After nearly 100 days of drought here in western Washington we are finally getting the annual first autumn rains. As of this morning our sun parched, boney-stoned, West End Olympic Peninsula rivers were just beginning to respond to the first bands of showers that came up the coast in the last 24 hours. A relatively mild beginning to the winter cycle here so far. But there is more in the forecast, including heavier rains over the next 24 to 48 hours, and significant winds up to gale force predicted. With this warmer weather, and freezing levels forecast for 10,000 feet in the mountains, we will see some heavy river flows for a little while. Rarely do we get it the way that we would like it. So we take it as it comes. Now would be a good time to sit down with your fly boxes and look over your autumn and winter selections. Once these rivers begin to drop back into shape there will likely be some fish spread through every system: Cutthroat, Steelhead and Salmon. All of this is right on time as this is the time of year we expect to see this kind of event.
This is the time that the rainforest returns to it's magically green, dripping wet beauty, revived with life and color and scent. All summer drought long the leaves and fronds gathered an accumulation of fine silty dust, coloring the under story plants with a pale grey mantle. A strange looking landscape compared to the Sierra Club calendar pictures we are so familiar with. To my mind this is the most beautiful time of year; the rivers are coming back to life, ducks will stop here along their flyway, the elk and deer will be moving into the valleys, (a welcome visitation on a cold winter steelheading day), the mushrooms will be coming into their own, and the fish are coming home on the rising flows.
Now would also be a good time to makes sure that your winter fishing tackle is in order; checking flyrods, hardware, ferrules, reels, backing and knots, lines, tips, fresh new leaders etc. If you need to brush up on your casting try to do it before a trip to the rivers if you can.Using "grass leaders" on a clean mown area is an option for city dwellers. Why waste time on a trip trying to get your cast right? If you work at it a little you can eliminate over one half of the number of strokes that it takes to fish through a winter day here. That means your fly will be working, fishing, a whole lot more. That is the name of the game. And if you need help get a good coach. Do not practice the same bad, unproductive moves over and over until you are very good at doing it badly! With a little good coaching and practice anyone can improve.
Two handed salmon rods, (Spey Rods), have proven most effective on our waters. Most of us use some version of the popular Skagit Rods and Skagit Heads that were developed and hand fabricated by northwest regional fly fishermen on the water long before line makers got in on the game. I will drop a plug here for Rio Products- www.rioproducts.com -Spey lines and Skagit Heads and shooting / running here though, because most of us mere mortals can not easily make a better line than they do. For a great tutorial on Skagit Casting- which differs significantly from "traditional spey casting"- I like the video featuring Pacific Northwest master guide Ed Ward.: "Skagit Master volume 1". Ed originated this cast and played a significant role in the development of the modern rods and lines we use today. He does an excellent job of explaining his methods. Good casting is the foundation for successful fly fishing. Without good line control and the ability to get the fly out there, in front of the fish, slowly and deeply in the wintertime, you aren't going to enjoy the benefits of the game. Here is a video trailer link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2w-3cteRoY Also see: www.skagitmaster.com
As for the weather. here are a few good links to forecasting tools that I rely on in planning my winter fishing here on The Olympic Peninsula rivers. The more often you refer to these resources, and the more familiar you are with the options available, the better you will get at predicting fishable weather and river flows. None of this will replace time on the water!
Dr Cliff Mass, University of Washington, is one of my first go-to forecasters. His book: "The Weather of The Pacific Northwest" is valuable reading for anyone who works and lives in the outdoors and on the water here. Just studying his blog is an education, but I find real value in his forecasting skills. Blog updated at least weekly: http://cliffmass.blogspot.com
For pinpoint accuracy in forecasting:
University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Probability Forecast: http://probcast.washington.edu/ This service is most accurate for our purposes to within 72 hours.
Of course N.O.A.A. and The National Weather Service play an important role. And the new coastal radar here in western Washington is really going to improve the forecasting and models. Here are a few good links to support your own fishing trip forecasting.
Western Regional Headquarters NOAA / National Weather Service: www.wrh.noaa.gov/sew
This provides general regional forecasting, with links to many other valuable tools including marine weather, coastal radar and regional satellite and radar, river flows, mountain weather etc. With practice you can become very good at forecasting for your own trips.
N.O.A.A. Northwest River Forecasting Center: www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/rfc
The Northwest River Forecasting page is very useful, especially for short range plans of under a week. I rely on the 72 hour models and forecasts most of all for this region. Weather here is heavily influenced by the volatile interplay of mountain weather and marine weather. Play with these tools and learn how to use them!
For live up link regional U.S.G.S. river flows I go to: http://wa.waterdata.usgs.gov/
Washington Dept of Ecology also has good real-time river gauge information: www.ecy.wa.gov/
Not just for river flows, this website has some great information for fishermen if you take the time to seek it out. The Sold Duc River gauge seems to be off . So I use the the adjacent Calawah and Bogachiele rivers gauges, and my own real-time-on-the-water-experience, as an adjunct. You can't beat local knowledge.)
Privately maintained webcams:
The Sol Duc River Webcam: www.theferngallery.com
(Sometimes helpful when the camera is working in real time images and maintained).
Quillayute River Webcam: www.qriverresort.com
Right now it is raining pretty hard out here on the Olympic Peninsula, and our rivers are filling up. So use this time ahead to study on how the rivers flows are responding to these precipitation and temperature impacts. Pay particular attention to freezing level altitudes, incoming Pacific Ocean marine weather systems, flow rates etc. I will be tying some nice Waddington Shank and Spey Flies myself...