Look to the Upper Columbia For Summer Salmon Action

Shane Magnuson helps me show off a dandy king I landed fishing with him at Chelan Falls. (Dave Graybill Photo)

By Dave Graybill

No other season attracts more anglers to the upper Columbia River than when the summer-run and sockeye salmon seasons open on July 1st every year. While most salmon seasons are announced by Emergency Regulations on the upper Columbia, the summer-run salmon earned a permanent listing in the Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet over a decade ago. This is the time of the year anglers can count on visiting Central Washington and expect to find excellent numbers of Chinook salmon to fill their coolers.

The first place that salmon anglers focus their attention is above Priest Rapids Dam. There are a couple of spots that some anglers will troll in the early season, such as right above the dam and off the mouth of Crab Creek near Schwana. The biggest crowd will be found right below Wanapum Dam. Here boats circle around in what is known as the “Toilet Bowl” where hordes of early-arriving kings stack up before entering the fish ladder and moving on up river. Anglers also encounter returning sockeye salmon, and they can be seen surfacing in waves along the face of the rip rap bank. It is not unusual for sockeye to be taken on gear intended for kings.

Most of the boats will be trolling Super Baits behind flashers below Wanapum. Some will fish lighter sockeye gear on a couple of rods after the morning bite has slowed. The fishing will be good here starting July 1st and for many weeks, until the bulk of the early-returning Chinook and sockeye have passed on to the upper river. There is a much-improved staging and parking area right below Wanapum. Still there can be a very long line of boats waiting to launch before daylight on opening day. There is also a very good launch on the opposite shore, on Huntzinger Road below the dam. When running up to Wanapum, take special care and watch for shallow, rocky reefs. There is a small area on the west side of the river where boats will troll for salmon just above Wanapum Dam, and a few will even fish the east side of the river below the Vantage Bridge. This is near the junction for the road to Mattawa. There is a launch in the town of Vantage, and at the State Park on the west side of the river below the Vantage Bridge.

The next major fishing locations for summer-runs and sockeye are on the Columbia at Wenatchee. There are good areas to find Chinook scattered “between the bridges” on either side of the river here. There is excellent access to the river via improved launches. One is at the base of Orondo Street, and is free of charge. Another is at Confluence State Park, where a Discovery Pass and launch fee is required. Walla Walla Point, below the mouth of the Wenatchee River, is one of the best-known fishing spots for Chinook. Sockeye and Chinook are also taken below Rocky Reach Dam. When the fish are really pouring through this area and over Rocky Reach Dam there are many kings and sockeye taken above Rocky Reach. Anglers launch at Lincoln Rock State Park (Discovery Pass and launch fee required), which is on the Douglas County or east side of the river, and run over to troll the west shore along the highway to Entiat and Chelan. In recent years the fishing for Chinook has been very good for summer-run salmon off the mouth of the Entiat River.

I struggle to hold up one of the two kings that Shane Magnuson and I landed at Chelan Falls. (Dave Graybill Photo)

Rapidly becoming a favorite of salmon anglers, particularly in the early season, is Chelan Falls. Located just below the Beebe Bridge, with PUD parks with free launches on both sides of the river, this spot is loaded with kings. Success has been very good here in recent years, and there is lots of good water for trolling Super Baits behind flashers on downriggers or with lead balls. One of the reasons that Chelan Falls has become popular is the high ratio of hatchery origin fish in catches. This is due to the net pen releases of smolt in the Chelan River channel. Another benefit of fishing this area is that it is about a 15- to 20-minute run up to Wells Dam. When sockeye are returning in good numbers, the fishing is very good, particularly in the big eddy on the north side of the river right below the dam.

Wells Dam is an excellent place to fish for kings. Anglers will troll off the bar below the dam and the big eddy on the opposite side of the river also produces very good catches of salmon. There is an excellent launch accessed from the highway that leads to Pateros. Some sockeye are taken above the dam and fishing for Chinook is very good when big numbers of fish are crossing over Wells Dam.

The crown jewel of salmon fishing on the upper river is the Brewster Pool, where the Okanogan River enters the Columbia. The Okanogan is a shallow, slow moving river and in the summer it gets very warm. When it enters the Columbia it creates a “thermal barrier” that keeps the salmon from moving up into the Okanogan. Kings continue to move up into the Brewster Pool from the lower river and stack up in the colder water of the Pool. Thousands of fish are milling around in this area, and are easy prey to anglers. Sockeye also prefer this colder water and join the kings in their wait for temperatures to drop in the Okanogan before they make their way up the river and on to their spawning grounds in British Columbia.

I love this shot of an angler scooping a nice king from the water at Chelan Falls. (Dave Graybill Photo)

This thermal barrier is one of the reasons that the Brewster Salmon Derby, which takes place the first weekend in August every year, is so popular. The success rate for anglers that participate in this derby is the best for salmon derbies anywhere. To learn all about the derby, visit www.brewstersalmonderby.com.

Something that salmon anglers should know that makes this particular season special on the upper Columbia is that it is the first return of four-year old Chinook salmon that were released from the Colville Tribal Fish Hatchery at Bridgeport. These will add to the numbers of fish available to anglers in the Brewster Pool and on up the river where they meet their final barrier on the Columbia River, Chief Joseph Dam. Summer-run Chinook season is a selective fishery, with barbless hooks required and wild fish must be released. Not only will the fish returning to the Colville Hatchery add to the numbers of fish in the Brewster Pool, they are all adipose fin clipped, keepers. The opportunity for catching a king and keeping it is significantly higher this year in the Brewster Pool and the river up to Chief Joseph Dam. There is the potential for a rule change affecting the Brewster Pool that may make fishing here even more attractive to anglers. Watch the department’s web site for this change.

The techniques that are used throughout the Columbia River, in all of the locations I have mentioned don’t vary much. There are some that stick to the tried and true plug cut herring, and those that really know how to properly cut and prepare herring have success. By far the most popular method being used at this time for catching kings is with the Super Bait. Some use the old, banana-shaped style and more and more anglers are using the newer plug cut version. Super Baits come in wide variety of colors, but some of the more popular are the Hot Tamale, Lemon Lime and Rotten Banana. There are others that work very well, so have a good selection when you hit the water. The advent of the Super Bait made it possible for anglers that had no experience with herring to become successful salmon anglers, and has increased the sport catch on the upper Columbia considerably.

Super Baits are designed to open on a hinge and are stuffed with tuna fish. The lure has vents on the sides to allow the scent of the tuna to leech out. Anglers prefer oil-packed tuna and then apply scent and mix it. There are a variety of scents available and one of the most popular in our area is made by Northwest Bait and Scent. These are based on the formula originally developed by my brother Rick Graybill many years ago. There are a number of scents that can be mixed, even in combination with others to create an irresistible attractant to salmon.

These are trolled behind a flasher, and most anglers are using the ones made by Pro-Toll. The fin on the bottom end of the flasher allows the flasher to turn at even an slow speed and it also gives a consistent action to the flasher. It is recommended that at least a 42-inch leader be used from the flasher to the bait. This set up can be trolled on downriggers or with lead balls. When trolling with flashers behind downriggers, put the flasher 12 to 15 feet behind the ball. Trolling speed will vary with river current, but flashers with Super Baits can be trolled over 2.0 mph. Many anglers like to see a one second throb on the rod when trolling flashers. Most anglers prefer rods of 10 ½ feet with large capacity-line, counter reels for consistent placement of baits behind the boat.

When targeting sockeye, anglers scale down their tackle. Lighter rods and reels and lines are all used. A typical sockeye set up is a small dodger and short leader to double hooks which are closely tied together. Bait is allowed on the Columbia and jarred shrimp are very popular. On the Brewster Pool it is typical to start the day at 20 feet deep and drop down as the day brightens. Many place their dodgers just 10 to 20 feet behind the downrigger ball. Trolling sockeye set ups on lead balls is becoming popular, too.

I have produced several videos on both Chinook and sockeye fishing on the upper Columbia. I would suggest that you visit my web site at www.fishingmagician.com and go to the Fishing TV Page. By going to the archives and looking for videos posted in June and July you will find many devoted to salmon fishing. You can also do a search at www.youtubedavegraybill and find all the videos I have produced.

I am really looking forward to this year’s salmon season on the upper Columbia. Although other seasons have been disappointing on the river, this one could be outstanding for those who fish above Priest Rapids Dam.

Dave Graybill
Outdoor Line Blogger – North Central Washington
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

7 Ways to Piss off your Guide!

Wanna piss off your next hunting or fishing guide? Here’s a few tried and true tactics that work every time:

The Low-Holer

There are very few things that will piss of a fishing guide more than a Low-Holer. A Low-Holer is the customer that plays stupid but their true intention is to learn a guide’s favorite fishing hole so that they can return with their own boat later and fish the guides spot. A perfect example of this is spending a day on the water with a river guide and then launching early and beating the guide to their absolute can’t-miss spot the very next day. If you really want to be known as the ultimate douche bag on the river…do this!

Showing up at Camp out of Shape

I honestly don’t see how big game hunting guides can consistently get their guests into trophy game animals when most of them show up to camp so out of shape that they’re winded just getting out of the truck. There are so, so many people that really “want” a trophy class animal and truly think they deserve that animal because they shelled out thousands of dollars to hunt with the best guide on the planet. They’ve done their research, found the highest density of trophy game animals on earth, and booked the best guide in the area to help them fulfill their destiny. There’s only one problem…they haven’t set foot in the gym or on the mountainside in years and they think exercise is pushing a pencil across the desk. Sorry pal, but you still have to hike your ass off and in some cases run your tail off to make it happen out there in the hills. If you book a trophy hunt do yourself, the guide, and the animal a favor and get yourself in some sort of shape long before the hunt starts. Your guide will appreciated it.

Proficiency with Your Weapon

Here’s another conundrum that hunting guides have to deal with – the customer that arrives at camp with a rifle that’s never been sighted-in or a bow string they’ve only plucked but a few times. They’ve communicated to their guide countless times how proficient they are with their weapon. When the time comes to harvest the game animal of a lifetime, however, they’re all over the place.  Most hunting guides will have their guests sight their rifle in before a hunt begins to make sure the rifle is on target and also to see how the hunter reacts to their firearm. This can usually be achieved on the range in just a short time. Getting comfortable with a bow, however, takes many long hours of practice. Get the work done ahead of time and you won’t get “the look” from your hunting guide when you miss. The animal deserves this respect also.

Don’t Listen

There’s little worse than the customer that does the exact opposite of what their guide tells them to do and then wonders why they don’t have anything at the end of the day. If you’re guide has a good reputation for getting people into fish or tagging out on animals there’s a darn good chance they know what they’re doing. This is generally why women catch more fish on guided trips than men…because they listen. Some men are more concerned with rattling their sabers and sparring with their guides to show them up while the wife is listening intently and catching all the fish.

Damn I’m great…Just Ask Me

They’ve got the perfect cast, the finest of gear, they can hit a gnats ass at 2,000 yards blindfolded, and they’ve harvested the largest specimen of every single living creature on the planet. The DIGJAM is the self-appointed ideal human being. There are some legit DIGJAM’s out there, but they are few and far between. A guide friend who happens to be an ex-Navy Seal took a guy fishing for a few days in search of a world record chum salmon. The guy had broken line class records, world records, casting records, and DIGJAM records all over the world. In the end the guide didn’t get paid and the DIGJAM artist probably shouldn’t set foot in that river valley again. This cat was the perfect combination of DIGJAM and Pay-You-Later. No bueno!

Pay You Later

Most guides that I know live month to month and certainly aren’t guiding because of the money.  They are “living the dream”, so to speak. The deposit you sent in for the trip covers most, but not all of the expenses it takes to run the trip and receiving the final portion of the trip payment barely put’s them into the black. If you leave them with “hey, I’ll get a check in the mail right away” at the end of the trip your guide’s brow will furl and you’ll probably get “the look”. Don’t get lumped in with DIGJAM and Low-Holer…pay the guide their due.

Showing Up Late

Believe it or not ten minutes can spell success or disaster on most hunting or fishing trips on America’s public lands and waterways. This is particularly true on coastal salmon and steelhead streams when the rivers are super low and gin clear and the fish are spooky. If you show up 30 or more minutes late on a day like this your guide will fake like everything is ok, but the little voices in their head are saying “Told you so!” when hole after hole produces nothing. If the guide is new to the business they’ll act like everything is hunky-dory and it was just a “tough day”. Fish with a guide that’s been around for years and I’m afraid those voices in their head will be voices in their mouth. Do yourself a favor and show up on time or even better, a little early. Your guide will appreciate it and you’ll hook a few more fish.

These are just a few things you can do to throw your guide into a tail spin. There’s plenty of things that a guide can do to piss off their customers too, and I’ll crank out a short list of those things soon. In fact, you can take some of the items listed above and simply turn them around and they’d fit nicely in the “7 Ways to Piss off a Customer” list. I’ll get to work on that one right away!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

New Driftboat – Tricked to the Hilt

By Josiah Darr. When it comes to drift boats there are a fairly endless number of options and accessories available if you have the money and are willing to spend it.

Do you want a metal boat? Fiberglass? Maybe a classic wooden boat? Willie and Koffler make great aluminum boats and Ray’s River Dories makes a wooden boat like none other, but with friends already working for ClackaCraft Drift Boats, knowing how easy they were to row and maneuver, my decision to guide out of a Clack was a no-brainer.

Deciding the model was also a piece of cake. A ClackMax 18’ Sidedrifter with the flat floors and box seating is easily the most versatile and fishermen friendly boat I’ve ever been aboard.

Bill battles another while Ryan, his little brother Owen and their dad Brett look on.

Once the stickers were stuck and the rods were loaded I took to the water. Luckily the fall Chinook fishing here in the Tillamook area has been better than most people ever remember so it didn’t take long to get the boat bloody. And like my warm up trips with friends were supposed to do, they pointed out a few minor oversights in my options and design that I wanted corrected ASAP to dial the boat in even further and essentially create the ultimate river and tidewater killing machine.

Julieanne with her first ever chinook on her first ever trip into the Oregon Coast tidewater.

The first little add-on that was obviously was an oversight when ordering was the fact that there were going to be a lot of times when I needed a kicker besides just the sticks. With a little help from Rodger in shop at Clackacraft and a few minutes the drifter was ready for power.

The small plate Rodger installed not only gave me a place to put my kicker, but it did it in such a way that that I was able to leave the anchor centered. The plate kept the motor just high enough that is cleared the anchor are giving me full mobility. It also kept the motor tipped slightly more upright so the nose of the boat stayed down when I was cruising.

The motor mount easily supports a gas or electric motor.

With the elevated motor mount, the motor can turn freely.

The last little touch I needed just to make the motor mission complete was my prop guard, but not just any prop guard. We’re talking the mother of all prop guards made right here at Clackacraft. Not only is the guard made out of heavy duty galvanized steel right there in the shop, but it’s attached with a compression fitting so no holes need to be drilled in your new kicker. The guard with it’s oversized fin also helped keep the boat plained out when cruising along while deflecting any gravel bars or logs I might hit…..Okay, will hit.

The cage is ready for fish seeking navigation.

The compression fitting only take a few second to install. So easy even I can do it.

Another feature that I quickly realized I couldn’t live without with the bow drop front anchor. It’s so easy to use and when bobber fishing and especially backbouncing. I found out quickly precise boat placement is the difference between one fish and quick limits.

A simple tug on the front anchor rope and the boat settles right into position.

After a trip I realized when I’m running my motor I don’t need the anchor hanging in the way so one more call to the shop and 3-5 business days later the anchor holder was installed and the problem was solved. The anchor is in the water when needed, out of the water and securely stored when it’s not.

The anchor next keep the anchor when fishing or trailering.

Most the extra boat features like a walk-around rowers bench, upgraded Lamiglas oars and the holes drilled for the ability to place and secure the seat boxes depending on the type of fishing and type of fishermen were all already taken care of, but a few more little tweaks to the boat once it was out and fishing took the brand new Clackacraft from a really nice boat to one of the most functional boats on any river, anywhere.

The counterbalanced Lamiglas oars were an easy decision.

When it all comes together, it’s a beautiful thing!

Nate with his first ever backbounced chinook.

It doesn’t get much better than big chinook on the coast in the sun!

World Class boats for world class rivers….

If you’re interested in fishing the Tillamook area rivers for either salmon or steelhead out of my new Clackacraft give me a shout at (206) 660-1490. Fish On!

Josiah Darr – Outdoor Line “Young Gun”
JDarr’s Guided Fishing
Tillamook, Oregon
(206) 660-1490

Summer Steelhead – North Fork Strategies

By Dennis Dickson

As the oldest flyfishing stream in the country, The North Fork of the Stilly is steeped in tradition, known for its wild summer steelhead of Deer Creek. This is a passionate subject for me. Not only was I fortunate enough to fish this river as a youth, my first job out of college was that of a fisheries biologist working back on my home river. I have certainly seen my share of this little wild steelhead, and I am thankful for every one. There is also the hatchery fish that swim these waters.

I am not about to climb on my soapbox and expound the hype-surrounding wild versus hatchery steelhead. Instead, I am going address my remarks to poor Joe who simply doesn’t have the means to spend his time in Russia or British Columbia. He does enjoy a pretty stream with a decent chance at swimming a steelhead. Simply put, if we didn’t have a hatchery program on the Stilly, we wouldn’t have a summer fishery. Period. But I am not here to talk about that. I am going to explain where, when, and how to catch them.

Where: Just for landmarks, I will break up the river into four sections.

Confluence upstream to Deer Creek. This is actually  a two-day float. Deer Creek down to Cisero and Cisero down to Arlington. Migrational Timing: I will catch new 3 salt summer runs as early as April but June is the migrational timing these fish are primarily passing through the lower river. With many of the pools filled in from sediment produced from Deer Creek, these fish do not linger but swim directly for their natal stream, Fortson Creek. Though not quite as aggressive to the fly as a wild fish, they have a tremendous amount of stored energy to last for their year’s stay in fresh water. They are as “hot” as any fish that swims in the Stilly. Rocks are a real premium in the lower river. Pools with any boulders and logs in this section will pull steelhead in like a magnet. Fish the same flies and lines you do for the winter steelhead.

Deer Creek to Cisero has some of the best water. I like to fish this river section anytime Deer Creek allows 2 feet of visibility in the North Fork. The bulk of the Stilly steelhead run 7-12 pound 2 salt summer steelhead. July 4th is the traditional time to start looking for fish in good numbers, but the fishing can be great one day and zero the next. Summer water temperatures are coming up and fish will move to both sinking and floating line techniques. By the way, I have maintained for years that the Deer Creek fish actually prefer surface flies to wets. These lower river fish are not fussy, find the fish and get it in front of him. Bright, dark, big, small, just fish your fly right in the surface or right near the bottom. Mid water presentations are worthless.

Hazel to Deer Creek: I do not believe I have ever caught a wild summer run above Hazel. The first pulse of hatchery fish head directly for Fortson, the mid July two salt fish will start to slow up as they reach the mid river.  By August 1, the hatchery fish are settling into imprinting locations. The first arrivals are very susceptible to the usual techniques. As they start getting fished on heavily, they become more reluctant to come to the surface, then to sinktips.

Hazel to Fortson: Same thing applies here, but the upper river gets pretty skinny and fish work their way up to the few deep prominent pools. Fortson has its own fishery. The angler who would not dream of walking in downstream of another angler in the lower river doesn’t hesitate to do so at Fortson. By the same token, nobody bothers to keep stepping down through the pool either. Advantages of Fortson Hole? Fish. I swear I don’t think there is a week in the year there isn’t a fish or two in Fortson. I won’t mention how many there can be. These poor fish are chased around by legitimate flyfishers all-day and snagged by poachers at night. The Deer Creek flyboys have such a disdain for this fishery, they have a point system set up. For example, A Deer Creek and anywhere downstream fish is worth 5 points, a Fortson fish, only one. You get the idea.

Fishing Strategy: I like to get out and poke around to find few fish here, a pod of fish there. I would rather fish over three rested steelhead then fifty hard hat fish, but I will do that too, if I think its the only game in town.

“Show them something different” The one vulnerability of a summer steelhead is he can be a sucker for a change-up. A story will illustrate the point. One day I was fishing a couple good ole boys from the mid-west. The summer water at French Creek was very low and clear and the steelhead had seen about everything. We were fishing small brown nymphs on floating lines and long leaders. We were having little success. Don decides he has had enough of that, so he says he is headed downstream around the corner. I said we would be down in a few minutes. We finally decided the steelhead in front of us were not going to bite and were just coming around the corner, and here comes Don carrying a grin the size of the steelhead in his hand. He proceeded to tell me the first thing he did was lose his fly and a good portion of his leader to a sunken log. He said he was tired of fishing that little sh##t anyway. I tried not to flinch. He went on to explain he pulls out HIS box of bass flies and ties on a 1/0 black zonker. It was heavily weighted and when it splashed down, this big steelhead was all over it! Needless to say, Don wasn’t fishing any small flies for the rest of that day!

Summer time is a great time to use your trout techniques. The same steelhead that refuses to come to the surface, and is bored to tears dodging another greenbutt skunk on a sinktip, can be a real sucker for a dead drifted dark nymph. (until they have seen all those too.) Do not be afraid to experiment. Sometimes dead drifting a woolly bugger right in front of a steelhead’s nose and strip it away, like you do at Rocky Ford, can be killer!

Fall becomes a transitional time, and many of the Stilly’s hatchery steelhead holding in the lower river, start migrating for home. This October fishery is a great time to fish. If I wasn’t chasing the best rising steelhead in the pacific Northwest on the Grande Ronde River, I would be there, myself.

“Moving fish are taking fish”. Stories are told and retold about hitting the right pool when the fall migration is moving through. My biggest day anytime anywhere (Alaska doesn’t count) was hooking an even 20 steelhead and landing thirteen, on this fall migration.

Summer time is a lovely time to fish and remember not all the fish are at Fortson. Not until the late fall, anyway.

North Fork Stilly School – July 12 or 13, 2013

Dennis Dickson
Dickson’s Flyfishing

Dickson to Offer Float Trip for Wounded Vets

Wounded Warriors Grande Ronde River 4 day Wilderness Float Trip
Grand Ronde River, Washington
July 29-August 3 2013

The purpose of this special adventure is to raise awareness for the  Wounded Warriors program.

As a full time river outfitter I have spent the last 23 years rafting guests down many western rivers. My all-time favorite is the wilderness section of the Grande Ronde River in southeast Washington.

I am so thrilled to bring some brave young soldiers to my chosen waters.

I am asked almost daily. “Why are you doing this?”

My response: “These young men and women make the ultimate sacrifice for me, my family and our country. I could not be prouder to live in a country where brave young men and women risk their lives so we can all be a free nation. This small gesture is my way of saying THANK YOU!”

Check out our Grand Ronde Wilderness Float Trips when you get a chance and feel free to drop us a line if you’re interested in helping out with this awesome trip. These young men and women certainly deserve a great experience in the outdoors after all they’ve been thru!

Best of rafting,
Dennis Dickson
E-mail Dennis at DDDicksons@aol.com or phone at (425) 238-3537


Flyfishing Leaders – The Steelhead Connection

By Dennis Dickson

I would like to think my success in helping anglers find and catch steelhead has improved over time. I will openly admit, as a biologist I study  “cause and effect”, “stimulus and response”. I don’t mind adhering to tradition as long as my personal experience concludes that it is the most effective way to fish. My assignment as a flyfishing guide is quite simple, attach angler to fish.

There are elements of flyfishing equipment I am fairly flexible on. For example, I was a G Loomis pro staff and so are some of my rods. I personally don’t care if the rods you fish are Sage, Scott, Loomis, or whatever. Single-handed, double, it doesn’t really matter. Waders: You should be comfortable, and they shouldn’t leak.

I do get fussy about items that can determine the outcome in hooking and or landing steelhead. These components are; hooks, leaders, flylines, and reels.

Today I will talk specifically about the leaders for sink-tip lines.The sink-tip leader has several functions but the three critical parameters for steelhead are; abrasion, tinsel strength, and camouflage.

Let me preface these remarks by saying I am going to speak speak from personal experience of teaching fly fishing hundreds of days a year. Ever want to find out how good you really are? Spend one week taking a new angler out each day, try and coach them into a steelhead. You will find out real quick, what you know, and what you think you know. I don’t say, what I teach is the only way to approach steelhead, but these techniques must be effective, because we do find the fish.

Leaders are broken down into two categories: Those on floating lines, for fishing in or on the surface and leaders attached to a sinktip. Today, I am only going to address sink-tip leaders.

Sinktip Leaders: Tradition in steelhead fly fishing says that to fish close to the river bottom, leaders must be short. (Less than 5 feet in length). Tradition also says steelhead are not leader shy and you can fish leaders as thick as you want.

On the other hand, experience has taught me to adapt to the river conditions I fish. If fishing during spring runoff with less than 3 feet visibility, I know I could probably tie the fly on the end of the fly-line and these new fish  wouldn’t care. My dirty water leaders are usually less than 4 feet long.

Do steelhead ever find conditions where they do care? Yep. A good example may be the time was fishing the Sauk river a few years ago. Conditions found the water that day both low and clear. Fish were skittish at best.

You see, steelhead didn’t grow to maturity by being stupid, they know when conditions are such where they feel secure. They also catch on fast and know when they feel “exposed”.

Low lighting such as found at daylight and dusk find steelhead holding and moving through soft and or shallow waters. They know predators can’t see them. Dirty water does the same thing. Why do I enjoy fishing off colored water for native steelhead? Because that’s when the really big boys feel comfortable about lying in close to shore. Why can the Dawn Patrol fish with light sinktips and thick dark leaders? Because at first light, the unmolested steelhead are lying in soft shallows and these fish can’t see the leaders.

As conditions in the day change to bright and sunny, the water clears and angling pressure increases, steelhead naturally move to waters that are deeper and faster. Line shadow and boat shadow can both produce hide and seek conditions.

I grew up fishing the Stilly North Fork. This little river becomes gin clear through the summer and angling pressure can really wise these fish up. That same leader that did just fine in the security conditions can send these mid day gin clear fish a scurrying. (My low lighting summer time sink-tip leader is generally about 6 feet.) So what does Joe angler think when sun gets high and his short leaders won’t work?  “Fish won’t bite”.

Solution: You can extend your fishing day significantly by changing your leader length and material. How long will I go? Out to nine feet. I can almost hear you now. “A nine foot sink-tip leader? You must be nuts! you can’t get a fly down on a 9 foot leader.”

It used to be a trade secret, but I learned long ago, these longer leaders accomplish depths simply by using compact weighted flies. By the by, that new fluorocarbon mono leader material that was originally built for lakes, and saltwater flats is awesome camouflage in clear water conditions. Same principle.

Now here is the rub:

These same leader materials that have smaller diameter and camo so well are not what I prefer to use in sink-tips conditions. Many tend to be brittle and have little abrasion tolerance. – not good for fishing your flies in and around the rocks. But if and when the water goes to clear that new fluorocarbon that has revolutionized gill netting is getting the bite, I will take my chances on a broken leader.

What leader gives me good abrasion factor and camouflages well? For sinktips I fish Maxima Ultra Green, until the water goes to 15 feet visibility, then I go to Max. Clear. Max. The camouflage is hopefully fine under normal “feel secure” conditions.

If you are having trouble hooking steelhead in “exposed conditions”, instead of telling yourself “they just aren’t biting”, try changing your leader up a little. What do you have to lose?

Here is a summary of my favorite knots for steelhead sink-tipping:


Nail Knot:  

This description shows tying directly into the fly line end. For steelhead & tarpon, I prefer doubling the fly line end into a loop and whip finishing it with the nail knot thus making this fly line/leader connection twice as strong.  Its only down-side is that the connection is also twice as bulky going thru the rod tip guide, while landing a fish. A solution: If you find yourself pulling the fly line/leader connection into the rod while your big fish is in close and he decides to make that one last run, try rolling your rod over (reel up) thus inverting the guides, and the connection should pass easily through the rod tip. “Knot Sense” or better yet, “Aquaseal” over the knot will both protect the knot and build a smooth line/leader transition.

Butt Leader Knot: Instead of tying a round perfection loop on the leader butt, try the double surgeon loop. It’s faster and easier to tie, especially with cold hands. Makes a nice loop-to-loop connection with the fly line in my opinion.

Leader/leader connection: Double Surgeon Knot

I know, I know. There is a myriad of leader to leader connections. The blood knot being the most popular. It’s not the knot I use and this is why. My son Mike and I teach some 300-500 new anglers the sport of flyfishing each year. Couple that with a full guiding itinerary and you are talking some busy guys. Sorry, I digress. Anyway, when you spend this much time teaching, you have to break it down. …Keep it simple. The only leader to leader knot we teach is the double (and triple) surgeon. Why? Its simple, strong and anglers pick it right up. Blood knots are nice, maybe a little straighter, but not stronger, and not easier to tie.

Leader/fly connections:

Duncan Loop [Uni-Knot]:

Ok, for all you clinch knot people, listen up, I am about to show you a knot that has not failed me in the past 30 years. (all the clinch knots have) fly-boys call it the “Duncan Loop’  everybody else calls it the “Uni-knot”.

I use this connection on all my steelhead sink-tipping, but I do it with a modification. Tie the knot as normal, but instead of cinching it all the way to the fly, pinch the leader with thumb and finger, right in front of the fly. pull the knot down to your thumbnail and you have a n open loop. Fly will swim more naturally until the fish grabs it, loop closes, and knot holds. I don’t bother to fish this open loop with an articulated or marabou streamer because the back end the fly is wiggling independently, anyway.

Non Slip Loop Knot:

I like the loop knot anytime I am fishing a nymph or wet fly that isn’t imparting action to the fly. Sometimes I want a weighted wet to have a certain “hang”. It is not as easy to tie as the Duncan Loop, but it is never a bad idea, if you want to take the time to tie it.

No doubt you will come up with your own favorite knots, but until then, feel free to use these, I do.

Best of fishing,
Dennis Dickson

River Etiquette 101

By Dennis Dickson

I was floating a popular run on the Sauk River one spring day. The April morning found the river in prime shape and I knew the flyboys were going to be out in numbers. As we rounded the corner of a long bar, there near the bottom of the half mile run, was another fly guide boat I hadn’t seen for a while. There is a nice slot in the tailout, so I figured they probably had already fished the upper drift, and were about to fish the lower. The day was still young and there could be new fish moving in so why not give this upper pool a go anyway? The guide and his client were just chatting in their boat. Couldn’t really tell if they were climbing in or getting out, and as they were not within shouting distance, I thought I would drop down and talk, after I got the boys fishing.

My guys had been fishing for a few minutes, and the guide heads up the gravel bar towards me so I waded out of the river to talk.

“How come you stole my water!” He demanded.

Gee, I am sorry,” I apologized. ” I saw you parked down in the lower run so I assumed you had either passed on this water to fish the lower pool, or had already fished it.”

“Everybody knows I always park my boat at the bottom of this run” He said. ” You should have asked.”

“No,” I said, “Obviously I didn’t know, (I had been on the water every day for the last month) and its not river etiquette to have ask permission, to fish the water behind someone, particularly, when they are not even in the river. Now, if it’s a really big deal, you take the pool, and we will slip on down the next pool.”

He declined.

Contrast this episode with an experience a few weeks before.

I was fishing some new water in early season, and we passed another guide with a couple clients. They were pulling plugs so I gave them a wide berth so not to disturb their water.

“Good morning Dennis!” Rod yelled. ” Swam anything this morning?”

Not yet,” I answered. “You?”

“Lost one in the upper run” He said. “Say, have you fished that new fly water down in the tailout?” “We hit two in here yesterday.”

I had to admit, it looked fishy. I shook my head, No.

“Tell you what,” He continued, ” Why don’t you fish it today, and tell me how you do?”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

I wanted it bad but it was his water.

“Yeah, What the hell.” He answered.

We hooked three steelhead that morning……all from that pool. I made it a point to thank Rod the next morning. As more and more anglers hit the rivers, it seems this fishing pressure brings out the aggressiveness in some anglers. It’s a little like driving in freeway traffic. We are all trying to get somewhere, but we sometimes forget we are All trying to get somewhere. The rules of the road get forgotten.

Here is a rundown on some of fishing rules on our local rivers.

Rule # One: First Comes First:
Anglers know that a steelhead undisturbed is probably going to hit the first thing that is presented reasonably. The Dawn Patrol is the angler that gets on the water in the wee hours of the morning to take advantage of “new fish”. The rule is ” If you are first on the water, you get to fish down through first, provided, you are on the pool ready to fish, and you are stepping downstream in a reasonable manner, so the next angler also has a chance to fish.” Standing at the head of a run and fiddling with your gear, in hopes that the angler who showed up, a few minutes after you, will finally get frustrated and go away, is not good etiquette. Neither is any reason that hinders or prevents an upstream angler from fishing down through the run.

My assistant Jackson said he was following a fellow down through the Buck Island Pool, on the Skykomish, when this downstream angler sees another fly boy walk up. By the number of patches on each of their vests, you would think they were in the armed services. This fishing angler wades out of the pool and begins a conversation with the new arrival.

Jackson continues to step down. The boys keep talking and Jackson keeps
stepping down.  When Jack gets even with these boys, the guy that was fishing, yells out, ” Don’t you be fishing down through my water, buddy!”

Fortunately for him, he caught Jackson in a good mood. He breaks people. The rule implies that, if he begins fishing upstream of you, he has every right to be there. If you get out of the water long enough to slow the progress of the upstream angler, let him fish through. The key, be reasonable.

Rule # Two: Don’t Crowd;
Just as you do not appreciate it when you have someone come up and tailgate you, when your driving, try to maintain a reasonable distance between you and your downstream buddy. Downstream buddy – read rule # one.

Rule # Three: Be reasonable about your concept of the pool. Little rivers tend to have little pools. Sometimes when I am fishing even two anglers, I will space them, allowing each to fish his own pool, if the waters are strategically close.

By contrast, a river the size of the Skagit may have pools a half-mile long, if you were to fish the whole thing. The Mixer on the Skagit comes to mind….but the taking water may be only about one hundred yards in length. If you know you won’t be fishing the lower waters for a least a half hour, and a guy walks up to ask if he can fish, let him. If you are looking forward to fishing that water yourself, and you know you are fishing iffy water, you should reel up and go down and fish the prime stuff yourself, but do not hoard the whole pool, simply because you happen to get there first. IT’S NOT YOUR POOL! You just have the right to fish it first.

Don’t pull this crap about ” We consider this to be two pools”, which is your excuse to step down in front of someone into prime water. If there is a question about what the fishing anglers intentions are, ASK, but permission is only necessary, if they are downstream of where you want to fish.

Rule # Four: Hooked fish goes to the back of the line.
You really see this get abused on the popular waters. The idea here is, If you are lucky enough to play a fish and you are in front of somebody fishing through, give him a chance at the next fish. I once saw an angler get on a Grande Ronde pool and proceed to play and release five steelhead, always going back to the front of a long line of anglers after each fish! What was he thinking?

Rule # five When in Rome…..
Different rules apply to different waters. All these rules don’t mean jack to a combat fishery like Hoodsport ,or around a bunch of gear guys, or even a crowded morning at Fortson Hole. If you go waltzing in and start in on the locals as to where and how they can fish…You Are Out Of Line. Not only that, but you are probably going to get thumped.

Rule # Six No Sponging or Bragging
I was just pulling into the Ben Howard boat launch. It was the same two guys I had seen the day before, and the day before that. The conversation would start off innocuous enough with a “So how was fishing today?” and then they would launch into the twenty questions, about where, when, how many, which fly and yada yada…….. As soon as they would sponge as much information from one boat, they wouldn’t even say thank you, they were off to the next boat. I actually witnessed one guy sponge the new arrivals and walk back up and get on his cell phone to pass on the information, like he was doing the flyfishing kingdom this great service! I finally got so irritated by the third day, (didn’t these guys have a life?) that as sponge # one came up while I am pulling my raft up, before he could even open his mouth, I said, “look, I don’t mean to be rude, but I will make you a deal. If you don’t ask me the questions, I won’t lie about them.”

At first he was shocked, then he just laughed, and ambled over to the next boat. Some fellows want desperately for everyone to know, just what a wonderful fisherman they are, they can’t wait to tell everybody about it. Young guide want-a-be’s are bad for this. They will start by asking how the day is going, and before you can hardly answer the question, they will start in about all the amazing fishing they have had that day. If they are really feeling their oats, they will hang around the takeout and drill the guide boats as they come in. Kind of their way of saying ” Boy, now if you were in my boat today, you could have had thissss much fun. You could term this as “Reverse Sponging”. Very annoying.

You see, the problem with all the rule breakers are, they simply don’t care about anyone but themselves. The problem is, even if they read this, they won’t get it. Nothing tries my patience more than some flyboy that will scream bloody murder when they think someone else steps out of line, but will do the same thing, given the opportunity, and never even think twice.

The Golden Rule is still the best rule:
Simply treat others the way you would want to be treated, and we can all get along.

Best of fishing
Dennis Dickson

“There are only two types of anglers in this part of the world, those that catch steelhead on a fly and those that want to.”

Dickson’s Flyfishing Report

Skagit Steelhead

By Dennis Dickson

The Bitter Sweet

The good news is: A very nice pulse of late winter native steelhead have shown up in the lower Skagit river, just before the season closure. Big brawly steelhead. The kind that when you see them you think,

“Must be Sauk fish with their thick caudal peduncles and broad shoulders.” The kind of steelhead you can’t get your hand around the wrist of their tail, nor take your eyes off that big male shovel nose. The kind of fish, you are willing to stomp the twilight chill just to make it onto first water. Where anticipation is pumping  adrenalin so hard through your veins, you don’t just feel, you can taste it.

February has always been a big fish month for me. Of the seven Washington state steelhead I have taken over twenty pounds on a fly, five have come from February 10 to March 10. God created large dominant male steelhead to enter first, it’s just the way it is.

It used to be; Valentines was the unofficial kick off for another great Skagit River Catch & Release season. Life just didn’t do better than March & April. That is why nature built the season Spring right?

But a Skagit steelhead’s life has reduced itself into a political football. Those that destroy it’s habitat still blame the harvesters, the harvesters still blame habitat. The hapless angler stares from the shore at the vacant memory of another lost opportunity. The burden is so painful, he can barely drive along the river roads during those early months of the year. It simply hurts too much.

He tells himself it’s for the best. Certainly for the greater good. Even as I point my truck & trailer towards the coast, I try to convince myself, it’s better for business. Maybe someday I may even believe it.

I hear the Skagit numbers finally came in over escapement for last year. I don’t know. It’s what I’ve heard. I know this. I didn’t fish. Perhaps the final tally will come in well again for 13.

So I wish I could explain to the powers-to-be, that my being out on the water, transcends the dragging around a hook with feathers. Maybe if you and I could get out on the river, we could call it fishing, or hookless casting. I do find myself conjuring up in my head, hookless fly patterns that would take the pull, but hold no fish. Would that be enough? I wonder.

So maybe this pulse of fish means the ocean survival is up and it will bode well for the few Washington rivers that remain open. That would be nice.

And what does that do for the fish that swim in Beaver Flats or White Creek along the Sauk? The Mixer, Larsons, Chapel or the Power Line pool on the Skagit. Oh don’t mind him. He just doesn’t get it.

So as I ready for a trip to the coast, I get on line to get a beat on what’s going on. I stumbled onto a site that was so foul in language, so rude in commentary, it prompted me in digging up a piece I wrote, River Etiquette, but that is another story.

So there you have it. The North Sound rivers are closed, the coastal waters will be heating up. Watch for that next good rain. The  O.P. rivers shouldn’t have anything less.

The shameless plug. Son Mike, me and a whole bunch of my long time fishing cronies will be on hand for our Flyfishing winter steelhead seminar/workshop coming up February 23 @ Cabelas (Tulalip) 5-7pm.

Come join us, maybe we can share a story about the days on the Skagit.

Best of fishing,

Dennis & Mike Dickson


For the Love of the Game!

By Josiah Darr

Mountain climbing…. Back to the roots

When I was a wee little lad, barely cutting my tiny teeth in the world of steelhead fishing, I used to see the armada of drift boat launching at various points in the river and think to myself that there wasn’t anything better being in a drift boat. Of course I had only been in a drift boat a few times at that point in my life and I was barely old enough to drive. Plus pushing carts and carrying out groceries at the local Fred Meyers between baseball practices put me a long way from ever owning a boat. Hell, I couldn’t even afford a Sevlor blow up rubber raft that was sure to drowned me if I’d owned one. It’s probably better that I didn’t. So, to quench my thirst for the pursuit of the flawless electric flashes I’d felt so few times in my adolescent life, I took to the bank.

Summer, spring, winter, or fall…it didn’t matter. All that mattered was if it was a steelhead!

Never catching jack squat!

I started my banking career in a tiny unnamed creek that I don’t believe is even open for steelhead fishing anymore. Of course that wasn’t due to my steelhead fishing prowess. I didn’t catch jack! What I did do was learn how to fish. Where to put my body to cover certain pieces of water. How to raise and lower my rod tip to get the perfect drift through a likely looking spot. I learned the art of falling in while crossing more times than I care to elaborate on, but I learned every day what to do and what not to do.
I’ll never forget the first time a pitched too much pencil lead, a corky that looking back was way too big and bright for the size of this creek, and a cluster of eggs the size of my 14 year old balled up fist, into a swirly hole along side of a bridge abutment.

My friend Dan and I stood there in amazement as a flash like neither of us had ever seen came firing out from the shadow underneath the pillar, scarfed my eggs and disappear down a rapid before either of us knew what to do. The line came tight, the fish freaked out, Dan and I about peed ourselves and the fish was gone in a matter of a tenths of a seconds. It was over before it barely ever started, but that single unidentified flash lit a fire like a ember falling in an old hay loft. It was on…. I was hooked and I wasn’t going to stop until I felt that rush over and over again or until I wasn’t fun anymore…. That has never happened.

It was never about the number or the size. It was always about how much fun I was having.

The College Years

Besides being the most fun I ever had with my clothes on, and occasionally off, college was the perfect time to be completely irresponsible and use Uncle Sam’s dime to fish and much as humanly possible. Teachers didn’t take attendance, classes weren’t graded on participation and there was no mom and dad to give me that, “You should be doing something more productive with your time” look when I ditched a class and headed for the river. It was awesome.

It was the college years where my steelhead fishing skills were honed. They weren’t exactly razor blade dangerous, but I could pop a balloon or two if they held still.

With the limited success came learning…. I just got one. Or better yet, I hooked five today. What did I do to make that happen? What were the conditions? What day of the year is it?  What did I catch them on? The mental Rolodex of fishing information started to build and steelhead fishing became more of a math problem than a fishing trip. “If water level “A” + time of year “B” +  sand shrimp tail and a pink pearl corky “C”  all come together it should equal = steelhead “D”. That might have been the only math problem I learned in college, but unlike the ones that were taught in class, this one I was going to use over and over again for the rest of my life.

The more practice and the more techniques learned, the more arrows I had in the quiver.

Buying a Boat

It wasn’t long once I figure out how to earn a few bucks, I bought a drift boat. And the rest, as they say, is history. All the learning and tromping up and down moss covered rocks and the countless endos into root wads, sticker bushes, branches or whatever else God and left to soften my dismounts had finally been worth it. All that work climbing and learning and backlashing into tree behind me was over. Now I could float these mountainous raging rivers through the pristine glory that is steelhead water. I could position the boat where ever I wanted and cover every spot from the perfect angle time and time again until I was certain I’d caught every scaly critter in a run. I could float for miles at a time covering dozens and dozens of likely looking spots with the easy of simply pulling on the oars. I could….. wait…. All my friends are fishing…. Damn it!!! I’m just rowing!!! I’m back to never catching anything!!! This sucks!!!

Always a Brides Maid, Never the Bride!

The Guide Life

To rid myself of all the ungrateful friends and all the awesome times we had hanging out on the river, I got my guide license so I could fish with people who had more money. Of course I didn’t know them from Adam, but who cares? I was getting paid to fish. It seemed like a great idea at the time, and looking back it still was.

I’ve relearned more about the passion of the chase and the desire to learn and experience something I’ve done so many times. It’s awe was often lost on me and watching other people experience is brought it back for me. It’s that gleam and excitement that every guest bring to the boat with them that reinforced my love game. There’s nothing like it. It’s the greatest sport in the world.

There’s chance, there’s practice, there’s patience, there’s heartbreak, there’s pain and there’s love. Pure, unadulterated, unblemished, inspiring, life changing, love. A love that is hard to find or duplicate at any corner of the earth. A love that is so overwhelming it can steal a man’s mind for years and years even if he’s only felt it once for merely a second under a bridge with Dan when he was 14 years old.

I said I’d stop chasing steelhead when I stopped feeling the rush…. It still hasn’t happened.

…because watching someone else get the fish of a lifetime, is better than getting it yourself. Especially when that someone…. is your Dad.

Josiah Darr
The Outdoor Line “Young Gun”
710 ESPN Seattle

Going with the “Flow”

By Joseph Princen

The past few weeks have been nothing short of challenging, trying to persuade those silvery ghosts to commit to the presentation you spent hours prepping, tying, wrapping and curing. One thing is certain, when it all works out there is nothing more spectacular than rolling fresh chrome in shallow gin-clear water. Its an image you’ll never forget. Its burned into your mind and it will replay over and over in slow motion bringing you back again and again for more.

One moment its just another slated gravel bottom and you can see every rock, every detail, your mind telling you its too shallow and you should move on. All of a sudden those thoughts are pushed aside as you see the shallows exploding with big bright flashes and white water foaming on the surface as a thick steel tail slices through the cold winter water. Its only in these conditions that a steelheader will get to see the strike first hand from the bite to the finish. An angler never forgets these moments.

A steelheader must think smarter, harder, and longer about how he’s going to spend his time on the river though. Even if its just an afternoon trip to the local home-river or a 3 day excursion to the coast to backpack or drift boat into his favorite water. Low water means you need to consider all the options, such as which section of the river you will choose to fish.

Here’s some things to consider when searching for low water winter steelhead:

Does the river fork anywhere? East or West fork? Does it have streams and small creeks that dump into the main stem?

In low water it is MOST important to try and gain as much flow as you can get. This means to fish below any forks, streams, creeks or major sources of water that relay into the main stem of the river system you are fishing.

Get to know your river! Google Maps on your smart phone will show you detailed satellite imagery of small creeks, streams and river forks that dump into the main river.

That means to concentrate your efforts on those lower portions of the river and spend very little time higher in river systems. Staging fish will be below those forks in appropriate deep water areas making it easier for you to locate water that is suitable to hold multiple steelhead. These fish are far too smart to risk being attacked by misjudging safe living conditions and hurrying up river to hold in shallow, exposed areas.

Don’t waste your time fishing the fast 2-3 foot gin-clear sections or those 1-3 foot “long runs” on the sides of the river that you would normally beat up all day in medium to high flows. Even with overhanging trees and shaded cover those fish simply are not there in any fishable numbers when the water is low.

Its a numbers game and by numbers i mean… how many feet deep! In low flows steelhead will lie in deeper water making it safer for them to break cover from the safety of the depths to hit a plug or lure. After all, the most important thing in any steelheads tiny little mind is to ensure that their genetics are passed on from generation to generation. Deep water with a bottom covered in boulders provides the cover they need to feel safe.

As soon as it rains these types of runs will be full of migrating fish and I specifically target those long runs that dump into deep canyon holes that low water fish have been hunkered in during periods of low flows.

– Which water holds low water steelhead?

It’s imperative to find those slots that have water with walking speed flows that you could physicality walk into and the water would be over your head, especially those runs with shade and size to the pool that gives steelhead an element of safety. These fish will set up shop in these areas when water visibility increases past the 5 foot margin to well below median stream flows.

Why risk the threat of their journey being cut short laying in risky, shallow water when you can lay in a deep, “walking speed” canyon slot that’s 5-15 feet deep, preferably shaded, with structure and most importantly a riffle at the head of the pool.

Riffled surface water provides full, all around cover from the sides, top, and bottom.You have to think that most the time in low water conditions its sunny, cold, and clear out so having riffles or choppy water on the surface of a hole is vital to feeling secure from anything that poses a threat looking down into their holding area.

– How do I fish for low water steelhead?

Going small with your baits, jigs and plugs will always pay off. A good rule of thumb for 7-10 feet of visibility is using nickle-size baits and decreasing your Cheater or Corkie sizes to size 14’s or smaller. Using neutral/natural color schemes with your presentation really helps and pays off too.

By neutral I simply mean colors that aren’t neon, radiant, or vibrant. This includes shrimp pink’s, peaches, whites, and that opaque and translucent look that looks like worn out egg skein (peach/white). Using small sand shrimp and very lightly cured medium sized tiger prawns that are coated with just Mike’s Gel Scent and sugar can be deadly in this situation also.

Here’s how I cure my tiger prawns for low water steelheading:
– 1 Bag raw medium-size tiger prawns
– Leave the shells on, but cut off 1/4 up from the tail end
– 1/4 Cup Orange Borax O’ Fire
– 1/2 Bottle Mikes Pink Gel Scent
– 1/4 Cup Sugar and Sprinkle salt on top.

Mix, mix, mix this all together by shaking the container gently until product is evenly distributed and then simply put the cured prawns into a fridge.You can even throw them into your boat on your drive out to the river and the prawns can be ready in less than 2 hours. Remove the shells and cut the prawns down the middle of the slit in their back or cut them in half into small chunks. Either the flap or the chunks will fish just fine but I prefer using the flap style because they bend and flex with the flow of the river giving them a more natural “free-flowing” appearance.

Over the past few weeks my boat has been on the Satsop, Wynoochee, Queets, Humptulips, and Hoh rivers. Call me a groupie, but I love to get around! Knowing each rivers positives and negatives gives a guy an advantage over just fishing one river and being limited to a small fishable area.

On the coast the Queets and Hoh rivers run through giant open gorges with classic gravel bar runs and giant boulder strewn stretches. One thing for certain that gives these rivers the “nod” in low water and that’s the fact that they are fed from grey clay cliffs!

These clay cliffs constantly bleed grey clay sediments into the river 24/7 giving the river the “carbon emerald green” appearance in ALL conditions. This carbon green look is IDEAL for low water conditions because it gives the fish a sense of security and they are more willing to continue their journey up higher into the systems. Fishing those 1-2 foot travel lanes can still produce in these systems and you’ll find me here more often then not in low water. Plus these rivers have naturally higher flows in terms of CFS than almost all of the others in our state so they fish better in low flows.

Below are some photos of the past 14 days in my driftboat. They are pictures of only some of the steelhead that have been caught in my boat, but each one was special in its own way. Steelheading is a lifestyle for me. It’s gotten into my blood and there’s no cure to get rid of it. Salmon season is just a time filler anymore and during spring, summer and fall I dream about those cold crisp wintery mornings when I finally get to hook those cold silvery steelhead once again.

Capturing the shot, sometimes we take 20-30 photos and only one works out

Wynoochee hatchery buck, this fish was caught by Daniel Hubbard and it was hooked way under a down tree. This fish was jumping into brush and we were able to pull it out from structure and get a solid net job

This enormous steelhead took over 225 yards of line at one point

This huge hatchery steelhead caught by John McCleery was just shy of the 20 pound mark

2ynoochee hen! this fish took red Borax O’ Fire Eggs!

Nothing like Limits in the fish box! Let the chrome shine!

A hatchery buck from the Wynoochee system just prior to release

14lb Wynoochee buck that fell to a yarn ball

My father with a beautiful hatchery buck that hit the Dr. Death K-13 Kwikfish

Spots for days

Limits by 9am!

John McCleery with a big buck caught at first light

Limits of huge hatchery steelhead that fell for backtrolled plugs

I swung by to take some photos of Duane Inglin and limits of hatchery steelhead

Rain or Shine – a true steelheader will fish in any conditions on any day just to feel that tug, see that float dissapear or the chance to capture the moment with a photo of the most elusive fish in the pacific northwest!

The release of a native steelhead very high on the Queets River last week.

A fine wild hen steelhead caught by fellow Outdoor Line “Young Gun” Lael Paul Johnson.

One of the many primitive launches on the Washington coastal rivers.

A hatchery hen with blue haze on her back, fresh as can be!

A customer with his first steelhead…and his second steelhead!

If steelheading is in your blood as much as it is mine please feel free to drop me a line to chat about your addiction or perhaps book a day of fishing with me on the Washington coast. Hope to see you out there and don’t be afraid to stop by and say hello!

Joseph Princen
Outdoor Line “Young Gun”
710 ESPN Seattle

(Joseph Princen operates Rainforest Wild Guide Service on the Southern Olympic Peninsula and he will be a regular contributor to the Outdoor Line. He can be reached at (253) 347-5300.)