Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Murky Water Swingin' - Skykomish River Report

With the Endangered Species Act season quickly approaching causing most Puget Sound rivers to close January 31, we decided to hit the Skykomish on Sunday, regardless of river conditions. The clouds dumped the two days before shooting the river up to about 15,000 CFS. The Skykomish fishes decently anytime it drops below about 10,000 CFS, so we decided to play it by ear.  Woke up Sunday and made a game time decision.

Skykomish River January 25th, 2015
Flowing about 13,000 CFS Sunday morning, it was dropping quickly. We decided that waiting until mid morning to launch would give the river some time to clear. After a breakfast sandwich and a couple cups of coffee, we rolled into High Bridge/Big Eddy access about 9:30. The river was still running hard at 12,000 CFS. She was high and swift, but surprisingly there was hint of green and about 1’ – 1 ½’ of visibility.
High water allowed for an easy launch and made our trek down the sketchy boulder field below the railroad tracks a walk in the park. It’s always interesting to see the river in different conditions. Many of the typical spots where we have hooked fish in the past were not there or the water was cooking through way too fast. We stopped at we have deemed “one fish hole”. I’m sure there is a different name for this stretch, but this spot seems to consistently put out one fish of some kind. Today was no different.

Skykomish River Dollies
We parked the boat river right and got ready to swing. With low visibility, we decided to wade in no more than knee deep and fish the shallow water right next to the shore. T-11 is too much for two feet of water… It’s funny how it takes twenty minutes to tie a fly you are so proud of and two seconds to lose it in the rocks. After a couple lost flies and a few “choice” words, too lazy to change tips, we were back in with lighter flies. Mine a black intruder and Katie’s a pink bunny leach. After retying, I went down river below the boat and Katie went above. Half way through my swing, I pick my nose, look up at the bluebird sky, and then peek up river to see Katie’s rod in full bend and water swirling in front of her. Seeing the head pop out of the water at first I think steelhead, but after getting closer, it was monster dolly varden. Hooked in about 8 inches of water right next to where the boat was parked. Snap some pics and off it goes back to its cloudy home. That was it from “One Fish hole”. On we went.

We played hop scotch with a couple other groups of fly fisherman all day, and as they were in some of our normal runs, we decided to pull over on a place I hadn’t fished before. With the water swift, and basketball sized boulders in about 8” of water along the shore, I pulled a not-so-graceful sideways drift boat parking job slamming into the shore at the top of a run. Just before my crash job into the bank we see 4 or 5 large shadows swimming all different directions and tails splashing out of the water. This caused several more of those “choice” words. But it did confirm that in murky water you fish the shallows next to the shore!! Fished down a ways to no avail with the wind howling and then continued our quick float down river.

Skykomish Swingin
One or two more spots swinging through along the way. Katie hooked a second dolly that was long distance released. This one on a white bunny. I have always heard to use big and black in muddy water to create a large, easy to see profile of a fly. I didn’t get a tug or a sniff all day fishing large and black. Katie fished medium flies in bright colors and hooked two fish. So much for the large and dark in dirty water theory. But that’s fishing.

Pulled into Sultan about 3:00 pm and heard of no fish caught. But the best advice to give any fisherman is to go every chance you get, every time you can, and learn. I’ve never fished the Skykomish River in conditions like this, and it was definitely and exciting learning experience.





Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Started to think it would never happen...

First year with the spey rod
Like most people who fish, I began my time on the water gear fishing for whatever was in the lake that day as a kid or trolling the Hood Canal for whatever we could find. I fly fished on and off growing up, but still very little. It's only been in the last couple of years that I really began to take fly fishing seriously and develop a serious addiction to the sport. After the first 15 minutes of casting my new two-handed fly rod and also after whapping myself in the back of the head several times, I caught my first fish on the Spey rod. It was a 13” shiny little Dolly Varden in October on the Skykomish river. I thought to myself “this is going to be easy if I'm catching fish already.” Little did I know…
Now, I can't even count all the holes in my jackets from learning how to cast or how many flies I lost because I had no idea what a T-17 was. I even snapped off an expensive shooting head one time because of that heavy sink tip. The learning curve has been massive. After a least one day nearly every weekend for the past two years, gallons and gallons of gas, several long road trips to different rivers, watching Skagit Master 1 multiple times, watching Skagit Master 2 multiple times, and then reading from front to back a book written by the great Dec Hogan, I finally am now feeling at ease with my spey rod in hand.  It's only within the last year or so that I've felt confident casting in most situations and conditions and have actually started to see results.
First Swung up Salmon
This past fall I hooked my first salmon on a swung fly on the Skykomish river. Throughout the last couple of years, I have swung flies and hooked up on several Dolly Vardens,  some Chum salmon, multiple Rainbows, and a whole grip of cutties. All are great fish and all have brought me great satisfaction, but in the end it boils down to my personal vendetta for those chrome ghosts.
 This past weekend on the Sky we hiked in to a spot on the river where I knew there should be some fish (since we caught one there two days before on the meat sticks). After a couple casts with my gear rod (aka meat stick) I became bored and decided to go back to the spey rod and walk down river a ways. Wind howling, I had to adjust my casts to figure out how to get some line out without creating a rats nest in mid flight. Second or third cast up just from the tail out, mid swing, there was a weird “nudge” on my line, half a second later, SMASH!! Lifted my rod and there she was! Three acrobatic spin jumps, and she swam right at me full speed. THIS is why they tell you get a large arbor reel for steelhead fishing. Reeling in at full speed I was terrified that she may have spit the white and orange barbless intruder, but then I caught up to her. Got her to shore and that was it. Two years of practice for 2 minutes of enjoyment. Bonk! Off to the grill, it was a nice 6 or 7 lb chrome bright hatchery female. Never been so happy about a dang hatchery brat.
You always hear about the “grab” and that moment was something that will be hard to forget. I have caught fish many different ways, but none as satisfying as this. It was a swing I will never forget, and I will never be able to pass through that run on the Skykomish river without swinging my fly through its entirety with anxious anticipation of another "grab".
For the last couple years I have been severely addicted to fly fishing. This did not help…. 


Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving - Raging River

Remember summer when the river was flowing at 700 CFS? It's now the end of November and things have chaned. Went out exploring today...

Big Eddy Boat Lanch

Big Eddy Boat Launch

Big Eddy Boat Launch

Across Sultan river from Boat Launch

HWY 2 Sulatan River Bridge

Monroe Bridge

Al Borlin Park Monroe

Al Borlin Park Monroe

Downtown Sultan

Downtown Sultan

Downtown Sultan

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.