I saw five elk herds the other day. One was in town at the airport. Another was on the upper Bogachiel. Three were on the upper Hoh.
There are lost of ways to mark the arrival of spring on the Olympic Peninsula–Indian plum, red-flowering currant and skunk cabbage blossoms. The song of sandhill cranes and red-winged blackbirds. And daylight minus tides. But, for me, none is quite as reassuring as seeing the elk, after the long wet miserable winter, basking in the sun and savoring the green shoots of spring.
Of the four newsletters I write each year, the fishing opportunities on the Olympic Peninsula change more during the period covered by the spring edition–March through May–than any other season.
When it first appears, most everyone’s mind is focused on winter steelhead. That’s especially true for the people who travel to the peninsula to fish. Those of who are lucky enough to live here do have other options–in particular, the early spring saltwater cutthroat fishery on Hood Canal and Admiralty Inlet. A few intrepid souls also work chironomids on the year-round lakes, and some extremely patient and optimistic anglers now try for blackmouth in the surf in areas where they are open.
I have actually been fishing in the saltwater more than the rivers recently. I am working on an article about winter cutthroat, organizing my thoughts and doing fly testing for Ron Hirschi’s, Jeffrey Delia’s and my “Cutts and Chum” seminar later this month. And just having fun and catching nice cutthroat with Jeff and Dick Wentworth.
Still, steelhead reign supreme during March for most fly fishers. It’s when the bulk of the wild run arrives on the coastal rivers, and it’s when some of the finest fish of the year are hooked.
So far, steelheading on the West End rivers this year has been sort of weird. It began with the worst early winter crowds I have ever seen, but out-of-town anglers were much less evident after the holidays. That almost certainly was largely due to the rivers being blown out on quite a few weekends in 2012. Forks is actually slightly below the average rainfall for this time of year, but it all seems to have fallen on Thursdays and Fridays.
You will probably hate to hear this, but the barren river bars quickly became a memory after the calendar flipped over to March. I was in the Thriftway a couple times last weekend, and I saw more people wandering around in waders than I have since December. Incidentally, wearing wades in the store–like using “the OP” as an abbreviation for the Olympic Peninsula–is the equivalent of wearing a sign that says “I don’t live here.”
Fortunately, as springtime progresses the options for fly fishers on the Olympic Peninsula increase and the crowds thin out. I have written about each of these fisheries annually on this blog, so instead of rehashing them yet again, I am going to simply describe the types of things I want to do this spring–that is, in addition to steelheading. If you want to check out all the options that are available between March and the end of May, the archives and search engine on the other side of this page will connect you with my old posts.
Here’s what I hope to do in the next three months.
Cutts in the Salt–The saltwater cutthroat fishery on the Olympic Peninsula’s northeastern beaches kicks into an even higher gear as the chum and pink salmon fry become part of the cutthroat’s diet mix. Cutthroat are usually more aggressive in spring than at any other time of year, and they tend to be concentrated along the nearshore, unlike in summer when they range widely. They provide a truly magnificent light tackle saltwater fishery.
This spring Ron Hirschi, Jeffrey Delia and I are hosting a weekend seminar to teach people about and celebrate this wonderful fishery. We’re calling it “Cutts and Chum,” and it will be on 3/31 and 4/1 near Port Townsend. A detailed description of it is available at the bottom of the newsletter. You won’t believe the list of guest tyers and speakers
Spring Chinook–If winter steelheading isn’t tough enough for you, spring Chinook open up on the Sol Duc and Quillayute and open on the lower Hoh in May. The best tasting and strongest Chinook, springers are notoriously tough to entice to the fly. But my late friend, Don Kaas’s Lab Rat has proven itself with these fussy salmon. Indeed, he took a nice king with it from the Sol Duc the first time he used it. You can buy it at Waters West in Port Angeles.
Canoe Water Trout–Lakes are the traditional choice for trout anglers in spring, and the Olympic Peninsula lowlands are dotted with many fine small- to medium-sized low elevation lakes–Horseshoe, Ludlow, Teal, Silent, Devils, Pleasant, Wentworth, Price, and Nahwatzel. However, the West End’s three big lakes–Lake Crescent, Lake Ozette and Lake Quinault–provide an entirely different type of fishery. Lake Crescent doesn’t open until June these days, but Ozette opens in late April, as Lake Quinault usually does (it is controlled by the Quinault Tribe and you need to consult their regulations). I have been meaning to fish Ozette and Lake Quinault during spring, when the sockeye fry are on the move, for the last few years but have never gotten around to it. I plan to this year.
The High Lonesome–After a number of years away from them, I want to get up to a few of my favorite montane zone lakes this spring. In recent years, both as a result of not wanting to leave our dog home when we hike and, to be honest, the fact that mountain trails seem steeper and longer each year, Eliana and I haven’t done any hiking into mountain lakes. All of the backcountry fishing I did was on the Elwha. But I have really missed the lakes. For years, I had a little calendar of lakes to hit each summer, as well as trying to hike into three news ones each year. Well, now we have a dog that actually likes to be left at “doggy day care,” the Elwha is closed, and I have begun swimming laps. There’s a specific lake I want to fish the first week in May. I’ll post the photos if I survive.
Redtails in the Surf–Once the winter surf subsides into more safely-wadeable waves in late spring, I intend to return to the south Olympic Coast beaches and resume my, often Quixotic, quest for red-tailed surfperch. I don’t catch a lot of them, but it’s fun, exhilarating, and the sea-stacks, bluffs, windrows of drift logs and miles of empty sand beach–well, they’re one of my favorite places on the planet.
Rockfish in the Kelp–Since my great friend–who was also a boat builder–Jay Brevik passed away, I have spent almost no time in boats on the salt chuck. I really miss it. If I can find someone to take me, I would love to get out to the kelp beds off Neah Bay later this spring. Rockfish are usually as easy as perch are tough, and they taste better. The rocky coves and wash rocks and pinnacles of the north coast are a world apart from the sandy beaches to the south, but they are just as magnificent.
I know I have forgotten a great fishery or two. But there is only so much time. And besides, as I get older I tend to want to focus on the things that bring me the most joy and not simply race around trying to do everything.
Guiding, Clinics and Seminars
I have about all the steelhead clients I want for March and April. If you have read my description of what I offer in the way of winter steelhead fly fishing trips on the “fishing” page of the website and that is exactly what you are looking for, I can probably squeeze you in on a weekday. As for saltwater cutthroat, I still have a bunch of openings in late March and April. That’s right in the midst of the chum outmigration. If you have never fished for cutthroat in the salt, this is the time to do give it a shot. There are details of these trips on the “fishing” page of the website.
“CUTTS AND CHUM” Seminar with RON HIRSCHI, JEFFREY DELIA, AND DOUG ROSE–MARCH 31-4/1, NEAR PORT HADLOCK
I am more excited about this weekend seminar than I have been about anything I have offered in a long time. A comprehensive introduction to all aspects of springtime cutthroat fishing in the salt, it is designed for both experienced fly fishers new to saltwater cutthroat and as a primer on the fine fishing we have on the northeast Olympic Peninsula during the chum fry outmigration in spring. I am hosting the seminar with two of my best friends, Ron Hirschi and Jeffrey Delia. They also happen to be the two of the best saltwater cutthroat fly fishermen I know.
Ron grew up in Port Gamble on Hood Canal and had his own boat and fly rod by the time he was 10. He is a respected fisheries biologist and has researched juvenile salmonid migration pathways in Hood Canal and Admiratly Inlet, salmonid use of estuaries, and mapped drift cells. He is also an experienced natural historian, author dozens of children’s books, and an educator. He has conducted seining clinics from Ohio to Hawaii and Montana, and participated in research on marine debris and albatrosses on Midway Island. In recent years, Ron and I have held annual cutthroat clinics where we seine the beaches for the organisms cutthroat prey upon, then discuss the type of flies and presentations that mimic them.
Jeff has lived on northern Hood Canal for more than 35 years. During that time, he has refined his fly fishing and tying for sea-run cutthroat to the level of high art. His original patterns, in particular his Delia’s Conehead Squid and White Ghost, are Olympic Peninsula classics. Jeff continues to develop new patterns such as his Delia’s Chum Fry Streamer and a terrific peacock herl soft hackle I caught six nice cutthroat with in February. Jeff was a pioneer of the winter cutthroat fishery on the northern canal, and there aren’t many winter and spring days that he isn’t on the beach for at least a few hours. In addition to his fishing and tying, Jeff is an excellent photographer, and his slide shows are informative and guaranteed to inspire.
Originally, the three of us intended to do all of the instruction at the seminar. But as word of it got out, a few of our friends asked if they could participate. Since these are all very experienced saltwater cutthroat fly fishers and tyers, with different perspectives and approaches than ours, we were thrilled to add them to the line up. As it stands now–and there are still a couple of people trying to work out their calendars so they can attend–this is the line-up of guests. I think you will be agree that it is a literal dream team of contemporary saltwater cutthroat anglers.
In case any of you are wondering, I asked Les Johnson and his wife, Carol Ferrera, to attend, but they can’t make it. They will be here in spirit, though, and they said the hoped to attend next year.
Bob Triggs–Port Townsend’s well-known and much loved fly fishing guide, Bob is an extremely knowledgeable cutthroat angler, a close observer of the fish, their habitats and the creatures they consume, not to mention an expert caster. Bob will tie and discuss his celebrated dressing, the Chum Baby.
Preston Singletary–The books and gear columnist for Fly Fishing and Tying Journal, Preston is also a superb fly tyer and a knowledgeable historian of Northwest fly fishing. He will present a slide show he has created about the life history of sea-run cutthroat trout, and he will tie a couple favorite cutthroat flies.
Steve Rohrbach–Steve is a respected Seattle-based fly tyer and saltwater angler. His flies were featured in Les Johnson’s Fly Fishing for Pacific Salmon II. He will tie a floating fly that he has developed and had great success with, the Puget Sound Slider, as well as a wet squid tube fly.
Joe Jauquet–Joe’s seminal research, published in Coastal Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki) Diet In South Puget, Washington 1999-2002, was the first comprehensive examination of what cutthroat actually prey upon in saltwater in our waters. He will discuss his research and the flies he fishes.
Chester Allen–The former outdoor editor of The Olympian and blogger (Chester Allen’s Watery Planet), Chester is an avid saltwater cutthroat fly fishermen. He has recently published a book, Fly Fishing for Sea-Run Cutthroat (Stackpole). He will speak on cutthroat and have copies of his book to sell and sign.
Roger Stephens–Roger is one of Puget Sound’s most successful and innovative salt water fly fishermen. His floating tube fly dressing, the FT Sand Lance, has become an institution in a very short time. He will tie tube Clousers, sculpins and pile worms, and give tours of his boat, which is rigged specifically for fly fishing.
Leland Miyawaki–Leland is best known for his great saltwater dressing, the Miyawaki Beach Popper, but his weekend bashes at the Orvis Bellevue shop run a close second. Leland will demonstrate how to tie the Beach Popper and will also provide on-the-water instruction on how he fishes them.
The clinic begins at 9am on Saturday at the Tri-Area Community Center in Chimacum. Ron and Jeff and I will open with general remarks about the spring fishery, a slide show, and a discussion of the day’s logistics and schedules. After that, we and our guest speakers will split up and conduct separate sessions for the rest of the day.
We will have two rooms at the community center, which will typically have simultaneous sessions, and there will be continuous sessions on the water at Indian Island and Port Townsend Bay. In addition to the topics addressed by the guest speakers and tyers, Ron will lead beach seine groups, we will have demonstrations on presentation and tackle, fly tying, chum fry life history, and drift cells. The Sunday schedule begins at 8 am and continues until 1 pm, when we all gather at the Community Center for a concluding panel and question and answer period.
The seminar costs $100. All participants will receive a folder of hand-outs on the topics Ron, Jeff and I discuss. As many events will be repeated as possible, so participants won’t have to miss any sessions.
The seminar is limited to 30. A number of folks have already signed up, so the sooner you register the better. You can register through the “contact” link at the top of this page or email me at email@example.com.
For those of you who can’t make the seminar, I am offering two additional saltwater cutthroat clinics this spring.
Saltwater Cutthroat Seining Clinic--This is Ron’s and my standard one-day beach seining/fly fishing clinic. We will visit several different types of beaches–estuaries, saltmarsh, gravel, and points–and collect marine fish and invertebrates. We will then discuss the ones that cutthroat prey upon and which flies and presentations best imitate them. These are clinics, not guided trips, but you will be able to fish at each beach. Each participant will receive a notebook with hand-outs. Dates (each date is a separate clinic–4/14 & 4/25. Each clinic limited to 10. Cost–$100.
All Around the Islands–Join me for a day fly fishing the beaches of Indian and Marrowstone islands, near Port Townsend. We will fish several different types of beach and use a variety of lines, presentations, and flies, including chum fry, sand lance, sculpins, and topwater patterns. If you have never fished for cutthroat in the salt before, this is a good introduction. It is also a way for more experienced anglers to expand their horizons with new techniques and perspectives. Dates–4/11, 4/28. Limited to six. Cost $75. 4