steelhead season, so far, can only be categorized as very good. But
Washington, average. Our North End rivers mediocre bordering on dismal
... so dismal that the Sauk and Skagit are now closed. Steelhead just
don’t wanna be comin’ ’round, you dig? Hatchery steelhead on the coast,
however, have returned in numbers I have to look back to 1985 journal
notes to match.
problem has been mercurial water conditions. The rains have been spaced
to tease, even with our genie-out-of-the-bottle, up-to-the-minute,
computer-generated river level technology telling us exactly when
to go. Many have been the days since Thanksgiving where a matter of
hours being the difference between a long drive to stare angrily at
brown rising water and banner mornings of nearly a dozen hookups.
been privileged to be a part of those multi-fish mornings. Matter
of fact, out of six coastal trips from November 27 through early January,
our worst day had been six hookups, mostly gorgeous newly minted hatchery
fish and several early natives.
I have someone at my fingertips who lives along one of the best rivers
on the Olympic Peninsula. I can call him the night before I leave,
he gives me up-to-the-minute reports from the water: where the fish
are, which river(s) are happening, which techniques, exact water conditions,
etc. Zero guesswork translates to ridiculously high odds for success.
my own personal J.D. Love. I would recommend one of these talented
fellows for all winter steelhead fishermen.
is one of, and as far as this guy is concerned, THE best guide on
the OP. He fishes every day - either for money or for the sheer fun
of it all - he is out on the rivers. Besides just reaping the great
fortune of fishing with him, being able to watch and learn from one
of the most talented steelheaders doing what he does best, he saves
me thousands of dollars in gas and like numbers of hours of guesswork
on where to go, and when.
on JD in my next blog.
hotness, no biters
I want to discuss now is what happened to us in early January on a
small river on the north coast. You see, J.D. and I were on the small
stuff because the larger OP hatchery steelhead laden cricks - the
Bogachiel, the Calawah, the Hoh - just will not cooperate with my
schedule and have been too high to fish for the greater portion of
due to my up-to-the-second connection, J.D. told me to be there in
the morning as the one of our favorite smaller rivers would be dialed.
We found a river just a bit higher than expected; dropping fast but
color wise not quite there. Slightly over a foot of visibility, but
getting better by the hour.
and I have been brutalizing the hatchery fish this early winter by
employing primarily two techniques, both difficult to beat when targeting
smaller, cold water (39 to 43 degree water) hatchery steelhead.
favors dead-drifting Glo Bugs (yarn flies) with an 11-foot 7-weight
switch rod, basically a condensed version of spey casting with short
(22-foot) heavy heads that pick up, turn over and present #7 split
shot and dual fuzzy balls in tight quarters effectively. I have been
using small jigs, primarily 1/16- ounce heads painted light pink,
a single orange jig bead behind the head and married white/pink 1-inch
marabou tail. Both our chosen techniques have put nearly 50 steelhead
on the bank this season.
were present, but so far ignoring our offerings. Other anglers were
there as well, all using state-of-the-art rods, artfully tied jigs,
small baits. Every new "gotta-have-better-best!" steelhead magnet,
becuase, you know only the latest and greatest will do.
All techniques the new-day anglers are so enamored with (side drifting,
jigs longer leaders, etc.) require somewhat clearer water. Most of
today’s steelheaders, the younger ones in particular, stick with these
techniques come what may with water conditions.
that need a bit more visibility than we had this morning. As deadly
as these techniques are, there must be a minimum degree of visibility
when presenting at current speed. Noone on the water could coax a
all about to served a valuable lesson on never forgetting the past
along with a big dose of flexibility if we want to be successful in
from the Pleistocene Era
the woodland trail pop two older gents clad straight out of the early
70s. Old rubber hip boots standing in the middle of the guys in breathable
Simms Gore-Tex. Eight-and-a-half-foot glass rods next to the gents
with 10½-foot, $400 composites. Red post-Vietnam era Ambassadeur reels
full of 20 pound Chameleon sharing water with next years Shimano Ultra-Expensivo
spinning reel filed with new a-e floating spectra.
rod and reel was the normal portion of this program. When I looked
at their terminals tackle, it transported me back to my early 20s.
Luckily they were standing next to me, for if they would have been
near enough for the younger anglers to see, they would better believed
a tale of alien abduction rather than a story relating to what these
cats were tossing in the restricted visibility.
direct the following to all of those who look at any angler using
leaders under 4 feet as un-enlightened: These "Old-Schoolies" were
using 16 INCHES OF LEADER! S-I-X-T-E-E-N.
end of this “short” leader was a 2-inch fluorescent red Ray Bobber
(a Cheater-shaped hollow two-part plastic drift bobber popular in
the late 60s and 70s), two 2/0 nickle hooks tied tandem, sporting
a bit of boraxed salmon roe.
system? Five inches of ¼-inch pencil lead. By the way, you whippersnappers,
this was the way it was done in the 50s, 60s and 70s on the coast.
From the bank. From anchored drift boats. These good ol’ boys live
in Clallam Bay, completely isolated from the more-faster-now brave
and learn kiddies, watch and learn
the limited visibility? I stopped fishing to watch. The angler cast
slightly downstream from his position, allowing the heavy lead to
enter with a great sploosh. The large, bright-profile drift bobber
was walked slowly down and across the holding water, the slow presentation
allowing steelhead to locate - and most importantly follow - the lure
same runs we fished for hours with jigs, yarn flies and small baits
at current speed, these guys hooked five steelhead, landing four ocean-fresh
fish in a half hour.
these fellows how refreshing it was to see them, a common sight on
Peninsula rivers decades ago. J.D. and I discussed this, as this was
the way we learned to drift fish, with the short leaders, stout tackle,
big, bright drift bobbers fished slowly down and across.
we WISHED for rivers to have limited visibility for this technique.
I sit and watch this display, I'm loving every second of this blast
from the past. The look of sheer disbelief on the younger anglers?
this show, we still had nothing to show for our morning's water thrashing.
What the steelhead wanted in the limited (1½-foot) visibility was
a large-profile lure, something that increases attraction radius presented
at half-current speed. Armed to the teeth with jigs and yarn flies
- ironically, the guy who preaches these old-school techniques had
none with him - I did have something that could be fished slowly,
something with a large profile.
very bright. Something old school.
myself slightly above the target water, I presented a 2/3-ounce gold-plated
oval BC Steel on a slow down-and-across swing. The slowly traveling,
thumping, 90-percent-reflective gold plate allowed holding steelhead
to find the lure easily, unlike the faster techniques we were using
earlier. By using a slightly heavier spoon than normal (2/5 ounce)
allowed me to keep the lure down in the strike zone, negating the
push that would occur with a lighter blade held back against the current.
ripping strikes in 20 minutes, a fine mix of early natives and hatchery
fish, all just hours from the salt.
in closing ...
have we learned, Dorothy? Under limited visibility conditions, we
must increase the profile of our lures and slow them down. Be flexible
in your techniques, don’t get locked into one or two methods, no matter
how successful they may have been for you in recent trips. Remember,
there is always a technique that out produces others under a given
condition. Most important we have to study all techniques, no matter
the era, to help us catch fish in the future.
To The End.
Posted on the Zog Blog - Northwest
Wild Country Radio