendar ASAP so you don't miss out on your opportunity.
If it was up to me to pick my favorite time of year to fish the OP for Steelhead it would be January and the first half of February. There's much less angling pressure to compete with, sure the weather is not as predictable, but hey...your going to get a little wet chasing winter chrome! Or maybe not... these guys look pretty dry to me! Looking forward to seeing Dave and Michael again this winter.
The End of Fall 2017
You can never really tell when the end of fall is finally going to show. I'm not talking about a date on the calendar. It's the frigid morning temps , trees stripped of their foliage by the winds are usually the first signs of what’s to come, but this year the mild fall weather wanted to hold on longer than usual here on the OP. I can remember it clearly, it was late October and fall's colors were still in full glory. Temps were more than mild...wearing nothing more than a base layer. We hook and release a really nice salmon on the Hoh. After releasing a chinook of this caliber on a fly rod you have to stop and appreciate it for a bit. We sat talking about "the moment" and as I typically do looking eastward toward the western flank of Mt. Olympus from this spot, I couldn't help but notice there was no snow visible except on the glaciers. Two weeks passed before it started to show itself in the mornings with a snow line creeping every so slowly towards the river valley.
Looking out the cabin door, sure enough the back of the café was completely engulfed in flames. I threw on some clothes and ran down to see if anyone was inside and thankfully nobody was. David would arrive shortly thereafter. We watched the place burn to the ground that night, propane tank caught fire putting up a massive tower of flames, it was a scary moment. After talking to Bill and Ferrell, the owners, the next morning we realized they were going to be okay and that we really couldn't help with much being Sunday and the building a total loss.
We considered our options and decided to go chase some chukar after all that day. We hunted nearly 8 miles down a toe blistering 2500 feet of elevation drop to the river bottom...lot's of birds out of shooting range, some really tired hunters, and a wore out Gus were the limits that day. We bagged a few but it was a tough hunting for sure. I think it's time to go home...
We’re almost done with salmon season and I’m really looking forward to another great year of steelheading one of the rarest places on earth. If your not familiar with the early steelhead season here, you owe it to yourself to get on the water for the largest fish of the year. Hatchery fish have already been arriving to the Calawah and Bogachiel in good numbers. With some changes at the Bogachiel steelhead hatchery we're also seeing larger fish this year in the 6-10 lb. range. We'll begin chasing broodstock fish on the glacier fed rivers as well any day now. These fish will test any anglers skill with the average size running 12-20 lbs. thru mid-January typically. After which we will be switching over to native steelhead. January and February are the months to target the largest steelhead on the OP. This is when the bruisers, brawlers, tanks, magnums, gagatrons, whatever you want to call them, it's when they arrive. If your an experienced steelheader and want a shot at the fish of a lifetime, this is when you want to be here. Angler crowding is minimal thru February and with the potential of a spring season on the Skagit this year hopefully even the spring months will see less pressure. We still have some open calendar dates the rest of this month as well as January and February. Give us a call to schedule your steelhead trip of a lifetime. Cell# 253-255-5963 or send us an email: email@example.com
Another banner year for steelhead on the OP? Forecasts are good, but you never really know until they arrive. I've not seen a spring on the OP that wasn't exceptional, sometimes wetter than optimal, but there are always a lot of steelhead during this time of year. If your a spey angler, this is your best opportunity. Water temps begin to climb making the fish more aggressive, more fish per mile so you have more target's and water clarity tends to improve dramatically during the spring. All things that give the two handed angler a big boost in productivity. While I still enjoy swinging during the early season for the opportunity at a huge steelhead, spring is when it really begins to happen daily...even multi-fish days. If that's your preferred method of catching steelhead then March and April are your times to fish. We now have four guides in additional to myself that are all experienced spey angler's/guides...don't hesitate to give us a call about spey only trips. We can often pair you up with an angler or two to split a boat if you don't have a fishing partner available. Cell# 253-255-5963 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking Ahead...An OP Guides Life After April
We’ll be off from mid April until early May springer season with the Orvis Guide Rendevous being moved from Missoula, MT to Ashville, NC this year. We’ll back into the full swing of salmon fishing thru June. These are the two best months of the year to target spring Chinook, the best eating salmon on the planet in my opinion, on the OP. These are gear based trips in warmer weather which is a nice change of pace after a long winter. During late June we will begin to also see large numbers of hatchery summer Coho and wild Sockeye salmon arriving as well. Summer Coho are a great species to target on the fly before summer flows begin to get really low in August. They are aggressive, good biters and fight much better than their fall cousins. Give us a call about any of these opportunities next spring and summer as well.
We had a great spring season of steelheading here on the OP. Superb days of fishing and much improved weather patterns compared to a year ago and snow pack in the Olympics at 140% of normal made for good early summer flows on the rivers. After closing the spring steelhead season we headed to Montana for the Orvis OGR event and did a little fun fishing afterward. Found some lunker rainbows that really handed it to us but was worth the effort for sure. Below is yours truly and friends spending a little down time, and yes, fishing since we don't get to do much of that any more. There were some beautiful rainbows caught at Lake Pend Oreille. The last photo in the group is in memory of our wire haired pointing griffon. Midge passed away this past May from what appeared to be a heart attack according to our vet. At the age of two this was really a shock to the family and pretty hard to reconcile. She will be missed and loved always.
Summer came and went in the blink of an eye it seemed with guiding and a major home remodel project by yours truly during off the water days. Steelhead fishing this summer has been slower than usual, scratching out a fish or two a day was typical. The summer salmon season however was excellent. Good flows thru July with big numbers of spring/summer Chinook arriving and tons of summer Coho. Sight fishing to these fish is a ton of fun during summer months. It's late September now and were beginning to finally see the fall rains arrive...this is my favorite season of the year. Grouse, mushrooming, big game hunting, lot's of salmon and late summer steelheading here on the OP. If you can't find something to do outdoors your not trying very hard.
With the low numbers of steelhead and chinook salmon returning to the Columbia basin this year, we'll be staying right here at home this fall instead of guiding the Klickitat river in south central Washington. We should see a great fall Coho run here on the OP this year, based upon the fish counts from three years ago. If you've not pursued salmon on the fly before or think that they don't make a worthy target on a fly rod you'd be surprised at how much fun they can be. Large pods of salmon to sight fish at and aggressive strikes on a tight line make for some incredible action. With a mixed bag limit of three hatchery Chinook/Coho per day, it's a great time of year to put a few fish in the freezer. The season runs thru mid November and then a two week break before we start the December steelhead season. We'll be chasing large broodstock steelhead on the glacier rivers then and hatchery fish on the Bogachiel. By mid January we'll be in full native winter steelhead mode thru mid April on all the area rivers. I still have some open dates for myself thru December. If your interested in some fun angling shoot me a text or a call.
Above, Christopher, holds a hatchery summer Coho with his dad, Phillip. This young man has a pretty amazing story behind him. At the age of 14 he told Phillip that he wanted to catch a fish on the fly in all 50 states before he went to college. His dad told him he thought it was a great idea and since the age of 15 he has pursued what they termed Catch 50. He's 18 now and I had the pleasure of fishing these two for three days on the OP this summer. Washington would wind up being his 49th state traveled over the past several summers. His dream was to catch his first wild steelhead on the fly. We worked hard for two days in a down year for summer runs to find a good one but we finally did land a 10 pound summer steelhead on the Queets. I could not have been more honored to help this young man toward his goal and what an angler he's growing into. I can't remember fishing with someone of his age with the drive and angling skills he possess already. Thanks to Christopher and Phillip for the opportunity.
Some of you are aware, but for those that are not, Chrome Chasers became an endorsed guide service with Orvis last year, a move up from a single endorsed guide. That means we have multiple Orvis Endorsed guides working for Chrome Chasers Fly Fishing with a full working knowledge of the program and expectations of them from both myself and Orvis. In short, we have added a contract with our guides to uphold an agreed upon standard of excellence. Moving forward I believe this will be a benefit to our clients as well as the business. No more trying to find another guide to run a multi-boat trip and trying to work with multiple schedules to accommodate clients. We will have five total guides available this winter form February thru mid April. If your thinking of fishing with us again this coming winter/spring steelhead season now is the time to get it on the books as those dates are filling up! The list of available guides remains the same including myself, John "Johnny" Whitlatch, John Wilcox, Darrell Johnson and David Buckingham. There are no twenty something trust fund kids turned "professional" guide in this group, they are all seasoned Olympic Peninsula anglers and guides with a positive attitude and a get it done mentality.
If you need some motivation for the upcoming steelhead season, put on some sunglasses and take a look at the action and a few of the fish our clients caught from this past winter/spring season. We look forward to spending some time on the water soon. Tight lines!
Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. Whatever your preferred platform, social media is likely the second biggest problem facing Olympic Peninsula (OP) wild steelhead (I think you probably know what the first one is so I won't go any further into that). Recreational anglers from decades past would monitor river flows, call friends/family/strangers to get a fishing report prior to the last dump of rain and adjust our schedules to fish any place there were steelhead. Driving all night to the Grande Rhonde in October to fish a day and a half and drive back home? Absolutely! Head to the OP in January, braving driving rain and low temperatures, in HOPES of finding a few early fish? Without a second thought! Take a chance and head to some off the grid river in Washington because you heard from Paul’s brother’s barber that the river MIGHT be holding fish and every other river in the area is blown? In a heartbeat! . Some of those trips were EPIC and some were just so- so, that's how steelheading goes (or at least how it used to go). Recreational anglers and guides from out of the area now refer to social media posts for up to the minute fishing conditions. That's a BIG problem because as soon as the fishing gets REALLY good, there are a ton of anglers swarming to the rivers of the north coast in a magnitude of which I've never seen before. I recently had a large outfitter from out of the area post a picture of a client with a nice Hoh buck to their own business Facebook page, bragging about the big one that one of "their clients" caught. I was a little floored and pissed at the same time. Are you kidding me? The clients took the photo and texted it to a buddy and pretty soon it's like a wildfire, totally out of control! These guys were not out there, grinding it out, figuring out channel changes, where the good slots are, access changes etc. They just look to every guide and buddy that's posting virtually everything you'd want to know all over the web. Even worse, they just show up blindly and start putting their boat in the water when they have no idea what they are getting themselves into. Last year, to my knowledge, nine boats went down on the Hoh due to inexperience. I helped out a couple of these boats myself, in addition to helping inexperienced anglers/boaters choose the correct channel. I also had to help a guide going the wrong way and bailed him out of a bad situation when he was with clients. I can't imagine taking clients on a float I was not intimately familiar with, I might ask a buddy to endanger himself but a paying client, no way. The most comical thing I saw last year was a recreational boat actually putting in at the park boundary sign on the Hoh. Uhhh, Buddy, the park line put in isn't actually at the sign. He drug a raft 40 yards through an Alder thicket to put in...Wow I thought, you have to appreciate his effort. When we floated by while he was loading up his gear he looked at us like, “Where the hell did you come from”? I just smiled and waived.
All of this makes it tough for the guy who puts in his time, studying and learning the river and who shows up to the river just to have a dozen boats put in behind him because of what they saw on social media. I have learned a valuable lesson from the actions of social media users. I won't be posting pictures of giant steelhead during the season, create posts about how good the fishing was today, list areas where there's a pile of fish or share what's working at the moment. If you want to know those kinds of details...call me. If I know who you are or if you want to book a guide day, I'll likely give you some information. If it sounds like your just fishing for information, then you are probably going to get some fish stories. One day while on a trip with clients, we were having a pretty successful day. Every angler we passed on the river was asking if we were gettin' any, meaning they weren't. My pat answer, as always, was "a few here and there". My customer remarked that, “Your like the Sphinx.” I had to think about that for a minute and that's when it occurred to me, he was spot on. For years, I have naturally minimized (guarded) the amount of information that I give to other anglers in preservation of something dear to me. And this is exactly what the OP is sorely missing. Everyone wants to brag about and share photos of the latest fish caught five minutes after it hits the net. Very few things that are within our control could be more damaging to this amazing place and the fish that inhabit these rivers.
It's possible to love something to death...and for the wild steelhead of the OP, I won't do it. I can only hope that others will do the same, some already are.
For those that don't get the local newspaper, well I guess that's just about all of you, the closure of Undi Rd. on the upper Bogachiel River looks like it's going to finally come to an end. Word is that Jefferson Co. is not going to perform any more road repair of the existing .8 mile landslide area. According to a recent article in the Peninsula Daily News a contract is about to be awarded for a by-pass road of the area. That's great news for the people that live beyond the slide and those that want to access the upper most portion of the river. Even the slightest amount of rain this summer has turned the upper river to mud. I walked into the area from the Dowan Creek Rd. side to inspect the progression of the slide area and found it still active even during summer months in this photo taken yesterday. This isn't going to fix the slide from silting up the river however. Looks like the first big shot of rain this fail is likely going to bring the rest of the hillside down into the river. Hopefully that will stabilize it somewhat and change the river course away from the landslide. Here's the link to the PDN article if you'd like to give it a read.
Clients often ask what went wrong when the Steelhead or Salmon of a lifetime doesn't make it to the net. Well, it's not usually just one thing that's a deal beaker. Generally it's a couple of things that go wrong and when I'm down river of the angler trying to get a scoop at the fish I keep an eye on the fisherman to make sure we're giving ourselves the best chance possible to close the deal. There's a long list of things that can go wrong but these are the most common!
1 - Poor hook set - This seems like a no brainer but it's the most common reason they don't make it to the net. You've got to keep a tight line to the indicator so you can hit them hard. A missed hook set should result in a full false cast behind the angler. They're not trout and a simple rod lift will not get it done. When swinging flies they may hook themselves because the fly is under tension but often times it's a light bite and will require a solid hook set to bury that hook.
2 - Rod tip to high - Steelhead run straight at you A LOT! The angler's instinct is to raise the rod tip as high as possible and strip line as fast as they can but in reality you can't effectively strip line with the rod over you head. This also lifts all of the fly line out of the water which actually creates slack to the hook with the leader having little to no tension on it. If you can keep that rod tip down and strip with the rod lower you'll make the fish drag the fly line around creating tension on the hook. Rod swing will pick up a lot of line but try to swing to the side not overhead.
3 - Get that fish on the reel - You can't hand line a Steelhead or Salmon. To much fly line kicking around your feet or even in a stripping basket makes it difficult to get that fish playing off the reel. Get it on the reel ASAP and you'll have a much better chance of landing that big one!
4 - Let em' run - Steelhead can get nasty...try not to freak out! You've been working hard all day to hook that 20+ lb. ocean bright pissed off Steelhead, now is not the time to loose it. I commonly see people try to palm the reel to slow a fish down and eventually clamp down to try to stop em'. They are times when you have to stop a fish from running behind or under a log or around a boulder etc. but clamping down rarely results in turning them. Rod angle combined with good pressure will get that fish to turn a lot better.
5 - Pulling the wrong way - Keep tension in the opposite direction of the fish, if it's running up river then keep your rod positioned down river. Hook angle is a BIG deal, imagine that hook placement and if you pull against the eye of the hook your putting all of the tension on the point of the hook and not the bend. When that fish goes aerial you have to lighten up on them, bow to the fish!
Attended the Orvis Guide Rendezvous in Missoula this past week. Thanks to Tom E. from Orvis for the invite. As a newly endorsed Orvis guide, the Rendezvous was a great experience for meeting so many incredible lodge owners, outfitters and fellow guides. There were excellent presentations on building your business with the help of the Orvis Endorsed Lodges Outfitters and Guides program. Also, some awesome speakers about developing your online business and company culture. Got a little play time in afterward on the Mo...windy and snowing on Sunday, but we got em' pretty good anyway! Thanks goes out to Tommy, and sorry Johnny, I know you've wanted to fish the Land of Giants for a long time. We'll get over there again soon.