It was a couple days before the Summer Solstice when I originally finished writing the summer newsletter. The weather was terrible then–in the 50s and raining. Then my computer went haywire, and I couldn’t upload the file to my blog. Then I went to Michigan for a week. Now it’s the Fourth of July. The weather has improved significantly since I wrote the newsletter. But you never really know on the Olympic Peninsula, do you? So I’m going to leave in the stuff I wrote about the bad weather a couple weeks ago. We could easily slip back into the rain and drizzle anytime.
There are a lot of different kinds of fish to pursue on the Olympic Peninsula in early summer–and in a wide variety of settings–and the weather doesn’t have to be good for the fish to bite. I have experienced some of my best early summer steelhead fly fishing on the West End rivers during really depressing weather. And the kind of soft drizzly days that keep the young-of-year baitfish near the surface also often produce excellent fishing for cutthroat in the salt. This is a good time of year to hit the low elevation lakes for trout and to slog into your favorite beaver pond, if you have one. If the wind isn’t up, this is a perfect time to wade the coastal beaches for surf perch. And if you have a saltwater-worthy boat, it is the best time of year to tie into some tasty black rockfish near the kelp beds at Neah Bay.
I concluded a saltwater cutthroat clinic the other day. We don’t usually catch too many fish in clinics, because we are working on a lot of different techniques and go over things pretty quickly. But the angler I spent the most time with got several small cutts and one really nice fish on sand lance patterns. There was quite a bit of bait around, and we saw a number of other cutthroat rising and rolling. He emailed me afterwords that he had done even better when he returned to the spot a couple days later.
One of the other clinic participants showed me pictures he had taken on a recent trip to the West End. He caught a good-sized Beardslee and cutthroat from Lake Crescent, a hatchery steelhead from the Bogachiel, and a wild one from the Hoh.
My friend Dick Wentworth likes the rivers lower than they are right now before he begins summer steelheading. Indeed, winter tactics–sink-tips and fairly large dark or bright flies–are your best bets on the high cold water we have had so far this June. So Dick has been fishing the creeks and the tributaries of the larger rivers. He’s getting some nice resident cutthroat. Not that many people–hell, hardly any people–pursue these fish. It requires doing some homework and some scouting and getting some scratches on your face and arms. But the fish are usually eager, and they are always beautiful. Dick’s been using a white marabou pattern mostly.
A few weeks ago, David Christian and I fished a small West End lake for cutthroat. He was doing alright on an Adams, if I remember right, but they were all small fish. I wasn’t having any luck with my green Carey Special. Eventually, we got over to the part of the lake that has a big tule patch along the shore. We hadn’t seen any damselflies in the air–the spring was so wretched that I think they emerged late–but I thought there might be some nymphs moving towards the tules. Sure enough, I began getting fish about every third cast. David switched to a fly with green on it, and he began getting fish, too. I got one that was pretty close to a foot long, a really fine fish for that lake.
All of this is, I guess, a long-winded way of saying that this is a great time to mount a fly fishing expedition to the Olympic Peninsula. The fish are biting just about everywhere if you put in the time.
Summer 2011 Guiding and Clinic Schedule
I am guiding for steelhead and cutthroat on the West End rivers and creeks this summer, and for saltwater cutthroat on northern Hood Canal and Admiralty Inlet. There are detailed descriptions of these trips on the “Fishing” page of my website. I am also offering a couple of clinics, one in the salt on the east side of the peninsula and one on river fishing on the West End. In addition, I am reviving something that I did one summer quite a few years ago. I called them “Hot Dog Fridays.” Once a month, I hosted a free get together on a nice stretch of water that could accommodate a small group of anglers. I secured a campsite and provided the firewood and hot dog buns. The folks who participated brought the hot dogs or sausages they wanted to eat and something to share. We met in the late afternoon, and people fished or showed each other flies or just hung out while I got the fire going. We always had a good time, and some people even caught fish. I can’t count how many times over the years I have been asked if I would start the Hot Dog Fridays up again, and I think this a good year for it.
All Around the Islands–July 27 and August 20. Spend the day with me fishing the saltwater cutthroat beaches around Indian and Marrowstone islands, near Port Hadlock. During the course of the day, we will visit a number of different type of beaches at various tide stages. I will discuss how I “read” nearshore saltwater beaches, and how I determine which fly to use in different settings and different times of year. I will fish several types of lines and demonstrate a variety of presentations. Each date is a separate class. Limited to six participants per class. $90.
West End Steelhead and Sea-Runs–July 30 & 31. This is a comprehensive weekend seminar on fly fishing for summer steelhead and sea-run cutthroat on the Olympic Peninsula’s West End rivers. It is designed for mid-level fly fishers who want to polish their skills and learn more about the coastal rivers. We meet Saturday morning for a slide show and discussion of tackle and flies. After lunch, we spend the rest of the day and Sunday morning on the Sol Duc, Bogachiel, Calawah and Hoh. Participants will receive in-depth instruction on reading the water, line handling and presentation with floating and sink-tip lines. In addition to the standard downstream wet fly swing, we will work on waking, skating and greased-line fishing. Class is limited to six. $200.
Hot Dog Friday–July 22. Indian Island. Cutthroat are the main targets along Indian Island, but coho and Chinook are open as well, and anglers can try for them at nearby Marrowstone Point. Please email me if you intend to come.
Hot Dog Friday–August 26: Willoughby Creek Campground, Upper Hoh River. Summer steelhead are the prize here, but we also have a shot at cutts and Chinook (below the creek). Minnie’s Bar, Morgan’s Crossing, and Koon’s Bar are nearby, so we won’t have any trouble spreading out and finding open water. Please email me if you plan to attend.
Greased Line Time on the Quillayute Tributaries
When I used to live outside Port Townsend, at the edge of the Olympic Mountains’ rain shadow, I occasionally invited a bunch of friends over on the evening of the solstice. I’d build a bonfire and cook up a big pot of cioppino, the traditional Celtic solstice dish. I have never done that in Forks. The weather here is usually so bad in June that it doesn’t have much appeal. And this last spring was a lot farther down the misery scale than merely bad.
So my friend David Christian and I decided to celebrate the longest day of the year by trying to catch a summer steelhead. We didn’t get one. Yesterday was one of the nicest days of the year so far, probably too nice for summer steelhead. We got on the water early, but probably not early enough. The places we fished on the Bogachiel and Calawah were low and clear and the sun was directly on them.
I had a great time, though. I have been really busy this month, writing and doing clinics and guiding, and I haven’t had much time to fish myself. The low clear water may not have been ideal for steelheading, but it reminded me that it’s time to begin fishing with the greased line. Indeed, I spent half my time today fishing my Lady Caroline across stream rather than down on the swing.
This is what Roderick Haig-Brown had to say about fishing the greased line on Northwest rivers:
“It is enough to say that summer steelhead will respond to the method, and that the streams of the country lend themselves to it almost perfectly.”
One of my favorite things about the Quillayute System rivers–the Sol Duc, Bogachiel, and, especially, the Calawah–is that they have a lot of water that’s perfect for the greased line in summer. None of these rivers, of course, come close to rivaling the great summer steelhead runs that return to the upper Columbia and Snake river tributaries. But the comparative smallness of their steelhead populations is matched by their physical dimensions. As with Haig-Brown’s Campbell River, at summer low flows the Quillayute rivers are intimate. They can be waded most places. Their glassy pools, shady tailouts, and slicks and boils requires finesse and control, not booming casts.
“Do not switch of Spey-cast when fishing the greased line,” Frederick Hill wrote in his fine 1948 volume, Salmon Fishing–The Greased Line on Dee, Don and Earn. “Both casts cause too much splashing. Cast with a clean lift over the shoulder and always try to put the cast on the water first, mending line at the same time or better still before the cast (leader and fly) reaches the water. This is a great advantage in low, clear water and saves a lot of disturbance on working down to fish.”
To that end, I have ordered a couple double taper lines for this summer. I haven’t fished double tapers in years, but I did right after I read Bill McMillan Dry Line Steelhead. The thing that got me interested in it again is a fine essay in Blue Ribbon Flies blog by John Juracek on why he prefers a double taper for most situations in Montana. The essay isn’t about steelhead, but some of his observations certainly apply to fishing the greased line for summer fish. When you want precise control and delicate presentation, nothing beats a double taper line. And that’s exactly what you want when you fish greased line for summer steelhead on the Quillayute rivers.
The Last Elwha Summer
Probably everyone knows by now that this is the last summer to fish the Elwha River for at least five years. Last year was supposed to be the final year, but there were delays in the restoration program, and we have one more season. In September, the National Park Service, the lead entity for Elwha River Restoration, will begin taking down the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams. As of now, the dams are no longer generating electricity, and the river is flowing more or less naturally. At the season opener in June, the Elwha Valley was closed because of construction activity on the Olympic Hot Spring Road, the only access to the section of the Elwha in Olympic National Park. I heard that a few anglers fished the river in the evening after the construction work was done for the day. That was when it was still low and fairly clear. It’s carrying a lot of snow water now and probably won’t be in good fly fishing shape for at least a month.
I have been driving over the Elwha bridge on Highway 101 a lot lately, and it’s been fascinating seeing the changes that are already taking place. There is a markedly different configuration of logs and woody debris downstream of the bridge, and before the recent high water there seemed to be a couple bars forming along the west bank.
If you haven’t heard, there was a major slide on the gravel road that leads from the Hot Springs Road to Whiskey Bend, the Elwha River Trailhead. It won’t be passable by vehicle this summer, which adds an additional 4.5 miles to any hikes into the upper river. I have been trying to get my legs in shape for a nice long hike into the Elwha backcountry this summer. I don’t think I’ll be able to string together enough time to do it, but I would really like to hike up the North Fork Quinault River Trail to Low Divide, then fish the far upper reaches of the Elwha, the stretch between Chicago Camp and Hayes River. I haven’t been up there in a long time and I’d love to see it again before the river closes. Normally, I wouldn’t be quite so forthcoming about a plan like this, but I don’t think very many folks will really want to hike that far. And the ones who do will already have thought of it. I imagine I’ll do my hiking into the reach between Goblin’s Gates and the Grand Canyon, maybe up to Elkhorn.
Finally, there has been a lot of caterwauling on the internet about the plans to stock the Elwha with Chambers Creek hatchery steelhead after the dams come down. I hate the idea too, and I’ll write soon about what we can do to try to stop it. But I don’t remember any of the internet sages who are all so worked up about the Elwha now ever attending any meetings on dam removal or submitting comment letters to the various EISs and other documents. I don’t imagine very many of them have ever even fished the Elwha. All this negativity from people who know nothing at all about Elwha River Restoration plans other than what they get from the internet and newspaper stories written by general assignment reporters is pretty hard to take.
Campaign for the Wild Olympics
I’m not sure how much publicity the Wild Olympics Campaign has received outside the Olympic Peninsula. You can read all about their efforts at their website www.wildolympics.org. Basically, they want to have portions of the Hamma Hamma, Dungeness, Sol Duc and Queets rivers designated Wild and Scenic. They also want to slightly expand the existing wilderness areas that surround Olympic National Park and to add small but critical areas to the park. All of this will done through willing sellers. It’s a good campaign and deserves your support. I will write a much more detailed post about this later, but if you are supporter of Olympic Peninsula fish, wildlife and wilderness, please read their plans and send them a supporting email or letter.
A Couple of Minor Changes
I began writing this blog four years ago this summer. Anyone who has read it knows that, in addition to being one of the most sporadically updated sites in the blogosphere, it has been focused exclusively on fly fishing on the Olympic Peninsula. I didn’t even think about doing it any other way when I began writing the blog. The Olympic Peninsula is where I live, and it’s where I have done 99 percent of my fishing for the last couple decades. All of my books are about fly fishing on the peninsula, and it’s been the subject of the vast majority of my magazines articles. I really really love this place.
However, beginning with this issue of the newsletter, I am going to begin including occasional posts and essays about fly fishing in other settings. I am also going to begin posting more links to other people’s blogs. These pieces won’t necessarily have anything to do with the Olympic Peninsula, but they will all be well written and contain valuable insights into our sport. I also want to expand the tradition I have begun in my Christmas Newsletter of posting original essays and articles by fly fishers who write well and have something interesting to say. I have really loved the pieces that Ron Hirschi, Leland Miyawaki, Preston Singletary, Bob Triggs, Gary Marston and Chester Allen have contributed to the blog, and I want to include more of their and other people’s work throughout the year.
I have been writing about the Olympic Peninsula’s rivers and lakes and saltwater beaches for 25 years, and I guess I am simply at the place in my life where I want to expand my horizons a little. You would probably never guess it from reading my work, but I fly fished for a long time and, literally, all over the country before I moved to the peninsula. I want to revisit some of those places, and I want to see some new ones and write about some new subjects.
To inaugurate this slightly new slant to the blog, I am posting two new essays with the Summer Newsletter–”Fly Rods and Guitars I” and “Fly Rods and Guitars II.” They are, obviously, linked pieces. They describe a handful of my early fly fishing experiences in far-flung corners of the country. They also contain a fair amount about guitars. Not very many people who read my books or book a trip with me know it, but I was a professional guitar player for a long time. You’ll have to read the essays to see what, at least in my opinion, connects fly rods and guitars. The essays also contain more personal information about me than I usually include in my writing. I hope that’s okay. Dave Hughes once wrote that he didn’t like articles that seemed like they were written by the fly rods, without any people in them. There are a bunch of people in these essays.
A Summer Wish for You
When I used to write an outdoor column for the Peninsula Daily News, I wrote, as you would expect, quite a bit about my own experiences hunting and fishing and hiking. Since they had a picture of me above the column, people occasionally recognized me. One time, an older gentleman introduced himself and asked, “You don’t have much lawn to mow, do you?”
I probably looked confused, because he repeated his question.
“Ugh, no not really,” I said.
At the time, Eliana and Lily and I lived next to a salt marsh on Hood Canal. There was a small patch of grass in front of our trailer. I mowed it when we first moved in with an old push mower. By that, I mean an actual reel push mower, not a gasoline-powered mower that you push. It didn’t cut the dandelions very well, so Eliana went around with a scythe type of thing, not a weed whacker, after I mowed and cut them down. The landlord eventually became so disgusted he began to mow the lawn.
That old gentleman’s question was quite insightful. I’m sure there is a definite correlation between how much you get to fish and how big your yard is.
My summer wish for all of you is that you get to spend a lot of time with a fly rod in your hand and almost none listening to a lawnmower.