It has to come to an end some time!
The chum run is winding down fast, but there are still a few eager fish out there. It is funny how sensative the chum salmon are to color. You can thoroughly cover a run where you know fish are holding and not touch a thing. Change flies, go back to the top, and nail two fish right off the bat. Same technique, same water, different fly.
If you know you are over salmon, and you are not hooking up after a dozen or so casts, then change things up. Either your fly is not in the zone, you are using the wrong technique, or you are using the wrong fly. Putting your fly in the zone means getting it in the holding water and getting it down. It should hang up on the botton if you let it slide into the slack water. If it doesn't hang up, either put on a heavier tip if you are using a sink tip, or lengthen the leader and tie on a heavier fly if you are using a floating line. If you put the fly in the zone and you don't hook up, then change to a different fly. If you are using a big fly, go to a small fly in the same color. If you are using a bright fly, go to a dark fly in the same size. I usually like to start out big, try some different colors, then go small. You can usually get a couple fish on the bigger fly. Then go to a smaller fly in the same color, and pick up a couple more.
If you are fishing a run where you know there are chum salmon spawning in the tail-out, there is a good chance the dolly varden will be there too. I stay away from the slow shallows where the salmon are spawning and move out into the faster water. It really pays to cover the water from top to bottom in this situation. Chances are, you won't see any surface activity and it is tempting to give up and move to the head of the run where the salmon are milling around. I don't know how many times I have watched guys wade into some prime dolly water, work down 30 feet, not hook anything, and give up. I'll send my guy into the run right were the last guy left off and within minutes, he'll be into his first of a handful of hard fighting dollies.
Yes, the water is cold, the air is cold, but the dollies, and even a few steelhead are out there. It just takes some patience and some hard work and you will be into the fish.
Sometimes you gotta like it when the weather man is dead wrong!
The forcast was for showers and 20 to 30 mph winds. Not the kind of conditions that are condusive to fly fishing, but Bill was willing to risk it. Good thing! The winds never materialized and the rains didn't start until we were off the water.
The catching started slow with one male chum in the 15# range after an hour of dead drifting a number of patterns through the top of the first run. However, things really picked up when we moved to the tail out to swing sink tips for dolly varden. Bill really liked the dollies because they hit the fly hard and let you know that they are there to eat. Over the next 45 minutes he hooked into a handful of dollies.
The chum were much mowilling to eat in thethsecond run and dead drifting heavy flies was the ticket once again. The first fish....a hot little hen, and the second, a massive buck in the 20# range. Before leaving this run we stopped at the tail out to swing a couple casts for dollies. On the second cast a dolly nails the fly on the retrieve and throws the hook. Two casts later and a chum just crushes the whitefish pattern on the retrieve. This one....a 10# hen.
On the way home, we stopped at the stilly to target hatchery steelhead. The gear guys left an opening in the run and after asking, Bill stepped in. A dozen casts later hand he was into a 10# silver, another dozen casts and he was into a second silver. Shortly after, the rains started and we headed for home.
I am convinced that dead drifting heavy flies under a strike indicator is the best way to catch chum salmon and minimize the number of foul hooked fish. However, you do have to experiment with colors as it changes from day to day. Some years one pattern works most of the time, and some years a number of patterns work some of the time. Today the hot patterns were purple over pink and blue over purple. Tomorrow, who knows, but I am always happy to figure it out!
Once again, it has been too long since I have updated my reports. If you think it is due to limited success from all the high water, that couldn't be farther from the truth. I have been spending time over the last month on the Skykomish, Stillaguamish, and Skagit rivers and have been finding fish at all three.
I was out on the Skagit today. The visability is up to 5 feet and there are a lot of chum spawning in the shallows. If you plan to target chum, stay away from the spawners, no matter how tempting it may seem. They aren't interested in eating so you will most likely end up snagging them. Target chum in two feet of water or more and look for the fish in the faster water. My favorite technique that minimizes foul hooking is to dead drift a heavy fly under a strike indicator. Today, almost everything worked a little, and nothing worked really well. Effective patterns were an egg sucking woolly bugger with lead eyes, fuchsia bunny leach with medium plated brass eyes, and purple over fuchsia with medium brass eyes, all on a #4 long shank hook. After hooking into a hand full of chum, I switched over to dolly patterns, starting with dead drifting glue egg patterns. My first hook-up.....a female chum!
If you are looking for dollies, work the tail-outs. Try dead drifting egg patterns under a strike indicator. Another technique that is very effective is to swing egg sucking leaches and baitfish streamer patterns behind your sink tip line. If you can get the fly down, you will hook fish!
Ice Berg Dead Ahead!
Patrick and I headed over to one of the many desert lakes near Moses Lake. The trout average around 20" and can be aggressive feeders this time of year. As we are driving down the road approaching the lake we pass by a number or ponds on the side of the road....all frozen. We pulled up to the lake and it was free of ice, we were relieved. But, as we are looking around, we hear a crunching noise. Someone on the lake, on the other side of the brush that we can't see, is breaking through the ice.
Since we were there, we decided to check it out. As we rounded the bend, we saw the source of the crunching noise.....a guy in a pontoon boat half way into 100' of ice. He was stuck.
The rivers have been on a roller coaster ride over the last week with the heavy rain on Monday, but with the dry weather over the rest of the week, they dropped right back into shape by Wednesday.
The Sky has a good number of chum salmon spread between Start-up and the Lewis Street bridge in Monroe. The conditions were very good on Saturday with a couple feet of visability in Monroe. However, there are a lot of bank anglers, so be preparred for company. Experiment with colors as they change from day to day. If you plan on floating the river, take note....the Sultan is still pumping out a lot of silt, so plan accordingly.
The Skagit is still flowing very high with flows around 10,000 cfs at Marblemount. At this level, there are only a couple runs that are fishable, and you are really just fishing the edges of the runs as the main current is smoking! It is still early for the Skagit chum, but there are a lot of dolly varden in the river already, and they are hungry from fighting all the high water we have had lately. Look for soft water in the heads and tail-outs. If the water has color, all the better. Just get the fly down, and you will have a very good chance at a hook-up.
Phil and I did a couple short floats on the lower Skykomish River. The conditions were very good with overcast skies and water visability at a couple feet. We saw a few fish rolling on the way down to the first run, but not a single fish in the run. The second run was just loaded with fish and anglers. Lukily, all the anglers were gear guys which left the top of the run open for Phil and I. I made one cast to make sure I had the right sink tip and fly combo, and had a good grab as the fly was swinging. We ended up hooking into a number of fish over the hour was spent in this run. I hooked into one fish that was swimming all around the pool and was heading right between Phil's legs before the hook pulled out. Just as things were about to get interesting! Phil also hooked into a pig of a chum that managed to throw the hook with the rod fully bent. The line came right back at Phil and wrapped around his head. Luckily he was able to dodge the fly!
I spent a couple hours in the morning scouting out the tidewater on the Stilly. The conditions seemed very good and the tides were right, but I didn't see a single fish roll in the three runs I checked out. There were a few chum salmon being caught in Arlington by bank anglers, so they are in the system. They just are not hanging out in the tidewater.
"Last cast and then we have to leave!"
Scott and I were on the Stilly this time last year when we had sumertime low water all the way down to the salt. Scott had to catch a flight home in the evening and had spent the day hooking into a number of bright chum salmon. I told him to make one more cast, and then we would have to leave. He makes the cast, gives the line a couple strips, his rod goes down hard and a big chum breaks the surface, taking his fly and leader with it......
This year we got our normal rain and the Stilly is out....all the way up to Boulder Creek. This year Scott and I are on the Sky, and once agin, he has to catch a flight. The hook-ups are not a frequent, but he still managed to tie into a number of fish. I tell him to make one more cast and then we have to leave. He makes his cast, the line starts to swing, I am looking d t the extra rod in my hand, and the next thing I hear is, "HolY $#@+!". I look up just in time to see his rod bend in half and a massive chum break the surface. Then the hook pulled free.
We found a number of fish in the morning, but not many were willing to take a fly. On his first good hook-up, the leader parted. Not sure why. On the second one, the the hook pulled free. The saving grace is that he did managed to land a couple aggressive dollies, one in the 20+ inch range.
Scott and I pulled into the parking area at Lone lake around 7:30 and we were the only ones there. There was a light wind and not a single rise on the water. I was starting to wonder if the lake was killed off and I was the only one that didn't hear about it. We were on the water by 8:00 and Scott had a grab on his #10 olive bugger shortly after. As there sun warmed the air and water the fish became more active on the surface and the takes were more frequent. If you wanted trout, small woolly buggers or large string leaches were the ticket. If you want Bass, then a #4 black woolly bugger is the fly of choice.
Scott was not hooking up as often as I though he should be, so I spent the morning experimenting with different flies. Around 11:30 I tied on a string leach and I hooked into a big fish almost immediately. I had two more hook-ups with heavy fish over the next 15 minutes. I traded rods with Scott and he spent the rest of the day hooking fish between 16" and 18". He was in heaven and every time I looked he was smiling from ear to ear. I experimented with different colors and there was definately one color they were after. Any thing else was a bust.
Earlier in the week I had heard there were a large number of Silvers in the Wallace. Scott and I did a short float down the Wallace into the Sky. I was surprised to see very few Silvers, a couple steelhead, and 20+ chum that were already spawning. The numbers on the Wallace were not high, and the fish were not in very good shape. The Sky, however, was a different story. There were not a ton of fish, but they were bright and they were more moving in. Scott managed to tie into a hot chum that took to the air a number of times and put him to the test. This time Scott prevailed and landed a 15+ pound buck.
Bob, Phil, and I floated the NF Stilly from Fortson to C-Post. I was surprised at the low number of fish we saw during the float. There were a few salmon splashing around near the hatchery mouth at Fortson, and a number of chum and sockey spawning in the mill pond outlet stream. After that, the river was pretty much devoid of fresh fish....and I didn't see a single steelhead. There was, however, a ton of new lumber along the bank from the recent floods, and even a couple trees in the middle of the river. Boulder Creek was puking silt and the river was out below that. As of Friday, 10/31, the river was still out below Boulder.
I was able to get out the the NF Stilly as it was dropping and just before the next big rain. There were a number of hatchery steelhead in the upper river and they were eager to take a fly. I didn't spend much time on the river as the rain was dumping, but I managed to tie into one very hot little hatchery hen that just tore up the pool. When I finally decided it was time to head home, I cast my line out and started reeling up. I got 3/4 or the line in when my weighted woolly bugger came to an abrupt stop. Just as I start thinking that it is odd that I didn't hang up in this spot before, steelhead starts thrashing in the surface. This one.....a beautifully colored male summer run.
The rivers in the North Sound are blown out from the heavy rain over the last couple days and the drastic rise in the snow level. The Skagit peaked at a foot above flood stage, so the rivers are not an option, at least for the next couple days.
I spent a couple hours at Pass Lake. The wind was gusting hard a times, but this didn't stop the fish from eating. There were a few chironomid adults on the surface, and I spotted one caddis bouncing around a couple feet above the surface of the lake. There were an occasional rise, but Pass as never been known for its surface activity. The technique that seemed to work the best was slow trolling nymphs just off the bottom. The takes are subtle ... in fact, it feels a lot like you just hooked a weed. That is, until you set the hook and your rod bends in half from the slow but violent head shakes from a big rainbow or brown.
You do often catch a large number of fish in Pass Lake, but the ones you do catch and manage to land sure are beauties!
I decided to spend the day chasing silvers on the lower Skagit, but all I could find were pink salmon. It seems my timing was a bit off as a number of fish had shot up the skagit the prior week. I should have headed to the lower Sky where I had been doing so well, but I really wanted to check out some new water, and I was able to do that.
EB and I headed to the upper Skagit for another day of fly fishing for pink salmon. I told him he could catch a fish on every cast, so he decided he just had to try it.
Just as I expected, the run was starting to wind down and there were a lot of fish spawning in the shallows, and a lot fewer fish in the main part of the river. We spent the morning working two small, but very productive runs. The first run was not fishing nearly as well as I expected, but EB was still hooking up about every five minutes ..... and having a blast.
The second run is a deep slot that is just loaded with salmon. I tied on the heavy flies to get time down in front of the fish. EB made a cast, let the fly sink, gave the line a strip, and his rod went down. The majority of the fish landed were average size bucks in the five to seven pound range. Sometimes the took the fly on the first strip, sometimes on the second strip, and sometimes on the last strip, but it was rare that he could get the fly in without hooking a fish.
Since EB needed to get home at a reasonable time, we packed up the rods by 11:30 and were off the water by noon.
I met EB on the Skykomish River for short half day float. For this float, we don't even need to drop a car. I hook a wheel up to each of the pontoon boats, we pull them 100 yards to the river, drop them into the water, and we are fishing! I gave EB the rod with the fly that I knew was going to work. I had a fly that I was sure was not going to work so I could demo the technique without hooking a fish. As my luck would have it, the fog was thick, there was no light on the water, and the fish just loved my demo fly! After two consecutive casts and two hook-ups, I gave my rod to EB and changed his fly. Shortly after, he was into his first salmon on a fly rod. His first fish....a hen, grapped his fly right next to the boat!
As the fog burned off, the hook-ups tapered off, and it was time to change flies once again. I was very surprised the Sky fish were so sensitive to color, as I have never experienced this with pink salmon. EB managed to hook a fish about every fifth cast and as he brought them in he was very interested in what a pink salmon would look like that was worth keeping. I told him to look for fish that still had silver on the sides.
A few minutes later EB hooks this fish that looks to be the size of a pink hen, but it is jumping all over that place. I just assumed that he foul hooked a hen in the fin. He mentions that this fish seems to have a lot of silver on it and would like me to take a look at it. He swam the fish into the bank and when I finally got a look at it I said, "EB, that's a steelhead!"
Shortly after 11:00 we headed back to the cars. After three hours of fishing EB managed to land a handful of salmon, and his first steelhead. As were packed the cars he was already making plans for our next outting.
Jerry flew out from Florida to experience some of our exceptional salmon fishing. On the way to the Skagit River he said he didn't care if he caught fish, he would be happy just to stand in the river. Well, not only did Jerry get to stand in the river, he managed to hook a salmon on his first cast, and just about every cast after that. In the first run we fished, the technique was fairly important, and he mastered it quickly. In the second run we were fishing a steep bank with a deep pool below us. The salmon were stacked up by the thousands. All he had to do was drop the fly about 15 feet in front of him and watch to see which salmon grapped it. It was a kick!
Day two of our adventure found us on the Sky. I chose to fish the Skagit on the first day to give the Sky another day to clear after the high water. We had good visability, but the salmon just were not interested in our flies for the first half of the float. We managed a couple cutthroat in the morning, but it wasn't until we moved downstream that we were able to find fish in a biting mood. Actually, it wasn't that they weren't biting, as there was a guy fishing gear that was hooked up most of the morning. However, the hardware he was throwing wasn't pink, and I didn't have the color he was using. Jerry started hooking fish in the last two runs, and he was having a blast. These fish were much stronger than the Skagit fish the day before, and it was all Jerry could do to keep the rod above water when they headed for the bottom.
Day three found us on the Stilly Tidewater. The Stilly had not cleared up much after the rain and the visability was around two feet. I was a little worried! I came armed with flies that I had never used for pinks before, and once again, Jerry managed to hook-up on his first cast. Being so close to the salt, these fish were the brightest we had hooked over the three days. A couple of the hens even took to the air which is unusual for a pink salmon. Casting and stripping flies worked, as well as dead drifting them under a strike indicator.
Jerry and I had a great time over the three days we spent on the river. His casting improved dramatically over the course of landing some 75+ salmon....not bad for a guy that is 72 years old and legally blind in one eye. I can only hope to be doing as well as Jerry when I am 50!
I spent time over the last week on the Sky and the Skagit. Both are loaded with fish and both are loaded with anglers, but you can find quiet water.
Both the Sky and the Skagit are fishing exceptionally well.... that is, if you are using a fly. In the water that was getting hit hard by the gear guys, flies were out catching the gear by three to one. However, when we floated downstream to the water that didn't have easy bank access, we were hooking up on almost every cast.
If you spend a day fly fishing for salmon, by the end of the day, you will be beat! It is surprising how hard a bright 5lb pink salmon can work you, even on an 8wt fly rod!
I will be splitting time between the Skagit, Sky, and Stilly over the next week and will have reports on all three rivers comeing soon!
The rains have finally come and the pink salmon are in the rivers by the thousands!
As we stood in one particular run, at any one time we could see hundreds of pink salmon swimming by us as they headed upstream. This wasn't a few schools of fish passing at intervals, this was a contunual stream of hundreds of fish that didn't end while we were in the run! It was amazing!
I spent time on the lower Stilly during the week and it has a lot of fish.... and a ton of fishing pressure. On top of that, the fish still are not biting well. If you can find a pool with a lot of fish and you can get a decent presentation, you can hook up after a half dozen casts. Otherwise, you are going to have to work hard for each fish. If you can, work the water when it is coolest and find water that isn't hammered by buzz bombs and spoons, and you can do well.
The Skagit is loaded with salmon and the water stays cooler due to the dams, but the Sauk has been puking glacial silt. That should improve with the cooler weather and the fishing below the Sauk should improve also.
The Sky is also loaded with pink salmon and I have heard it is fishing well, but the bite is off and on. I will spend some time on the Sky toward the end of this week, so I will have more on the Sky in next week's report.
Pink salmon will take flies other than pink when they are in the right mood. Blue/purple works, as well as black. Otherwise, fuchsia is the ticket and anything else is a bust. Also, if you find yourself foul hooking a lot of fish, get rid of the tapered leader. I have found that a 9 foot leader of straight 8# or 10# Maxima Ultragreen works great. You won't foul hook fish because the leader sinks straight down. You can put a ton of pressure on the fish to get them in fast and you will not break them off. Just use a couple feet of 8# fluorocarbon tippet and the fish won't even see the leader.
If you are wondering about which rod to use, once again, I like to get the fish in as fast as possible without killing my arm. The rod I like the best for this is an medium action rod that will cast a floating line well. The rod I use is an 8wt Fenwick HMG, but many will do the job well. If you think you can just crank a pink salmon in with an 8wt, think again. These fish are 5 to 10 lb and will give you a serious workout. In my opinion, anything less than a 7wt is too light.
If you want to catch a pink salmon on a fly, now is the time!
The pinks are in and the rivers are open!
Saul and I were the first ones in the run and the pink salmon were thick. Saul made his first cast, let the fly sink, gave it a strip, and that was all it took. If you stood in the right spot you could hook a fish on every cast, and after hooking fish all morning, only one was not hooked in the mouth.
After Saul landed about 10 fish, I broke out my rod. I started with a lightly weighted fly and a strike indicator. After a half dozen casts, I hooked up, right at the end of the drift. These fish were really hot and were difficult to land without working them into the shallow water. We were using 6 and 7wt rods, but a soft 8 wt works great also. I switched to a heavier fly and started hooking up on ever also. It really didn't take much effort.
After landing a couple more fish, I decided to play around with different colors to see what they liked and didn't like. I was surprised to find that the one fly they really didn't like was a heavily wieghted black bart. After all, it is a great fly for dolly varden and chum.
If you want to catch pinks, silvers, or chum in the low flows, here is the set-up: 5wt - 8wt floating line with a 9 ft leader made of 8lb Maxima Ultragreen and a heavy marabou fly. I was also using an 8lb fluorocarbon tippet between the fly and leader, but I don't think it mattered. The technique that really worked well was to cast the fly into the soft water, let it sink for 5 seconds, give it a strip, and hold on!
The Skagit is a tailwater fishery so it stays cold and the fish will readily take a fly. However, check the regs before you head out. The Skagit doesn't open until Sept 16th above Concrete. However, the Sauk is puking glacial silt, big time, so the conditions below the Sauk are poor.
The Stilly is loaded with pinks, but it also loaded with fishermen. The water temps are up also, so the fish are not biting well. Your best bet is the stay away from the crouds of fishermen throwing buzz bombs and spinners and find some quiet water.
I haven't made it out the the Sky in the last couple weeks, but based on the reports on the Snohomish, I would bet money that the Sky is fishing well also.
Effective flies are small, sparce, and heavy, tied with marabou or a bunny strip. Effective colors are fuchsia (pink) or black.
When fishing pinks, look for rolling fish. Rolling fish are happy fish and happy fish are biting fish.
There is no better time than now to catch your first salmon on a fly!
I'll have to admit, I've been slacking once again on the reports.
I've been spending the last couple weeks fishing the salt water for salmon. The hot ticket right now is Neah Bay and Seiku. However, the pink salmon are showing in big numbers in the Mukilteo area also. If you have a boat, your best bet is to fish for pinks and slived eers on the surface when the light is off the water. That means early morning, or while the fog is still on the water, and this time of year the fog can stay around for most of the morning.
The Snohomish River has been fishing very well also. Plan your trip around the tides and fish the tides from high to low. The fishing can be good for most of the day, except the last couple hours around the high tide. In case you haven't seen it before, the lower Stilly, the lower Skagit, and most of the Snohomish River will change flow direction at the top of the high tide. I'm not sure what this does to the salmon, but the bite totally shuts off. If you are on the river when this happens, plan on taking a break for a couple hours until the river starts flowing back out. Hot flies are heavy and fuchsia pink or black marabou. Fish them on a floating line and long leader, let the fly sink, and strip it pack in short, quick strips.
Phil and I headed out to Neah Bay.
Day 1: Seven foot rollers spaced way too close together and high winds. After taking a wave over the front of our open hull boat, we decided to stay out of the big water. The boating was tough and the fishing was tougher. Around 4:00 PM the winds died down fishing picked up a bit.
Day 2: 7 foot rollers spaced out well and little to no wind. We didn't have any problem getting to where we wanted to go, but we were hesitant to go too far out, just in case. We Both hooked up a few minutes after getting our lines wet, and continued catching silvers the whole time we were out. The hot flies were #4 clousers. Every color we tried worked, but the most effective seemed to be white/pink tied with pink thread, white/chartreuse tied with clear mono thread, and white/yellow tied with red thread. The hook-ups were most consistent while trolling....really fast, with heavy sink tip and shooting head lines, 9 ft leaders tapered to 15lb test, and clousers with medium to XL lead eyes. I'm not sure why, but the flies with XL lead eyes seemed to be more effective.
Casting was also effective, but the sun was out, the fish were down, and heavy shooting head lines with weighted flies were the ticket. The most effective technique was to cast out and let the the fly sink for a minute or more, then strip it back as fast as possible. About half the time three or four silvers would follow the fly all the way back to the boat. Sometimes they would take a swipe at the fly, sometimes they would get the hook, and sometimes not. However, most of the takes were close to the boat. We finally headed in around 4:00 PM, not becuase were weren't catching fish, but because we were beat from a long day of tying into hard fighting, ocean bright silvers.
We spent the afternoon and evening on the Skykomish River between Sultan and Gold Bar. The flow is at 1600 cfs and the water is crystal clear. We skipped a lot of the water on the upper half of the float, but we hooked a couple small fish in the water that we did fish. p>We got serious on the lower half of the float and Phil got two good takes. The first pulled out some line on the hookset and gave two good headshakes before throwing the hook. The second gave a couple good tugs.
We saw one nice dolly at the start of the float in one of the pools that we skipped. There are also a number of chinook near Sultan, but don't expect to see them splashing around. They are doing a very good job of staying hidden in the clear water bright day conditions that we cury have.
Phil and I did an afternoon float on the upper Sky from Gold Bar to Sultan earlier in the week. We fished the runs pretty fast as we didn't have a lot of time to finish the float before we lost all daylight. Just in case you are wondering, it is a 6 hour float, minimum, and that is only stopping to fish a handful of runs. There are enough good runs to easily make it a 8 to 10 hour float. With that said, we didn't hook any fish, but saw a number of chinook rolling and splashing as we got closer to Sultan. We even spooked a number of fish out of the shallow fast riffles as we floated through.
The highlight of the float was our chance to play fireman for a day. As we came around a bend in the river, we saw two camp fires. One was a couple feet high, and the other, much bigger. As we floated closer we saw a group of people standing around the smaller fire, shooting off fireworks. The other fire was on the other side of the river, on a steep bank, no one around. A small tree and root ball were on fire and it was surrounded by trees and brush. We pulled off the river downstream of the fire and started scooping water onto the tree. Eventually we were able to drag the tree into the river and put the fire out. A group of guys downstream told us we floated in like a couple of angles. I've been called many things, but never a angle!
Back to fishing...I walked into a couple of runs in the Sultan area. I was on the river at 8:00 PM and had the runs to myself. I worked two deep holes with a type 8 sink tip and a heavy fly. The holes were deep enough that I would rarely touch bottom, ever after swinging the fly into the slower water. By 9:30 the light was totally off the water, but still no fish rolling. I was approaching the slower part of the pool, but still in fast enough water that I was not hanging up. My rod went down and line started peeling off my reel. I got three good head shakes before the hook pulled out.....and that was it for the night. I'm not sure what it was, but chances are good that it was a small chinook, as there are a number of them in this area. However it could have been a steelhead, a large dolly, or even a large SRC.
The Sky is crystal clear with unlimited visability. A majority of the fish are in the deep fast pools. Use a heavy sink tip and a heavy fly. When needed, mend and step down after the cast to give the fly more time to sink. Fish the runs through from top to bottom as the few fish that are in the river are well spread out.
There has also been a huge evening hatch of midges, mayflies, and some large caddis, so bring a floating line and an assortment of dries that will stay on top in the faster water such as elk hair caddis, stimulators, skaters, and waders.
I spent the evening on Pass Lake to check out the latest conditions. I did not see the aquatic life (shrimp and nymphs) that I was seeing this time last year. Just as you could expect, the catching on shrimp and nymph patterns was poor. However, casting baitfish patterns tow the bank and stripping the fly back as fast as possible was productive once again. In the hour ossawr so I spent doing this I rose one fish and hooked and lost a dark rainbow in the 16" to 18" range.
Slow trolling or casting and stripping woolly buggers on type 2 full sinking lines was also productive for rainbows up the 17" on the part of the lake I call "Brown Trout Alley". Slow trolling woolly buggers along the weed edges was also productive on the far side of the lake from the launch. And when I sa ieof the lake, I mean as far as you can get from the launch.
There was a huge hatch of caddis, mayflies, and mostly midges when the sun started setting around 9:30. The fish were rising everywhere, but catching them was tricky as there was so much natural food on the water. However, we did land a couple fish slow trolling woolly buggers in the surface. There was no moon out, and this usually results in fewer hook-ups after the sun goes down.
If you are in the North Puget Sound area and you are only interested in steelhead this time of year, the Sky or the Stilly is really the place to go. However, the lack or rain has resulted in low numbers of steelhead in the rivers right now. I expect the number of steelhead to jump after the first good rain. What we got over the weekend didn't really count, as not much of that precipitation ended up in the rivers. The word around some of the shops was that there were some big dollies being caught in the upper Sauk. My plan was to check out the upper Skagit to see it the same was true there.
Phil and I headed to the upper Skagit do a float from Marblemount. The only trouble was, it was dumping on us most of the way up the river. When we got to the take out and I saw the river level on the Skagit, I decided to change plans.
We walked into two runs on the upper Skagit and found a nice dolly at the head of each run. Neither fish was landed, but both looked to be in the 18" to 20" range. The conditions were good with overcast skies and water visability around 6 feet. I was surprised to only find one dolly in each run. I was interested in numbers, not just one or two.
The rain stopped, so we headed to the Sauk for a short float. The conditions were great with overcast skies and 4' to 6' of visability. We each got a good hit in the first run, but couldn't get the hook to find a home. Once again, I was surprised, as this is a very productive steelhead run. We got one take on a white streamer, and one on a black/red marabou streamer. The black/red marabou streamer is a new dark day, dark water pattern that I have trying out, off and on, for the last couple months. Until this trip, I just didn't have the right conditions.
The black/red pattern was deadly in the second run with three hook-ups. These dollies ranged in size from 18" to 21", they were thick fish and increadibly strong for their size.
It just so happens that the only guy we saw on the water all day was in the last run we wanted to fish. We stopped to fish a small pool and let the other guy work his way down. This little pool has some great holding water behind a couple large boulders. Just before Phil made his cast a smolt took a mayfly off the surface. Phil made his cast with a white streamer pattern and half way through the swing his rod went down hard, then the fly came right back.
Phil was a dozen casts into the last run, his rod when down hard, and line started peeling off the reel. A large fish rolled in the surface a couple times and after a short battle and a couple more runs he landed a beauty of a 26" dolly. Phil was jacked as this was by far the biggest dolly he has hooked into.
The recent cool weather reduced the glacial run-off that typically gives the Sauk it's milky color this time of year. As a result, the Sauk was in great shape and fishing beautifully. I expect this to last for at least the next couple days. Once the afternoon temps climp back into the 80's again, I expect the milky color to return. However, fishing can still be productive if you stick with colors in white or black.
EB and I met in Arlington and headed to the Sauk. The flow at 3 AM was 8200 cfs and rising slowly. This is just a little higher than I have fished it in the past, but I decided to take a chance. We stopped at the put-in and the river was high and really moving. We headed to the take-out to drop his car and I could see that one of the better runs was totally under water. Time for Plan B.
We headed to the Skagit and floated from Howard Miller. The conditions were great with overcast skies and three to five feet of water visability. EB had never fished with a sink tip before, so we worked on his technique in the first run. We found a run below the Sauk that was fishing beautifully (Soft current and 3 ft of visability). Half way through this run EB's rod went down hard and the line started peeling the reel. A fish rolled in the surface, then peeled more line off the reel. A few minutes later he swam a fat dolly into the shallows. This was his biggest fish on a fly and he was pumped.
On the way home, I stopped and talked to a couple friends that floated the upper Stilly. They saw a number of dark natives sitting on redds, and a couple hatchery fish, but didn't hook into anything. However there were a couple natives landed by another group.
I also talked to a friend who was on the Sky over the weekend. The parking lot at the Sultan Launch was packed by 3:30 AM (No surprise) and the river was packed with jet boats, drift boats, pontoon boats, and bank anglers. He saw a couple natives landed and released, and he even hooked into a steelie, but lost it in short order. The word is that the hatchery fish on the Stilly and Sky are still a couple weeks out.
Kevin and I met at a park off the I-5 and 128th St exit and I gave him some casting lessons. Kevin has been fly fishing for a couple years and catches his share of fish, but he really wasn't happy with the distance of his casts. Luckily for me he is a quick learner.
I watched Kevin cast for a while and suggested a few changes to his casting stroke. Unlike most people who struggle with their casting, he didn't have any trouble stopping the rod on his back cast. I asked him to hold his line hand down by his waiste instead of letting it follow the rod. Doing this increases the line speed on the back cast as the rod hand moves away from the line hand. This loads the rod more when it stops at the end of the back cast. Occasionally he would let go of the line at the start of the forward cast and it would pull through the guides instead of loading the rod. I had him keep a tight grip on the line at the start of the forward cast to load the rod and maintain the line energy. I also asked him stop the rod higher on the forward cast which allows you to shoot more line on the last cast. Within a half hour he was making tight loops and casting 20 to 30 feet farther than he ever had.
Phil and I stopped at Pass Lake around 6 PM for some evening fishing. Things were dead until the sun went down. The water temp wasn't the problem as it was only 63 degrees on the surface. The problem was a total lack of any activity. There was nothing hatching, no swallow's, and very few fish hitting the surface. We tried nymphs and chironmids with no luck. I did manage to raise a couple fish casting a baitfish pattern into the bank and stripping it back as fast a I could. One large brown flashed below the fly, and a rainbow in the 14" range followed it to the boat. However, neither fish committed to taking the fly. Finally around 9:00 when the sun was down and darkness was arriving, the bats came out and a few fish started coming up. I'm not sure why it works, I have my theories, but we switched to floating lines, 9ft leaders tapered to 4X tippets, and started slow trolling black woolly buggers. Sure enough, a foot ball sized rainbow in its deep maroon spawning colors nailed my fly and exploded in the surface. 10 minutes later Phil hooked up with another rainbow of the same size. Then, a few minutes later a pig of a rainbow took Phil's fly, litterally. He got it close enough to the boat to see it was a 20+" rainbow before it flipped its head and broke the leader.
It is still a little early for the summer nymph action on Pass Lake. Look for water temps in the mid 60's and a lot of sub-surface aquatic life. When you find this combination, Pass will fish well through out the day if you slow troll or cast and slow retrieve flies that imitate scuds, caddis pupae, or mayfly nymphs.
The lake fishing is heating up and the rivers will be open soon. If you plan to hit Lone or Pass or any of the other lakes in the area that fish really well this time of year, bring a type 2 full sinking or intermediate line and a good selection of wet flies. Carey Specials, woolly buggers in size 6 to 12 in olive, black, brown, or maroon, and olive willie's all work great this time of year. In addition, if you head to Pass lake, the rainbows and browns should be feeding on hare's ear nymphs, scuds, and bait fish by now. If you fish the nymphs or scuds, slow troll them on an intermediate or type 2 full sinking line along the edges of the drop-oower you go, the better, and the takes are really soft, but the fish are typically really big. When the daytime water temps get above 65 degrees, try fishing the lakes in the evening.
Also, if you use the bait fish patterns, use a clear intermediate line, 9ft leader tapered to no less than 4X tippet, and a light colored pattern with some action. I like to use white woolly buggers with some lead free wire wrapped around the front half of the hook for added action. Cast the fly as close to the bank as possible and strip it back as fast as you can. Continue the retrieve until you run out of line as the fish will follow it all the way to the boat. This technique is a blast as you often get to see the fish slam the fly!
The rivers are not open yet, (They will open June 1st), but the snow melt has started and the flows are up. By June the flows should be perfect, the fish will be in, the air temps should be confortable, and the steelhead and dolly fishing should be great! Stay posted for more info as I will be on the water as soon as the rivers open up.
If that isn't enough, king salmon will be entering the rivers soon. You can target the hatchery kings on the Skykomish River, but not on the Skagit or Stilly. Look for some great fishing this year as the pink salmon will be following soon after. These fish are so much fun on a fly, I can hardly wait!
I have been working hard on the yard to get it onto shape and hopefully cut down on future yard work significantly. I haven't been out on the water for a couple weeks, but my friend Bob made it out last Monday. Here is his report for Lone Lake.
I made my first trip of the year to Lone Lake on Monday and did quite well. Once you get away from this years 8-10" plants, there are some nicer 15-17" fish down deep. I did real well on some #8 wolley buggers in olive, tan and maroon. They really liked the maroon ones. It didn't matter too much whether they were bead heads or not. I used them mostly to get down deeper when out of the weeds.
The chronies were not really hatching heavy which didn't matter much to me. Very few damsels were sighted and I only picked up a few fish on them. Most of the bites were really subtle. It felt like a slight tug from a weed. Almost like they were nipping the tail.
Good day overall.
OK, so this isn't really an updated report, but more of a note to let everyone know what I've been up to.
Just in cast you don't live in Washington or follow the regs closely, most, if not all of the rivers in Northwest Washington are closed to fishing . The reason this is done is to allow both the winter and last years summer steelhead to spawn in peace. This is a good thing in more ways that one.... it gives me the opportunity to catch up on all the things I haven't had time to do over the last couple years....clean out the garage, finish off the weeds that are trying to take over the yard, you know, the usual spring stuff.
And if that isn't enough, I have been putting some serious time into putting my pontoon boat rod holder and wheel assembly into production. My first prototype of the wheel assembly was completed last week and it is trick to say the least. I had to make a couple tweeks and hope to have production parts by the end of the month. (I was originally hoping to have this thing in production by December, but that didn't happen.) But wait....there is more. I can anodize the wheel assembly in a color to match the boat. The available colors will most likely be blue, green, and aluminum gray. No more packing a nine foot pontoon boat on your back!
If you are wondering why I am not fishing the lakes, it is simply because I haven't had the time. However, as soon as I make it out, I will post a report.
On another note, the summer steelhead season is quickly approaching on June 1st. Just like the winter fish, look for good fishing right after a high water event. The water will be colored and the fish will be right in close to the bank. I will be splitting my time between the Skykomish River and the Sauk River. Yep, there are steelhead in the Sauk in June and July, and I will be fishing them during the run-off. If you are thinking it needs to rain to have a high water event, you are a bit off. All you need is warm air to melt the mountain snow and you will get an increase in the river flows.
Can you say Monster Dollies!
My good friend Earl and I did a float on the upper Skagit from Marblemount down. Now I have floated this section before and knew that it was an easy float, but I am a little embarrased to say I have never fished this section of the river, other than one of the holes you can walk into. Man have I been missing out! This was a great float with a number of good runs. The only challenge is that there isn't much for gravel bars on the upper part of the float. When the river is up, you basically have to anchor you boat, wade deep, and keep your back cast out of the trees. Or better yet, use a double handed rod!
Shortly after we started the float we came across a boulder patch with some big boulders and soft water. We hopped out of the boats, dropped anchor, and started wading. I took the lower half of the bar and Earl took the top half. I made one cast and half way through the swing my line came tight and I was hooked into a huge dolly. After rolling in the surface a couple times and pulling off a bunch of line I got it in close enough to realize this was the biggest dolly I have ever seen. Shortly after releasing this beauty, a huge fish rolled downstream of us, then another.
It didn't take Earl long before he was hooked up and we quickly realized this run was loaded with dollies and they were just knocking the snot out of something. (Later I decided the dollies they were probably eating chum fry.) Earl managed to hook five or six fish in this run and landed three. All of the fish he landed were over 18" and one was a dandy at around 24". He even had one hook-up where the fish hit his streamer the second it hit the water, and he saw the take! We worked this run for two hours before we decided we needed to get moving just to finish the float. As we were pulling out, I watched a 20" plus dolly come clean out of the water and re-enter head first, mouth open, then swim off in the crystal clear water. That run was hard to leave!
We worked a number of other very good runs and Earl managed to hook up three more times, but these fish all managed to throw the hook in short order.
Unfortuantely, by the time you read this, the rivers will have closed for the month of May which means it is time to hit the lakes. If you do this, when you get out on the water, pay attention to what is going on around you. If the swallows are out and there are chironomid schucks on the water, you better tie on a chironomid and do the bobber think if you want a good shot at some fish. However, if you are fishing a newly stocked lake, the hungry hatcher plants will hit just about anything with with decent action, including olive willies, spiders, carey specials, and woolly buggers.
It has rained steadily over the last couple weeks, but the rains have been light enough and the snow level has been low enough that the rains have not have an impact on the river levels other than maintaining a constant flow. The Sauk has been very clear with 10 to 12 ft of visability and the Skagit has been crystal clear with unlimited visability.....and the fishing has been tough.
Scott flew up from Southern California and we spent a weekend on the Sauk and Skagit. We fished a number of great runs on the Sauk and even had the river to ourselves on Easter Sunday, but couldn't buy a fish. However, on Saturday Scott managed to find a beauty of a dolly on the Skagit in a very short run with a deep slot under a riffled surface. I thought for sure it was a steelhead as it peeled off a bunch of line on the hook-up and rolled in the surface a couple times. I didn't realize what he had until he pulled in into the shallows.
The Sauk got a small shot of water on Thursday which made for some great conditions on Thursday and Friday. If you made it out (I didn't), I'm sure you did well.
I will most likely be on the upper Skagit during this last week that the rivers are open. After that, I will spend the month of May fishing and guiding the local lakes for rainbows and browns and getting ready for the summer steelhead season coming up in June. I expect it will be a killer season if it is anything like the Sauk was over the last couple months!
The hot ticket on the local lakes will be a #12 olive woolly bugger and a #12 olive willie. At Pass Lake, chironomids will be the ticket until the lake warms up around mid to late June. After that, nymphs will be the ticket during the day, and woolly buggers in the surface film will be a blast when the sun goes down.
The Sauk has been up and down for the last couple weeks. When it is up and off color, it has been fishing very well! When it is low and clear and everyone is pounding the water, the fishing is tough to say the least.
I had a guide trip booked for Wednesday. On Tuesday the temperature rose, and the snow level went up. That alone was enough to put more water into the rivers. Then on Tuesday night the rain started dumping. I check the Sauk flow on Tuesday night and the guage was out. I checked it again on Wednesday AM and it was still out. Thinking the condidtions would either be really good or really bad, we decided to take a chance and meet at the river. As luck would have it the visibility was around two feet, the river level seemed to be holding, and there wasn't a single boat on the water.
JR is very experienced with a fly rod and has probably been catching Deschutes steelhead since before I was born, or at least before I started fishing. At first he wasn't happy to hear we would be fishing with sink tip fly lines, but he is a very quick learner and picked up the technique after only a couple casts. He was 20 casts into the head of the second run and the line started peeling off the reel. I nice steelie rolled and threw the hook. That was it for that run.
About an hour later JR was about three casts into the head of the fourth run and once again line started peeling off his reel. Once again, a nice fish rolled below him, turned, and went screaming downstream. A couple minutes later he landed a chrome bright 10lb hen. This was proof that you don't have to have first water to catch steelhead as there was a guy fishing this run when we drove by in the morning. We were off the water by noon as we both had plans later in the day.
You may have noticed that I haven't posted any reports for the last couple weeks. This was partly because I didn't have any great stories, and mostly because I have been gearing up to sell some products on my web site that I have found very useful as a fly fishing guide. If you go to my Pontoon Boat Accessories page you will find a wheel assemby that works with the Dave Scadden and Outcast Fish Cat 8ft and 9ft pontoon boats. You will also find chordless air pumps that will quickly inflate all pontoon boats with a 1" valve, including Outcast, Bucks Bag, and Dave Scadden boats. I will also be selling rod holders for 0 to 6wt rods that don't have a fighting butt. These rod holders are designed for lake fishing where your rod tip is in the water when you are fishing. After adjusting the drag on your reel, you set the rod in the holder to free your hands when you are trolling. When you hear the drag, your lift up on the grip to release the rod and set the hook at the same time. You will loose far less fish than with conventional rod holders that point your rod tip in the air as if your were trolling for salmon. This is because when your are slow trolling a fly, there is not enough tension on the line to keep the fish on. When the fish strikes, the rod tip bends slightly, straightens out, then the hook falls out. All this happens before you even knew you had a fish on.
You can view the products on the Pontoon Boat Accessories page today, but it will not be set up for ordering until the end of April or early May. Between now and then I will be adding a shopping cart and shipping information to the page.
Three and a half for two!
The Sauk has been treating us well over the last week! Except for Saturday the river was in great shape all week. It rose fast on Saturday, and was back in shape for our trip on Sunday.
In the last week I have done two trips and we landed three steelhead between 5 and 15 pounds and lost one good fish. On the second run we fished on Sunday, Earl landed a beautiful 32" native hen in his first dozen casts. In the same run, we also hooked a number of dollies, but only managed to land a couple of them. During the five minutes I fished (Jeff needed a break), I managed to hook into a fish at the end of the swing that was doing some serious (big) head shakes. It was probably a huge dolly but its possible it was also a steelhead!
When we were out, the water was off color with about 3 feet of visibility and the skies were overcast. It rained most of the morning, but dried up in the afternoon. Effective flies were white streamers (effective for the dollies), purple/blue marabou, and blue/purple marabou. With the forecast for expected rain for the rest of the week, the conditions should stay about the same with the same flies being effective for most of the week. Also remember, when the flows are hight and the water is colored, steelhead will hold close to shore. Start shallow with a short line so you don't walk right out past the fish. However, if the water clears and the sun breaks out, switch to bright flies in bright pink, fuchsia, and red/orange. Fish the shallows before going deep, but also look for a riffled surface.
Conditions are great. There couldn't be a better time to get out on the water!
Let there be rain! Well, the rain and wind continued, a warm front moved in, the snow level rose, and the rivers went from low and clear to flood stage in a matter of days.
By Sunday, the Skagit had dropped back into shape and the Sauk was starting to look good also, but it was still a bit high. My trip for Sunday got all crossed up so I headed to the upper Skagit thinking is was going to float it alone. As it turns out, there were a couple other guys doing the same float that offered me a ride at the take out. How could I refuse?
Between the three of us we managed to hook up with a half dozen fish, including one chrome bright steelhead which threw the hook after doing a tail walk across the river. We managed to land three dollies between 16" and 18".
By Monday the Sauk was in perfect shape, so Tim and I met up in the morning for a half day float on a section of the Sauk that I have never fished. This wasn't a guided trip as Tim knows exatcly what he is doing with a fly rod, and with drift gear. However, he made the mistake of giving me first water on the first geally good run we came to. Just for fun, I was making some really long casts, letting my line swing, and then just hand in the very deep current seam that just seems to hold the line in the perfect spot. Half way down the run, my rod went down hard and a steelhead rolled in the surface. To my surprise, this 6lb hen swam right in to shore, then decided to do a tail walk within a foot from the gravel bar. After a very short battle, and a minute of reviving, she bolted back into the current.
Since there is usually more than one steelhead holding in a good run, I asked Tim if he wanted to finish the run where I left off. To my amazement, he declined. I took a short break, asked again, then jumped back in the river. I made another ten casts, again, letting the line hang in the seam. Once again, my rod went down hard and line started peeling off my reel. I yelled to Tim that he wasn't going to like this, and just when he looked up, my big buck did a tail walk in the middle of the river. Pound for pound, this was the strongest fish I have ever hooked. It got into my backing twice while making over a dozen runs and refused to pull into the shallows. After about five minutes I landed this buck in the 15# range, snapped a couple pictures, and the second it's head went back into the river, it bolted for the depths.
Now is the time to be on the Sauk and Skagit as the water color is perfect. If the conditions stay the same with the predicted showers, flies in white, black, blue, and purple should be the ticket. However, if the river drops back to low and clear, and it eventually will, switch to brighter flies in pink, orange, and red. And remember, if the fly isn't just off the bottom, you aren't fishing.
A number of storm fronts have moved through the area, and with all the rain, you would think the rivers would get a shot of fresh water.....not this time. The stroms are blowing in from the north so the snow level is between 500 and 1000 feet. This means that all the rain you see in town is falling as slow on the hills and not much of it is making it into the rivers. Enough of the weather.
The Sauk is very low and most likely, very clear. Due to the cold weather, the flow on the Skagit has been up and down very drastically every day as a result of power generation requirements. Along with that, the winds have been blowing at 15 to 25 mph which makes for some frustrating time on the water to say the least. I had three days on the water scheduled for last week and all three were canceled due to weather and low water. So I went skiing instead!
Watch the temperature and check the flows over the next couple weeks. When the temperature goes up for a couple of days, check the flows, watch for a rise and get out on the water when the river starts to drop. I will be there for sure.
Spring is coming and the lake fishing has already started to pick up. Chironomids are a huge part of a trout's diet in the spring. If you choose not to do the chironomid thing, you will be missing out on an opportunity for some great fishing. Blood worms can be very effective in the early spring. Fish them weighted so they get down to the bottom, use a floating line, long leader 14 to 16 feet in length tapered to 4x tippet. Set the strike indicator so the fly is a foot off the bottom. If you can see the bottom of the lake, find a bare spot to cast over, let the fly sink, and strip it in with slow one inch pulls. If you are working the fly and observing your surroundings, you won't get board, and you will get a quick shock then the line gets ripped out of your hands. Start out with a size 16 fly, and look for chironomid schucks on the water. Compare the schucks to your fly and go one size down to be safe.
Over the last week, the skies cleared, the temperature dropped, the Skagit continued to drop to low and clear and the native steelhead continued to trickle in. The primary holding water where you can effectively present a fly to these fish became the riffled water at the heads of the runs.
Alan flew in from Colorada for a local fund raiser and wanted to chase some steelhead on his day off. Due to a slight scheduling conflict he arrived at the meeting spot without a license. This put us back a bit on the way to the first run and when we pulled into the parking area, there were three other cars. Not good! We moved on to the next run and I was happy to see only one other angler who was finishing the run as we were on our way in. This run has some awesome steelhead holding water from top to bottom. However, the water was low and clear and the skies were bright and sunny. Not the best conditions for steelheading, but a great day to be outside.
Alan struggled with the sink tip at first, but within a half an hour he was putting together some decent casts, and by mid day, he was consistently making beautiful casts. The first time he worked through the run he was mostly getting his cast together. The second time through he was getting the fly down and presenting it well, but no takers.
The second run also has some great holding water at the head of the run. Alan was a quarter of the way into the head of the run, still in the riffled water, when he got a grab on the strip. He stopped, changed flies, backed up and worked through the same water once again, but we couldn't get it to come back.
We were in the shadows on the last run of the day. Other than the river being low, the conditions were great, but once again, no takers.
The rivers are still low, even after the day of rain on Sunday. A number of storm fronts are expected to blow through over the next couple weeks. Most of the rivers in the North Sound closed to fishing on Saturday, but the Sauk and upper Skagit are still open. Conditons should be great by the end of the week and if the forecast is correct, they should stay that way for the next couple weeks.
If you go out over the next couple days and the rivers are clear with overcast skies, go with purples and blues for fly colors. However, when the rivers color up, switch to patterns with white, orange/white, blue/purple, or black.
The rains finally arrived....in a big way. In fact, between the rain and the dam releases, the Skagit River came up a couple feet during the first couple hours we were on the water. When I walked into the first run, (Yes, I got to fish today!) the river was low and it was tough to decided where the tail-out of the upper run ended and the head of the lower run started! I worked through the run the first time without a bump, and the water was clear with about 6 foot of visability. Dan worked behind me and didn't touch a fish either. I moved on to the upper run, and when I came back, the water was up and the run had totally changed. The head of the run was obvious, and the water was colored. I worked the run again, but this time with a white streamer. I started in the heavily riffled shallows, casting across at 90 degrees, giving the line a good mend, stepping down, and letting the fly swing. I was only a couple hundred feet into the head of the run, my fly was swinging, then it stopped half way through the swing. I was fishing water that was only a couple feet deep. I softly lifted the rod thinking I had hung on the bottom, and the line softly tugged back. I set the hook and line started peeling off the reel and heading upstream. Steelhead! "Sweet" The fish rolled and peeled off more line. I gained some line and it rolled again. This time I clearly saw the dark back. A few minutes later I released a 25" dolly.
I waded out to where I left off, made a half dozen casts and hooked into another dolly. This one was 20 inches. Then all was quiet. The run was fishing beautifully, but the water was coming up and getting dirty which doesn't make for the best conditions. When the river level rises fast, the extra silt in the water puts more stress on the fish and shuts the catching down, at least in most cases.
Dan and I worked one more run. We each got a couple tugs from a couple dollies, but that was it. I had things to do, so I headed home for the day around noon.
The heavy rain on Friday and Saturday should bring some fresh native steelhead into the Skagit over the next couple days. However, the forecast is for clear skies and cold mornings. Be ready to break the ice off the guides. Look for colored water, and if you can't find that, look for anything that will provide cover, such as a riffled surface. Also, work the good steelhead runs in the morning and evening when the light is off the water.
Get out there, because the steelhead are still coming in!
The rivers continued to drop over the last week, the water cleared, and the steelhead continued to filter in. The runs that Phil and I fished were lower than I had ever fished them, but the steelhead were still there....and so were the anglers. The fly guys and the jet boats were out in force. In fact, the first run we fished has some great holding water, even when the river is low. A jet boat screamed up the river and shut off the motor right below Phil, three baited lines go flying into the seam that Phil is working, and a couple minutes later a net comes out....you get the idea.
If you have to go out on the weekend (I don't), get out early and fish the runs before the boat traffic arrives. Or, go out late and work the runs when the boats are off the water. Overcast evenings are a great time to catch steelhead.
Since the rivers have dropped to low and clear, the steelhead are holding in the rippled seams that provide cover. Effective colors are orange/white and red/orange. However, with the rains coming, the holding water and effective colors will change. When fishing dirty water on dark days, try white streamers, orange/white streamers, orange/white agressor, black or purple woolly buggers, and black or purple string leaches. Fish the soft water and start shallow with a short line. Work you way from the shallow water to the deeper water so you don't cast right over your fish.
The steelhead are in, the conditions are great, take a day off work and get out on the river!
Ken flew in from California for the weekend and wanted to spend the day on the Skagit before flying home in the evening. We got started a bit later than I had hoped, but to my surprise were the only ones on the run. I started out with some casting instruction. We were in fast water at the head of the run, so I also gave Ken some tips on mending and stepping down. Ken was a quick learner and didn't have any problem grasping the concept and picking up the technique. Sure enough, 100 feet into the run his line comes tight in the middle of the swing and line starts peeling off the reel. The fish didn't go to the air so I was thinking dolly. However, the line keeps peeling off the reel and the fish starts going upstream. I've never seen a dolly fight like that! This fish made three good runs before Ken was able to get it into the shallows. All I ever saw was a tail about two and a half feet from where the leader entered the water. After 30 seconds in the shallows, Kens line goes limp and the fish swims off. We were on the water at 8:00 and Ken had already hooked and lost a steelhead by 8:45. Not a bad way to start the morning!
Then second run was just as productive. 10 casts into the head of the run and Ken lands a 16" dolly. We break for lunch and start up were we left off. This time with Ken's gear and a different fly, a couple casts, and he hooks and lands an 18" dolly. Then another dolly, then another. At one point he landed two dollies on two consecutive casts. Finally he has to make a decision: Continue catching dollies, skip the last run, then head for the airport, or move on to a good steelhead run. We move on.
Unfortunately Ken only made it half way down the run, and not quite to the best holding water before it was time to leave. However, hooking a steelhead in the first run and landing five dollies in the second makes for a pretty good day!
In case you were wondering, we spent the day using a 15 foot type 4 sink tip line, a 6 foot leader tapered to 10 lb Maxima Ultragreen. The steelhead took an orange/white aggressor, and the dollies took purple and black string leaches with bead chain eyes.
If you ever wanted to tie into a steelhead, now is the time to get out on the water!
I didn't make it out over the weekend as my in-laws were in town, but here is what Saul had to say.....Finally got out and put in a short morning on the Skagit. Fished my two favorite runs, having the first one to myself at first light. After a solid hour of no action (except for the ice fog!), I tied into a dandy fish, assuming a dolly. To my disappointment, I had hooked a brown sucker, a big one at that, about 5 pounds. A few drifts later, a small brown sucker. Not good. At least I knew I was fishing the flies low. I was about to give up on the run as my feet were frozen, when the fly got drilled hard, this time out in the current. I knew it was a "non-sucker". After a good battle, I landed and released a 24 inch, fat dolly. This fish was very nice. This is what I came for.
Off to hole #2. When I show, an older fly guy had just started the run. I asked him if I could fish behind and waited 10 minutes for him to move down. I was pessimistic, as this was not first water. First drift, fish on. So much for gut feelings. I thought all along I had a small steelie on. When I brought the fish in, it was a 22" sea run cutthroat in spectacular color. Awesome fish and huge for the species. At the time I had the SRC on, the guy in front beaches a 10 pound native steelhead. So nice to see this guy release the fish without handling it. Certainly, this fish will move on to spawn. Anyway, I felt as if the hole got drained, but I worked down as my morning was running out. In my last few cast, I get struck, set serious steel and put a strong bend into the rod. My 7 weight was shaped like a "U" and I was into my backing instantly. Huge steelhead surfaces way out in the current, the fight is on and this fish is a monster. I have caught some beauties in the recent past and this one was the biggest by far. After a good battle, the fish takes a speed run right at me in the shallows and tailwalks not 10 feet from me. Fly gets spit, I let out a yell so loud that the eagles fly from their roost high up in the trees. This was a mint bright buck, native and enormous. Damn!
Great morning nevertheless. My 7 weight is a hot stick. It has tied me into a steelhead on every trip.
All fish were taken on a full floating line with an Orvis 6ft type 3 mini-sink tip, 5 ft leader, and a weighted egg sucking black woolly bugger.
Jason and I headed to the upper Skagit and Sauk for a day of dolly fishing. The rivers were all dropping from the recent heavy rain, the forecast was for overcast skies, conditions seemed perfect. The first run Jason fished was on the upper Skagit. The flow was perfect, but the water was crystal clear....not good for dolly fishing. I spent some time showing him the sink tip technique, he worked the tail out with no takers, so we headed for the Sauk.
My favorite run on the Sauk was open, the visibility was around 3 feet, and we were getting rained on. Perfect conditions! Jason fished the run from top to bottom with no takers. I was shocked!
Time for plan B: Head to the middle Skagit and fish the colored water. We hiked into the first run on the middle Skagit and the water was high! In fact, it was higher than I had ever fished it, but some of the gravel bar was showing. The water was still flowing at walking speed and the color was perfect so we jumped in. Jason started off at the head of the run with a 15ft type 4 sink tip, 6 ft leader, and an egg sucking black leach. That fly broke off after a half dozen casts so I tied on an egg sucking white streamer. He worked half way down the run without a bump. I knew there was fish in this run so I broke out my other 8wt rod with a floating line, 9ft leader, and a heavy egg sucking black woolly bugger. I jumped into the run 50ft upstream of Jason. Within a half dozen casts I hooked into a nice dolly in the 18" range. I handed the rod to Jason, showed him the technique, and told him to have at it. I took the rod he was using, tie on an orange/white aggressor (guide fly), moved upstream 50 ft, and made a few casts. After a dozen or so casts, the line came tight and couple feet of line peeled off the reel. This dolly was in the 20" range. Now I had a problem. I just hooked two fish upstream of Jason using two different techniques and he still hadn't hooked up. We had a little talk and he decided to stick with the floating line. I made a few more casts and hooked a third fish. OK, time to make a change! I handed my rod to Jason, asked him to start exactly where I left off, and within a couple casts, his rod goes down. Finally! He landed a small dolly, made a few more casts, and landed another small dolly. Now we're talking!
We stopped at one last run on the way home. Once again, the conditions were perfect. There was a guy in the tail out of the run when we walked in, but that doesn't matter when fishing dollies. I catch just as many dollies fishing second water as I do when I have the run to myself. Jason worked the run well and managed to hook into two more dollies in the tail out. The first took the rod down hard, but threw the hook. He never got a chance to see it. Jason's fishless curse on the Skagit was broken. He was happy!
There are a couple things you need to do if you want to consistently catch fish with a sink tip line. 1) Know how to read water so you can pick out runs that are fishable with a fly rod. 2) Master the ability to control you line so you are consistently presenting the fly low and slow, right off the bottom and in front of any fish in the run. 3) Work the run from top to bottom as quickly as you can for the conditions. 4) Select the right fly for the conditions. 5) Have confidence that you will catch fish.
I wrote a short piece on reading water that you will find on my "Technique" page. The ability to read water takes a basic understanding or river hydrology and a lot of time spent on the river working the runs with your fly rod. I won't get into this here.
Line control is a different story and this is what I want to cover. If you understand what you need to do to control your fly line, you can master this technique in a day. The most important thing to do is pay attention to what your line and fly is doing on every cast. Yes....every cast! This means that you can not do the same thing over and over just because you are used to doing it, or because it is the way you were taught. The way I like to teach sink tip technique is by telling my clients that there is a progression that you go through when you fish a run to make sure your fly is getting down. When you start fishing any run, your first cast should be down and across at 45 degrees. If the fly hangs up at the end of the swing, then make the next cast down and across at 30 degrees with a tight line and no mend. If it still hangs up then you are either fishing water that is too slow, or using a tip that is too heavy for the run. If the fly does not hang up at the end of the swing (this us usually the case), then your next cast should be directly across the current at 90 degrees. If the fly still does not hang up, then the next cast is directly across the current at 90 degrees, make sure you have some slack line in your hand at the end of the cast, drop the slack line, and make a mend. If the fly still does not hang up, then the next cast is directly across the current at 90 degrees, make sure you have some slack line in your hand at the end of the cast, drop the slack line, make a mend, then immediately take three big steps downstream. If the fly still does not hang up at the end of the swing, then you are either fishing in water that is too fast, or using a sink tip that is not heavy enough for the run. With each of the steps mentioned above, you are giving you fly and line more time to sink. Now this is where you have to pay attention. You do not want your fly to hang up on every cast. You also do not want the fly to never hang up. When you are learning the feel of a sink tip, you want the fly to hang up after a half dozen casts. Once you learn the "feel", you want the fly to hang up when you give it a couple extra seconds to sink. If the fly doesn't hang up when you think it should, then follow the steps above to give it more time to sink. Now as you work the run from top to bottom, you will have to continually adjust your technique. You need to do this because the flow changes from head to throat to tail out. If you master this technique, you will put your fly in front of more fish, you will catch more fish, and your confidence will grow. Just remember.....pay attention on every cast, or should I say swing, and make adjustments to your technique often.
Just as I suspected, many of the rivers dropped back into fishable shape on Wednesday. If you were able to make it out, I'm sure you did well.
On Wednesday night, the warm storm fronts moved in, the rains began, and the snow in the mountains started melting....fast! The rivers were punched until Sunday. I did not make it out during the week, but will be on the water tomorrow. Expect a report by mid week.
I met up with Earl and Phil and we headed to the upper Skagit. We finally got some good rain during the week and the flows were up. When the flows go up high enough, the lower Skagit becomes unfishable, but some of the gravel bars on the upper Skagit stay exposed. Over the last couple days the flows have been rising from 5000 cfs in the moring to 10,000 cfs around 10:00 AM. The first stop I chose on purpose as I knew the gravel bar would be underwater at 10,000 cfs.
I haven't been out with Earl since last August, so I had him start out in the good water. I knew where would be fish in the tailout. He was using a type 6 sink tip, 6ft leader, and an egg sucking white streamer. I brought Phil 100 feet upstream of Earl and before Phil could make his first cast, Earl was landing is first dolly of the day. Earl landed a second fish right away, then all was quiet. The tail out of this run is very long, and you could probably continue to work it all the way to the head of the next run. Earl continued his way down the run and in the middle of the swing his rod went down hard, a large fish rolled in the surface, and threw the hook. Steelhead....maybe....Dolly....probably. Earl managed to land a third dolly and lost a second. Phil also had a hard take, which didn't stick. I fished the top of the run for a short time and landed one small dolly, lost another, and also had a hard take which didn't stick.
We fished another good run which has easy access and tends to get a lot of pressure. We didn't touch a fish on this run so we decided to stop at the Sauk for our last run, hoping it would have more color that the Skagit.
There was no one on the water when we arrived at our run on the Sauk. We quickly ate our lunch and headed to the river. Phil got the tailout this time. The water was moving fast, so we used the heavy sink tips once again, kept the wading close to the bank, made large mends with plenty of slack line, and stepped downstream after the mend instead of stepping down after the swing. Phil was obviously in the good water and managed to hook a dolly after a couple casts. Unfortunately, this run is visible from the road and a couple cars stopped to watch phil land his fish. After a couple more casts, Phil hooked another dolly, but this one came unpinned.
A half hour later it was like a tour bus unloaded. One guy came out of the trees and went in below Phil. A few minutes later, two guys came out of the trees and walked above me. A coupe more minutes go buy and three guys emerge and camp out below me. Finally another guy walks out between Earl and Phil. All were fishing with gear, none of them asked if we cared, and most likely none of them knew any better. We decided we had caught our fish for the day, so we packed up and headed out. Shortly afterward, the rains began.
The rivers are on the rise, but the warm front should be gone by tomorrow and the rivers will be dropping over the next couple days. The runoff should give the rivers some decent color, so expect excellet fishing conditions by mid week.
John sent me an email on Thursday and by friday we had a trip lined up for the lower Skagit on Sunday. The weater conditions were perfect with dark overcast skies, but no rain. In fact, it hadn't rained for a week and even the lower Skagit was flowing crystal clear. Not good conditions for dolly varden.
John hadn't fly fished for a couple years and he warned me that his casting was a bit rusty. We walked into the run and I showed him the technique. His first cast didn't work well, but within five minutes, his timing was down and he was making his casts. We worked through the first run without touching a fish. I was amazed as this run had always produced fish when the river was high enough.
I wasn't very excited about the second run as the bottom structure is very poor, but it has always produced fish. Sure enough, a half hour into the run, John hooked into a small dolly, and he did it with his own gear. He was excited, and so was I. However that turned out to be the only fish of the day. Other than high visability, the conditions were perfect in the last run. We worked throught the whole run without even so much as a bump! I was amazed!
Time to head back to the upper river and figure out were the dollies are hiding.
Apparently I wasn't the only one that thought that eagle watching on the Skagit would be a good thing to do this weekend. Julie and I did a float from Howard Miller steelhead park and I was amazed at the number of people and cars when we arrived. If you wanted solitude, this wasn't the place to go.
Normally I do my eagle watching floats in December, but my last trip to England really threw my schedule off. There are a lot of eagles out in January, but there usually even more eagles and fewer people in December
For some reason, the flows in the upper Skagit are still really high and the visability is also very high. I usually perfer to fish for dollies in the soft, colored water. However, if you can find a run with some soft water and a rippled surface, that will work also. When I talk about soft water, I mean a section of a run that fishes well with a type 3 or 4 sink tip. In this water, a type 3 or 4 sink tip will swing until it is straight downstream and only hang up occasionally on the retrieve. However, a type 5 or 6 sink tip will hang up often on the swing.
The Sauk, Stilly, and Sky are on the rise today, but should fish well when they start to drop back into shape after the rains let up.
I talked to Bob the night before we were to go out on the Skagit. He mentioned that he had never really caught many fish in the rivers.
We met up early and headed into a run on the lower Skagit around 7:30, just as the darkness was fading. We walked through some trails to the gravel bar just to find.....there was no gravel bar. It was totally under water, and the visibility was around 18". Valuable lesson, learn the flows in Mount Vernon if you fish the lower Skagit. If the Baker is dumping, the flows in Marblemount don't mean anything on the lower Skagit.
Plan B, head for the upper Skagit! We arrived at our first run on the upper Skagit at 8:30 and there were two other guys in the run. No big deal, it is a long gravel bar.... After waiting for the guy at the top of the run to move down, and waiting, and waiting.. We finally just talked to him, then moved down to the middle of the run and started on the water where his buddy had already fished.
Bob, a friend that I have fished with in lakes and on the salt, wasn't very confident with his sink tip technique. No problem, I agreed to spending a couple hours helping him out. It is what I like to do...It is also why I guide. We waded out far enough to cast to the current seam, I demoed the cast and mend, letting the line swing, and the retrieve, and half way throught he retrieve a dolly slams the fly. I handed the rod to Bob, helped him land the fish, and told him to do it something like that.
Bob has a great cast, and the water we were fishing was slow enough that he didn't need a mend, so all he had to do was cast, let the line swing, and strip it in. This water was pretty straight forward. After a half dozen casts Bob hooks and lands a small dolly. Two more casts later and he gets slammed by a nice buck and lands that one too. He definately got the technique down for the soft water.
Around noon we headed to the next run. The water was faster and required a good mend with a type 4 sink tip. The trick to a good mend is not moving the fly after the line hits the water. To do this, I make sure I have slack line in my hand at the end of the last cast. Right before I make the mend, and after the line hits the water, I let go of the slack line, and draw a circle in the air with the tip of my rod which mends the line. A little slack line and a little circle for a small mend, and a lot of slack line and a big circle for a big mend. I showed this trick to Bob and he picked it up in short order.
When we walked into this run, there was a drift boat at the top of the run with a couple guys fishing gear. I had Bob start at the tail out and work his way down. After a dozen or so casts, he landed another dolly. Another half dozen casts go by and he lands another dolly, then another....you get the picture.
Eventually the drift boat leaves and we head to the top of the run. The water is really fast and requires a big mend. Bob picks it up, no problem. A couple dozen casts go by, and Bob's rod goes down hard and a small steelhead comes out of the water. For some reason, I am amazed, Bob is really excited. After releasing the small native hen, he wades back into the run and makes another dozen casts. His rod goes down hard again, and this time it is a pig of a female dolly, his biggest fish of the day. I'm thinking that Bob shouldn't have much of a confidence problem with his sink tip technique...as long as gets in some practice before he forgets everything he learned!
The Skagit always fishes well for me under high water. Just find the exposed gravel bars with a couple feet of visability and you should be set. This time of year, 15 ft type 4 sink tips, 6ft leaders, and egg sucking white streamers are usually the ticket for me. However, be preparred to go to a type 6 sink tip and shorter leader when the river goes up and the water gets dirty. Fish the fly off the bottom and swing it across slow and you should be good to go.
All the North Sound rivers; Sauk, Skagit, Sky, Stilly should be fishing well as they are comeing off the high water, but get out quick as they are dropping fast!
|2003 Reports||2002 Reports||2001 Reports|