We are well into mid "June-U-Ary" on the Olympic Peninsula flyfishing scene. Our mountains here in western Washington have over 200% snowpack this year, which has our rivers running with cold water, and the frequent brief low pressure fronts coming in off of the Pacific Ocean have spiked the river flows often enough that Spring Chinook Salmon and Summer Steelhead fishing here are well underway, and we should see good, fishable flows here well along into mid summer. Milder temperatures in May, part of another record breaking warm spring season this year, had some hatches coming off earlier than expected, and activated the resident fish fish to feed in the shallows of both lakes and rivers. Winged Ants made a strong, unexpected early appearance and a few large Black Stoneflys came along ahead of schedule. In some western regions they expect greater than normal Salmon Fly hatches this spring. Expect good dry fly action later in the day, especially if you have solid sun break after a rain. And on our rivers the trout will like your smaller flies too, like size 18-20 Griffith's Gnats, Midges, Blue Winged Olives, smaller Elk Hair Caddis etc. Maybe because the water is cold. Maybe because they have seen larger flies presented poorly and been hooked by them. That is your riddle to solve.
After a long winter of swinging wet flies and streamers for Wild Steelhead on the coastal rivers here, many of us forget that a big fluffly Bill McMillan's Steelhead Caddis, or a size #4 Stimulator, greased and skated across a shallow tailout at the break of day, just might get you the fish of the year. With such variable flows here this time of year it is vital to stay in touch with the weather, the flows, and changing conditions when planning your trip. And do not forget that the water is very cold this time of year, and that daytime sunlight may cause snowmelt all day, which will have the rivers rising all day. Don't get stuck on the wrong side of a river at dusk! Once the water starts dropping into good shape here it often gets very clear quickly. So you really have to focus on dusk and dawn for these wary fish of summer. I like the Old-School wet flies too, Soft Hackles and Spade Flies, Summer Speys etc. It is time to put away the big, dark ugly flies of winter and break out the Summer Run box. I like a 7 weight medium fast action flyrod, nine feet long. Many guests are coming with spey and Switch Rods now too. I usually start with a nine foot tapered mono leader, 3X to 4X to begin with, adjusting tippet etc as needed. I prefer the Rio Powerflex leader and tippet materials.
On most of the days when the coastal rivers are not approachable with a flyrod we will head to the smaller waters, like the upriver sections of the Sol Duc River, the Bogachiele, the Calawah and some smaller streams etc. And we are finding good conditions on some of our regional lakes and beaches too. Note here that some few of our local area lakes are periodically closed due to an poisonous neurotoxin being created by lake algae. Our Jefferson County Health Department monitors this issue and updates are posted weekly. Gibbs Lake and Anderson Lake State Park are two examples of frequently closed waters.
For flyfishing Sea Run Coastal Cutthroat Trout we head to the beaches! And we have many miles of public access here. From Port Townsend you can have a real day of it, with very little driving time, some of it just minutes from downtown. But certainly within an half hour of your lodging. Longer day trips would have you driving down Hood Canal to fish some great public access spots, but still well within an hour's drive. Walking and wading on these firm, fairly flat, gravel and sand beaches, we wade shallow, often just knee deep, casting dry flies, wet flies, streamers etc to spunky wild fish. By now these fish are getting fatter than a tick from feeding on the huge outmigrations of salmon fry and smolt that pass through here on their way to the sea. And the juvenile Herring, Sandlance and Surf Smelt are plentiful along our shores. Some of the flies that we use are often a surprise to visiting anglers; Stimulators, Muddler Minnows, Zonkers, Mickey Finn, Royal Wulff, Steelhead Caddis, Winged Ants, Hoppers, Wooly Boogers, etc- all considered to be freshwater trout flies.
Yet we know that these wild Cutthroat Trout live in their natal streams for several years before solidly moving off into saltwaters for months at a time, and that they rear on a broad range of forage species in those freshwater streams; aquatic insects, baitfish, salmon fry, terrestrials etc. And there is no reason for them to turn down a meal that they recognize just because it appears in saltwater. Along most of our shorelines there are miles of undeveloped, heavily vegetated and forested growth, and logs, woody debris etc, and all of it hosts the kinds of critters that trout like to eat, especially winged insects, beetles, ants, termites, moths etc., and even mice! Bring your river boxes! And of course we are using many locally proven fly patterns on the beaches too, like my Little Stone's Chum Baby and Leland Miyawaki's Beach Popper, and many differing Clouser styles, with some old stand-bys like the Knudson Spider and countless marine forage imitations. Just remember to use barbless, medium to short shank hooks, around size six or smaller is best. More on all of that stuff later.
I'm using a 5 or 6 weight rod on the beaches, from 8 to 10 feet long, medium to fast action, and most of the time I am using a simple Rio Double Taper floating fly line. For leaders I like the Rio Powerflex Trout leaders, factory tapered to a 3X or 4X tippet. I don't go lighter than this because I do not want to overplay these fish, and there is always the chance that an over 20" bruiser will come along and smack you good! How likely? Well, it is Summer run Steelhead season here on our rivers, and they have been migrating in for the past few months from late winter on, and they all migrate from saltwater back to the freshwaters to spawn. So that means a few of them are hugging the same shorelines that we flyfish for Sea Run Cutthroat.
Along the way each season we have seen some beautiful Cutthroat X Steelhead hybrid trout, many of them around 20" and very tough fish. Even a 12" wild Cutthroat can make your wrist hurt. people who have never fished before have come here and caught beautiful wild Cutthroat at their feet from the beach. It is a very lucky thing to catch a wild trout of any kind in saltwater anywhere today. If we take good care of them we should be able to conserve them for the future. All of my fishing is done with barbless hooks and is strictly Catch & Release for this reason. And the law here requires that we do so as well.
So even though its dark and cool many days here now, our north east side Olympic Peninsula beaches are in the "rain shadow" of the Olympic Mountains, and often we get some dry sunny days while every one else is soaking wet! We do have plenty of options. And as each day passes we are getting closer to our annual summer salmon season on our salt waters, the river and beach fishing is great, and the year is just getting started. By early July it will be sunny on the beaches and rivers here, with cooling ocean breezes all day. Every spring and summer we see whales, eagles, osprey, otters, seals, sea birds and wildlife from our fishing locations. Come fishing. You'll love it.