March is said to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. I can confirm that as the month began, I was glad for my beard because the Pacific Northwet rang in March with a certain ferocity (cold, wet, snowy/rainy, crappy). And it didn’t improve much by month’s end. Lions or lambs, either way we’d been screwed by the weather. If you think I’ve been bitching about nothing, check out this graphic from the National Climactic Data Center:
Needless to say, March was a good month to put in the rear veiw mirror. The end of the month also signals the end of the Washington state fishing license for the previous year. Here in the Evergreenblue state, the fishing license calendar runs from April 1 through March 31, and my son, Schpanky, and I were milking our 2011 licenses for all their worth by fishing on the last day that our licenses were valid. We hoped to get our money’s worth on our second annual trip to Forks for some Spring steelhead fishing.
Last year’s pilgrimage to the last bastion of native, wild steelhead fishing in the lower 48 was a trip with my buddy Joe Willauer of Evolution Anglers that resulted in my son’s first two steelhead, one of which caught under the glow of a double rainbow. It also resulted in a skunk for yours truly, and the regretful, forgetful act of leaving behind a few reels. Reels are essential for steelhead fishing and luckily I was able to avoid an inadvertent introduction into the ways of Tenkara thanks to a reel borrowed from Joe’s buddy and fellow guide, Aaron O’Leary of Angler’s Obsession.
We hoped to repeat some of last year’s antics and avoid repeating others.
First off, we wanted the rivers to be fishable. In an area that sees more annual rainfall than any other spot in the contiguous US below the Canadian border, the rivers of the Olympic Penninsula blow out with regularity. In a year where the weather was worse than normal (whatever normal is anymore), the odds of encountering fishable waters for a one day window of opportunity which had been booked months in advance is a dicey prospect. Last year we fished the Hoh River and were rewarded with a river on the drop. This year I nervously watched the flows the week before our trip. Here’s what the Bogachiel River, which we would be fishing, looked like:
It has blown-out mid week but was on the drop as we headed to Forks on Friday the 30th of March. But would it hold? Not to spoil a surprise, but yes. It held. It was high, but fishable.
As we made the 3 hour drive to Forks, we encountered pretty much what we expected: rain and signs of recent rain. Even a little white stuff as we neared our destination.
To think that fire danger can ever be high in this area is almost laughable.
I did not want to forget any essential gear this year, so I was very careful to remember nearly everything. Spey rods and reels, check. On Friday night (well, technically it was Saturday morning at 2:37 AM) I awoke in a cold sweat after realizing that I’d left my single-handed 8 weight rod AND reel at home. While Schpanky slept soundly I tossed and turned until 4:13 AM. I realized there was only one thing to do so at I sent Joe a text confessing that I’d left certain items behind, and asked that he bring an extra rod and reel. Then I fell back to sleep for another hour and a half. When we met for breakfast at the Forks Coffee Shop at 6:30, Joe revealed that he had not received my text. Damnit. Not to worry, Aaron was nearby and had us covered. Again.
With a fishable river and the proper tackle in possession, the next thing we hoped to repeat was the catching of steelhead. Only this time I actually was more concerned with my own well-being than that of the boy. As a 17 year-old child he’d caught his two fish last year. There would be no more coddling. He was 18 now–old enough to buy smokes and porn: old enough to let his old man catch a fish.Within 30 minutes of our put-in, Schpanky hooked and landed a beautiful 15 pound hen. Even under low clouds and a steady, drenching, 38 degree rain, the day was off to a bright start. Joe would see at least a portion of his $15 tip.
It’s always a relief to get the skunk off the boat early and doing so ensured that the day would be a success, even if no other fish were caught (I kept saying this to myself over and over). I’ll admit that as the day wore on I began to resent the man-child in the front of the boat; the youthful angler who had now caught 3 wild steelhead on the rivers of the Olympic Penninsula, to my none. When I set the hook on a good fish later in the day I instantly felt better about myself until the fish–a bright buck that was clearly much larger than Schpanky’s fish–made short work of me as it made a suicide run right for the bank of the river and broke me off. As we broke for lunch I was engulfed in a dark cloud of angling despair.
The Highway 101 bridge, while perhaps not particularly scenic, did offer a welcome roof over our heads and we enjoyed the chance to get out of the rain and warm up with a Cup of Noodles served up with Joe’s organic silverware.
Joe and I were both sporting a pair of Redington Sonic Pro Zip waders and posed for a photo which I’m sure will become a new poster for Redington. On a quick note, this was my second opportunity to test the waders and so far, two thumbs up. On a day of relentless precipitation, the waders kept me dry and comfortable, and Joe and I both agreed that the zippers are a must-have. There is no pleasure in getting half-way undressed to relieve pressure on the bladder, especially when doing so in a rain forest.
As the afternoon wore on we mostly nymphed on the go, although we did stop at a couple runs so we could break out the Spey rods. Or as Joe refers to them, the “Poles of Futility”. Not surprisingly, no fish were hooked on the swung fly. The afternoon saw a continuation of rain and a couple more hookups with fish. Whereas the morning had resulted in Schpanky landing a nice fish while I lost a nice fish, the afternoon saw Schpanky losing a small fish while I landed a small fish. One doesn’t go to Forks to catch 5 pound underachiever but it’s better than nothing, especially when nothing is what one had come to experience previously. In defense of the fish in the photo, it looks smaller than it actually was thanks to Joe’s ridiculously large net, and my oversized hands.
When all was said and done, we’d had a great day on the river. Schpanky will be in college this time next year so he won’t be able to make the trip, and because of college I may not be able to afford the trip. If I do go I’m going to catch a bigger fish and remember my 8 weight rod and reel. Just for good measure, I hope Aaron is close by again.