Mr. Glasso’s Moment ©1995 Jack Datisman (48″x 96″, acrylic on hardboard)
There are three things that you can count on when it comes to my Christmas Newsletter: 1) it will feature Les Johnson’s superb essay, “Our Christmas Coho”; 2) it will also contain a selection of articles and photos by some of my friends, who also happen to be some of the best fly fishermen and writers in the Pacific Northwest; and 3) it will have a copy of my good friend, Jack Datisman’s painting,”Mr. Glasso’s Moment.”
The photo above of is of Jack’s painting. I discuss the fascinating story behind it in detail in last year’s Christmas Newsletter, which you can find in the archives. In a nutshell, it’s a depiction of a steelhead about to hit Dick Wentworth’s steelhead Spey fly, Mr. Glasso. Dick tied the fly in honor of his great friend and mentor, Syd Glasso. The first time Dick fished the fly he caught a nearly 22 pound winter steelhead on the lower Sol Duc. Jack’s painting memorializes the moment the steelhead turned on the fly. You can see the painting in the Thriftway in Forks.
As for the rest of the newsletter, here’s a rundown of what’s in store this year:
It begins with Les’s great story about catching a last minute coho for his family’s Christmas dinner. The reining dean of Pacific Northwest fly fishing writers, Les needs no introduction. He is the author of a number of classic fly fishing books, including the recent Fly Fishing for Pacific Salmon II and Fly Fishing Coastal Cutthroat Trout. He was an editor of Fly Fishing and Tying Journal and other magazines, and is one of the people most responsible for the implementation of catch-and-release regulations for cutthroat in Puget Sound.
This summer Les was awarded the Federation of Fly Fisher’s Arnold Gingrich Memorial Life Award at their annual banquet in West Yellowstone. It is one of the highest honors in fly fishing, and members of Les and Carol’s family traveled to Yellowstone to attend the ceremonies.
Ron Hirschi, my fellow Labrador fancier and cutthroat clinic partner, has written a great story about his four legged fishing buddy, Monsoon. A native of Port Gamble, Ron has fished the saltwater beaches of Admiralty Inlet and northern Hood Canal for cutthroat and salmon for more than 50 years. He is a veteran fisheries biologist and has done a number of research projects on migratory salmonids and critical habitat on the Olympic and Kitsap peninsula’s. He has also written more than 50 childrens books. Ron and I share a deep affection for the dark water in beaver ponds and tidal creeks.
Leland Miyawaki manages the Bellevue Orvis shop. He is best known for his highly productive Beach Popper, but he fishes throughout the region. His contribution this year is a list of truisms about fly fishing that he has learned over the years. It’s a great idea and great list. I told him I had one more to add: Your last false cast nearly always would have been a better cast than the one you actually made. If you have any additions for the list, send them to me; I’ll post them after New Years.
Preston Singletary has written a superb essay about his experiences with callibaetis mayflies on eastern Washington lakes. In addition to his elegant writing, the piece contains great photos, especially of the flies he has created for the different life phases of these important stillwater ephemeroptera. Preston is the long time book, video and gear editor for Fly Fishing and Tying Journal.
Chester Allen is a new voice for the newsletter. He is the former outdoor editor and columnist for the Olympian and Tacoma News Tribune. I first met Chester when I was giving a presentation for the South Sound Fly Fisher. We are both besotted of saltwater cutthroat and had a lot to talk about. Chester’s fly fishing and surfing website Chester Allen’s Watery Planet (which you can link from my blog) is one of the best and most well-written regional sites. His essay chronicles the variety of experiences he had this year with a fly rod.
Gary Marston is also a new contributor. A passionate advocate for native stocks of trout, Gary travels all over the West tracking down rare fish populations. He chronicles his exploits–as well as his other fishing adventures–in one of my favorite websites Native Trout Fly Fishing, which is also linked on this page. Gary also guides out of the Gig Harbor Fly Shop. Gary’s essay is about finding a very special wild trout in the Olympics. Take a close look at the photo of the “ghost.”
Bob Triggs is a well-known Olympic Peninsula guide, writer and conservationist. Bob has fished everywhere from the Catskills to Alaska and Russia, but like all of the other writers in this edition of the newsletter, he has a special place in his heart for wild saltwater cutthroat. Bob’s piece, The Secret Season,” is a profile of the very special winter cutthroat fishery we enjoy on the waters of the northeast Olympic Peninsula. Pay attention to what he says, because he knows what he’s talking about
As for me, I’ve written two new essays. They are posted separately following the newsletter. “Lily’s Fly Box,” is about a box I filled with flies that I tied with feathers that my dog Lily retrieved. The other essay, “A Winter Steelhead Fly Fishing Manifesto” is my take on the current state of fly fishing on the West End in winter.
I am just about done, finally, with my duck hunting book, The Ducks at Sylopash Point, and have already begun gathering material for the next–Spey Fly Winter. Incidentally, “gathering material” in this case means going steelheading and tying a lot of flies this winter. Now that I can post photos more easily, I hope to keep a sort of running journal of what I’m up to on the blog. I get distracted, as anyone who reads the blog knows, but I’m going to try.
I am offering two clinics this winter, both on the same topic–Olympic Peninsula Winter Steelhead Fly Fishing. They are comprehensive introductions to the traditional method of fishing for winter steelhead on the Quillayute and rain forest rivers–swinging wet flies–and the flies that have been created for these rivers. We begin Saturday morning with a slide show on the rivers, the flies and the fish. Then we discuss tackle for winter fish, especially the different types of sink-tips and sinking leaders. We will analyze a variety of local steelhead dressing, including Glasso-style Spey flies. In the afternoon, we will move to a river and practice swinging flies in different types of water. Sunday morning, we will meet on a smaller stream and continue working on presentation. These clinics are appropriate for intermediate level fly fishers. It doesn’t matter if you bring a single or double-handed rod. The dates are Jan.15/16 and Feb.12/13. They run all day Saturday and until approximately 1 pm on Sunday. Cost–$200. Each class is limited to five.
All of you who read the blog regularly know that our great yellow Labrador, Lily, died last spring. We have a new Lab now. Her name is Ruby, Rose’s Calawah Ruby to be precise. The photo below is of her looking for rotten marine life to eat on Oak Bay.
Finally, my wife has been in the hospital for a week with complications from strep throat. She was in bad shape for a couple days and I was very worried. She is slowly getting better now. That’s the best Christmas present I’ve ever had.
All of you please have a safe, warm and joyous holiday with the people you love. I hope to see you on the water soon.
OUR CHRISTMAS COHO
By Les Johnson
It is around Thanksgiving when I begin to look for what my family has for generations called “Our Christmas Coho”. In my high school days just about every man and boy in our extended family was charged at one time or another with bringing one home and preparing it for the smoker. After being properly smoked it would be kept in the freezer until Christmas when it would be the centerpiece of a splendid holiday buffet.
A Christmas coho however could not be just any old coho salmon from one of the many rivers near my family’s haunts along the Washington coast. It had to be a prime, late-arriving native fish, bright as a bar of sterling silver and thick through the shoulder. In those days we had them, entering the Sol Duc, Quinault, Humptulips, Satsop, Wynoochie, Naselle, and other rivers that will go unnamed, from Thanksgiving through early February.
There is one year among the many that I’ve gone after a Christmas coho that stands out in my memory. It was early December and all of the rivers close enough to round-trip on a dollar’s worth of gas for my 1941 Chevrolet had remained high and roiled by a series of rain-dumping southwesters that were boring in from the Pacific one after another. My prospects for securing a Christmas coho were looking grim.
The rain did finally subside though and the air cooled. Rivers would be dropping and there were certainly coho in the rivers. Time however was growing uncomfortably short. It was only little more than a week until Christmas when my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins would be showing up at our house for Christmas day. Feeling a twinge of desperation, I knew that I had to give it a try.
I put my boots, rain slicker, fly rod and a box of flies into the trunk of the Chevy and headed out of town. The Wynoochie River looked fairly clear and safe for wading but its lower reaches, where I figured I would have the best chance of intercepting a fresh-run coho was a jungle of willows, devil’s club and berry brambles so I drove on to the Satsop. It was still running higher than I liked for safe wading, and dirty. I turned the car around and drove back to the Wynoochie.
Wading in just at the top of tidewater I had worked my way down along a section of water that was reasonably easy to negotiate with a fly but didn’t see a single sign of a coho. Then just where the river flowed under a long, dense, canopy of conifers I set up on a hard strike. It pulled several feet of line from my Hardy Perfect and then rolled to the surface. It was a cutthroat. I brought it to hand, a solid 18-inch yellowbelly and contemplated killing it but then turned it loose. I needed a coho
Making my way down under the canopy of evergreen branches I could only roll cast, which actually allowed me to cover all of the water on either side. I disliked fishing under the heavy, fly-grabbing cover but I was heartened by catching the cutthroat which had changed my desperation to determination. I kept casting for some distance into the cover of the canopy where I came upon a snarl of downed-timber and stickups. The little fly swung in under the logs and stopped. “Cutthroat”, I thought. I set up hard. Nothing happened
I pulled again and there was a tug..tug…tug so I really reared back on my old Granger and all hell broke loose. The coho, silver as a full moon hubcap, cartwheeled straight up into the low hanging branches, came back down with a resounding “splat” that echoed up and down along the river. Then it bolted straight downstream My old Perfect was almost in free spool and giving up backing fast. I began charging downstream after the coho, when I slipped and fell forward face first sucking up a mouthful of the Wynoochie getting drenched to the chest. I grabbed a branch and pulled myself upright and discovered that I was still connected to the coho. My hip boots however were filled with water making wading a dangerous pursuit. I struggled to a small expanse of sand on the bank on the bank where I kicked out of my boots and then went back into the river in my stocking feet, winding and regaining line. The coho had stopped. Completely soaked through and cold, I gingerly made my way downstream, reeling steadily as I went. I saw the coho roll to the surface. It was big and I was beginning to forget that I was nearly freezing. That is when the coho turned and came straight upstream past me like a silver torpedo.
I slogged my way slipping and sliding upstream, past my boots and out from under the canopy of branches winding steadily to retrieve line. I had recovered the backing and most of the fly line before long and the coho was not interested in going downstream again. Its spawning instincts were telling it to get upriver.
The end was anticlimactic. The big coho just rolled onto its side, spent. I grabbed it ahead of the tail, tossed my rod onto the bank and slid the salmon after it. With a good grip on what was an absolutely perfect coho, I pondered releasing it. This fish had been a warrior in every respect and deserved to live, but it was my Christmas coho. I used a streamside rock to kill it
After retrieving my boots I walked to my car, packing the coho and dripping a trail of cold Wynoochie River water. Back in Aberdeen I stopped at Walt Failor’s Sporting Goods, still wet but with my shoes on and hauled my salmon in to have it weighed. One of the staff hung it on the hook and congratulated me when it pulled the scale down just shy of 13-pounds
It has been almost sixty years but I still think about that day from time to time. I think of the fishing and of the fish, how it fought and last of all how it looked on our Christmas buffet table. I’ve caught a pretty fair number of big, bright coho salmon since that day, but none nearly so rewarding.
by Ron Hirschi
A Fishing Story for All Who Need Dogs As Companions because, let’s face it, nobody else wants to hang out with us………
Monsoon came to the northwest on a stormy night, or so we were told on first meeting her previous owners. She was part of the California to Washington non-profit Guide Dogs for the Blind and when my wife first met her, our future pup was in training for a life far removed from traditional Labrador retrieving. And swimming. And fishing…….
Long and sad story short, Monsoon flunked out of guide dog school and came to live with us after the kindest offering from her trainer’s husband. Dick’s wife had died, pretty much traumatizing Monsoon, and he had seen how Brenda, my wife, took to the pup. He also knew we had been without a Labrador for too many years. Five long years it had been since Olive, our high energy black Lab, had passed due to a congenital heart condition. Funny, I didn’t mourn her leaving the planet as much as our other dogs, partly I suppose because Olive went out chasing the neighbor’s cat and because she lived almost to the predicted time left to her on planet earth — the length of time several vets had told us, based on their thoughtful diagnosis and concerns for her last weeks and days. Not to mention our fragile and almost prayerful belief they were somehow wrong.
Monsoon seemed fifty or seventy five years old when she came to live with us, having been taught to act dignified so that a blind person could easily manipulate her as she dogipulated them. Let’s just say Monsoon had a lot of training to shed before she could hang out with the likes of me and my typical haunts up and down beaches, creeks, rivers, and other wet places a normal retriever would simply fall into with no second thoughts.
Being part of a well trained circle of guide dogs also meant Monsoon had never been up on the couch, had never slept on a human’s bed, and for the most part hadn’t even played with other dogs. Now that she is almost five, Monsoon is pretty close to being a yellow copy of Olive. Always eager to chase the cat, any squirrel within range, and crows to be sure, Monsoon is rough and ready and a great fishing companion. Well, sort of a great fishing companion. Sometimes I think she shed her early training in order to convince me she would mind, obey, and sit/stay no matter the situation because, after all, she was a guide dog for the blind. This, after all, meant that she could easily be a guide for a fool like me, a fishing fool and otherwise as any relative, friend, or acquaintance could attest. I ain’t the sharpest knife on the planet and am easily won over by any child under the age of six and certainly by any dog, big or small.
Seems that one little quirk she developed along the training school tracks is a predatory urge for live salmonids. She will on occasion pick up and devour a sculpin head left on the beach by otters. For a long time, she had this thing about eating dead crabs. And, more than twice she got pretty sick on feasting on anemones washed ashore after storms. Salmon. Trout. Like a tourist hooked on Copper River Salmon ads, Monsoon seems to think it is her duty, not just her shopping privilege, to throw herself in any direction a salmon or trout is being hauled ashore. She must have thought it was her right now that she lived on an island where a bunch of us locals love nothing better than to spend every morning and evening from mid July to the end of what counts as fall, tossing out and fetching in lures, bait, or flies for coho, Chinook, and an occasional steelhead or cutthroat. Beach rules, more or less prevent dogs from interfering with this not quite casual fishing club where drinking, cell phones and girls are not allowed as a matter of ceremonial protocol. Beach rules.
Did I mention that my main passion in life is fishing with a three weight in small water for trout? This salmon gig is merely a way of passing time between spring caddis emergences and the summer campouts along trout streams that begin and end in Wyoming valleys void of all life forms other than hunting dogs and Shoshone tipi rings.
First “fishing trips” with Monsoon were test runs at the salt beach, her on leash and me wishing I had fishing gear in one hand instead of a year and a half chunk of athletic fury in two hands, hands that were wishing with all their might they were not attached to this dog or this human. Anybody reading this who has tried to hold back a grizzly bear chasing an elk calf will know what I mean. Labradors set on killing a fish are tough characters. Predatory dogs are not good fishing companions. Fish predators like, say, an eagle would be easier to deal with simply because they don’t have four strong legs and a focused mind made all the more single purposed because they are pretty much, shall we say, spoiled?
A lot of interesting walks with former fishing friends……….Monsoon racing down the beach, scaring coho back to sea after the former friends thought they were the night’s meal………Then too, a few tentative trips to rivers and streams, including a trip back to our once upon a time homewaters in Montana and Wyoming where Monsoon dragged Brenda a hundred yards downstream as a four pound Yellowstone Cutthroat took me in more or less the same direction, only to be more determined to take me back upstream on seeing a pouncing, four legged predator snarling in its face as I oh so gently, attempted to long line release the dazzling fish before my “guide” dog bit its head off.
So it took a while to calm her down and I finally rediscovered some dense brush creeks and ponds of my childhood at which I could take her and sort of keep Monsoon occupied with beavers, ducks, the scent of bears and cougars, and the splashy caddis rises in the next pool. Little by little, she managed to be somewhat satisfied if I happened to swing a four inch trout her way so she could just get a whiff of fish slime. Before long, and in those rare times when fish were rising fast and steady enough for the whiffs to become nice grass stained globs of trout shadow, I could actually take Monsoon fishing without too much fear of her swallowing a pan sized trout and the furry ties latched to its jaw.
When I was a kid, I had a dog that loved nothing more than to feast on herring and candlefish I dropped into the boat while raking bait in the shallows of Hood Canal. That dog never gave up its fish predation and spent many summer days swimming the length of beach from where I lived to where I could begin swimming with friends, fishing from a funky dock, or digging for clams. I was relieved to finally have Monsoon in companion mode. Or so I thought.
Late this past summer my neighbor grew tired of my feeble luck at the coho beach and requested some breakfast trout. As if needing this excuse from the writing desk, I hurried the following day to a piece of water familiar to Monsoon and me; water I figured would yield some wild trout. Two fish was my goal and my trusty companion and I headed south.
Soon enough we were wading across a creek, aiming for a nice bend in the flowing water.
As I cast an emerger pattern to a sunken log Monsoon sat stoically looking like the tip of the ancient tree propped against the far side of the stream. My proud pooch seemed planted at my side in a pose fit for the cover of Just Labs or Field and Stream. I could just see the article about a guy and a former guide dog now trained to remain absolutely motionless as its “master” practiced the noble art of flyfishing. Of course, my dream stage imagined some city person would be writing this piece, someone who thinks fishing is fun, not the intense and personal occupation I consider it to be.
Okay. I am relaxed despite my thoughts of how our sport has been captured by a bunch of people so distant from my own country roots……… I have this dog and came here with a mission and I don’t have to worry endlessly about releasing a fish. Catch and release are admirable plans I support, sort of, but this day I shed all higher order ideals. I have come to kill fish for Connie so she can enjoy a wonderful breakfast. What more can humanity offer. Like Christ, I turn two fish into two magical pieces of holy meal…….I have come to catch, not to fish, and after about four casts I had the first fish strung on a willow branch. Good dog Monsoon licked my fingers and stayed away from the fish while I praised her behavior.
I caught a couple more, releasing them more out of admiration for their beauty than anything else, other than my pride in Monsoon’s obvious show of pleasure in being out on the creek without the least sign of predatory needs.
Up the creek about fifty yards, I cast to a nice deep cut in dark water that erupted as a fat trout slurped my offering. I played it in and was satisfied. This would be my last fish of the day and I could return home with the catch for my neighbor and friend. But then I looked down at my feet where only moments ago the first fish had been awaiting its partner for the pan………No fish. Willow stick? Yes. Fish? No.
Monsoon was sitting there as she had been when I made the first false cast upstream. She sat motionless with head up, eyes to mine. But I noticed her mouth. It was poised as if to puff a very elegant and possibly illegal Cuban cigar. That kind of pooched out mouth dogs get when hiding something inside the long snouty mouth, inside the clenched teeth and behind that pink and somewhat slobbery fold of soft skin hidden beneath the short haired lip curl………Monsoon had that first trout tucked inside. Her prize.
Much to Connie’s eventual delight, my good dog simply looked at me and leaned forward, letting the trout slime work its magic as the fish slipped gently from her mouth as if a mallard fetched from the decoys in an early winter shoot. The fish was unmarked. I picked it up from the wet stream bank and slipped it back onto its branch, reached over and unhooked the second trout, snapped its neck and added it to the supple stringer.
If and when Connie reads this she will, no doubt laugh, because she knows and loves Monsoon as much as she loves her own two dogs. She told me the next day how much she enjoyed the fish. Monsoon has since shown me she is totally over grasping small trout in her mouth. Salmon slapping their silver bodies against the edge of tide and sand? That’s another story. I think it is fair for her to try to knock my buddy’s fish off the hook. After all, what are dogs for? They might help you get some bragging rights if you catch more than your friends. Then again, who needs friends when you have a dog like Monsoon, or any other mutt for that matter.
THINGS I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT FLYFISHING
By Leland Miyawaki
38 years ago, I sent $75 to LL Bean for a “Complete Fly Fishing Outfit” that consisted of a 7½” Fenwick fiberglass rod, 1494 Medalist reel and weight forward floating line. The day the outfit arrived in the mail, I set my spinning rod down forever. Two days later, my Orvis fly tying kit arrived. For the next year, I taught myself to fly cast, dress flies and catch trout. I am a self-taught expert on mistakes. The following is a short list, in no particular order, of what I have and have not learned to date:
1. If the water is full of naturals, and providing you know what they are, fish a size smaller pattern than what you think.
2. Cast to feeding fish, not the water.
3. Don’t cast or fish as if others are watching you. So what if they are, who cares?
4. Don’t think the hatch, when it happens, happens everywhere.
5. Use the same length leader for all dry line work. That way you will know where your fly is at all times.
6. If you had buck fever when you began fly fishing, it will never ever go away.
7. Do not lose the first fish of the day.
8. Slow down.
9. When swinging flies for steelhead, keep a tight line on the hangdown.
10. Don’t fish murky water on the beach.
11. Kids need to catch fish.
12. Before wading and bushwhacking from the car to the river, see if there is a nearby field you can walk through.
13. Never leave fish to find fish.
14. Don’t bring a camera with you if you want to catch steelhead.
15. Don’t bring a cooler with you if you want to catch salmon.
16. Don’t think “barbecue” if you want to land the big salmon you’re playing.
17. Always take a crap before a long float trip down the river.
18. If you want to lose weight in the morning, eat greasy bacon.
19. You will always make your worst cast to the biggest fish.
20. Don’t promise a fishing report if you want to catch fish.
21. The harder it rains, the more you will have to pee.
22. On a lake, everything you say will be heard by everyone.
23. If you aren’t catching fish, you don’t have enough lead.
24. There are no wind knots, only casting knots.
25. Use a tippet size that is commensurate with fly size.
26. Only tie and fish your best dressed flies.
27. Tie soft hackle flies sparse.
28. The best steelhead fly is the one that last caught a fish.
29. Always walk through brush with your rod strung up.
30. Strip set when fishing poppers and streamers.
31. Remove your casting knots when you find them.
32. Always check your leader for knots after throwing a tailing loop.
33. Turning waders inside out will only weaken the ankle seams.
34. When fishing a pool, don’t grow roots – keep moving
35. Always buy something if you want the latest fishing info from a fly shop.
I’m sure there are more but I’m still learning.
by Preston Singletary
Even now, although I’m looking forward to the beginning of the winter steelhead season, my thoughts stray ahead to next year and the spring months of lake fishing. Two of my favorite springtime lakes are Lake Lenice in the dry, semi-desert surroundings of central Washington’s Grant County, and Lake Chopaka in the rugged, pine-and-juniper-clad Okanogan foothills, and the primary reason for my affection for these two lakes is their healthy populations of Callibaetis mayflies. The Callibaetis mayfly (Callibaetis ferrugineus hageni) is our most common and prolific stillwater mayfly; its multiple generations make it available to the angler throughout the spring-summer season and even into the fall, and it is present in most lakes on both sides of the Cascade Mountains and even in the slower-moving portions of some rivers and creeks.
Few people today seem to remember that the chain of lakes including Nunnally and Lenice are relatively new, formed in the 1950s when the groundwater levels, raised by the construction of O’Sullivan Dam in 1949, began to seep into and fill the deeper places in ancient flood channels created near the end of the last ice age when the repeated breaching of the ice dams that formed Glacial Lake Missoula, released the almost inconceivably large and powerful Bretz Floods (named for geologist Harlan Bretz). Balked by the imposing, east-west massif of Saddle Mountain, a portion of these flood waters surged to the west carving the lower course and associated flood channels of Crab Creek before rejoining the Columbia River to flow south through Sentinel Gap.
The accumulating, mineral-rich groundwater created a string of small lakes in one of those flood channels which provided prime habitat for the many species of aquatic insects, midges, damsel and dragonflies, and mayflies which colonized these “seep lakes”, and when trout were introduced, their growth rates were nothing short of phenomenal. In spite of an infestation of sunfish which has required repeated “rehabilitation” of these lakes, they have remained producers of large numbers of big rainbow, brown and tiger trout for over fifty years. Although Lake Lenice now opens in March, I prefer to wait for a
Lake Lenice and the high northern rampart of Saddle Mountain
month or so until the water warms up a little and (hopefully) the capricious springtime winds have settled.
I always look forward to my first trip across the mountains to what a friend of mine always refers to as “the sunny eastern side”. The barren hills are still touched with the green which will disappear as the weeks pass, only the thorny, gray-green Russian Olive trees and the cattails ringing the lake will remain verdant throughout the summer. In the early spring, though, the short walk from the parking area to the lake, across the shrub-steppe flat, is enlivened by the blossoms of desert primrose, phlox, balsamroot, and the oddly-hued, bricky-orange flowers of the desert mallow. From the brow of the short, sandy slope above the lake a few fish can be seen rising and it will only take minutes to get down to the shore,
organize the rods and reels, and prepare to get out on the water. It is late morning now and still early for the Callibaetis hatch but the nymphs should soon become active as the build-up of gases inside their exoskeletons begins to buoy them toward the surface.
Dissatisfied with existing Callibaetis nymph imitations, none of which provided the slender profile and appearance of the natural, I began, some years ago, to try to develop my own pattern. It has proven to be extremely effective and has earned a permanent place in my Callibaetis assortment. I will troll it on an intermediate-sink line when moving from one location to another but prefer to fish it on a floating line, casting in toward cattails or other likely habitat and retrieving in leisurely four-to-six-inch strips.
My Callibaetis nymph imitation
Sometime past midday, when the nymphs begin rising to the surface to split out of their nymphal shucks and emerge as duns, the fish begin to focus on the surface. Although some nymphs are still being taken at this time, the fish seem to realize that the emerger, preoccupied with extricating itself from its husk, is an easier target and begin to feed heavily on them.
My emerger pattern, in a rather different form, was shown to me by a friend who was shown it by “an old timer at Chopaka”, so I’ve always referred to it as The Chopaka Emerger; over the years I’ve modified it to better suit my idea of what an emerging Callibaetis should look like.
The Chopaka Emerger
The original was tied to float vertically so the rear of the hook would hang below the surface film. But, observing that the Callibaetis typically rests horizontally on the surface while struggling to emerge from its nymphal cuticle, I’ve eliminated the wire rib of the original and substituted a few fibers of sparkle yarn to represent a trailing shuck in place of the original’s tails. When thoroughly greased with floatant this emerger sits low in the water and seems to exhibit an almost magical attraction for hungry trout.
Dick Brening nets a husky rainbow as a storm begins to brew up over Lake Chopaka
A long way from Lake Lenice in almost every respect except its magnificent Callibaetis hatches is Lake Chopaka. Nestled in a narrow valley at an elevation of nearly 3000 feet on the eastern flank of 7800-foot Chopaka Mountain, Lake Chopaka has, for decades held a reputation for large, healthy trout and Callibaetis hatches that seem to have, literally, every fish in the lake up and feeding on the surface.
As at Lake Lenice, the nymph and emerger have their places on the daily schedule and I like to have a good pattern to represent the subimago, or dun, as well. After getting fully clear of its nymphal shuck, the dun will sit on the surface for a time, getting its wings fully erect as it prepares to fly for the first time. The emerger can usually be fished right through the hatch; until, in fact, there is nothing to be seen on the water except one or two remaining duns which have not yet taken flight. But for some inexplicable reason, there are occasions when fish will show a marked preference for the dun while ignoring the emerger. It’s an excellent idea to have a few dun imitations in your fly box.
A simple Callibaetis parachute dun, an imitation of the subimago
Common names given to the Callibaetis mayfly include the Speckled Dun and Speckled-wing Quill, both referring to the beautifully-mottled wings of the subimago; I like to use well-marked coastal deer hair for the wing post, feeling that it gives some sense of the variegated coloring of the dun’s wings while being durable enough to stand up to repeated attacks by hungry trout. I tie all of my mayfly dun imitations in the parachute style because I think the horizontal hackles and low-riding position of the body provides a more natural and realistic impression than the conventional, collar-hackled style.
A Callibaetis spent spinner imitation
Mayflies are unusual among insects in having two distinct and sequential winged forms. The subimago, after emerging, flies ashore to undergo one more molt, into the imago, or spinner, stage. Male and female spinners fly back out over the water within a day of this second molt in what is called a mating swarm. Males fill the air in sometimes dense clouds and the females fly through these swarms pursued by males attempting to fertilize them. Following this performance, males and females return to the shore, the males to die or to be eaten by other insects and birds, the females to rest and allow their eggs to ripen When this is accomplished, the females fly, once again, out over the water to deposit their eggs.
Ovipositing females, touching down on the water to lay their eggs, are sometimes taken by fish but, more commonly, her egg-laying completed, she lands on the water as her strength fades. No longer able to hold her wings upright, they gradually sag to the water in the classic form of the spent spinner; tails widespread and wings flat on the water at right angles to her body. Among some mayfly species, these spinner falls can be heavy enough to trigger a feeding period among the trout but I have not found this to generally be the case on the lakes I fish. At Lake Lenice and elsewhere, however, I have sometimes seen the occasional large trout on the cruise, leisurely sipping down every spent spinner encountered, and for this reason I like to have a few imitations on hand.
Snacking Through 2010
By Chester Allen
It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and an early snow is falling outside my home in Hood River, Oregon.
Flakes are coating the trees, and the Hood River is flowing low and ink-black against the white landscape.
Some people — those who are not fishing junkies — would look outside and figure that all the anglers are in hibernation until spring. But we know better. The fishing season never really ends in the Pacific Northwest, especially if you’re crazy enough to rattle around from one spot to another.
I’m crazy enough to do just that, even in this year of $3-per-gallon gas and a wretched economy.
It occurred to me — while I was lashing the Subaru from Hood River to South Puget Sound a few weeks ago — that my fishing year mirrors my time in different corners of the Northwest. I’ve lived in Bend, where I grew to know and love the many fabulous rivers and lakes of the Desert Country. I’ve lived in Eugene and Corvallis, where I discovered hidden treasures along the upper Willamette and in the Coast Range. I lived in Olympia, Washington for 13 years, where I fished for sea-run cutthroat and resident coho more than 150 times a year.
Now I live in Hood River, Oregon, which is a good place to watch snow fall — and to reach any corner of this fishy part of the planet. I try to live close to the water and to the bright fish that shine in my memories — even during the darkest, shortest days of the year.
Here are some of my brightest memories from 2010:
January 2010: Not a Goodbye
Puget Sound beaches don’t seem very friendly during the second week of January. The sun doesn’t show for days at a time, and a fine, cold rain settles over the landscape like an endless, fuzzy veil.
But South Puget Sound’s sea-run cutthroat are out there in the inlets and prowling along the beaches. And I have grown used to pestering these fish for an hour or three during a good tides on most winter days.
But I got some bad news a few weeks earlier. The newspaper where I had worked for 13 years, including seven years as the outdoor writer and columnist, was going through yet another set of job cuts, and my job was one of the many that ended up on the chopping block. I spent a few days staring out at the rain and wondering what would happen next.
I knew I would move to my home in Hood River, and start freelance writing and looking for another job in journalism. After I got that figured out, I started visiting my favorite South Sound beaches and fishing my brains out.
I had a few weeks left at the newspaper, and I vowed to go out with a flurry of casts.
On my last day at the paper, I woke up early and drove out to a favorite beach. The tide looked like it would be good, and I hoped to find one or two sea-run cutts in a nice rip that forms off a point during the falling tide.
I got to the beach and savored the crunch of barnacle-crusted pebbles shifting under my wading boots. The air was thick with the scents of wet cedar forest, tidal mud, shellfish — and fish.
I tied on a bright pink Knudsen Spider fly, as South Sound’s winter cutts like hot pink, and I like seeing the bright fly pulse against the cold, clear tidal flow. South Sound winter cutts like to hold in the soft water near a current tongue, and they’ll dart into the current to pick off food drifting by. Winter cutts are slower fish, so a sinking line helps put the fly closer to their haunts along the bottom rocks and dropoffs.
Even with all this, my mood was as dark as the day. I didn’t want to go into work for my last day — and go through all the goodbyes and farewells. My 13-year investment at the paper seemed so meaningless. I felt like a cast-off, worn-out cog from the newspaper machine. I had never felt like that before.
I still had so much to say about life and the outdoors in South Puget Sound. But my job was over, and I had to face that. Newspapers were falling apart all over the country, and I had spent the past two years worrying about my job.
I worked my way down the rip, casting and stripping in the fly. I started thinking about the future — of what life might still hold for me. I started to feel free of the worry and fear.
At that moment, I felt a sharp tug, and a bright cutt flashed in the rip and rolled onto the surface.
A few minutes later, I hike back up the beach and thought about that silvery, 16-inch fish darting about from my hand. I didn’t know what would happen next, but I knew that I’d return to South Sound beaches for the rest of my life.
Spring: Crooked River Return
There was a time in my life — during the late 1980s — when I fished Central Oregon’s Crooked River at least once a week. I’d even join my friend Jeff Perin, who now owns the Fly Fisher’s Place in Sisters, Oregon, on epic days, where we’d fish Crane Prairie Reservoir for giant rainbow trout in the mornings and then roll the 60-odd miles to the Crooked River near Prineville for the evening caddis hatch.
I had some time on my hands this past spring, so I took Berkeley the Wonder Lab on a road trip to the Crooked River. The desert canyon looked as rugged as ever, and I spotted trout rising to flies at familiar corners as I slowly drove the road between Prineville and Bowman Dam. A rain shower passed through and the spicy scent of wet sage filled the air.
I had fished the Crooked for a day or two each summer for the past few years, but I hadn’t seen the water during early spring in more than a decade. The water was low and clear, as the water needed for the summer irrigation season was building up behind the dam. The Crooked usually runs a little off-colored from silt, and it was weird to see all the bottom rocks.
The fish thought it was really weird to see me, and they stopped rising as soon as I got into casting position. I was used to fishing this little river when the silty flows of summer helped hide me from the fish. I’m ashamed to report that it took me about two hours — and three spots — to figure all this out.
So, I sat down behind the spot where 15 or so fish had been rising a few minutes earlier. I ate my sandwich, savored a Coca-Cola and tied on a three-foot long section of 6X tippet. A mixed hatch of midges and blue-winged olives — both a size 20 — were gliding down the slow, easy current, so I tied on one of Craig Mathew’s Sparkle Duns. I tied 18 inches of 6X to the bend of the Sparkle Dun and tied on a simple midge pupa that has a black thread body, a rib of pearl Krystal Flash and a tiny bubble head of dubbing topped off with a strip of that weird, thin foam padding that protects electronic gizmos during shipping.
After all this, the trout had enough time for recover from my earlier bungling and were back to tipping and sipping. I crawled up the bank and tried to ignore Berkeley panting in my ear.
I made short casts and tried to hook the tiny Sparkle Dun about a foot or two ahead of the rising fish. The Sparkle Dun helped me find the low-floating midge pupa and acted as a strike indicator a couple of times.
I still spooked more fish than I hooked, but the spring sun was warm on my back. The pretty, wild rainbow trout rose all afternoon.
The Northwest is full of under fished largemouth bass ponds. Just about every stock pond, irrigation reservoir or housing development lake is full of bad-tempered largemouth bass.
Most of the best ponds are on private land, which means they get fished once or twice a year — if at all. This is a good reason to tie or buy some popping bugs and start asking farmers and ranchers for permission to fish their water. Most farmers and ranchers are too busy working to fish their own ponds, and, if you ask nicely and can close every gate, chances are good that you can find yourself rowing a little pram across a five-acre pond at dusk on a summer afternoon.
My wife, Heather, grows pears, apples and cherries for a living, and one of her orchards features two large ponds. These ponds are in the arid country near Oregon’s Deschutes River, and the bass tend to cluster along the shady shoreline as the sun goes down and yummy things — in the form of grasshoppers and frogs — begin to fall into the water.
Heather likes to dig out her spinning rod and cast a small Hula Popper along the shorelines. I stick to my fly rod, a 7-weight fly rod loaded with a weight-forward line and a seven-foot-long leader that tapers down to 1X. I tie on a popping bug that makes similar gurgles to the Hula Popper.
Heather is an educated, classy woman, which is why I love it when she fishes poppers. We get out onto the glassy water and admire the quiet warmth of the setting sun. Heather casts her popper toward the shore, and the gentle rhythm of the chugging lure is the only sound — until a bass lunges at the popper in a swirling strike.
Then Heather rears back on her rod and swears like a deckhand on a tuna boat.
“It’s the surprise of the strike, I just can’t help myself,” Heather says after she releases her bass and starts casting again. “#%!!Y$!”
Yeah, the fishing can be that fast, that good and that profane.
Fall: Deschutes River in September and October
September and October are my favorite time to fish Oregon’s world-famous Deschutes River.
Most of the nutso rafters and campers are long gone, and plenty of outdoors people are busily chasing deer, elk or birds. And many hard-core anglers are locked onto the Deschutes’ spectacular run of summer steelhead.
All this leaves much of the Deschutes, especially the redside rainbow paradise that stretches from Maupin upstream to Warm Springs, nearly deserted, especially on weekdays. And, even as this happens, large caddis flies — called October caddis — hatch out and blunder along the streamside trees.
The October caddis offers the same kind of outlandish fishing as the salmonfly and golden stonefly fishing of late May and early June. There are just fewer anglers in your way in the fall. This angling is simple but strenuous: You need a selection of Stimulator flies in sizes 10 through 6 tied in shades of burnt orange. You need a 6-weight rod with a weight-forward line and nine-foot-long leaders ending in 1X or 2X. And, finally, you need to be willing to walk a long ways and fight through streamside brush.
If you have the time, gear and fortitude, chances are you’ll hook — but probably not land — some 20-inch-long Deschutes River redsides rainbow trout. Some people roll their eyes at this, but these anglers have never seen a 20-inch Deschutes rainbow or felt the raw power as they peel line off your reel. Most of these fish will be hooked after you crawl under a canopy of streamside alder trees and then lob your fly into a nightmare of sunken logs and boulders.
That’s just what I did this past fall. I inched past thickets of poison oak, crawled under overhanging tree branches and brushed spiders off my face — just to get within casting distance of where some of the river’s biggest trout wait for October caddis to blunder into the water.
You’ll see a few anglers wade or walk along the open banks and making long, stylish casts to bankside rocks or into backeddies. These anglers hook — and usually land — a few nice trout. But the real monsters — the ones I think about during long winter nights — live in the jungle water, where a long cast is 10 feet.
I crept into the jungle this past fall and hooked big fish — trout that rose from deep, foamy water for flies that landed within inches of tree branches trailing into the water. Those same fish quickly tangled my leader into other, sunken branches and snapped my tippets in seconds.
I found other, smaller trout rising for blue winged olive hatches in the backeddies. I managed to land a few of these fish, which ranged from 12 to 16 inches or so, on long, light tippets and size 18 flies.
But I didn’t land one monster on the October caddis this year. This is why I keep going back to the lonely, nasty stretches of river. I live for the sudden takes of outsized fish, the outside chance of landing one — and the oversized memories that burn well into the cold winter and keep me coming back every year.
Ghost Trout of the Olympics
by Gary Marston
Every angler is drawn to fishing by something different. For some, it is about catching big fish, for others lots of fish or just a fish in the first place, but for me it is all about the experience. With that said there are a number of important factors that contribute to the proper kind of experience, ranging from stunning scenery to solitude, but to me it has been finding fish that truly belong in the waters that I am fishing. Native fish and salmonids in particular have held my interest since I was first introduced to the stunning diversity of trout, salmon and char that call North America home. My fascination with these natives sparked a quest to seek out and photograph all of the North American salmonids. So far this search has taken me to every state on the west coast, but I find that the magical waters of the Olympic Peninsula continue to draw me back time and time again.
In an era where native trout have been all but wiped out in waters across the lower 48 states, the natives of the Peninsula are still holding their own overall and that fact alone is enough to bring me back time and time again. It is hard to imagine with the kind of diversity found on the Peninsula that a native trout fanatic could find a much better playground. All five species of Pacific salmon, coastal rainbow, coastal cutthroat, bull trout and Dolly Varden call this corner of the Northwest home and when you take into account the varying life histories of these fish the opportunities are nearly endless.
Throughout my explorations of the Olympics I have also discovered that even among species such as the coastal rainbow or cutthroat trout there are often stunning variations from one watershed to another. Among the oddest of these local variations are the cutthroat from a lake in the southern Olympics, which are spotted so heavily that their sides resemble a magic eye puzzle. The variations in rainbow trout often make me wonder about their origins. Some have an appearance that hints at summer run steelhead, while others have traits that suggest winter run decent or something in between. However the rainbow trout that stand out the most in my mind are those that I now refer to as the “ghost trout”.
High in the Olympics there is a small stream with an odd assemblage of natives that have been isolated from downstream intrusions by a set of barrier falls. Among these fish is one of the state’s rarest native salmonids, the Dolly Varden. These dollies have been long isolated by the falls and where later invading bull trout replaced Dolly Varden in other rivers, in the crystal clear waters of this river they still thrive. The other fish in the stream and the one that interests me the most are the rainbows or “ghost trout”, which have been isolated for just as long as the Dollies and have an unique appearance even among their diverse species.
One encounter with this ghostly rainbow trout has been burned into my memory more strongly than just about any other fishing experience that I have had. On a late June day, I hiked several miles up this stream to search for its natives and after a full day on the water had already had an amazing outing. Despite the high flows of spring runoff, the little six to eight inch rainbows had been relatively receptive to small stoneflies swung under a sink tip and I even had a few surprises from the Dollies. With a long hike out ahead of me and not a lot of daylight left, I made the call to inspect one last piece of water and that is where I found the trout I was looking for.
The river here consisted of deep run just below a rapid and there silhouetted against the bottom was the outline of several trout. The largest of these fish was holding in the best lie and looked to be around a foot long, while the fish behind him were slightly smaller and more in the eight inch class. The way the run was set up there was no way to present a swung fly to the fish, so I added a bit of weight to my leader and started high stick nymphing. It didn’t take long to get a response either, as the big trout moved several inches to the left to intercept my fly. I set the hook as soon as he grabbed the fly, but was a little too slow and missed. Rarely do you get another shot at a fish like this, but I got two more. The first was a clean miss; however the second resulted in a head shake, but yet again I failed to get a hook up. At this point although the fish still hadn’t run for cover I was sure that I had blown my shot at it, so I decided to try the consolation prize and went for the smaller fish instead. This one worked out a bit better for me and I got a solid hook up on my first good drift. I took care to try to fight the fish in the tailout behind the bigger fish to avoid spooking him and before long landed a beautiful ghostly white eight inch rainbow.
Despite the bigger fish clearly feeling the hook and likely noticing commotion from the battle with his smaller neighbor I figured that I might as well make a few more casts. However after fifteen minutes of having every drift ignored, I was just about give up and decided to give it just one more cast. Unlikely as it was that one cast did the trick. Again he took the fly but this time I finally got a good hook set. The fish gave me a couple good jumps but within short order I won out and brought him to the net. This was the “ghost trout” that I was looking for, a truly unique beauty with transparent fins, grayish white sides and just a dash of crimson along his lateral line giving a stark contrast against such a light background.
With the experience being the most important aspect of fishing for me this is exactly type of fishing that I seek out. Although my “ghost trout” definitely was not the biggest fish in the world, I would list it among the more beautiful trout in the world. In an age of instant gratification many anglers struggle to understand how a twelve inch trout could be worth miles of hiking and hours on the road, but this was the right twelve inch trout, a trout that truly belongs in the waters in which it is swimming. Experiences like this are far too uncommon these days and yet for those willing to explore, the Olympics have many more just like it to offer and this fact will continue to draw me back for years to come.
“The Secret Season”
By Bob Triggs
The cold gray skies of November bring many Olympic Peninsula fly fisher’s adventures to a gloomy close. Most of the lakes and smaller waters have closed, Salmon season on the salt-chuck has wound down, and the fickle weather keeps our coastal rivers flows unstable enough to make any long range fishing plans tentative at best. Quite a few anglers will not fish for trout again until spring and opening day on the lowland waters. Rods and reels will be closeted, tackle stored. Some will tie flies, most will begin the annual rituals of winter-idled anglers anywhere; book and magazine reading by a warming fire, sporting show attendance, fishing club gatherings, haunting the fly shops, pontificating on the Internet fishing forums, and sundry all of the many survival strategies of the seasonally displaced fisherman. There is a kind of hum-drum predictability to it all.
Yet perhaps there is more. No, I do not mean the mystical and obsessional Olympic Peninsula Rainforest winter Steelhead season; for which there is no cure or treatment except to stand hips deep in the numbingly icy waters, in howling wind and rain, swinging a wet fly in the turbid jade green flows with zombie-like expectancy. No; I am reminding you trout fishers that the fine art of Sea Run Coastal Cutthroat Trout fly fishing can be pursued on our area beaches, using floating lines and dry flies if you like, all winter long. Yes; November through March- all good fishing months when most anglers wouldn’t be caught dead out on an exposed Puget Sound salt-chuck beach with fly rod in hand. And you will have those beaches mostly to your self. There are enough mild, not too windy nor wet, winter days here to make beach fishing a delightfully frequent possibility. And this creates a welcome diversion from the gloominess of grey skies, short days and the waiting for river flows to return to fishable flows between storms. You might even forget that it is winter. Especially when we get a few warmer and sunnier days in February, and the termites start hatching out of the rotting logs on the beach- and a nice fluffy, ruddy brown colored Stimulator fly will fool a cruising trout in shallow water.
Many sea-run Coastal Cutthroat Trout spend a good deal of time in the winter months feeding adjacent to their natal streams and beyond. These fish tend to be a little heftier than the average summer fish from October onward. I have caught them on just about every kind of trout fly that you can think of. My biggest winter Cutthroat have come on big dark flies- Streamers, Matukas, Wooly Boogers, Leeches, Bunnies, Skunkaboos etc- swung deep and slow, using an intermediate sink or dry line and a longer leader of over nine feet in length. However you approach it the point is a deep slow presentation. I never use strike indicators or floats or jigs in this fishing. These big fish hit hard and will give your five weight and wrists a good workout. I like the simple meditation of walking along a beach in wintertime, watching the subtle shifts of light and water, the changing moods of the day, the migrating birds and waterfowl, the Seals and Porpoises and Otters. Wading a tide pool can yield lessons in discovering the winter forage for your trout, and new ideas for your fly box. Puget Sound winter beaches are surprisingly alive with wildlife activity, even on the colder days. It is not uncommon to catch a few resident Coho on some days in winter, and these scrappy fish will test your tackle too. How about this: winter Steelhead migrate along most of our beaches all winter long and you could hook the fish of a lifetime if one of them grabs your skating Muddler off of the surface. Good luck landing it on your five weight…
For romance and serendipity there may not be much more fun in sea-run Cutthroat Trout fly fishing than skating a big bushy dry fly or popper on the surface of a strong tidal flow. Fellow fly angler Leland Miyawaki says of fishing with his own design Beach Poppers: “It’s the most fun you can have on a beach with your clothes on”. Skating, waking, stripping and shaking his fly can be addictive and mesmerizing; and then the water begins to bulge, as a wake forms behind and you realize that a big fish is chasing down your skittering popper; Slam!, and the game is on!. Poppers have been around in various forms and styles all over the world for many years. But Leland has reinvented the art and joy of tying and fishing these flies with his own Miyawaki’s Beach Popper. Try them and you may just might never want to fish beneath the surface again.
For several years I have made a foray to the beaches around Christmas day, weather permitting, armed with a few flies, and on most trips I catch one or two trout in as many hours of pleasant fishing. If you bring along a rucksack, a newspaper or book, a lunch and a thermos, you can make a day of it. I like that kind of pace. With so many good beaches and local access, its hard to ignore. There are more miles of beach to explore here, to wade or not to wade, casting for sea-run Coastal Cutthroat Trout, than you could ever cover in a lifetime, much less an active winter of adventure. It is too easy to get stuck in a rut of fishing in the same old places in the same old ways. Get out and take a walk someplace new, explore and experiment. You might surprise yourself with another productive fishing spot or a new way of doing things. And you might beat the winter doldrums and flab too. Sea-runs move often, they rarely stay in one spot for more than one tide cycle, neither should you. So keep moving.
Don’t get caught in the “high tide” mentality. We have enough structure and current here on Admiralty Inlet and around the Olympic Peninsula region beaches that you can catch sea-run Cutthroat at any time of tide on most days, if you just work at it. It won’t hurt you to learn the structures of a beach by visiting it on a minus tide day and watching the flows as a tide comes in. One good thing is to find current flowing along a beach, on any tide, from there your fishing is just like freshwater river fishing anywhere. Having bait around helps, so be on the lookout for birds feeding, especially sea ducks and Cormorants and especially Osprey. Taking a little time to study forage fish habitats and behavior will pay off too. Look for gravel and cobblestone bottom beaches with moving water at some time of tide. Spurs of land, points and bars, ledges and humps, all indicate some current at some point of tide. Sea-run Cutthroat like an active fly so don’t be afraid to keep that fly moving and alive! Strip-Shake-Rattle-N-Roll! Mix it up and make it look real. No bait fish with a set of trout teeth chasing it slows down or stops. Its not paranoia if they are really after you! Once you find a good spot and catch a few fish, don’t get “stuck”- keep moving. Even a few steps at a time once in a while can make a big difference. Make an adventure of it. But remember where you caught the last one!
Don’t wade too deep; knee deep to shin deep is fine. Once you begin wading deep you can push fish away, and you will be losing your body core temperature the whole time you are fishing no matter how well you layer your clothing. Frequent breaks to warm up are a good strategy. Better yet; don’t allow yourself to get cold to begin with. Simply walking out of the water for a few minutes occasionally is usually enough to warm you, along with snacks and sipping hot thermos drinks or soup during the day. It’s supposed to be fun. Try to work your fly in the shallows before you ever actually do any wading. Standing on the dry beach at waters edge I once caught a 12 pound ocean returning Coho salmon in two feet of water right in front of me this way. Trout feed in ridiculously shallow water sometimes. Any time of year you could have a good day of catching Cutthroat right at the edges all day, and never once step in the water to do it. But only if you try.
A nine foot five or six weight fly rod is fine. I like the medium to fast action rods, especially on a windy day or when I’m pushing big Poppers or fluffy flies. The Switch and Spey rods are gaining in popularity on the beaches these days too. A 12 foot six weight seems fine. I prefer a floating fly line all year round. But many people swear by the newer intermediate sink clear lines and sink tip lines. Using a dry line I can adjust my leader length according to the fly I am using and depth that I want to fish. In the broader, slower flows of most shallow water beach fishing situations here this is a refreshingly simple affair. A nine foot factory tapered, knotless 4X or 3X monofilament leader should cover most of it. Have extra spools of tippet and your leaders will last much longer. I use all kinds of trout and steelhead flies for this fishing but I especially like Leland’s Beach Popper and big brushy Steelhead muddlers like Bill McMillan’s Steelhead Caddis. Generally I try to avoid long shank hooks and limit my hooks to size # 4 and # 6. I also use bait fish flies like the Clouser Minnow. I opt for more natural or imitative colors and patterns overall. Larger and longer shank hooks can easily kill a Cutthroat Trout. Remember that by law we are to “release all fish without avoidable injury”, as these fish are protected from harvest on Washington’s marine waters.
If you dress properly for winter weather, though often it is quite mild here, being aware of the colder water temperatures on Puget Sound waters, and if you come with an open mind and a positive attitude, you won’t ever be disappointed. Winter sea-run Cutthroat fly fishing on our beaches can become a new addition to your outdoors and angling life. Thankfully our regional beaches have easy access and ample parking, and much of the best fishing is right at our doorstep on the Olympic Peninsula. So what are you waiting for? Don’t let the brown muddy rivers stop you- get out and fish!