8 days on the Peninsula

Steelhead fishing can be hard to explain to those who aren't infatuated with it. Why would someone want to camp out in the rain forest, rise before dawn, spend hours standing in waist deep water and rarely catch a fish? After 8 days with not so much of a bite from a steelhead, sometimes I wonder the same things.

One night while getting a burger and pint at the local pub, we were talking to two old guys from Seattle. They have been coming to fish the OP for a long time. They explained that 3 things have to happen perfectly to catch fish on the OP:

  1. Perfect water levels: Following a large rain storm, the rivers blow-out, rising in levels and decreasing in clarity. 
  2. Perfect weather: After the river-increasing rain storm, you need a period without more rain to allow the water to drop and clear up.
  3. Perfect timing to catch the run: You are not going to catch any fish if they haven't entered the river yet!

If you manage to get all 3 of those right, the only challenge is to put your fly in front of a willing fish. Not as easy as it might sound. We use fly rods and a method of swinging pieces of intricately tied feathers, fur and flash across the current, hopefully in front of an aggressive fish. This type of fishing, often referred to as swinging flies using a spey cast requires a certain type of water: a 5 foot deep, walking pace run with interspersed submerged boulders to create holding areas for moving fish is a good place to start.

Basically, we are just making something already hard, even tougher. 

On this trip, we nailed at least 2 of the 3 requirements for success. We arrived on the Olympic Peninsula just as the rivers were dropping and clearing after a huge rain. The OP is a rainy place, but we didn't have any serious storms and even enjoyed a few afternoons of sunshine. Our only problem was that our timing wasn't perfect to catch a big push of fish coming up the rivers. I'm no expert, but from what I've read and been told, the hatchery fish have mostly finished returning to the OP rivers at this point, and the native fish are just starting to enter. If this is true, we were fishing the rivers when there were fewer available fish to catch.  Go figure.

So after 8 days of freezing toes, damp tents, and thousands of casts, we have no steelhead photos to share; only some good memories and this list:

Olympic Peninsula steelhead trip by the numbers

  • 3 guys
  • 8 days
  • 1920 casts per person
  • 4 boxes of Oreo's
  • Countless Beers. Maybe not countless, but many.
  • 1 bottle of Sriracha
  • 5 rivers
  • 85 flies tied
  • 2 bull trout
  • 0 steelhead