Saturday, October 27, 2012

When The Rains Of November Come Early


 Statistically speaking we know that November is our wettest month of the year out here. And while it is not uncommon for us to get some rain in mid October, usually a welcome relief to the summer's long drought, it is uncommon for us to have rain for fully half of October running into November. We got lucky for most of the past few weeks of precipitation here, as a big cold front pushed down from Arctic Alaska, and along with all of that moisture we got freezing temperatures as low as 2000-2500 feet in the Olympic Mountains, and some good snow accumulation, which reduced the impacts of the rain on the rivers, and provided many days of good fishing flows. Summer run Steelhead, fall Salmon and Cutthroat are being caught all over the Peninsula. and the saltwater beaches have been fishing well for fall Coho Salmon, the Chum are showing up now, and Cutthroat too are at their best this time of year. In fact the hardest thing has been deciding which direction to head off in on a fishing trip lately.

Here Comes The Bear!

  Now this weekend we are seeing a warm front move across the Olympic Peninsula, with some significant winds in the forecast, and the rivers are just beginning to react with a spike in flows. Depending upon how warm it gets at lower altitudes, and how much rain we get, will set the stage for the coming weeks of fishing opportunity. So for those already on the rivers at dawn today might be a good day, at least for the first half of the day, as far as flows and fishing goes, especially on the bigger waters. And by carefully checking around, you might find a few niches of respectable fly water left on some smaller rivers as well. Unless we have a catastrophic huge area wide storm event, that hits all at once, one can always find a little fishable water. Especially early in the game of weather changes.

 I was booked for a sea run Cutthroat trip today, and I often get up very early before a trip if the conditions are unstable, just to confirm the possibilities for the day. Sometimes we change the meeting location based on local impacts of wind, waves, tides etc. This can often buy us hours of time. At dawn this morning my favorite beach was as calm as a Hindu Cow: quiet water, no appreciable wind, no waves, light misting rain and overcast. One would think this would be a perfect day to fish that beach.

 I sat in the dark, sipping hot coffee in the truck, using the phone to check the coming day; the winds on Puget Sound via the Washington Ferry Service weather pages, the new NOAA coastal radar views, the west end and southwest coastal rivers gauges, the freezing levels in the Olympic Mountains and the marine synopsis and forecasts. Everything pointed to things going to hell in a hand basket- as far as beach fishing was concerned- by about 11:00 a.m. to Noon. I got out of the truck as the morning light began to gather in a pale white haze, and stood in the light rain, watching the visibility utterly disappear.

 The winds were forecast for a Small Craft Warning on Admiralty Inlet, with 2-4 foot wind waves by early afternoon. The NOAA coastal radar showed a huge rain pattern, already making landfall, coming from the west-southwest and moving  across the Olympic Peninsula. The Hoko and Sooes rivers gauges were showing significant spiking, and The Hoh and Queets were beginning to react, and it was still very early in the rainfall. The Olympic Mountains freezing / snow levels  were rising from 2000-2500 feet to well above 7000 feet,(in a very short span of time). So I made the call and rescheduled the trip.

      "Sometimes you get the bear, 
         Sometimes the bear gets you."                                   

 The forecasts have held true so far, and the bay is now romping along with some nifty winds, and the waves are easily at the predicted 2-4 feet, blowing white foam and marl colored. And the rivers will continue to rise. So I am sorting my winter gear; organizing shooting / sinking lines, Skagit heads, running lines, backing- all knots and connections, leader butts and standing loops etc., and organizing and tying my Winter Steelhead flies. For now. Keeping an eye on things. Waiting out The Bear.

"You should have been here yesterday."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shifting To Neutral, or how to get worried.

This is the seasonal forecast that I worry about the most:

 The closer we get to the heart of winter the more accurate the El Nino / La Nina forecasting gets. This is the earliest reliable prediction of the oncoming trends in this coming winter, and whatever the impacts, they will be felt throughout the winter steelheading season here. I still try to take it one week, one day at a time. but these forecasts are generally true. How they will shake out in terms of on-the-water experience is always an alchemy of the moment; local conditions, incoming marine, tropical and arctic weather systems colliding with mountain weather, temperatures, flows etc, and whatever prayers we may offer for mercy. I 'm not saying you should let any of this change your plans though. just make sure you pack your rain gear and an extra sweater. No matter what happens, the fish do not read the forecasts- I will be fishing this winter every chance that I get.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

10/17 First Autumn Storm Update

Counting Winter Coho Salmon on a small coastal creek, north Olympic Peninsula coast, with the North Olympic Salmon Coalition.

 An example of the value of monitoring river flows, marine weather and mountain weather online, via NOAA and the National Weather Service, (links provided below previously), take a look at the river flows this morning! We began this storm cycle a few days ago with freezing levels at and above 10,000 feet, which means that most of the warm rain melted snow and ice in the high peaks, and there was significant runoff into the rivers. So it did not take very long for the rivers to jump up in flows. But in the last day or so the mountain freezing levels have dropped to around half of that height, the mountains are getting some snow and ice again,( just take a look at the Hurricane Ridge Web cam via the National Park Service linked to NOAA/NWS), and... VOILA!- the rivers are dropping into shape!  This could be a coin toss by the weekend if the mountains warm up again with the next push of rain. But for a day or so anyway, we could get some good conditions on the Olympic Peninsula rivers. Yesterday the beaches were in beautiful shape, not too windy, and the nearshore waters had returned to that sweet jade-green color that we like to see. I will be fishing the salt every chance that I get right through November, and scouting the rivers too!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"A Chance Of Rain"

 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- -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:   Also see:

 Winter Forecasting

 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:  

For pinpoint accuracy in forecasting:
University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Probability Forecast: 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:   
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:
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:

Washington Dept of Ecology also has good real-time river gauge information:  
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: 
(Sometimes helpful when the camera is working in real time images and maintained).

Quillayute River Webcam:

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...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"October Caddis"

Low water on the Sol Duc River

 September brought us the Autumnal Equinox, and the Harvest Moon, so named for the farmers of old gaining the opportunity to work the fields well  after sundown, harvesting by the silvery moonlight. Imagine what that must have been like; long before diesel tractors and halogen work lights, when the harvest season was most laborious, and entire families would work together, from sunrise to sunset, and into the moonlit nights, harvesting everything by hand. This moon cycle is an annual harbinger of the great turning of things, the endings and beginnings of seasons, life cycles, migrations- all dependent upon sunlight. For our Pacific Northwest wild Salmonids- Salmon, Char, sea-run Coastal Cutthroat Trout and Steelhead- the change of light portends their return to natal waters. A time of completion and closure that shifts subtly, each day, with the tilting axis of the earth. Good things come after the Harvest Moon.

A pretty little wild river Coastal Cutthroat

 Here on the Olympic Peninsula rivers and creeks the sea-run Cutthroat are once again moving up into fresh waters from the saltchuck. Not all at once, but a trickling few fish, here and there, through late summer and fall in almost every significant system that hosts them. And more waters hold these wild trout than most anglers know of. Along with the Cutthroat are our few wild resident Rainbow Trout, though the regional biologists refer to them as "Risidualized Steelhead". And summer run Steelhead fishing is an opportunity here now as well, as the bigger glacially influenced rivers have receded to lower flows and clearer visibility. Dawn and dusk may afford the best circumstances for some runs, while mid day fishing in shaded water can be productive. Stealthy, quiet presentations, longer drifts, greased line presentations, stalking holding fish in the deeper pools, wet flies, soft hackles, Steelhead Caddis etc. It is all about not letting them see you or hear you. In low water and daylight your presence will likely distract them, enough to stop them cold.

Summer Steelhead fly fishing on the Sol Duc River

 Our fall salmon are also arriving this time of year, Coho, Chum and Kings, a few early fish, then a run of them that may last well through November. We all hope for the salmon. The salmon are hoping for rain. Only time will tell. But they too are gathering now, toward the mouth of a river, lying out there beneath the surf, in the moonlight. Waiting. The first good pulse of rain, when it comes, will carry them in on cool rising flows, an autumn freshet from the mountains to the sea. And the run will be on.

 In any case, we don't have to wait for the rain to go fishing. Dry line fly fishing for Cutthroat and Summer run Steelhead is often superb this time of year, and under precisely these low water conditions. Here is my own sparsely tied variation on the theme of the October Caddis. This is a prolific autumn hatch that we will see on almost every stream and river here, right into the hard freeze we usually get near November. I like to skate and drift this fly on the surface, greased a bit to aid in flotation. But this fly will work beneath the surface, just, and sometimes that is enough. And it has worked well, catching fish on the swing. I use this fly in saltwater too with good results on sea runs.

Little Stone's October Caddis
  And let us not forget that some of the best sea run Coastal Cutthroat fly fishing of the year is still going on in our salt waters; across the north coast, on the east end of the Olympic Peninsula and south into Hood Canal and Puget Sound. Some years we will fish for them in the Saltchuck right through Thanksgiving. The fish in the photo below was caught on one of my favorite saltwater Cutthroat flies: "The Muddler Minnow". Greased and stripped across the surface: Shake, Twitch, Wiggle and Pop!

A sea run Coastal Cutthroat Trout caught in saltwater

Master on the fly Leland Miyawaki, fishing dept manager for the Orvis Bellevue Store, conjured up this shallow running Coho on the beach here last Friday, using his magical Miyawaki Beach Popper right on the surface, under a bright sun, in the late morning on an ebbing tide.
Orvis Access 9 foot 6 weight rod and Orvis All Arounder fly line,