Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Weekend Report - Skykomish River


If there are pumpkins and corn stalks on the porches around the Pacific Northwest, there is probably pumpkins and corn stalks floating down the flooding rivers along with driftwood and muddy water. This time of year the river flows can be a real roller coaster ride. Many rivers are blown and take some time to recover. Luckily, the Skykomish River seems to be one the quickest rivers to recover from these rains.

We have been lucky enough to have the rains hitting us just right. Typhoons and blown out rivers in the middle of the week make it a little easier to go to work and pretend to do our real jobs. These mid-week rains have been easing up come Thursday or Friday and the rivers start dropping back into shape by weekend. Hopefully this trend will continue.

The Skykomish River seems to fish best under 7000 CFS this time of year. Eventually normal winter flows will set in and should be flowing around 4000 CFS or so. We were lucky enough to hit it last Saturday at about 6700 CFS as we were launching the boat underneath the bridge in Sultan. To start the day there was about 16” – 18” of visibility with the river clearing up much more throughout the day.

Skykomish Coho #1
With our shuttle now parked at Ben Howard, we started the float from Sultan. The first mile or two of the float was pretty uneventful. After about two miles of a quiet river float, we finally saw some signs of fish splashing along the shore.  First cast into a little side hole, fish on. Pulled the boat over just down river and we managed to net the first silver of the day. Couple casts later back up river into the same hole, Coho number two on!! Several more casts, a couple pieces of pizza, a couple pictures, a couple Bud Lights, and we were back on our way down the river.
Skykomish Coho #2
The nice thing about getting a couple of fish in the boat within a matter of minutes, is that the rest of the day instantly becomes easier when you aren’t stressed about the lack of fish.  We then floated for a couple more miles further down river, with little to no signs of fish. We stopped at a couple of the normal runs to swing flies and see if there was any chance at all for a late summer or early winter steel unicorn… but of course, no such luck.

Alas, just up river from the “Afternoon Hole” above the Ben Howard boat launch we spotted multiple splashes in the frog water along the shore. It was game on again. With the boat parked up river and a short walk down, it took only two or three casts before it was fish on again!! This time it was a large green dinosaur. The chums have arrived, it must be November. We snapped some pictures and put her back in the river to swim another day. One more fish was hooked but not landed before the river became quiet again. And as quick as that school of chumleys came, they were gone.

Skykomish Chums
The passing school of chums has gotten me excited to be on the river in November as chums are strong, willing to bite, and put up a great battle. November on the Skykomish River is a great time. Cohos, chums, and maybe, just maybe, there will be a steelface milling around in the Sky’s fall waters.  The greatest thing I learned on this trip is to keep a close eye out for signs of fish this time of year who might be swimming tight along the shore lines. If they are there, they will likely let you know. Even with muddy water with little to no visibility, you can still find fish. As long as you can hit your days right and avoid the floods this is a great time to be out.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Is it Fall Already?

Fall time in the Pacific Northwest normally consist of rain storms, blown out rivers, and fantasy football. It is also about filling the freezer with salmon. It is now mid October and we are just starting to feel the effects of fall. It has been dry and the rivers have been running low and clear. The past few years have seen solid runs of coho salmon staging themselves in the Puget Sound waiting for the first rains and an opportunity to make their journey up stream. And the rains have been late.
 
 
Fall Coho
This fall has been dry, rain is just beginning, but the salmon have been making their way up river. We have hit the Skykomish river several times and had the holes all to ourselves. This is a rarity out there. Low river flows below 1000 CFS have scared people away and kept the jet boats away from the Sultan and Monroe boat launches. It was so low it kept most drift boats away as well. We have made the float from Sultan Monroe several times, and have also fished from shore around the Sultan area and have managed a couple fish.
 
Salmon season is a great time to learn the ropes of fly fishing. A common term is “lock jaw” but these fish are willing to take a fly in the rivers. Fishing early morning hours is a must and lockjaw does seem to happen when the sun gets high in the sky. Pink and Purple bunny strip egg sucking leaches will catch just about everything that swims in a river, including Coho. You can swing them with a spey rod, dead drift under and indicator, or slow strips near the bottom with these ESL's. Small twitchy strips in a slow swing on the spey rod with a fast sinking poly leader and 3 ft of mono seemed to work well. Any fish on a spey rod is fun, and you can find Coho, Bull Trout, Sea Run Cutthroat and whatever else is swimming around this way. The best part about fall is that all these fish are there!

There's something about fishing rivers that I love much more than any other body of water, but if it doesn’t rain, it doesn’t rain. So the smart move is to hit the salt water. We had an opportunity to roll over to the Hood Canal and cast for more silvers. We hit one first thing in the morning  chucking gear, and a couple sea run cutties on the fly but that was the end of the action.
 
This rain should push fish up the river (and fisherman) and we should start seeing some  chums roll in as well which are always a fun battle. Fall is one of the best times of the year in the PNW. It is much more fun to fish when the river is full of action and splashing fish with the orange trees in the background.
 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Learning on the Lake.

It’s been a few months now since I hauled the new (new to me at least) drift boat across the Cascades and parked it in the garage to start as a new project. It still has a long ways to go, but after getting it all painted and put back together, I have been itching to get it on the water. With the rivers closed and my extreme lack of rowing experience, getting it out on the lake seemed like my only option.

Growing up, fishing on lakes was the norm. I learned how to fish by spending time on lakes with my family. But since I have dedicated 99% of my time on the water to fly fishing, I have been forced to relearn lake fishing tactics. Aside from dragging wooly buggers around the lake, I feel like a newbie. How am I supposed to cast 17’ of leader with two flies and a bobber attached to it? What heck is a blood worm?


The last few trips have been to a local lake near Snohomish called Panther Lake. It is one of the “three lakes” here in the area. It is a relatively small lake with a decent supply of stock rainbows, bass, and perch. Rainbow trout have been the target as of late and we have managed to hook a few on wooly buggers in about 20 feet of water or so. This is where the long leaders and a chunk of split shot come handy. It’s not the most exciting tactic, but trolling these wooly buggers deep and slow has been most effective.

Even though at times it may seem that time spent on the lake is not as “serious” as a day spent fishing hard on the river in the snow, this has been a great learning experience. I’ve learned the basics of rowing my drift boat, granted moving water is much different, but when it comes to learning how the boat operates, this has been huge. I’ve learned that a roll cast and letting the boat drift is about the only way to get that 17’ leader out there. I’ve learned that “if it ain't broke don’t fix it”, that a wooly bugger is still about the best tactic out there to catch fish. I’ve learned that I have fat fingers and that tying size 14 chronomids is much different than tying intruders on articulated shanks. I’ve learned that I have a lot to learn, and any time on the water no matter what you are doing is valuable.  
 

 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Occupy Skagit - 2014



Last year there was a movement that started on the banks of the Skagit River. Hundreds of steelhead obsessed fisherman put on their waders, dusted off the fly rods they weren’t allowed to use, and made signs to speak their voice to reopen the catch and release fishing season on the Skagit River. This is a group of knowledgeable and experienced steelhead anglers who have put in the time and research to get this movement started. The likes of Dec Hogan and Bob Triggs were there last year and ESPN even pulled their little red tug boat up to the launch to cause a scene. It’s happening again. March 29, 2014 9:00 a.m. at Howard Miller Steelhead Park on the banks of the Skagit. Below is an excerpt from Washingtonflyfishing.com forum written by member _WW_ who has been spear heading this movement:


"Occupy Skagit 2014

Last April we gathered at Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport to show support for changing the management paradigm for wild Skagit Steelhead. Currently, all of Puget Sound Steelhead are considered by the ESA as one Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and as such are listed by them as threatened to become an endangered species.

The decision can be read here:
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2007-05-11/pdf/E7-9089.pdf

The decision covers all of Puget Sound from the Elwah to the Canadian border, every piece of fresh water between these two points that dumps into the sound is affected by this listing. The health of each individual run is not considered on its own merit, but instead the entire area's steelhead are tainted with the aura of “nearing extinction”. While this may be true of many streams affected by the listing it is not true for all of them – the Skagit in particular continues to return healthy escapement numbers. These numbers can be seen to be fluctuating up and down in what many consider to be it's carrying capacity zone.

Scientists can argue over the numbers, their validity and what they mean but here they are in ten year increments:
1978 – 5,757 (the first year that I can find for WDFW escapement numbers)
1983 - 7,732
1993 - 6,900
2003 - 6,818
2013 – 8,800

The goal of Occupy Skagit is to restore the Catch and Release Steelhead season on the Skagit that used to run for Feb 1 – April 30.

In order for this season to be granted by NOAA and NMFS a basin specific Steelhead Management Plan agreed upon by all parties, WDFW and Tribes, needs to be submitted and approved.

Is it possible?
Yes!
It was done for Chinook (almost instantaneously I might add) and it can certainly be done for Steelhead.

The event last April garnered the notice that it was intended to. Believe it or not, we were actually recognized and discussed in the halls of bureaucracy. The wheel is starting to turn, but it has yet to gather it's own momentum. It needs another push!

There are two events scheduled with the meeting in Olympia being the single most important thing you could attend. Rockport is fun, but the real deal is in Olympia.

Occupy Skagit - March 29th
Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport

Occupy Skagit Commissioners Meeting - April 12th 8:30 am
Natural Resources Building
1111 Washington St SE, Olympia, WA - First Floor, Room 172"

 

 
The numbers are there. The Skagit is healthy. We need to look at our rivers on an individual basis. Opening the Skagit to catch and release would also take away some of the overwhelming pressure that is happening out on the Olympic Peninsula. I am not a biologist, but it seems like more good than bad would come from the opening of a catch and release season on the Skagit River. One might think that opening up a river to fishing would just cause harm to it. There are mortality rates involved with a catch and release fishing season, but not enough to affect the run. It didn’t when the season was open. This is a legitimate concern in a river system that is in danger. But the Skagit has healthy returns of wild steelhead.

The Hoh River is a beautiful place and is steelheader’s paradise (or is it). However, it often fails to meet wild steelhead escapement goals. Even though the goals are missed, the season continues through April AND you’re allowed to keep a wild fish!! The Skagit has been above escapement and we are not even allowed to swing single hook barbless fly. The logic seems flawed. Let’s Occupy Skagit so we can experience a catch and release fishing season in 2015.
OCCUPY SKAGIT 2013 photo by Sozinho Imagery

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Puget Sound Sea Run Cutthroat

The past few years, late February through the end of May has turned into sea run cutthroat fishing season for me. This is the part of the year when all of our local rivers here in the Snohomish/King/Whatcom county area are closed to fishing through the Endangered Species Act. Though other times of the year may offer some better sea run cutthroat fishing, this is still a very fun and easy alternative to swinging flies for steelhead. Steelhead fishing is in full swing other places, but it is just not feasible to travel somewhere every weekend to chase steel, when within 20 minutes of my couch I can be standing on several different beaches.


Sea run fishing in the Puget Sound offers easy access, great scenery, and is a fun rapidly growing fishery. The south end of Puget Sound offers some of the better beaches in the area, but the north sound offers some good beaches as well. Places like Picnic Point, Lund’s Gulch, and Mukilteo waterfront offer very easy access to cutties. Just watch your back cast, as there are often beach combing families walking these beaches, and many of them will be curious as to what you are doing and are oblivious to the fact that fly fishing requires a little space.


Sea run cutthroat will feed on whatever and whenever something is available, they are opportunistic feeders. When the water is moving, more things to eat are swirled around; hence you should fish moving tides. When tides are slack, food is not moving, so sit on the beach and drink a beer during slack tide. Big tide swings will offer the best fishing. Just like rivers, look for seams, where slower water meets faster water, this where the fish will find food. Bait fish patterns, shrimp, spiders, and poppers should be the go to flies. Most likely in the 4 – 6 size range.

When it comes to gear, I have invested next to nothing on sea run specific gear. I have an old brandless reel I found in a box at a garage sale for $2 and a cheap 6 wt. rod. No need to get fancy, spend your money on gas to get to the beach to practice your casting rather than fancy gear. Many beach anglers will use a stripping basket, but I don’t use one and haven’t really seen the need for one. Weather conditions in the Pacific Northwest this time of year feed the stereotype, it rains a lot. Be prepared for windy and rainy days. The wind can often pose a challenge on the beach. If you can, try to make to wind work in your favor. I spent a windy morning at Picnic Point yesterday, but was able start at one end of the beach and use the wind gusts to propel my casts and work my way down the beach around the point.


There is not a ton of information on sea run cutthroat in the Puget Sound. There are groups working to learn more about these fish, and to get some sort of idea as to how many fish there are out there. This is a catch and release only, open year round salt water fishery. This is an awesome fishery that is growing in popularity. It’s an easy way to break into fly fishing since there is not much required other than a rod and a few flies. So head to the beach and enjoy.


 
 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Awesome Fly Lines - Wulff Ambush

One of the greatest advances in fly fishing in recent years is the development of new fly lines. Shooting heads and running line have allowed fisherman everywhere to be able to sling 75 foot casts across rivers with spey and switch rods. But what about single handed rods? My attraction to two handed fly rods was the ability make long cast in tight quarters. In the past, weight forward, floating or sinking lines have been the norm for single handed rods. I’ve spent a lot of time attempting to learn the art of roll casting with traditional single handed fly lines. Most of the time was spent untangling the rat’s nest I turned my long leader, heavy fly, and indicator into.  It’s hard to have confidence in your fishing when you can't cast and are constantly fighting your gear. The development of new fly lines such as the Wulff Ambush Triangle Taper have changed the game for single handed fly rods.

I recently purchased the Wullf Ambush TT-7-F for my single handed 9’ 8 weight. The line has a 20’ 265 grain shooting head that transitions smoothly into the running line. Since the line is all one piece, there are no loops or knots between the head and the shooting line, creating smooth casts.  I purchased the line with hopes that it would double as a roll casting nymph line for steelhead and as a rocket launcher on the beaches for Coho.



My first outing was a trip the Skykomish River on closing day of the season in mid-February. Using a big thingamabobber, a long leader, and a heavy egg pattern I tied the night before, roll casting has never been so easy for me. The 265 grain head turned over my long leader and heavy fly extremely well. The full floating and smooth running line was very easy to mend. Line control is essential when being a dirty nympher, and the Wulff Ambush made it easy. 90 percent of my time on the river has been spent swinging, but the productivity of nymphing has encouraged me to do it more, and this was fun. The argument between nymphing vs. swinging is a whole other debate, but I like “fishing” so I’m just gonna do both.


Yesterday we hit up Picnic Point Park during high tide in hopes to find some sea run cutthroat. My normal rod of choice for sea runs is a 6 wt., but I thought I’d bring the 8 wt. and my new line along to give it a try. The Ambush line casted decently with normal overhead casting. Casting these lines is much different than standard single handed lines. I found that pulling about the first quarter of the shooting head in past my tip and making as few false casts as possible worked best. Too many false casts with too much line out and you’re going to be asking your fishing partner to use his needle nose pliers to extract a hook from your ear.

My 8 wt. is a 9’ 4 piece that I built for myself a year or so ago. I think a 10’ rod and the 235 grain line would be ideal for this. But even with the shorter rod and heavier head I think it worked pretty well. The best piece of gear to catch fish that a person can buy is gas to put in your car to go fishing with. Experience and time on the water is #1 to being successful, but some of us can’t help but be gear whores sometimes.  So overall, the Wulff Ambush line has definitely added to my fishing arsenal and I'm getting excited for salmon season from the beach.



Monday, March 3, 2014

The best/worst time of the year...

Its that gloomy time of the year when one day it's 50 degrees and rainy, the next days it's 25 degrees and snowing, and then back to 50 degrees and sunny. The worst part about this time of year is that all of the Puget Sound rivers have closed to all fishing until June 1ST. As a fly fisherman addicted to standing in rivers, this time of year can be a little tough. Cabin fever sets in, we tie flies we cant use, gain about 15 lbs, and watch too many reruns on TV. However, even though fishing opportunities are running thin in the Seattle are, they are flourishing other places. In particular steelhead fishing on the Olympic Peninsula is in full swing. This time of year produces some of the best steelheading that we see in our state. Unfortunately, it is no secret. Every puffy jacket wearing, instagraming, bearded blogging fly fisherman around makes his or her way out to the Peninsula to chase big natives. Yes, I have a puffy jacket, I like posting pictures to instagram, and I kind of have a blog, but I have not made my way out to the peninsula yet, and likely will not this year. Too many people and too few wild steelhead that don’t need any additional pressure from me. The OP is not the only option right now. It’s a ferry ride and a four hour commute to Forks from my house, but there are also opportunities by heading a couple hours east.

  
We spent satruday exploring the Cashmere and Dryden area on the Wenatchee river in search of some remaining summer runs. We fished a couple runs with no tugs, but for us it became more of a recon mission. You wont find much information on the internet about good “spots” to fish for steelhead. The best/only way to learn is through exploration. The Wenatchee river can be a difficult place to explore since a good portion of the river is private property inhabited by apple trees. But there are many spots from Leavenworth all the way to the mouth at Confluence Park. I will just say that Google maps has become a very important fishing tool for me.

For us this was mostly a day to just get out swing flies and explore. We did run into the WDFW fish checker guy and he says fishing has been good the past few days. For us it was unfortunate that the weather dropped down the mid 20’s and was snowing when we got there. This didn’t help our fishing and exploring ambition, but it was still nice to be out. The Wenatchee is a pretty wide and shallow river, so you don’t need much weight when swinging flies. I was fishing 10’ of T-11 and unweighted flies and was still having issues getting hung up. Perhaps poly leaders or T-8 would be better suited for some of those wider runs.

Though this time of year is limited, there are still many opportunities out there. I’d recommend making the drive east in search of steel and give the coastal rivers a break. Also open now is the Methow river for steelhead. I have not made it there myself but have seen pictures and reports, and it seems fishing is good out there.  These Columbia tribs can open and close at a moments notice, so check the regs before you go. Or find a beach and go chase some sea runs, it’s almost chum fry season.