I woke up bright and early in a attempt to get on the NF Stilly at first light. The river was hight all week due to the rain and it finally dropped back in to shape. I spent too much time screwing around getting all my gear ready in the warmth of my house. As a result, I didn't get on the water until 7:00 AM. It didn't seem to matter much because I was the first one there. I think the cold and snow slowed everyone down a bit.
If you are a fly fishing purist and you only fish a floating line and dry flies, you can stop reading now. What I was doing this morning is the farthest you can get from that. It was cold and I wanted to get my flies down right on the edge of a fast current seam. Yep, you guessed it. I was nymphing. I was even using a bobber. A "Thing A Mabob" to be exact. My weight was a lead eyed egg sucking woolly bugger with a glue egg dropper.
I was standing on the edge of some prime steelhead water with the run to myself. I made a cast upstream, and a fish came up and ate my bobber. I didn't set the hook, I just let it continue its float down the seam once it popped back up. It floated about 4 more feet and once again, a fish ate the bobber. This fish looked a bit bigger, but it happened so fast, it was hard to tell for sure. I couldn't believe it. Two take downs on my bobber on the first cast. I made another cast to the top of the seam, and once again, a fish came up and ate my bobber. What the! I clipped off the fly and dropper and took of the bobber. I tied on a foam bodied October Caddis pattern, made a cast upstream, let if float through the seam, and nothing happened. I made another cast and once again, nothing. I made four more casts with the same result. I changed flies to an orange bodied Turks Turranch and made a half dozen more casts. Nothing. I tied the bobber on right next to the fly, cast it up and let it foat down the seam and once again, a fish came up and ate the bobber, but missed the fly. I gave up.
I tied the nymphing set-up back on, made a cast upstream, it floated about two feet and once again, a fish came up and ate the bobber. Apparently it ate the glue egg on the way down because I hooked it. I thought it was a whitefish at first because it didn't pull very hard, but when I got a good look at it I could tell it was a very small steelhead. It was dark, it was small, and it was definately a steelhead. As I was working it into the shallows, the hook popped out. Damn!
I waded back out into the run, made a half dozen more casts, and hooked another fish. This one was big. It rolled in the surface just before the hook came out. It was a steelhead and it was pushing 10 pounds. Once again, I waded out into the run, made a half dozen casts, and I hooked another big fish. It was a steelhead and it put up a good fight. This time it ate the weighted leach and Ihad it hooked....right in the corner of the mouth. After a number of short runs I finally landed a 29" buck hatchery summer steelhead. It was a beauty. I should have stopped there, but I didn't. I fished for a couple more hours and didn't touch another fish. The snow continued to fall and around 11:00 I decided to call it a day.
The NF Stilly was flowing at 2300 CFS and dropping slowly. I was itching to get some swinging time in on the two hander, so I headed up to the run below Deer Creek. The run looked perfect with visibility at 3 feet. I worked it from top to bottom with an 11 ft sink tip, starting with a purple over black marabou streamer, and ending with a small egg sucking bunny leach. I didn’t touch a thing.
I really had an urge to feel something on the end of the line, so I headed upstream. I found a couple guys fishing a pool, so I headed upstream to work a nice little seam that usually holds steelhead. I was now using my 9 ft 8 weight, a long leader with 9 lb fluorocarbon tippet, and a heavy egg sucking leach pattern with a glue egg dropper. I made about three casts before hooking a hot little fish that jumped about 5 times before I got it in. My first thought was a whitefish, but I landed a fat little 16” rainbow. I made a couple more casts and hooked another fish. This one came straight up out of the water on the hookset. It was long a skinny with a white belly. When it was in the air, the hook came out. Steelhead! Sweet! I continued working down the run, and eventually did hook a whitefish.
There were quite a few salmon in the pool below me, which explains why the egg patterns were working so well. I continued downstream to the straight stretch below the big bend in the river and hooked into another rainbow before calling it a day.
An epic month of steelhead fishing!
Well, it wasn't quite a month. I spent the last three weeks traveling around the East side of the mountains from Northern Oregon to Eastern Washington chasing steelhead. The primary focus of the first week, and the only focus for me, was catching steelhead in the surface. I took me a day to dial in the technique. Apparently I have been doing it just a little wrong for the last 10 years. Once I got the technique dialed in, I starting having a lot of fun! I'll touch on the highlights.
A week prior to my long planned steelhead trip I met with one of many doctors who informed me that I had a stress fracture in my femur....in the hip joint. (I knew running was bad for me, I just didn't know how bad it really was!) I was to spend the next four weeks on crutches, absolutely no weight bearing on my left leg. A complete break of the bone apparently is pretty catastrophic....involving metal rods and a long hospital stay. I called Eric and gave him the news. He informed me he had already made me a wading staff, which I would need regardless of the injury. Sweet, lets go fishing!
Eric and I did a half assed job of fishing on Wednesday. We were mostly recovering from our brutal fishing trip in Oregon. We got serious on Thursday and put in a full day working the Shumaker area from top to bottom. We spent the first half of the day at lower Shumaker and Eric put the hurt on a couple members of the warm water species. We stopped in camp for lunch, then worked Shumaker from top to bottom during a long evening float in the pontoons.
We were fishing a long stretch of boulders on a long sweeping bend of the river with the light still on the water. Eric was ahead of me and he got a chance to fish through a really sweet run that always holds steelhead...and I mean always. He worked the run for over a half hour before I floated into the top of it just as he was finishing up. He said he got a couple grabs and there were definitely fish in the run. I asked if he wanted to work through the run again, but he opted to head downstream to the next run. I asked if he was sure. He said yeh. Sweet!
I walked into the top of the run, started stripping my line out, and realized that I was right on top of some really sweet water. I looked upstream to where I should be standing to swing the fly into the water I was standing in. It was deep and fast with a couple big boulders. You do what you have to do.
I stepped out of the run, moved upstream, and waded out into the deep stuff. I stripped my line out, made a couple casts, and just then the sun went behind the hillside. Shade.....sweet! I switched to my black body Deschutes Skunk with the gold hook. I took my glasses off, hung them on my shirt, and made a cast. As the fly was swinging across the run, I realized that if I hooked a fish, there was a good chance I would loose my glasses in the fight. I made another cast, flipped my pouch out on the top of my waders, put my rod in my left hand, and unzipped the pouch. I took my glasses off of my shirt to put them in my wader pouch, and just then I felt a tug on the rod. Oh crap! I lifted up on the rod with my left hand, the reel spun, and a steelhead came out of the water in the middle of the run and started tearing downstream. Sweet, a steelhead! I put my glasses back on, and with the rod still in my left hand, I grabbed the side of the pouch with my left fingers and pulled the zipper closed so I wouldn't loose my camera. I switched hands and started fighting the fish to get it under control. There was no way I could land it where I was standing because the water was too fast. Once I felt the fish was under control, I put the rod back in my left hand, grabbed my wading staff, and started working my way toward the bank.
More to follow.
Day two put us upstream of the previous evening. We were on the water as dark turned to a little less dark. I decided to fish behind Eric to see where he was hooking fish in one of his favorite spots. I was using the same black chenille body fly from the night before. As I was working down the run, I was aiming my fly for a 50 ft long greasy spot below two big boulders and above a couple other boulders. As my line was swinging across I got a hard grab again and the loop was ripped out of my hand. This fish also went screaming down the river. Eric noticed I had a fish on and asked if it was very big. As if on queue, it did a cartwheel way out in the middle of the river. As I started working the line back in, it dawned on me that I had a problem. This fish was now downstream of the second set of big rocks, and it was right between the two rocks. I was in some deep and fast water. Wading downstream would be tough, and there was a good chance I would wrap my line around more rocks if I went downstream, so I decided to stay put. To my surprise, as I cranked the line in, the fish swam right back up between the rocks. It wasn't easy, but after a couple more short runs and a lot of maneuvering, I managed to work this fish into the shallows. It was another hatchery hen in the 8 # range. It taped to 28".
Later that morning, a similar situation happened as the previous evening. I had moved back upriver and was working my way down the run. Eric was on the bank and I was talking to him. The fly had swung across and was almost straight downstream when a small steelhead slammed it. Since the line was almost straight downstream, I didn't get a very good hook-up, and it came off after a short fight.
Later that afternoon we headed way upriver in the blazing sun. We were not prepared for the heat and I didn't pack enough water. We both came up empty and we paid the price for the long hot ride over the next couple days.
The trip started off on one of the many Columbia River tributaries, this one happened to be just East of the Dalles. As I indicated earlier, I spent the evening and next morning watching guys catch steelhead across the river from me, below me, and above me. What was I doing wrong? I talked with a couple fishing buddies over lunch and got a good idea of what I needed to change. That evening Eric and I headed to a spot three miles from camp. I waded into some smoking fast water to fish a little seam just outside of the boulders that looked a little softer and a little slower. In fact, it looked a lot like a little seam I fish on the Skagit where I hooked a beauty of a steelhead a couple years back. I made a half dozen casts with a black chenille body fly that I tied for the Methow. On the last swing a hot fish slammed my fly just outside of the boulders. Before I could even think about releasing the loop it was ripped out of my hand and this big fish was smoking down river. Sweet! We played a little tug of war, but it was a relatively short fight. The fish won....the hook just came out. I reeled in, moved back to where I hooked the fish, made a couple roll casts to get my line out, and I hooked another fish straight downstream. It was a trout, which you almost never catch in this part of the river. They like this fly!
I was able to loose the trout, got my line out, and made my cast. As the line was swinging across the current, Eric showed up on the edge of the bank. I motioned for him to fish above me, but he came out to talk instead. I made another cast and let the fly swing as he was wading out. I said something to him about there being some fish in this spot, and just as the words came out of my mouth, my fly got slammed again. It was also a hot fish, it ripped the loop out of my hand, but it was a little smaller. With the help of Eric, I was able to land an 8 lb hatchery hen after a short but hard fought battle.
Virginia, her sister Paige, and I spent the day fly fishing the middle section of the Skykomish River. I wouldn't say the river was high by Skykomish River standards, but when it is flowing at 2000 cfs in early September, about 3 times it's normal flow for this time of year, it was high by my standards. We spent the morning and early part of the afternoon casting wet, then dry flies into the bank and stripping them out, looking for sea run cutts. The only action we saw in the morning was a guy on the bank hooking into a chinook. There were lots of guys on the water, but the fish weren't showing and people weren't hooking up.
In the early afternoon, we found some fish interested in our dries. The trouble was, the fish were big enough to sink the fly, but not big enough to eat it. We were looking for something a bit bigger. After a half hour of playing with the little guys, I noticed some salmon rolling in a stretch of river where I normally see chinook, only these weren't chinook.
I anchored the boat about 30 feet out and 50 feet upstream of where the fish were rolling, I rigged up the 8wt with a 15ft type 8 sink tip, 8 ft leader tapered to 8.5 lb fluorocarbon, and tied on one of my favorite coho flies. I made a cast and mend, handed the rod to Paige, and let it swing. She asked how she would know if she had a fish on. I told her, "You'll know!" We made a few more casts with this fly with no success. I changed things up a bit, moved the boat downstream about 10 feet, and we tried again. This time, the fly ended the swing right over the top of where the fish were rolling. I always tell people not to waiste their time casting to salmon that are rolling in the surface. 99% of the time, salmon take the fly on the bottom. Luckily we found the 1% that decided to eat something within 6" of the surface. Paige is in the front of the boat, the line is straight downstream, and she says, "Hey, I got something!". I look over her shoulder, the rod is bouncing up an down, the fly line is gone, and the reel is spinning. Oh crap, time to move!
I pulled the anchor, started pushing the boat downstream so Paige could gain some line, or at least loose it less quickly, and then slowly moved the boat into the slow water. Like they often do, the fish followed the boat into the slower water up until we stopped, then it headed right back into the middle of the river. Paige and this big coho played tug-of-war for the next five minutes. Eventually, she was able to move the fish into the slower water, then it went back out again. Each time it came in, then went back out, she gained a little line. After a little chasing around and a couple ugly attemps, I was able to net a beauty of a coho. We didn't weight it, but I am guessing it was in the 15# range. Lets just say it was a big coho, and the hardest fighting one I have ever seen.
Tyler and I made it up to the NF Stilly at the crack of Dawn. We weren't there at first light, but we were easily the first ones in the run. In fact, there was a surprising amount of fog so I am not even sure when the light was on the water. The river was still fogged in, and it was just starting to lift when we left at 7:00 AM. The river finally dropped back into shape after being out all week due to all the rain. The river was flowing at 2000 cfs, the water temp was right around 47 degrees, and the visibility was about 2 feet.
This was Tyler's first time fly fishing for steelhead and the first time with a sink tip, so I started by giving him some casting pointers at the top of the run. I made my first cast just to get some line out of the rod. The fly was in the water just a few seconds then a fish took a swipe at it. I yanked the fly out and continued with my casting instruction. Tyler picked up the casting quickly, so I left him in the good water and I moved upstream so I could fish.
Tyler was about fifteen minutes into fishing the run when I looked downstream to see a fish coming out of the water below him. The next thing I know, he is throwing his hands up in disgust, and I don't see the fish anymore. I made another cast and look downstream again, and there he is fighting a fish again. What the.... As it turns out, he hooked a steelhead, it jumped a couple times, then came right at him, at which point he thought he had lost it. It wasn't until he started stripping the line in that he realized the steelhead was still on the other end. He reeled in the slack line and started fighting the fish again. After a short battle, he eased a small wild steelhead into the shallows. It was a dark fish, so I am guessing it was a downstream fish from last summer.
I made it out to my favorite run on the NF Stilly on Saturday morning...the first day the river has been open since mid February. Lets just say I was fishing below Fortson...a ways below Fortson. I was hoping to get there at first light, but that didn't happen, mostly because I was too lazy to figure out when sunrise was. To my surprise, I was actually the first one in the parking area and the first one on the water. Based on all the rain we had over the last week, I wasn't surprised to find the visibility was a little over a foot. I started higher in the run than where I knew the fish would be holding. After about five minutes of working my way down the run, another guy walked in. He stopped and chatted, then moved about 50 yards downstream. Its generally not too cool to do this, but he asked, and I said sure. There was a lot of water to fish.
I was about five minutes into the good water when the loop pulled out of my hand and the reel started spinning.....sweet, a steelhead. The fish moved about thirty feet downstream and stopped. I laid into him and nothing happened. My new Z-Axis 7136 was bent in half and the fish was not moving.....oh crap. We played this not so fun game for 2 or 3 minutes. I leaned on the rod with constant pressure, and the fish just sat. Did I foul hook a sucker? Did the line wrap around a rock? Eventually, it started to move, then the deep and slow head shakes started. This is a big fish.
Five or six minutes into the fight I started to gain line. I almost got the sink tip in....then it all went right back out. I didn't feel like I was going to win until it moved upstream in to the fast water. With constant side pressure I knew I could tire it quickly, or sort of. I saw a flash of silver as the fish made a quick roll, then it went down and I didn't see it again for a few minutes. It rolled again a little closer and it was definitely chrome, and I could see the green back and black spots. Sweet, a steelhead. Then I saw the tail. It wasn't a big slab of a tail that it should have been for a steelhead of this size. Damn....not a steelhead. Eventually I got him near the bank, and after two or three tries, I eased him into the shallows. Definitely not a steelhead.
Phil, Tom, Tyler, and I spent a half day on Pass Lake to fish the mayfly hatch. We were on the water by 11:00 and started off fishing a 4" red string leach on a type II full sinking line. Phil and Tom both had hits in the first five minutes, but the fish did't get the hook. We headed to the shallow point across from the launch to check for mayflies or raising fish, but found no activity. We switched back to trolling leaches and had a number of hits on our way to the shallow bay at the far end of the lake, but once again, none of the fish were hooked.
When we got to the shallow bay, we saw a few rising fish, but there were no signs of a mayfly hatch. We switched one of the flies to a #10 olive woolly bugger and trolled about 50 feet off shore and came up empty. We parked the boat in the shallows about 40 feed from shore and waited for some activity. Tom and Phil ate lunch while I started casting a #10 olive woolly bugger on a clear intermediate line into the bank and stripping it back on a fast retrieve. I got a good hit and actually had a fish on for a couple seconds on my second cast. After only a couple more casts I got another good hit and a solid hookset. After a short but hard battle, I landed a fat little rainbow in the 16" to 18" range. I made a number of casts on the opposite side of the boat to work some new water. I slowed my retrieve a bit and got another good hit and tied into a good sized rainbow. This fish didn't come in easy and went to the air a couple times. After a few minutes we netted another rainbow in the 20" range. Once Phil and Tom were done with lunch, I went back to rowing and Tom and Phil started casting the olive woolly bugger toward the bank and stripping it back.
We moved down the lake a bit and talked to Tyler. He saw a number of rising fish, and switched to a floating line with a #14 adams but hadn't hooked anything. We parked the boat about 40 feed from the bank in the shallows just out from the tules. Tom had never fished a dry fly before, so I greased up the #14 adams on Tom's floating line, cast it out toward the bank, stripped in a little line to straighten out the line and leader, and waited. I told Tom he needed to let it sit for a couple minutes and about 10 seconds later there was a big splash and the fly disappeared....but there was no fish on the other end. I wasn't expecting a rise that fast and wasn't even watching the fly when the fish hit, so I didn't set the hook. I handed the rod to Tom, he cast the fly out, let it sit, and about 30 seconds later there was another big splash. This time the fish got the fly and and fight was on. After a couple jumps and dives toward the bottom, Tom was able to lead a fat 16" rainbow into the net. The biggest fish he had caught on a fly. Tom and Phil continued fishing dries for the next hour. We had a few rises, but no more hooked fish. While they fished dries, I made a few casts with the intermediate line and olive woolly bugger. I managed to raise one more nice fish that turned away from the fly in a big splash within only a couple feet if the boat, but it never touched the fly. By 2:00, the surface activity had died down. We switched back to leaches and sinking lines and headed back to the launch. Phil got a couple hits on the red string leach, but never got a good enouth grab to actually hook the fish.
The mayfly hatch on Pass Lake is not a spectacular event like you will see on Chopaka or some of the other Eastern Washington lakes, but it is one of the few opportunities to catch big rainbows on dry flies in Western Washington. Here are a few tips for fishing the mayfly hatch on Pass Lake. 1) Look for shallow areas with tules growing on the bank. This is the one to two foot tall green vegetation that sticks straight up from the ground and is pointed at the end like an inverted ice pick. It grows a couple feet into the lake. For some reason, mayflies seem to hatch near this stuff. 2) Look for weeds growing just under the surface. You can't fish a wet fly in this stuff, but dries are no problem. Trout like to hide in the weeds and grab the mayflies when they float into the openings in the weeds. 3) Look for surface activity. Don't wait until you see an aduly mayfly sitting on the surface. If you see surface activity in the areas described above, tie on a #14 adams, parachute adams, or cripple calebatis, straighten your line and leader (use florocarbon tippet), and throw it out there. 4) When the fly lands, slowly pull your fly line to straighten the line and leader without moving the fly. 5) Let fly sit for a minimum of 30 seconds and preferrably at least 2 minutes. You need to give the trout in the area time to see the fly. If the wind or currents blow a big bow in your fly line, recast the line and set it up again. 6) Watch the fly closely and set the hook quickly when a fish takes the fly. If you wait, you will miss the fish. The mayfly hatch should last a couple more weeks, so if you haven't fished it yet, now is the time to get out.
All of the rivers I fish closed in the middle of February due to low steelhead returns. This is bad deal all around....especailly for the steelhead. Hopefully the closure helps them recover.
I took over a month off. Mostly waiting for the lakes to warm enough to produce some good trout fishing. I finally made it out to Lone Lake for the unofficial Evergreen Fly Fishing Club Lone Lake outting. There were a lot of people on the water, but I didn't recognize most of them, so I don't think many from the club made it...which was too bad. Gary, Mandy, and I had a great time fishing Lone under nearly ideal conditions. The surface water temp was 52 degrees when we started in the morning around 9:30 AM and it warmed to 54 degrees when we left the water at 4:00 PM. We had overcast skies and off and on light wind for most of the day.
The conditions were great, but the fishing was not red hot. However, we were able to catch fat rainbows on a variety of flies including #14 red holographic ice cream cone chironomid, a #16 grey holographic ice cream cone chironomid, 4" long red string leaches, and pheasant tail emergers. We caught fish throughout the day, starting around 10 AM, but the fishing was slightly more productive in the afternoon.
Look for fishing to improve on Lone Lake as the temperature warms and we move on in to April. You have to keep an eye on the wind forecast if you plan to fish Lone Lake. The wind blows in from the straights, and it can really blow! If the forecast is for 20 MPH winds or highter, forget it!
I have heard a number of reports that Pass Lake is fishing well also. I like to fish Pass a little later in the spring when I can get rainblows to take buggers and leaches on a fast strip retrieve...its a blast!
Spring is here and now is the time to get out on the water!
Doug and I spent the day on the middle section of the Skagit River. After a week plus of extremely low and clear water and tough fishing conditions, the rains came and the river rose. When we started the day, the flow at Concrete was 8000 CFS. The river rose during the day, and by the time we were off the water, the flow was at 14,000 CFS. The conditions were almost perfect with 3 to 4 feet of visibility and overcast skies and rain through out the day. The rain part made fishing a bit uncomfortable, but that’s all part of winter steelhead fishing.
We attempted to fish some great steelhead water on the far side of the river above the creek, but the creek was so high from all the rain, we were unable to cross. We even tried using the drift boat to cross, but the river and creek were just moving too fast. Instead of fishing above the creek, I rowed the boat back across the river and we fished some great steelhead water on the launch side of the river. We couldn’t find any takers here.
As we drifted down to the next run, I had Doug cast and swing a sink tip with a purple/black marabou streamer to a long boulder patch in the middle of the river. He was fishing out of the boat as I slowed the boat and held position. Doug wasn’t really paying attention and he got a grab and had a small fish on as we worked toward the end of the boulder patch. He didn’t get a good hook set and the fish came off after a few head shakes.
We spent the next half hour swinging sink tips at the top of a long gravel bar on river left. Doug hooked a lost a number of dolly varden in the 16 to 20+ inch range on his purple/black streamer.
As we floated down to the next run, Doug fished out of the front of the boat casting to the edge of the river along the high bank. He was fishing an egg pattern with an egg dropper under split show and a strike indicator. He hooked and released a 16” cutthroat.
The next run down had great bottom structure and a pretty fast flow at the top of the run. The water slowed to deep frog water after a couple hundred feet. Above the top of the run there is a side channel below a creek that was pumping in some color due to all the recent rain. I was swinging a 4” long white marabou streamer. It appeared that the dolly varden were stacked at the edge of the clear water in the main channel and the colored water from the side channel. Every time I swung my 4” long white marabou streamer into from the clear water to the colored water, a dolly would smack it. Some of the fish just grabbed the end of the fly, and some got the hook. I lost most of the fish, and landed a couple that ranged in size from 12” to 20”. Doug didn’t get any hook-ups until he tied on the deadly white streamer.
There were quite a few guys on the water so we didn’t get to fish all the usual runs on the way down. I was a little bummed to see guys in the run were we caught a steelhead a few weeks earlier.
We continued down and stopped at one of the islands that has good water on both sides. I headed to the bottom end of the island were we hooked a really big dolly a few weeks earlier. I started at the top of the run in the shallow water. By the time I worked my way down to the deeper slow stuff, I started getting hits on a regular basis. The first hit was from a good sized fish, but not the monster dolly I was hoping for. I hooked the fish on the next swing and landed a fat 20” dolly. I either got a grab or a hook-up about every five casts for the next ten minutes. Most of these fish were smaller.
The last run we fished was across from the plunking shack. It also has great bottom structure, but the flow is much slower than traditional winter steelhead water. In fact, it can be tough to swing a fly when the river is low. Often you have to start stripping the fly before line is downstream to keep from hanging it in the rocks. Doug had a field day in this run with his purple/black streamer. None of the dollies were that big, but he hooked over a half dozen in about 15 minutes.
We were off the water about 4:30, and the rain continued through the rest of the evening.
As I write this, the Skagit, Stilly, Skykomish, and a number of other Puget Sound rivers have closed due to extremely low predicted returns of wild steelhead. Hopefully the closure helps. I am happy to report that the Upper Skagit tribe has agreed to stop netting the Skagit for the remainder of February and all of March. Unfortunately, they will be back at it in April for a Chinook test fishery. The other tribes that fish the Skagit and Sauk have not posted their fishing schedule or advertised their intention to stop fishing.
Terry, Steve, and I floated the middle section of the Skagit River. The weather was ideal for winter steelhead fishing with light rain, overcast skies, and low cloud cover for the entire day. The river was dead low, flowing at 7300 CFS and very clear.....the exact opposite of what I was hoping for.
Just as I thought, none of the runs that held fish last week had much of anything in them, at least we didn't find anything. I tried a little of everything, and to my surprise, it paid off. We didn't find anything swinging flies in the first run. However, I had Steve cast over some great looking water in the middle of the river on the way to the next run. This is a spot where we have hooked fish before and to my surprise, Steve managed to hook what I think was a smaller dolley varden. He had it on for about 30 seconds before it threw the hook.
I had high hopes for the next couple runs because they each produced a number of hook-ups the week before. Due to the low flows, the swinging water was very short and it was even tough to get the fly to swing. There were a couple guys fishing gear in the lower run that produced the most hook-ups the week beofre. They didn't touch a thing. We followed them and I had Steve fishing out of the boat so he could reach the current seam, which was way out in the river. We tried my floating line, long leader, and weighted fly technique that has worked in the past under low water conditions, but to no avail today. We didn't touch a fish either. By this time my hopes were fading.
The next couple runs I was planning to fish were short runs that had produced fish in the past, but more often that not there was nothing there. Steve was about five casts into the run using a 15 ft type six sink tip and a big whitefish pattern with a grizzly hackle tail and a trailing hook. He got a good grap and had a nice fish on, but it didn't do much other than pull and shake its head. A couple times during the fight I saws the tail and it had spots....it was a steelhead. It didn't put up much of a fight and as Steve was attempting to move it into the shallows, I warned him that it turn a make a hard run once it felt the river bottom. Sure enough, a few seconds later it touched bottom, turned, and blasted off about 20 feet of line. This happened a couple more times with the runs getting shorter each time. Eventually I was able to tail a small hatchery hen.
The last run was great! It has decent water, but its hard to tell where to start fishing the run because the head of the run is not well defined. This run almost never produces, but when it does, the fish are pretty big. Sure enough, after about 5 casts using the same set-up as the previous run, Steve tied into another big fish. The water exploded and the fish started doing full body head shakes. And just like that, the hook pulled loose. What a great way to end the day!
Eric, Alex, and I floated the middle section of the Skagit River. We had almost perfect conditions with overcast skies, 6 to 8 feet of visibility, and almost no one else on the river. In fact, we were able to fish every run we wanted with no evidence that anyone else had been there.
The first run had near ideal steelhead conditions with big, bowling ball sized boulders, moderate to fast, even flows, and the light was off the water. Unfortunately, all we were able to find was a fat little 18” dolley varden.
On the next run down, we dropped Eric of to fish the high bank with is two hander. Alex and I fished the long gravel bar on the other side of the river. As we walked to the top of the run, we could see the occasional whitefish taking midges in the surface. We had a lot of action in this run. I had one good fish on that managed to throw the hook, I landed a fat 20” dolley, and I had a number of hard grabs. Alex also got a bunch of grabs. Eric managed to tie into a 16” wild rainbow while fishing the far bank.
The third run we fished has really fast water at the top of the run and really slow water in the bottom half. Alex was working the top of the run and got a good grab and also landed a 16” dolley varden. Eric was fishing the middle of the run, and he came up empty handed. I fished the slow water at the bottom of the run. I hooked into two very large fish, both on the retrieve, and both managed to throw the hook. However, I got the thrill of experiencing multiple big fish head shakes before they threw the hook.
All three of us were fishing medium/fast sinking type 6ish sink tips in the 15 foot range. Alex was using a black and blue fly with a stinger hook, Eric tried multiple tube flies, some dark, and some bright, and spent the productive part of the day fishing a red/orange/white baitfish pattern with a 3” grizzly hackle tail and medium gold plated brass eyes.
The conditions on the Skagit below the Sauk and Baker are great right now. The river even dropped today, even after a hard night of rain last night.
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