All posts by Rainier Valley Angler

Little Nestucca Pools

I spent the Christmas holiday in Pacific City, Oregon with my fiance’s family. Pacific City is an amazing home base for river fishing. There are the Neskowin, Three Rivers, Little Nestucca, and Salmon Rivers all nearby and holding fish. There is a winter steelhead hatchery on Three Rivers, but typically of any winter hatchery steelhead river the rush of fish brings a rush of crowds to the banks. I overheard at the tackle shop in Hebo that the vehicles at the hatchery hole were “stacked in like cord wood”. Katlin’s family has a farm above the hatchery and I’ve had success fishing for both native salmon that are passed through the hatchery weir and resident cutthroat which seem to be always around.

The area had been hit by heavy rains and the big river, the Nestucca, had a chocolate milk quality to it and was close to flood stage. I’d spent a couple days trying to get some bites at my favorite hole on the Kellow Fur Farm up above the Cedar Creek Hatchery and decided early on day two to head out to explore the Little Nestucca River and see if it was in better shape.

The Little Nestucca runs along Highway 130, which I headed up via 101 from Pacific City. The river is a thing of beauty and despite the rains had beautiful water clarity, a nice steelhead green. I saw at least a dozen promising pools as I searched for a safe pullout and route down its steep banks to the river. I didn’t have to drive far before finding one of the more beautiful pools I’ve seen in person. There were two fisherman working it with spoons so I initially drove past them searching for some solitude, but a narrow canyon portion above the pool convinced me that I’d have a better chance getting into a fish below the major whitewater I was seeing upstream…so I turned around. I went back to the hole where the two other anglers were fishing and tried to determine if it would be feasible or even polite to squeeze in above them without interfering with their experience.

Lucky for me I watched one of the anglers pack up and climb if the trail to the road. I asked out my window if he’d have any luck and he said that they’d been hooking some cutthroat. I pulled myself out of the truck with my gear and luckily the other gentleman was packing up and heading out as well, leaving me alone at the fishiest spot I’d seen all week.

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The pool was perfect for float fishing with all of the components (head, body, and tailout) within one long drift on the centerpin rod. Being by myself, I started my drift at the head of the pool and simply let it float through the body and to the top of the tailout. I had never caught or seen salmon or steelhead in this river but had been told by my soon-to-be father-in-law that they were in there. ODWF describes the steelhead and salmon fishing as “fair” on this river.

With this information in the back of my mind I soon gave up on float fishing and thought I’d switch to some smaller spinners to try and get a cutthroat while I was there. I worked my way down the hole with a small bronze spinner and when I got to the top of the tailout I saw two steelhead swimming nearly at my feet. I stopped putzing around with the spinners and immediately switched back to the centerpin.

While I was in Hebo visiting the local tackle shop I decided to pick up some locally made steelhead jigs. It’s a habit that I believe brings me a a little good luck when fishing away from home. Help support the local economy and use what the locals are using to catch some fish.

Nestucca Valley Sporting Goods
Nestucca Valley Sporting Goods in Hebo, Oregon

I tied on a local 3/8 oz pink maribou jig with a flashy body and within ten minutes landed what I thought may have been a steelhead, but soon realized that it was just a late-run native coho. I was a bit off my identifcation game because I had seen two steelhead (where there’s one there’s another), but had also seen a larger fish rise above the tailout (A coho is more likely to break surface in my experience). The v-shaped tail and hooked beak gave it away for me, but I was still surprised that I was catching a bright-ish coho this late into the season.

Little Nestucca Coho

After a quick picture I retrieved my jig and revived the fish and he swam away with strength. I have to say that the coho didn’t fight much, a few head shakes but no real runs that would normally have me on my toes with the centerpin. Still a beautiful fish and I felt lucky as I always do when I catch a native fish in a beautiful setting.

I took Sunday off from fishing and our plan was to head back to Seattle around noon on Monday. I carefully broached the idea of me going out one last time to my fiance with the idea that I’d be fishing before anyone woke up anyways and back with enough to time to pack and say some goodbyes to the family. She was alright with that and so I headed out before dark on Monday morning, hoping to be the first (or even better, only) fisherman at the hole at sunrise. Highway 130 is a narrow, curvy road with a view of the river and its many fishing spots for  miles. You can bet that if you see a vehicle parked on the side of the road that means a fisherman is down on the bank getting a line wet. The river’s access does not suggest any sort of combat fishing and on the contrary, seems to lend itself to the kind of reclusive style of fishing I prefer: Away from the hatchery crowds and elbow-elbow, synchronized casting gong show.  I’m bringing this up because if I see a truck parked at a spot where I know there is a fishy stretch of river, I keep driving. There are too may great spots to crowd another angler looking for solitude.

So I got to the hole early, probably too early as I had about a half hour to kill before there was enough light to see a float going down. I started at the head of the pool, using a orange and white maribou jig with a white head. This is a pattern that I have caught some coho on before and an appropriate one for the ever-so-mildly colored up water this early in the morning. I saw a fish surface right at the top of the pool behind a tree that had fallen down the steep opposite bank and into the pool. Long eddies were swirling on both sides of the head as the pool was being fed by a narrow canyon portion that was frothing with white water just up river.

Canyon Whitewater

WIth no bites or bumps twenty minutes in, I was starting to go over in my mind potential adjustments to my offering. Just about when I settled on a change the float goes down. I set the hook and had a couples strong head shakes before I see my line go limp, soon realizing the fish has swam directly across the bottom half of the pool body.  I have to put a quick spin on my reel to get caught up and get tension on the fish again. As soon as I get pressure again the fish takes a run in the opposite direction, peeling off line.

Knowing that what I had was more significant than the other fish I had caught in the pool (more energy, stronger head shakes, and violent runs) I started going through the inventory in my head of all the things that could go wrong. Knots and weak points being at the foremost of those thoughts. I couldn’t do anything about that at this point and snapped back to worrying about the fish taking my line across the lip of the shelf in the pool or heading downstream below the pool. The steelhead took about four more significant runs before I had it close to the bank. I had lost a coho earlier in the year horsing it in because of some serious logs in the river, so I was careful to let it tire out significantly before I banked it. My arm hurt and my heart was thumping as I quickly snapped a photo, popped the jig out of its mouth and released it.

Photographs are important to me for not just memories but also to help keep track of the elements in my gear that work. I’ve caught all my steelhead and salmon on the centerpin using Drennan floats. They’re expensive but if you’re careful with them they’ll last a long time. Flourocarbon line and well-spaced split shot (spacing depends on the water speed) are other elements that I never change. A photograph reminds me of my leader length and size as well. I don’t love knocking any scales of a fish but am more careful with my salt water catches than river ones. Many of these fish, especially in a rocky river like the Little Nestucca, have beat themselves up on rocks just getting upstream. Regardless, I’ll spend as much time as it takes to revive a fish and make sure that jig hooks avoid snagging gills and pop them out with care.  Here’s a good article from Northwest Sportsman on handling native steelhead.

Little Nestucca Native Steelhead

I was pretty happy with myself after this and paused for a ten minute break before getting my line back in the water.  This fish had fulfilled a goal I have every winter of just getting one steelhead. Any more than that is a bonus and any less leads to a long off-season of self-doubt and disappointment. The fight this fresh fish put me though stacks on its value. It assured me that I’ve come a long way in developing and implementing a system for centerpin fishing that works for me.  With all of the variables and opportunities for failure, having a fish really put me through the ringer as I fight it is rare experience and one that I won’t forget.

North Fork Skykomish 

A cold day of fishing started at Proctor Creek where I hooked a chum at about 7:30 and then didn’t have a float down for the rest of our time there. My buddy Scott landed one and then we headed out to explore farther up river.

This shot was taken a nice tailout accessed by a river kayak boat launch. No bites but beautiful scenery and very, very cold. I don’t think it got above 27 all day. There was in the guides and cold hands continuously.

We stayed at Wallace Falls State Park which has about 4 cabins offered for rental at a reasonable offseason rate.  The Prospector Tavern down the road had some decent food for diner and a pool table that helped warm us up. Looking forward to heading back to the same area for some more steelhead fishing. Let’s hope the river is in shape and the fish a bit more active this next time around. 

Three Rivers October Cutthroat

I visited my girlfriends family in Pacific City, Oregon last weekend and always take the time to head up to their family farm in Hebo, Oregon. The farm lies sits along the Little Nestucca River and I’ve caught coho and trout on spoons and flys out of the small stretch adjacent to the farm. I only had about an hour to fish last Sunday morning and managed to catch a nice resident cutthroat on a spinner made by my buddy. It was a beautiful fish, a bit skinny which makes me think it may be a post-spawn sea run cutthroat, but may have just been a bigger resident fish. When I arrived at the hole there was a big heron fishing upstream from me and you can see the slash marks on this fish where it had likely escaped a heron’s strike at least a couple of times. The sign is from the fisherman-friendly Inn at Pacific City where we stayed Saturday night.

Beaver Lake Trout, Again

It is that time of year. I am especially privy to select “special events” in local fishing. The Puget Sound pink salmon run is a notoriously popular special event, but besides the obvious I’ve come to look forward to many other public and personal fishing events on the calendar each year. Chum salmon on the Green in November, annual floats down the Upper Yakima in July, October Coho, and various annual/unique trout stockings throughout the region are only a few I can count on and that will be added to over the years.  Always on the calendar is the annual November stocking of Beaver Lake by the Issaquah Hatchery. This year for an unknown reason the hatchery stocked the lake a month early on October 14th and so yesterday I went out to try and land a few of the 2,493 trout, averaging 2lbs each, that they planted.

It was supposed to dry out a bit, but it was cold all day with sporadic squalls keeping us wet. Two of us took the rowboat out and started on the northwestern shore of the lake. I knew from experience that you needed to find these fish and they weren’t scattered like a group that was planted in March or later. They were freshly planted and the water was cold. I saw maybe ten fish surface over the course of the day, which told me that there was not a lot of movement happening on their end of things. We fished the first spot for twenty minutes and then moved on farther south. My buddy caught a 14″ trout and I, with my bait in the water, used my other rod to cast a gold Mepps spinner. I caught a tiny bass. Things died down and we trolled back north along the shore with a wedding ring until we anchored at the wooded bend in the very top northwestern corner of the lake. With bait off the bottom about 2 feet we cast towards shore and landed four more in about an hour’s time. The largest was 2lbs plus some change and none were under a pound.

We launched at 9:30am and were off the water by 4pm. It was a cold day and a bit back-breaking due to the fact that we were two grown men in a tiny rowboat all day, but the fishing was fun and the big trout put up a hell of a fight. One in particular peeled off 30 feet of line and then jumped straight out of the water, far enough way to make my friend think that it was a different fish than the one on the end of my line.

Labor Day Coho & Crab

Labor Day weekend started Saturday for me with a  bi-annual float down the Skykomish River fishing for pink salmon. We put the pontoons in at Sultan and floated down to the Ben Howard take-out. While there were a fair amount of fish in the water, it was nowhere near the abundance we encountered in 2013. I hooked and landed four for the day, one on the centerpin and the others on twitched jigs. The highlight of the day came at the end of the float on the long flat section before the river bend that takes you to Ben Howard. I was casting to some rising fish, long casts from my pontoon with quick twitches on a white 1/4 oz jig when I hooked a fish that immediately jumped out of the water and then took off across the river and behind my pontoon. After a couple of minutes and a couple more runs I landed what must be the first Coho caught this high in the river, this early in the year. It was a beautiful fish and I broke my long-standing rule of never keeping a fish caught in fresh water. The Coho had sea lice and must have just come up the river that day.

On Sunday I went to Kayak Point County Park to have a picnic at a shelter reserved by a friend.  Someone had brought a small boat and we used it all afternoon to drop crab pots in the calm bay off the shore where the shelter was. We had great luck crabbing and were treated to a crab boil, prepared by my longtime fishing partner and friend, Scott. Labor Day weekend was a great time this year and a fitting end to summer here in the Pacific Northwest.

Drift Jigging Fred’s Hump

Springer I helped land at Fred's Hump using a small 2oz white Pt Wilson Dart
Springer I helped land at Fred’s Hump using a small 2oz white Pt Wilson Dart

My family has a home at Bliss Landing which is at the mouth of Desolation Sound in British Columbia and for the past three summers I’ve been allotted the use of a small tin boat with a 25hp engine. From this boat I primarily fish using Pt. Wilson Darts, targeting Chinook salmon (called Springers here in BC) that come into shallow areas chasing bait fish pushed up by the high tide. It has been a frustrating learning curve getting these fish in the boat. The first summer I spent first discovering that there was a spot close to our home that I could access safely in a boat that frequently had mechanical issues and is very small. By the middle of August I think had hooked 6 kings, but not a one made it into the net. I was having troubles with my reel and rod choice and the appropriate amount of drag to be using. Barbless hooks were another challenging variable and I was also hooking these fish by myself in most instances, doing a one man keystone cops impression as I attempted to keep the line tight on the huge salmon now at the surface, while trying to get the net positioned effectively. On one memorable day I had hooked three, losing one that ran then surfaced close to fifty yards off of the back of the boat and another that broke off after I lost the net in the water and tried to host the 25lb fish into the boat by grabbing the 30lb test leader.

I thought about the failures of that day all winter long. Last summer I came prepared, or so I thought. I bought a small arsenal of jigs in all sizes and colors. I spent so much time throwing every color in the rainbow at them that I ignored the color that had worked that day the summer before: white. A long 4oz white needle fish jig with red eyes had hooked every salmon I had got into the summer before. I lacked patience and ignored many of the environmental contributors to great salmon fishing (tides, time of day, bait fish and bird activity). I landed one 14lb salmon towards the end of August in the small boat, but I was trolling and brought it in on an Islander mooching reel and a lucky net job.

This summer I’ve experienced hundreds of more days fishing and even more hours to think about what I was doing wrong. I stocked up on those white darts in a variety of sizes. I’ve had ample practice netting and playing fish in other situations that have practical applications to landing these larger ones. I pay more attention to the environment that I’m fishing in when it is both and not. These things are ingrained in me now, and have allowed me to focus more on technique. My rod and reel of choice was once just my rod and reel of default, but I’ve come to like using it. It’s a 6′ casting Shimano Trevala Jigging rod. The reel is a Shimano Calcutta with 50lb braid as it’s mainline. It’s the shortest rod I use in all my fishing, shorter than my ultralight trout rod, which lends itself well to netting fish by myself without having to worry about breaking it. To the braid I tie a snap swivel and about 4ft of 30lb flurocarbon leader which is then tied to the dart jig. With the drag set right, this reel and line do a great job of tiring a running salmon down.

A fin-clipped Columbia River-bound Chinook caught at Fred's Hump on the white Pt Wilson Dart needle fish
A fin-clipped Columbia River-bound Chinook caught at Fred’s Hump on the white Pt Wilson Dart needle fish

In putting this equipment to work I do what is generally referred to as drift jigging. I’ll motor to about the middle of the bay north of Fred’s Hump and put her in neutral, waiting to see which way the current and wind are gonna push me before I cut the engine. Once I get an idea of the drift I’ll go north or south along the shore depending on the direction I’ll be drifting, so that I can start at the “top” and drift across the small bay where there is a drop off from water averaging 90 ft in the bay to 300ft just outside of it. I try to drift right at the edge of the drop off. I’ll drop my dart to the bottom and then reel up about 11 times to get off the bottom and out of the way of the small rockfish. As I’m dropping the jig I’ll keep my thumb on the spool and every so often I’ll feel a fish bump it on the way down. When this happens I stop feeding line out and give the rod a couple mooches. Twice I’ve hooked salmon this way.

I’ll drift jig until I’ve drifted into water too shallow or deep to productively cover water where I’ve historically hooked fish. I’ve hooked two big salmon drift jigging in water under 40ft deep. This summer I landed three nice Chinook in the tin boat at Fred’s Hump. It’s taken a long time but I feel I’ve finally figured out most of the techniques that are successful and learned to work with most of the variables that might suggest tweaking these techniques.

Barely legal
Barely legal

Lake Takhlakh Early July

I booked a campsite over 4th of July weekend at Lake Takhlakh back in February. I had visited the lake last year late in the summer and we had a day of monsoon rain and a final clearing of the clouds right when we were packed up and leaving. This time around we camped only the second weekend the site was open for the season and it had been a mild winter with little to no rain over the two weeks leading up to the 4th. As soon as we arrived we set up camp and drove down to the launch to get the pontoon and an inflatable kayak in the water so that we could ferry them across the lake to moor at a spot where we had easier access from our site. As soon as we pulled up to the lake we had a visit from the resident Hoodoo host who cryptically asked us if were camping or day tripping and then, without further inquiry, told us to go look at the lake and that “it’s doubled in size since I first saw it” We had no idea what he was referring too so we went down to the lake and saw a smoke plume rising out of the forest very close to the campsite.

View of the Horseshoe Fire on Mt. Adams over Lake Takhlakh.
View of the Horseshoe Fire on Mt. Adams over Lake Takhlakh.

The fire covered 250 acres and caused much of the surrounding area near Lake Taklakh to be restricted forest, closed to public access. We were very lucky to be on the outside edge of this boundary. Here is a view of the fire from the southern face of Mt. Adams.

Smoke plume rising from Horseshoe Fire  as viewed from high on the slopes of Mount Adams  (photo credit:GPNF)
Smoke plume rising from Horseshoe Fire as viewed from high on the slopes of Mount Adams (photo credit:GPNF)

Below is the map of the restricted area released by the forest service. Lake Takhlakh is just beyond the far northern tip of the restricted area, with the fire located in Horseshoe Meadows in the central portion of the map at the base of Mt. Adams.

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The fire was contained and the smoke plume dissipated after only a couple of hours. There were lots of rumors swirling around camp about whether or not we were safe or able to stay.  The camp host did not have any communication with any fire teams or the forest service and was telling people that they should probably go. I did my best to ease Katlin’s worries and we waited until officially hearing that the fire was being contained. It was burning between two lakes, we would have at least a couple hours notice if we did need to leave, and most importantly, we could stay.

On the northern side of the lake looking east.

So with the boats in the water and camp set up we got into what would become our daily routine of cooking quick meals and taking about 3 trips a day out onto the water. The fishing was best mid-morning or evening, with the bite dying with the brightest sun, close to 2pm each day.

The lake had just been stocked the week prior with some 3000+ rainbow trout. Two hundred of these were big, 4lb brood stock fish that I could see rising and porpoising all over the lake. There were also resident Westslope Cutthroat in the lake that I caught a couple times, using small #0 or #1 bronze Mepps spinners with either blue or red dots on the blades. These spinners were my go-to fishing tactic all weekend. Of the many fish that I did catch, most hit the spinners hard and fought well on my ultralight gear.

I did try fly fishing but it was a tough go. There were a few other fly fishermen on the lake who were having luck with the smaller fish (I caught one on a grizzly-hackled black woolly bugger) but no such luck landing the larger brood stockers that seemed to be jumping all around us. I stuck with the spinners for the most part as they seemed to provide the biggest chance of landing a cutthroat.

One of the few Westslope Cutthroat I caught.
One of the few Westslope Cutthroat I caught.

The fishing was great I would say, given the bite was generally on and I didn’t have to resort to using bait. The view from the water is one of the best in the world as far as I’m concerned. There is a trail that leads around the lake and that has numerous bank access spots as well.

Bank fishing from the day-use beach
Bank fishing from the day-use beach

The black flys and bugs were out in full force and a smoky fire, citronella candles, and well-placed DEET applications helped a little. When I return to Takhlakh again this early in the season I’m bringing an upgraded kitchen tent with a netting that can keep the bugs out. There’s no water at Takhlakh and I’m glad that we brought plenty. We were also happy to have a new toy, the Goal Zero Switch 8 and Nomad 7 backpacking solar charger for our devices that worked well in the clear sun up that high.

View of Mount Adams from the road out of Takhlakh
View of Mount Adams from the road out of Takhlakh

Lavender Lake

After a slow trip at Rattlesnake Lake earlier in the week, I decided to check fish stocking reports and go where they had been planted in June. The heat makes any lake trip a gamble, but Lavender’s fish were biting. It took me around two minutes of sitting on my truck bed with a line in the water to hook and land the one in the picture below. Many of the trout were bigger, in the 1-2lb range, with some smaller ones in the mix too. They weren’t biting flies or spinners and only bottom fishing from the middle of the lake produced strikes. The lake is not deep but is full of long grass on the bottom and some pockets of really shallow water in spots where you wouldn’t expect it.

Little Nestucca & Neskowin Rivers

Katlin and I drove to Pacific City, Oregon for Memorial Day and I got a chance to fly fish for the first time in two of the several rivers that empty into the ocean near there. The drive in along winds along Little Nestucca Road and includes several points where the narrow road funnels across one-lane bridge crossings across the river. At each of these bridges on the way in I had a chance to check out some nice pools that had me chomping at the bit as I formulated an easy way to break it to Katlin once we landed at her folks’ house that I was going to be taking my fly gear back there to get a line wet. The moment arrived and with some support from her Dad, I made my exit and headed back up to scout the bridge crossings a bit more and find a good spot to access the river safely. After a couple stops I found some proper access with decent pools and hiked down below a bridge and along the bank for a short while, posting up in a nice tailout that looked promising. I hadn’t fished drys yet, and was really curious about the presence (or not) of fish, so I tied on a nymph and let it swing through the tailout into a nice pool that formed below. The fish were there and what they lacked in size they made up for in abundance. I caught a small cutthroat on nearly every cast, took in the scenery, and then mosied on back to the house for BBQ and time with the family.

On Sunday I was promised that I’d get a shot at fishing the Kellow Farm in Hebo, Oregon. The farm was about a fifteen minute drive from where we were staying and was on a nice stretch of the Neskowin RIver, above the hatchery but still the possibility of seeing a late Spring Chinook lurking in a big hole that formed just down the driveway from the farmhouse. I had caught a big Coho there two Christmas’ ago in that hole. There weren’t any big fish to be seen, so I waded across the river and upstream a bit, with the plan being to work my way down, through the big hole, and beyond to some water that I hadn’t seen before. There was nothing happening at the big hole, but downstream I found some promising water tight to the bank and switched to a dry fly. The dry was instantly hit on a cast tight to the opposite bank and I quickly caught two healthy rainbows which were much bigger than the cutthroat I’d been hooking the day before. Those two were the perhaps the biggest once around on the small part of the river I fished that day. It felt great landing my first two fish on a dry fly and great practice before I take on the Yakima here once my summer break begins.

 

On Monday we headed to the beach before the drive home to Seattle. I’ve always had this juvenile dream of driving on a beach and there’s no better than Tierra Del Mar north of Pacific City.

Twenty at Rattlesnake

I fished at Rattlesnake twice over this past week. On Sunday I fished from the bank, hooking two on a red spinner and struggling when I tried to fly fish due to wind, minimal room for backcasting, and a generally amateurish level of skill at this part in my fly fishing development. My friend and I then drove up to try the middle fork of the Snoqualmie, only to be greeted by the road closure that has much of the best water off limits to everyone except those prepared to hike in (which I may do here in the next couple weeks). Yesterday I headed back to Rattlesnake with my pontoon ready and had a lot of success in both catching fish and honing my fly fishing skill set. I landed about fourteen trout in the first ninety minutes and then committed to staying until I got to twenty, which took about four more hours as I tried different patterns I’d tied up and took some shore breaks for lunch and for watching the show being put on my a couple ospreys who were diving and catching their own lunches. The fly of the day was a woolly bugger with black maribou, grizzly hackle, olive green dubbing on the body, wine-colored thread, and a brass bead. I posted a picture of it below, slowly unraveling and beaten down by the ten trout who had tried to swallow it. I’ve never had to pluck hooks on artificial presentations that were as deep as these buggers got in the fish. They were all barbless and not that small (size 8), but the bigger fish were nearly swallowing these things. I take it as a good sign as Rattlesnake has been a selective gear, catch and release fishery for most of the past year and these bigger planters are starting to feed voraciously on the natural foods available to them in the lake. I hope that as WDFW continues to regulate this lake with these selective gears rules and continues to periodically stock the lake that we’ll see, if they can sustain it for 3-4 years, really big and colored fish roaming about.