Friday, April 12, 2013

THE OP (DAYS 4-8) Getting situated

On my way up from Portland I stopped at Walmart in Aberdeen and picked up some cool waterproof tube fly boxes and then entered the rain. At about 11 pm I arrived in Forks, WA home of twilight. I slept outside the grocery store in my car, and waited eagerly for sunrise. Nate McDonough from Nomadic Angler Blog and Brazda Fly Fishing Outfitters was kind enough to give me some advice on where to fish as I got my bearings. So after picking up my license, breakfast, lunch, and more Owner SSW hooks at the all inclusive Forks Outfitters, I proceeded to drive over to the Hoh River Rainforest. Forks Outfitters had steelhead murals and memorabilia everywhere, with an impressive 20lb mounted steelhead at the checkout counter. I get tired of people claiming sizes of fish by seeing them or catching them and not weighing or measuring them correctly. I have seen 7 lb fish be claimed as 12, 24 inch trout called dirty thirties. Measure your fish for god sakes if your gonna talk about them. Taking random stabs at fish size just discredits all the true giants that are weighed and measured correctly. I found the first run adjacent to one of the few "boat ramps"(glorified gravel bars) on the Upper Hoh.

I slowly worked my way down 200 yards of swing-able water. I hooked my first steelhead down the first gravel bar in the fishiest part of the run. Unfortunately, I didn't hook another fish in that run the rest of the trip. The fish played me exactly like the the one on the Sandy, 15 seconds and it was off. Little did I know I wouldn't touch a fish for 5 more days of fishing.

I really started to question why I was losing these fish, in the same fashion. After a few days of thinking I believe I wasn't really setting the hook after the fish took my loop from me. I just started playing them. In British Columbia all the Steelhead I landed took the fly mid swin, many times hooking themselves. All these coastal winter steelhead were taking at the very end of the swing or on the hang down. I told myself the next steelhead that took I was going to make sure to set the hook.

I fished one more run without a grab as I listened to my brother's hockey game on my headphones. If they happened to lose he would be flying up to join me for a week of steelheading. But they won, which was awesome too.

 On day 2 the Hoh River went from 3600 cfs to 9000 cfs. I was told to wait till it got down around 5000 till I should try to float due to the large hydraulics that can appear. So I spent the next few days scouting the swing unfriendly Sol Duc River, and fishing the edges of a blown out Hoh River.

 Gotta have some small flies too
On the shore of a secret Sol Duc Swing run, that I found by partly by accident and partly from a Doug Rose article giving too much information. In this day of satellite images on our cell phones, even little land marks can give away secret spots. Thanks Doug
Beautiful swing run dotted with submerged boulders, swung this run many times and never roused a fish

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sandy River (trip days 2-3)

I made it from CO to Portland in a day and a half, and my excitement grew as I crossed rivers like the Grand Ronde, the John Day, and the Deschutes. I finally made it to Troutdale, OR near the mouth of the Sandy at 5 pm. I only spent two days on the Sandy River, and most of the first day was spent scouting the put in and takeouts, and getting various other information. The Sandy is very close to Portland, but above Oxbow Park fishing is prohibited from a boat. Great News for a steelhead swinger. So the first day I swung the dog leg left at the top of oxbow park to try out the new rod and line set up. The rod (Sage 12'6'') 7 weight One is a rocket ship. It excelled with both 10 feet of T 11 and 10 feet of T-14 as long as the fly wasn't too heavy or bulky. I paired it with a 500 grain Rio Skagit Flight, and a Sage 4210 reel.

On this trip I took my second version of a small steelhead raft. The first was 12 feet long and made it through a trip to Smithers, BC. This raft had a very similar frame, slightly better rubber, and a far better shape. However, the float I wanted to do was from Dodge Park to Oxbow Park, which has two class III rapids, with the worst being the Pipeline rapid 1/4 mile into the float. I was told that the rapid could be mellow or really really dangerous, depending on a difference of only a few hundred CFS either up or down. This section consistently flips boats.  So I scouted what I could see of the rapid, and it seemed doable in my little raft. I got to the put in the next day and several other full sized rafts and Cats showed up. All the fisherman were eying my raft and making comments to each other. I had a few approach me and ask me questions like, "Have you ever floated this section before?", "Is your raft self bailing?" One party was placing bets on whether my boat would survive the float. Well I told one group that I would go right in front of them in case anything happened.

At 7:45 am with my go pro recording and my heart racing I pushed off toward the Pipeline. Mentally, fully prepared to swim.  The Pipeline threw some water at my face, but wasn't more than a large wave train. But it was cool that my boat could handle water like that.

The Sandy was beautiful and felt like wilderness eventhough it was within twenty minutes of downtown Portland. I swung a holding area with no success, and then headed down some more rapids and eventually found a beautiful long slick with a couple submerged boulders slowing down the flow. Every steelheader has their spots that seem to grab their eyes as they head down river. Boulder gardens are my weakness.

I eventually got down to swinging range of the giant boulder. The first swing was targeted just upstream of the boulder. Nothing. The second was intended to slide across the current just behind the boulder. As it did, the line stopped and my first thought was my head sank too quick and the tip and leader were wrapped up on the boulder. but then the stopped line started to pull, I had the loop ripped from my hand, and ten yards of line ripped downstream. Then the fish paused, made one more quick pull downstream and turned upstream and came toward me. and at that second the line went slack. My first winter steelhead came and went in 12 seconds. It was identical to how I lost a huge hen up in BC the fall before.

I finished the float swinging two more spots, packed up and headed to Forks, Washington for the intended destination for my trip. I definitely want to go back and explore the Sandy. Its pool-drop format has a ton of tailouts and good holding water.