The morning was overcast and cold with a mixture of snow and freezing rain. The river guides were grumbling about the high flow in the river and how tough the rowing was going to be. Dressed in multiple layers, chest waders and rain gear we set off downstream in the boats. The river was a glacier green. We started casting and drifting our baits when the cry of ‘fish on!’ sounds off. A silver torpedo immediately hurtles out of the water and commences on a scathing run. The guide quickly maneuvers the boat to slow water and the fight is on. We eagerly wait and watch the battle….. only to see the fish lost several feet from the boat. Good thing it was early in the day and better… we are fishing probably one of the most productive rivers for large Steelhead in the United States!
Each winter in the Pacific Northwest a large strain of Rainbow Trout, called Steelhead, enter rivers from Northern California to Alaska to spawn. This anadromous strain of Rainbow Trout follow the fall Pacific Salmon runs and migrate the rivers far upstream to find suitable gravel to lay their eggs. Unlike Pacific Salmon the Steelhead will not die after spawning and many return year after year. Anglers throughout the world seek out these runs for some of the most challenging and fun fishing. Typically the weather plays a major role in the anglers’ success.
Perhaps one of the most famous areas in the Pacific Northwest for unusually large steelhead (20+ lbs) is located in the rivers that run through the rain forests of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. We descended on Forks, Washington this winter with high hopes that the weather would cooperate and the Steelhead fishing be epic.
Our adventure started with a 6:30am flight out of San Jose on a 2 ½ hour flight to Seattle. Once we loaded up our rental 4-wheel drive SUV we drove the 3 ½ hours to Forks, home of the Vampire movies. We had been watching the weather and river levels for weeks and our timing was almost perfect. The rivers were dropping out of flood however rain was forecasted for the three days we were to fish. Over the 37 years I have been Steelhead fishing I have learned the conditions are really never ‘perfect’. Successful Steelhead fishermen must adapt to the ever changing conditions.
Our arrival at Forks was greeted with rain and air temperature of 40F. The rivers looked green and a bit high. After unloading our gear in two small cabins we rented we headed out to the only store in town to obtain licenses and supplies. We hired two guides for three days of fishing each with their own drift boat. A drift boat is basically a row boat designed for large rivers and rapids. The guide rows the boat and we sit one fisherman in the front and one in the back. Needless to say 8 or 9 hours of sitting in the cold rain fishing requires warm rain proof clothing, waders and good food. No ice chest is required as the beer stays cold in the weather!
We fished three solid days of Steelhead fishing in this amazing country. We saw Elk, Bald Eagles, ducks and a myriad of other wildlife. Most important, our pursuit of large Steelhead was rewarded with many fish, all released unharmed. Perhaps the highlight of the trip were several Steelhead caught and released over 20 pounds…. One of them was estimated at over 23 pounds! A rare trophy. On our journey home, satisfied from a successful and fun trip, we vowed to make this a yearly event.