Steelhead a love/hate relationship
I am not sure what it is about Steelhead that intrigues me along with so many others anglers. Maybe it’s the fact that you will often never catch as many steelhead as you want or hope for that really plays a huge role in how incredibly awesome it is when you do catch one. I suppose it’s the challenge. It’s similar to hunting for me but sometimes it seems with even lower odds.
Winter Steelhead fishing on the Olympic Peninsula
When Lacey found out she didn’t have work it didn’t take more than her saying to me. “Let’s just go right now, we can fish a few extra days and I’ll drive so you can work on the way.”
She packed while I finished up work and we were off with my trailer in tow headed toward the Olympic Peninsula. I had been worried about the rain that was supposed to hit, but consulted with a steelhead buddy and like most steelhead anglers he fluffed off the 2+ inches that were forecasted to hit in the next days saying “It’s a rainforest, it can handle it”. I agreed the river levels were low any way and this rain could bring them up perfectly and offer us a fresh push of steelhead from the salt into the rivers. I knew the rain would also dirty up the water and make the clarity perfect, so the fish weren’t too spooky.
On the drive over I looked up a few roads to drive down and areas to fish that looked promising from Google maps. We arrived with an hour of light to fish the first night. I was chomping at the bit to get a fly in the water, and the pool we arrived at was beautiful and deep, not perfect for swinging a fly, but rather nymphing. As we were talking about where one might be holding, a fish rolled to confirm our suspicion. Talk about getting excited! We tried both fishing techniques with no love. The water was low and incredibly clear. The rain started that night and by morning the area rivers had rose two feet! That morning we had a slow start and stoked the fire while drinking a few extra cups of coffee before heading out. The rain actually brought the rivers to a perfect fishable level and clarity. I was excited and for the next two days we poked around different spots hiking in and finding good places to swing a fly. No grabs or close encounters had happened just yet.
Finding the Right Spot to Steelhead Fish
I was wracking my brain, driving and looking at the map…where to go, we only have time left in the day for one more spot. I was chomping hard, and wanted to be on ten different bends in the river at once. We found ourselves standing at the bank of a run where the river made a hard left. The current had dug out a nice shelf to swing and then as it turned it carved a deep pool that slowed. We couldn’t see the bottom in this pool, but I figure it was 8-10 feet. Like so many spots before, we were confident there was a fish in there. Lacey swung as I tried out my new center pin rod that one of my friends and clients Paul recently bought me after our trip to Jurassic Lake Argentina. I wasn’t very good, but I managed to get the float and jig out there with minimal clusters in the line. With every drift I was biting my tongue and clenching…”come on, come on” I was so sure there was a fish in there… After several drifts, NOTHING! Lacey was done swinging the run so we switched spots. I tied on a new color to swing and she would throw my center pin around with the same big pink jig.
Per the usual, second cast I hear her yelling. “Yea right you’re snagged” I yelled back. She gave me a look that suggested she was seriously hooked up and needed my help to land it, “I’m serious its huge! Come on help me”. I ran and she fought it for a long while in and out of the deep pool. The bright buck made long runs that she played perfectly on the drag less center pin reel. I was impressed at this fish’s spunk and fight, equally impressed by my girlfriend’s ability to play the fish on the foreign rod, but disappointed in my ability to tail this beautiful native steelhead. I didn’t do anything wrong, but as soon as I went to tail him the barbless hook came unpinned and stuck in my hand. It was over; he swam off back to the depths out of sight. We looked at each other in a moment of silence and awe, and then we both cracked huge smiles and shrugged. I said to Lacey “Well it was real, we saw one. I am not sure what I could have done different? That was freakin awesome!” All I got was a picture of her fighting him but we both have the memory etched in our mind.
We fished a few more minutes before it got too dark and hiked back to the jeep. We had a beer, or maybe six in celebration that night sitting in my trailer with the fire stoked full and our souls just as full. It was getting cold and we were supposed to go home the following day.
We woke to snow, and it was probably 20 degrees in the trailer. We made up a plan for our last day but scratched it all. We weren’t going home, not after getting a fish last night. This is what reignited the light for the trip, and ultimately it’s what lead us to stay fishing for a few extra days since she didn’t have work and I figured I could work a little during the day and fish the morning and evening. It made sense, and didn’t take much, if any thought from either of us to fish Monday and Tuesday then go home. I had confidence and I thought we would find one for sure. In the next two days of fishing we didn’t feel, see, or even think maybe we had an eat. It was crickets, and I’ll blame it on the sun and cold weather, like any good steelhead angler would do. The rivers dropped and cleared and it was indeed cold and the sun was out both days. A perfect disaster for steelhead fishing, cold, low and clear water paired with sun…Beautiful weather for being outside but horrible conditions for the fish.
I am not sure what it is about steelhead fishing that intrigues me, along with so many others anglers. Maybe it’s the fact that you will often never catch as many steelhead as you want or hope for that really plays a huge role in how incredibly awesome it is when you do catch one. I suppose it’s the challenge. It’s similar to hunting for me but sometimes it seems with even lower odds. There has to be a fish in the river, you have to have the right fly/color, you have to have the right presentation (the most important part) and you have to capitalize on the opportunity if all of the above align and get the fish pinned. Then, the fight ensues…a fight in which you may very well lose. Often time’s fish are lost within the first 10 seconds. Just long enough for you to realize there was one out there and it was real and to warm you up for an instant and keep you fishing all day with an added confidence that it could happen at any time. The worst is when they come off right at your hands, you were going to let him go anyway but just wanted to admire him for a second as you pop the hook out.
As with most steelhead trips, it always starts with high hopes, and often ends in crushed dreams, driving home with your head hung low but somehow still wanting more. This trip was no exception but I love it and will keep going back for more to feel the anticipation that the next cast, the next perfect swing through the run could be the one that comes tight just before line starts peeling off your fly reel. Just writing this story makes me want to load up and get back out there…damn you winter steelhead!