So I finely made it to the OP! Its hard to think that I have been fishing hard for 15 years now, and have never made it to the Hoh, even when I lived in Seattle.
My Dads plane landed at Sea-Tac about 8:30 Thursday evening. Figuring I-5 would be all clear, I left Vancouver at 4:00 to meet him at his house in Gig Harbor with time to spare. What I didn’t figure on was Olympia in absolute melt down panic mode. To be fair, there was lots of Ice on the freeway, but seriously, an hour and a half to drive 5 miles? Anyway, I got to Dads, he arrived around 9:30, by 10:00 we were off to Forks. Around 1:30 in the morning we arrived at the lodge, threw our stuff down and hit the bed hoping to get as much sleep as possible before out 6:30 wake up call.
Six thirty came QUICK! We put on our 30 layers, ate breakfast and were off to meet out guide at the Thriftway, which I would guess was the biggest structure within 100 miles. A short 15 min. drive to the put in and we were off fishing. Now, to give a litte overview on the weather, we fished Friday, Thursday night the river dropped 10 inches and about 10 degrees and cleared to about 3’ viz. Within 10 minutes of casting we were breaking ice out of our guides and the snot had frozen to the end of our noses. It had been a long time since I’ve fished in this cold of weather.
The fishing was tough to say the least. The week before we got there everyone was having banner days. Today, not even the bobber doggers with thier roe were able to hook up. We threw our glo bugs to all the fishy water in transit to the swinging runs. No grabs to speak of. About half way down the float, 1000 casts into the day, my bobber shot up stream, I lifted the rod slightly, and had my first and only shot at a Hoh River Steelhead. Two head shakes later, it was gone. The surprising thing is that I wasn’t too upset about the loss. Sure, it always sucks to loose a fish, but…...I just lost a fish on the Hoh. Not a river I fish all the time, not the Sandy, not the Kalama, not the Deschutes, I was on the mutha effin’ Hoh!!
For 2 days we fished, and froze our asses off. For 2 days we went fishless, and I can’t wait to do it again. There are some places in the world that leave you in a state of wonder, that actually fill your thoughts more after you leave than before you showed up. There are also those people that you fish with that can make the whole trip. I was fortunate enough to have both. Fishing with my Dad is always special, the fact that it was on one of the most legendary steelhead streams in the world was the icing on the cake.
The biggest of all thanks to my pops for such an awsome weekend.
For the last month I have been playing with switch rod nymph lines on a few smaller steelhead streams within an hour or so of Portland. I remember fishing all these when I was a youngster, and I remember having a lot of fun, but as I got older I just assumed that the reason I was having so much fun was solely because of my youth, and not because small stream stealheading itself was alot of fun. Well… I was wrong. I have been having a blast rock hopping, scouting, and fishing all the same little seams and plunge pools I fished 15 years ago. I did forget about all the climbing around rock cliff walls, blackberry dodging, sudden drop offs, and slippery moss everywhere, but what seems to be a royal pain in the ass now becomes part of the full enjoyment of the day later. Small streams just seem to offer something that nothing else does. I’m not sure I even know what it is or how to describe it to do the feeling any justice. My best attempt is intimacy and solitude. I do love the big rivers, hell, I pretty much love all rivers, but small streams have that way of wearing you out. Evey once in a while it just feels good to get completely wiped out from a day of hard fishing.
How to tie flies – interesting. How to fish for steelhead – pretty cool. That is what we have experienced at Saturday in the Loft so far. What to know about fly rods – welllllll OK. Maybe not too interesting, but I attended last weekend anyway.
Boy, I miscalculated. And I think folks who didn’t show up did the same. Tim Rajeff made a fantastic presentation. He broke a bunch of rod tips (which was impressive in itself) in explaining what rod builders had to anticipate when rolling carbon fabrics on mandrills and what they try to do to avoid breakage. He illustrated what makes a fast rod, a medium rod and a slow rod. And he thoroughly debunked the notion that we all should be buying fast action hardware.
If you are looking for a trout rod and can only afford one, then get a 9’-0”, 5-weight – right? WRONG. (Unfortunately, 70% of the rods sold brandish this specification) And the same goes for steelhead rods – 13’-0’’ 7/8-weight two-hander. We all have different builds. We have unique casts. And we fish differently. Tim advises that before we buy we consider our styles, get advice from people in the know (we can’t do that over the internet) and try several rods until we come across one that fits us.
The same goes for fly lines. Tim had us cast the same model 5-weight rods with three different line weights (4, 5 and 6-weight). Two of us preferred the 4-weight. Three preferred the 5-weight. Three preferred the 6-weight. MORAL: Cast several (meaning many) lines with your rod before you decide which works best. And, cast to distances you typically fish. Casting across a football field won’t give you a sense of how a line will perform on the water. Purchase the one that loads your rod best for you. (Again, you can’t do this over the internet.)
Lastly, Tim gave us a great casting lesson. On parking lot asphalt, he diagramed how a cast should look and then showed us how to throw a healthy loop. He also showed us how to double haul to increase our line speed (1 mph sends the line 1 foot) and said, “Go to the mirror and practice, practice, practice.”
Tim’s two principles: “Never take a sleeping pill and a laxative at the same time.” And, “ Increase your power to the rod at the end of your cast.” I won’t try to explain these here. All I will say is if you get a chance to hear Tim Rajeff, TAKE IT. He will detail these principles for you in beautiful, understandable, useful fashion.
Last Saturday we were fortunate enough to have master tier, Hal Gordon, here to share his knowledge on tying classic spey flies. Here is the “Skagit Mist”, one of the beauties he tied for us.
As I went to the shop for Saturday in the Loft, I noticed Jack Lynch counting feathers, hair and hooks. I asked, “Been fishing lately?” He said, “No. Supposed to down pour tomorrow. I’ll go Tuesday through Friday.” I asked him if I could meet him Thursday. He replied, “If I don’t go I’ll call. Otherwise, see you there.”
No call and Thursday came. I checked river levels –the gauge topped at 8600 (I learned it was 14,500), blown, hmmmm. I put rods, reels and gear in my Volvo and drove over the mountain.
I reached the river, and turned North. I saw a black Chevy truck and two guys wading below. I stopped to watch. One said he hooked three. The other was still trying.
Back to my car, I continued downstream. I saw a parked, dark Hundai SUV. A solitary fisherman cast every minute or so. His rod suddenly dipped. I moved on watching the river – choppy, muddy green, lots of white spray. A few miles and I returned to the fisherman. “How’s your luck?” I asked. His head emerged from a black hoody. ”The last couple of days were great.” It was Jack. I was a bit relieved. I wasn’t sure what vehicle he drove.
“Ok,” he said, “They’re taking these, and nothing else.” He handed me three flies. “Try fishing there.” I rigged up. Thirty minutes later, I lost a fish. Jack picked up three. We split. Jack waded down. I waded up. I picked up a couple of rainbows, lost a couple and caught a large white fish. I walked down to Jack. “Where were you when I needed you?” He reached for his camera and pointed the screen at me. “Big fish,” I blurted. “Yup,” he said, “Steelhead.” He pointed to the water. “Five pounds. Laying with the trout. Wasn’t sure I’d get him in.”
We tried other spots. Jack caught a couple of more. At our last spot, Jack cast out. I heard him yell, “Hey,” and chuckled, “Ohhhh, lost him.” I cast a few times - fish on. I landed a buffalo-shaped rainbow – last fish of the day.
I haven’t fished in January for a while. Thursday assured me trout still eat in tough conditions, with colored water, rough and very high.
After re-scheduling and more re-scheduling, the water is finally down and in beautiful shape. After this cold snap is over we may be wishing for some rain, but I’ll take the sun when I can get it, even if that means adding a couple more layers. The good news: The high water brought in a ton of fish. My last 3 trips have yeilded 7 fish hooked. The bad news: There are a TON of people out. Everyone is just as itchy to get out as we are. Be patient, and everyone will have a good day. Every fish we have hooked in the past 2 weeks has been a native, which will put me on my soap box for just a sec…..If your fishing egg patterns, please consider de-barbing your hooks. If you dont want to do that, please consider snipping off your fly if there is any chance that you might tear up the fish pulling the fly out….thats it, off the box.
Rivers are good, weather is good, fish are in, GO FISHING!