Olympic steelhead and an unexpected encounter
Our good friend Martin recently visited seattle and got a couple of days of Steelhead fishing in, needless to say this would become a trip he would soon forget
I recently had the luxury of topping off a study trip to Seattle with some steelhead fishing on the Olympic Peninsula. My host for the week, Lucas Young ( big thanks to Ilias Karanzas for hooking us up!), is also an experienced guide and avid steelheader, and around lunchtime on saturday march 4th we jumped into his car and took off. I fell asleep almost immediately, but was roused some time later when we made a quick stop to pick up some flies at Waters West in Port Angeles.
Dave Steinbaugh, the store owner, had some sage advice on the state of the rivers and gave us a nice deal on a bunch of funky looking flies. Mind you, this is was the first time fishing for steelhead for me, and even though I know that there is no such thing as match the hatch with winter steelhead, I was amazed at the veritable candy store looking shelf of colorful creations Waters West had to offer. Lucas told me that Dave is a professional fly tyer since more than twenty years, and that the store selection of materials (which is enormous!) also includes custom dyed materials produced by Dave himself.
We drove on for about an hour, and around 3pm we stopped by the first pool on the Sol Duc. After a short walk through thorn infested woods we fished for about an hour with no results. Lucas decided we should try the “Plunking Shack” a bit further down. When we arrived at the pool there were two fishermen already there: as soon as I hit the water, two heads popped up a bit further down and eyed me suspiciously. A minute or two later, two men came walking up the bank with their gear. They greeted us politely, and mentioned that they lost a 14-16 pounder earlier. After they had left, we realized that they probably had been plunking which was why they were in such a hurry to leave.
After about an hour without any bites we packed up and left for Forks where we had booked rooms in a somewhat shabby motel. The room had hard beds that we gladly passed out in after having had a nutritious meal at Sullys Burgers.
The next morning we got up early to leave for a popular stretch on the Bogachiel. Even though we arrived at the pool at around 5.45am, there was already a drift boat coming down as we entered the bank. It turned out that the guide on the boat was a guy we had talked to the day before, and who had brought his customers down to the pool in spite of him knowing we were going to be there. However, the stretch is fairly long and we had no problems getting along. After having fished for seven hours without as much as a fish nibbling on our flies, Lucas decided that we were to try a pool he had never been to that is located just below the confluence of the Bogachiel and the Calawah.
I had the honor of going first, and after about 45 minutes of swinging the fly there was a distinct tug on my line. The fish lazily took my five foot slack loop, and I calmly raised the rod tip when the slack had run out. I am not used fishing with a slack loop, and I almost dropped my rod when I let go of the line. The hook set perfectly however, and the fish was off like a rocket across the stream. My Loop Evotec G4 let out a high whisper like I have never experienced before, and I tightened the brake a bit to try to slow down the fish. That had no effect what so ever, so I
tightened the brake as much as I dared to considering my 25lbs tippet. The fish was obviously not impressed, but the rushes became a bit shorter even though every bit as furious. Lucas and Katie (Lucas girlfriend, also a dedicated steelheader of course) had made their way down to me, and when Lucas got eyes on the fish he got really excited: his first words were somewhere in the region of “Fucking… Fuck!!! That’s a fucking nice fish, Martin!!! It’s a… goddamn!!!”
Lucas tried to get in position to tail the fish, but it would have none of it. After 5-6 tries and as many furious rushes he finally got it into shore, and the adventure reached its climax. It was a really big fish! It had a huge head, a solid, muscled body, and a tail so thick I could hardly get my hand around it. It also had two old hooks in its mouth, proving that it was a seasoned fighter. Lucas estimated the weight to about 15-17lbs, which was confirmed by a couple of guides we met later.
A few hours later we drove into Forks to grab some food and a shower, and then go on to meet a couple of Lucas’ old buddies who live in small cabins on a Llama ranch a short drive from town. When we arrived we were greeted by a somewhat tipsy fellow with a red beard and a wild mop of hair on his head, and another guy who promptly offered us a beer. It was obvious that I had misunderstood the plan for the evening: during the somewhat noisy car trips between pools I had gathered that we were to go to someone's house, have a couple of drinks, and watch the Trout Bum Diaries. What was really happening was that we were having drinks with the guys who actually ade
the Trout Bum Diaries… The man with the wildman looks was Ryan Davey, and he quickly ran over to the cabin across the road and to wake up Chris Owens who stumbled over to join the party (these were the guides I mentioned earlier).
The evening continued with an endless stream of stories, drinks, and banter, and is an occasion I will always remember. I wish I had brought any kind of camera, but I will have to do with memories only. Ryan is one of the most generous and and friendly people I have ever met (at least according to the first impression) and a has an unbridled aura of living life exactly as he wants it to be for better or worse. He is a self confessed dirtbag (the modern interpretation), and it shows as clear as day in his personality. Chris was a bit more subdued, probably because he was jerked out of bed after a long day on the water. He came across as a very friendly and driven guy, and his views on Loop’s expansion in North America (he is a member of their Media Team) were many, strong, and sensible.
The final day we went back to where I landed my steelhead, but after three uneventful hours we had to pack up and head for civilisation and my flight back to Sweden. It was with a somber soul I bid the Olympic Peninsula and my fantastic hosts, Lucas and Katie, goodbye. I know I will come back some day, hopefully sooner than later.
By the way, I could not wipe that idiot grin off my face even though I tried…