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.