Skagit River Dolley Varden
After a month and a half, I finally managed to get back out on the water. I spent a couple hours in the morning with my good friend Deene Almvig working on my two handed floating line casting at Youngs Bar on the Skagit. It felt good to finally work out a couple kinks.
After a couple hours of casting, I headed upstream on the Skagit and spent a couple hours fising below Concrete for dolley varden. I headed to the river with the intention of catching a dolley on a floating line with a skated dry fly. To my surprise, the river was in great shape. The water had that winter green color and the visibility was about 6 feet. The Skagit was flowing at about 11,000 cfs and dropping at Concrete.
I started out swinging a muddler on a floating line with my 11ft, 7wt Orvis Helios Switch in the main part of the run with slow moving water. I didn't find any takers, so I switched to beach poper. Still no luck, so I headed upstream to the top of the run and switched over to an 10 ft, type 6 versi leader, a 6 foot leader, and a white marabou streamer. Once again, no takers, so I switched to purple/black marabou streamer. After only a few casts I got a good grab at the end of the swing, but the fish didn't stay on. I made a couple more casts and got another good grab. I thought for sure I could keep this one on, but it wasn't to be. This went on for the next half hour. Once I decided there were a lot of fish in this run, I switched to my single handed 9.5 ft 6 wt with a floating line, 10 ft leader, and a muddler minnow. I made a half dozen casts with no takers. As the fly was coming to the end of the swing, I started thinking about changing flies and a dolley slammed the fly and pulled off about 5 feet of line. I made the mistake of lifting the rod instead of swinging toward the bank, and the fish came off. Maybe next time I'll remember!
The Skagit is in great shape with lots of dollies around. The rain is supposed to start tonight, but I expect the rivers won't come up much due to the cool temps. If you were thinking about getting out, now is the time to do it while the temps are above freezing!
Tobin, Tyler, and I spent the late morning and early afternoon on Pass Lake. We managed to avoid the rain, and the wind only blew a little, but boy was it cold. I was prepared for the cold weather, but having the wind down your neck or in your face was unpleasant at the least. The surface water temperature was 42 degrees when we started fishing around 10 AM and warmed to 45 degrees when we stopped around 1:00 PM. We started out fising a red string leach on a type 2 full sinking line and a #6 black woolly bugger on the other rod wich also had a type 2 full sinking line. Tobin's rod with the black woolly bugger got slammed hard shortly after leaving the launch, but the hook didn't stick. A short time later Tyler hooked into a pretty skinny looking 16" rainbow that didn't put up much of a fight. We basically trolled our way down to the far end of the lake. Tyler managed to get a number of hits on the string leach, but none of them stayed on long enough to get the fish to the boat. Some of these fish put up a pretty good fight.
I spent about 10 minutes casting a #12 olive woolly bugger into the shallows on a clear intermediate line and stripping it back as fast as I could. I got one follower that made a number of swipes at the fly, but it never got the hook...and that was it. During this time, we managed to hook into a thick 18" bow on the string leach, but this fish also didn't put up much of a fight. I think the water was just too cold.
After little more success with the black woolly bugger, I switched Tobin's fly to a #6 olive woolly bugger with an olive/orange tail. He got a number of hits and finally landed a 16" bow. I think it was his first fish on a fly rod. He was pretty excited.
By 1 PM we were cold and the wind was starting to blow, so we called it a day.
I spent a few hours in the afternoon on the upper Skagit. The upper river is high but fishable at just above 8000 cfs at Marblemeount. I was standing in waste deep water and backed up to the trees in the first run I fished above Marblemount. I was swinging a type 8 sink tip on my 7 weight spey rod with an egg sucking white streamer on the end. I hooked up with a smallish fish after only my first couple casts. It came off after only a cople head shakes. I made a couple more swings and got a good pull, but the hook didn't stick....and that was it. To my amazement, there were spawning pinks in the tailout.....in November.
I heard reports of a couple steelhead a some big dollies caught in the Cascade River.
I was surprised to see very few chum in the upper Skagit. There are usually quite of few fish by now. Keep in mind that the Skagit is not open for chum, but if you find chum, you will also find dollies, and possibly a few steelhead.
I drove by the Sauk on the way out to the Skagit. I am happy to report that the weather has cooled enough that the Suattle glacier has finally stopped melting, and the Sauk is now in beautiful condition. Had I had time on the way back from the Skagit, I would have stopped and fished the Sauk. Unfortunately, I got a late start and was walking out of my second run on the Skagit at 4:30 in the dark.
The Stilly was high and dirty all the way up to Fortson. There are a couple spots to fish when it is high, but you will have company. The hatchery steelhead run on the Stilly is not looking very promising so far this winter. I will keep fishing and see what happens.
The high water has finally pushed all the pinks out of the river and the silvers and chum are in!
I have this theory.......that other fish find Pink Salmon and their eggs so disgusting that they don't enter the river until the pinks are gone...and year after year this has proven true. If you fish egg patterns late in the pink run, you catch nothing except other pinks....no dollies or steelhead, just pinks. You may see a few silvers and a few chum when the pinks are still around, but once they are gone, just like that, good numbers of silvers and chum show up.
I was on the Stilly a couple days ago just before the rain started again. It was a very small window between when the river dropped into fishable conditon and when the rains came and the river went out again. I managed to tie into four nice silvers over a half hour. I landed the first one, lost the next two, and was not able to land the last one. It was big, thick, and very powerful. Every time I got it near the bank, it turned and swam away. It tried to break me off in the rocks, then it headed for the logs. When I finally got the leader in my hand to tail the fish, it flipped its head and broke the leader. I didn't mind too much because I was planning to release it, but it would have been nice to get the fly out if its mouth.
The silver run on the Cascade is winding down, but there should be a decent number of silvers in the mainstem Skagit. There and silvers and chum in the Stilly. There were chum in the Sky a few weeks ago. There should be even more now. For silvers, I like small weighted leaches in purple, black, or combinations of both. Purple or black bunny leaches work well also. I always use weighted flies for silvers. Good colors for chum are purple, blue/purple, fuchsia, and chartreuse. Egg sucking flies work great this time of year, and if there are spawning fish around, try just straight egg patterns. For chum, you can swing flies near bright fish, If there are older chum around, try dead drifting or nymphine with an indicator to avoid foul hooking "the uglies", you can strip, or you can swing egg patterns on heavy sink tips in the fast water. Do your best to stay away from the spawning chum, and don't walk on the clean gravel....and check the regs before you head out. The Skagit is not open for chum salmon this year, and the NF Stilly is never open for salmon.
Scott and I spent the last three days fishing a number of local rivers. Here is the shocker....there are still bright pink salmon in all if the rivers. At this point, I am wishing they would go away so we can catch something else. When was the last time you hoped to not catch a salmon? We floated the Wallace and Sultan, swinging steelhead flies in the faster steelhead water, and we caught pinks. They ate white marabou baitfish streamer patters, blue/purple steelhead marabou streamers, and purple egg sucking leaches. We also fished a run on the Skagit looking for dollies or early winter steelhead. We caught pinks.
We spent Monday on the Methow River, one place where we didn't catch pinks. Scott managed to tie into, and land, a 30 pound hatchery chinook in the first run. He also caught bull trout, a big cutthroat, and finally, in the last run of the day, a nice little hatchery steelhead. He had a blast!
As I am writing this, all of the local rivers are on the rise. As the weather calms over the next couple days, and the rivers are still high, now is an excellent time to check out some of the local lakes. Lone and Pass are both good bets. Try string leaches, bunny leaches, and black or olive woolly buggers on full sinking or intermediate lines. Troll them or cast into the bank and stripp back quickly. This later technique will produce violent strikes and multiple hook-ups. Don't using anything lighter than 3X tippet or you will loose your flies.
I haven't gotten around to writing a fishing report for quite a while now. The pink salmon run on all of the rivers I fish was incredible this year! The Stilly was lined with salmon from bank to bank for almost a month. If that isn't crazy enough, there have been over 100,000 pink salmon trucked over the South Fork of the Skykomish River....and they are mainstem spawners. The estimated run size for the Skagit River was 1.6 million salmon....yes, million! The good news in all of this, if the pink salmon numbers isn't good enough is that all of these fish will provide much needed nutrients to the local rivers. Without these returning salmon, our local rivers are almost devoid of nutrients for both insects and fish.
I like the fish the early part of the pink salmon run where the fish are bright, eager to take a fly, and they fight like their life depends it. For most, it does, with me and my clients, not so much.
I spent a little time putting together some video clips that highlight the fishing over the last couple months. I hope you like it!
The pink Salmon fishing has been great in both the Sky and the Stilly. For the most part, the fish have been chrome bright and great fighters. A couple of days at the end of August, we had fish that jumped and got well into the backing on 8 weight rods with good disc drag reels. Some of these fish were so hot that they broke 9 lb tippet on the hook-set or the first run. I love fishing the early pink run. Oh, did I mention we hooked into a lot of fish.
I walked into a run on the lower Stilly the other morning before work. There were no other anglers around me, and about 30 min after the sun came up, the fish started pouring into the run. During the hour and a half that I was there, I would estimate that 1000 fish swam by me. At any one time, I could look down and see 10 fish across swimming by me. After hooking into four fish and finally landing the 4th, I turned around to leave and to my amazement, there were just as many fish swimming behind me as there was in front of me. I couldn't believe the numbers!
Both the Sky and the Stilly were packed with anglers on the weekend. I am usually able to find some good water away from other anglers, but the fish seem to bight a lot better all day long when there is less fishing pressure. If you can pick a day to go out, go mid week.
Once again, the Sky and Stilly fish have been picky about fly color. Try dark stuff in the morning when the light is off the water. Flies in blue, black, or purple seem to work well on the Sky. Once the sun is on the water, switch to flies in white, purple, or fuchsia (bright pink). The Stillly fish only seem to want white or mint green, or combinations of the two. A white/chartreuse clouser with heavy painted lead eyes works well....but make sure it sinks. The salmon may be splashing around in the surface, but 99% of your hook-ups will be on the bottom. Put the fly in front of the fish, give it a strip, and you should hook-up.
If you aren't catching fish, either you are not over fish, you are not using the right technique, or your using the wrong color.
Good luck out there!
Eric and I spent the day floating a section of the NF Stillly. We were fishing under clear bright skies, 85 degree weather, and we fond some great water, both for steelhead and cutthroat. We didn't see another soal until the bikini hatch floated by in the early afternoon, and we had the water all to ourselves until we hit the takeout. We floated over a steelhead on the way to the first run. Eric hooked an lost a steelhead after the third pass through the first run....second time with a sink tip.
Eric was working his way through some great water in the third run when a hot little native steelhead slammed his fly and put on a show. It was a beautiful chrome bright fish without a scratch. We didn't find any more steelhead on the rest of the float, but I did tie into a couple SRC as we were working our way down the river.
I attempted to make it to my favorite steelhead spot on the NF Stilly at first light, but I just couldn't get moving fast enough. I finally pulled into the parking area at 5:30, about 40 minutes after first light. To my surprise, the parking area was empty. The only explanation I could think of was the the fishing has been tough.
The water was clear with about 10 ft of visibility and the light was not yet on the water. I decided the fish the run with my Sage 7136, an Airflo delta spey line, and a trimmed down 12' 8wt Rio type 8 sink tip, 8ft leader tapered to 9 lb fluorocarbon, and a purple silvey spey fly. I really should have been fishing with a floating line, but I wanted to up my odds of hooking a fish, so I went with a sink tip.
I fished through the top of the run with no takers. The corner was sandy and slow so I worked through that water pretty fast. I finally got my line swinging through some good water and the line hung up in a rock.....so I thought. I lifted the rod to free it, and I got a hard pull, then nothing. Damn....it was a steelhead. I made another cast to the same spot, the line swung through.....nothing. I stepped upstream about five steps, made another cast, the line swung through the same spot, and the fish slammed the fly.....yaah! It pulled about 10 feet of line and started head shaking. It headed for me, and I kept up with it, then it started swimming upriver. I kept the line tight, it started shaking its head again, rolled over, and threw the hood. Damn!
I made a few more casts, then headed back to the truck then off to the office. Not a bad way to start the morning.
Dennis, Gary, and I headed out to Lone Lake on the South end of Whidbey Island for a morning of fishing for big strong rainbows. It was a cold morning with clear skies and 34 degrees around 7:00 AM.
When we arrived at the launch around 8:00 AM the sun was out and the air and lake were warming. At the start of the day the water temp on the surface of the lake was a chilly 44 degrees. As the day wore on and the sun heated the water, the surface temp rose to 49 degrees. Most likely, the temperature at the bottom of the lake never rose above 45 degrees. This is cool for April for sure.
From the launch we headed straight across the lake. Dennis got a hit on his #10 olive & orange wollly bugger, but the hook didn't find it's mark. As we worked our way down the far side of the lake, Gary got a hit on the red string leach, but this fish didn't stick either. Finally, around 10:30 AM, Gary hooked into a good rainbow in the 16" range and he managed to get it to the boat....his first fish on a fly. Shortly afterward, he hooked into a brute of a 18" bow with think shoulders that really made him work to get it to the boat.
By the time we were off the water around 1:30 PM, Gary landed four rainbows from 15" to 18", I brought in one healthy chrome bright 18" bow, and Dennis lost a handful of fish. All in all, I would say the fishing was slow, but I wasn't surprised because of the cool temps. The fishing should be great in the next couple weeks as the lake continues to warm.
Eric floated spent the day floating and fishing the Sauk River. The river dropped slightly from the high of 2500 cfs on Wednesday and the water was relatively clear. His first stop was a run I found the week before. It is a short run with a high bank, a couple of root balls on the bank to provide a little challenge to the casting, and soft seam in front, and some big boulders on the bottom. After only a couple casts, Eric hooked into a beauty of a steelhead that tore downstream nearly 100 yards before stopping, giving a couple tail walks on the way down.....it was a big fish....high teens probably. Having no where to move from his short run, Eric managed to crank the fish back upstream only to have it tear downstream again. After the third downstream run, Eric could tell the fish was starting to tire. Just when he was thinking he might have a chance at landing it, the hook pulled free.....damn!
He worked the good runs on the way down the river and never touched another fish.
Such is fishing the Sauk!
It rained most of the day on Tuesday and by Wednesday the Sauk had risen from 2000 to 2500 cfs. The water as a milky green with about 2 ft of visiblity below the Suattle and less above...most of the color was coming out of the Sauk. As we moved downstream, the water cleared a bit. By the time we made it to the take out in the afternoon, we had about 3 foot of visibility.
Deene and I ran into Rob, Nate, and Michael at the put-in. They managed to get on the water first and they crossed the river and work the water opposite the take-out. Deene and I rowed upstream a bit and fished the water above the put-in. Usuallly there is someone in this run, but not this morning. In fact, we are the only ones on the water, other and a single drift boat ahead of us for the entire day.
Nate managed to hook into what he thought was the bottom. Afer a few minutes of attempting to work his line free of the bottom, it finally came loose...and concadentally a steelhead broke the surface at the same time is line came free and at the same spot....bummer.
Deene and I moved downstream. I fished a short run on river right against a steep bank and a buch of root balls. The water was softer than the surrounding current and there were big boulders. The casting was tough but the water looked great. Deene worked the left bank. Both of us came up empty, so we moved down after about a half hour.
I stopped in the middle of a long flat about 100 yards downstream of a long sand bar. I made a couple casts into a slow but steady current. Something slammed my fly. As I was bringing it in and saw what I though was silver on its side, I was thinking it might be a small, lazy hatchery steelhead, but it turned out to be a 22" dolley varden. I released it, waded back out to the same spot, made another cast, and something took a swipe at my fly...but missed the hook. I stripped in, made another cast, and got a good grab. This time I pulled in a 18" dolley. I worked my way down the run for another 15 minutes with no more takers, so I moved on.
The next run was a beauty of a spot I found the week before. It is about 50 yards long, nice soft water, and big boulders. I started high in the run and got a hit on the third cast, then the fourth cast, then nothing for a few minutes. Finally something slammed my fly and after a hard fight I pulled another 18" dolley into the shallows. I insisted that Deene finish out the run and I moved usptream to another run with shallower water, but great bottom structure. I got a good grab in this run also, but I never hooked the fish.
I walked into a couple runs on the Sauk today. One run on the middle section and one run on the upper.
As I was fishing the run on the middle section, 5 drift boats floated by...starting at 8 AM. I left the run at 10 AM and the fifth boat had just passed me.
On my way upstream, I counted 13 rigs parked at the middle launch below the bridge. Compare this to three trucks last week and one of them was mine.
If you want to get up close and personal with a lot of other people fishing the Sauk, now is the time to go. If you want some water to yourself, you might want to wait a while, or head to another river.
Eric and I floated the Sauk today. Yes...it was very cold. It snowed most of the day. When it wasn't snowing, it was raining or hailing except for the hour of sun that came out around 2:30.
The river was in great shape with 3-4 for of visibility. The Sauk was on the rise on Saturday. The flow topped out just under 2000 cfs and dropped to about 1850 cfs by the end of the day on Sunday. This is really low for the this time of year on the Sauk. The water was that winter green color it gets when the steelhead fishing is good. The water temp was 36 degrees in the morning and 38 degrees in the afternoon.
We managed to find a great boulder studed run with nice soft water that reminded my of the Slide Hole before it filled in with sand. Eric started at the top of the run and I started in the middle. I was swinging a type 6 sink tip and with a purple/black marabou streamer. I worked down to the end of the run without touching a fish. Moved up to the top of the run and started working my way down again. I was about 1/4 of the way down the run and thinking about something other than fishing when a steelhead hit so hard he just about pulled the rod out of my hand. I lifted to set the hook, yelled down to Eric, the fish pulled hard again, then it was gone. I changed flies, went back to the top of the run, and worked my way down again. This time I tied into a 19" dolley varden in just about the same spot.
Good luck out there, and stay warm!
I was out on the middle Skagit again yesterday. I pulled a guy with a brand new truck and nice jet sled out of the sand at the launch before the trip. I don't think he was very familiar with the launches on that part of the Skagit.
The guy I was guiding got a handful of dollies, but no steelhead. He got the first dolly stripping a purple egg sucking leach over a shallow boulder studded section as we floated down from the put-in. He hooked the rest swinging flies in the steelhead water. We had about 3 ft of visibility.
Jason and I floated the middle section of the Skagit River. The flow at Concrete was 11,800 cfs and rose throughout the day to around 18,500 cfs as the water releases on the Baker River were increased. The visibility was around 3 feet at the start of the float and dropped to about 1 foot toward the end of the day as the flow on the Baker reached a maximum of about 4500 cfs. The air temperature at the start of the float was a bitter cold 25 degrees. It warmed to just above freezing around 11:00 AM when the sun was on the water, but it dropped to below freezing a few hours later as the sun passed behind the mountain ridge. The water temp was 38 degrees.
We fished a side channel at the start of the float that has produced for me in the past, but today it gave up nothing. We continued down and fished the very top of the next run. Jason was below me and I was high on the run. We were both fished two handed rods with Skagit Head lines and 15 ft type 6 sink tip lines. I was using a purple/black marabou streamer with a head of died elk hair, purple saddle hackle, and medium brass eyes. Jason was using a pink/white intruder pattern. After only a couple casts I hooked into a big fish. My rod went down hard and line started peeling off the reel. Every couple seconds the rod would take a big dip as line continued peeling off the reel….then it was gone. Damn! I didn’t have it on long enough to tell if it was a steelhead or a dolley and it never surfaced. I would like to think it was my first steelhead of the year. If not, it was a monster dolley!
We continued downstream and fished a little riffle where I landed a beautiful steelhead last March. The gravel bar appears to have shifted downstream, but it looks like the holding water is still there. This run also did not produce.
The next run was a long one and we spend a good deal of time there. We continued to fish the same flies and lines with Jason below me. Once again I hooked into a fish after only a couple casts and pulled in a small dolley that I guessed was about 16”, but surprisingly well fed. Apparently these fish survive on more than just chum salmon. I made another cast and immediately tied into another fish within seconds of the fly hitting the water. This dolley was bigger, maybe 20”, but I didn’t get it to hand. Around the same time I was hooking fish, Jason was also hooking dollies below me. His first fish was on the smaller side, but the second one was much bigger and really put a bend in the rod. Both of them threw the hook.
After lunch we hit a little riffle at the top of another long run. I was very surprised to find a number of dolley varden in this run also. All of these fish were also in the 16” to 20+” range, including a big fish that Jason lost before getting a good look at it.
We finished off the day fishing one of my favorite spots on this section of the Skagit. This run almost always produces for me, but not this day. We arrived here around 2:30, but by this time the river had come up due to releases on the Baker and the visibility was down to less than a foot.
We finished the day hooking into nine fish that were big enough to put a good bend in the big two handed rods. The fishing today reminded me of the good dolley fishing of the past. Hopefully it is a sign of things to come.
Brian and I floated the Skykomish River from Gold Bar (Big Eddie) to Sultan. The river was flowing at 2100 cfs. The visibility was around 4 feet and the water had a greenish tint. The air temperature was between 30 and 35 degrees. It was overcast all day with snow showers off and on in the morning and afternoon.
There were a couple other boats ahead of us when we started the float. We passed one boat on the way down the river, but never saw the others. We fished some great water, but never touched a fish.
We started to see a lot more bank anglers when we got below Start-up and even more as we got closer to Sultan. One bank angler in Sultan mentioned someone walking out with a 12# steelhead.
Notes: The launch at Big Eddie had about 2.5 feet of snow and it was a real pain getting around. You pretty much had to follow the one set of tracks in the snow. We launch the boat on the flat at the top of the launch and pushed it down the hill into the water. I managed to make my own tracks and parked in the parking area. All of the other rigs with trailers parked on the side of Hwy 2.
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