I missed my annual visit to my family’s home in Bliss Landing, British Columbia last year as my daughter was born in March and I was enthusiastically adjusting to fatherhood. This year I carved out some time and made plans to spend some days up here with my father and two college friends from Portland. While the fishing has been consistent, the size of the fish we’ve been catching has been disappointing with only two keeper Chinook coming home with us in four days of fishing.
I’ve asked my Dad before if he thinks that are luck is a lack of experience or a lack of fish, and in his mind it may be both. Well, I think that we would both agree that our collective experience is no longer a limiting factor. Everything involved, at least on the technical side of things, is dialed in. Downriggers and their attached lines spend more time in water. Our trolling gear is fine-tuned and tackle mostly limited to what we now know works. There’s very little, and I can say at this point that this is true for all of the fisheries I participate in, “riff-raff” or novelty tackle in the tacklebox. We’ve become better and faster at recovering from and avoiding malfunctions that in previous years stymied or ended the day’s angling. With that said, fishing has been slow and this has been stated by others online who see fishing near us and by the staff of the tackle shops I frequent while up here. Knowing that others are in the same boat does help ease the feeling that is is not us, but them.
We have had some success with our two keepers coming aboard and some very nice wild Coho being caught and released. Our two keeper Chinook were caught at around Sarah Point, but we’ve gotten into hot bites of undersize fish at Sutil Point, Grant Reef, Mystery Reef, and off of Kinghorn Island. Almost all of the fish landed have been on the same flasher/spoon combination that was suggested to us by a young buck at Marine Traders in Powell River. Normally and despite purchasing suggestions from tackle shop employees I’ll wave off these acquisitions as novelty or last-ditch, but in this case I owe credit where credit is due. At least in the case of the spoon he recommended which was a black/green Silver Horde Coho Killer. I used his flasher suggestion as inspiration to choose my own.
Humpback Whales Off Hernando Island
In our run from Sutil Point to Grant Reef on a day before the smoke really came in we spotted some whales approaching us. We were quick to see they were bigger than Orcas and cut the engine as two humpback whales cruised by. The whales circled back to our boat and the following video is the amazing encounter.
My family set down some new roots with the purchase this past spring of a second home on Whidbey. The island is surrounded by multiple marine areas, all with separate and regularly changed in-season regulations and I plan on wetting a line in all of them throughout this summer and hopefully into fall. Without a boat and shore-bound, all of the photographs will be of fishing from the beach using rotator/hoochie combinations, lead jigs, buzz bombs, and big spinners occasionally.
Long distance shot of J-pod orcas. This group included the mother carrying her dead calf. They were spotted in BC waters the next morning.
Headed back to Cooper Lake this summer, just for a day after reading about WDFW throwing some 3-4lb trout in early in June. I rowed into the wind, which brought me to the NW section of the lake. This is shallower water and where the Cooper River feeds into the lake. Hooked up with lots of small fish trolling a woolly bugger and even caught my first Kokanee. It was great fun just letting tons of line out and having them hit about a mile off the back of the pontoon.
This post will document my limited fishing endeavors this summer and fall. With a new addition to our family this past spring, I’ve been understandably called upon to spend more time at home. This means no BC trip this year, but more focus on beach fishing and new additions to my rod and tackle collection as I focus on landing salmon closer to home. Luckily its a pink year and I’ve had some friends pass off some knowledge they’ve gained past summers hooking coho from the beach.
Stunner wild coho from Bush Point in late July
Hazy Point No Point
High tide/evening bite makes for a winning combination
First salmon on a Dick Nite spoon, although I’ve caught a coho that had a Dick Nite and some leader hanging out of its mouth. They’re never my first choice because I’ve never felt confident rigging them.
Hooked only two Coho this Fall season on the Skykomish but I’m happy with that considering I only made two trips out. The first was on October 2nd on the Upper Snohomish and the last this past Sunday farther upstream on the Sky, about a mile downstream of Sultan.
The second one got off nearly as quickly as it was on and the river couldn’t have been more different, running at about 6000cfs and only about a foot of visibility. We still were able to scout some promising new runs and get skunked on the old-reliables, Both my fish were hooked on a 50/50 BC Steel Pen-Tac spoon.
Took the pontoon up to Cooper Lake after having been to the lake in late-June on a scouting mission with my wife. She and I had caught a couple fish on that afternoon and knew I needed to comeback with the boat as the lake is a perfect size (130 acres) for exploring under oar-power.
It was a bit windy so I started my day at the top of the lake, anticipating that I’d want to get the hard rowing done early. I anchored at a few spots and caught stocked trout at each one using bait. I’ve been trying to move away from all bait use in all of my fishing but I’ll lean on it occasionally to avoid getting skunked. I trolled and cast spinners all day and never got a hit, but bait consistently got fish in the net. By 3pm in the afternoon I could see good-size brook trout rising to the gnat hatch that came on in full force in shallower waters. Dry flies would have been a great option had I brought my fly rod. It had taken a tumble out the bed of my truck at about 45mph last weekend and I honestly can’t bring myself to even look at in it’s scratched up, wonky-guide state.
Cooper Lake is beautiful and I can’t say the wind was as much of a problem. Bring an anchor (mine’s 8lbs and barely held) and find one of the numerous coves that helps shelter the wind.
A coordinated long weekend among a tight group of fishing buddies can provide a game that extends long before and after the days you take off from work. The looking-forward-to and looking-back-on makes a trip a worthy endeavor, despite having to go through the motions of aligning all of our schedules and communicating to our loved ones that this was a great idea. We earned it or we would pay for it were the foundations of every conversation with wives and girlfriends. The road you took from the get-go dictated your every angle from that point on.
Jameson Lake is about 200 miles from Seattle, north of Ephrata and can be reached from I-90 or Highway 2. It is in the sagebrush flats region of Washington and quite simply a long lake in the middle of the desert. The 500 acre lake is a split-season and opens the fourth Saturday of April and closes on July 4th until October when it opens again. On it’s east side, Jameson Lake Road extends along the shore and to the top of the upper section or “old lake” which was the smaller body of water that existed before the lake doubled in size. A study for the Foster Creek Conservation District said that “since first surveyed in the mid-1880’s, Jameson Lake has doubled in size and water levels have reportedly continued to rise several feet in the past 15 years, possibly as a result of agricultural practices in the surrounding watershed.”
I talked with an old-timer for a while who had fished the lake most years since 1957. We heard stories about when the lake had been half the size and the fish twice as big. He was carrying four fiberglass rods rigged with silver or bronze spoons that he had used for twenty years. Friday’s limit was caught on silver spoons and today, bronze spoons were the ticket. Modern spoons and their fancy split rings didn’t sit well with him, and he was worried that he’d run out of spoons before he died or couldn’t fish any more. The old-timer referenced a plug in his tackle box that had been fished by his grandfather. I asked him about the chances of losing such an heirloom and he said that if you fished the plug and lost it, you went swimming. I truly respected his choice of technique. No bait and only targeting fish that will hit hard near the surface from a long way off the back of a boat.
His fishing partner had been his across-the-street neighbor for thirty years. Her name was Bonnie and I thought back on the morning when we saw them heading out, politely inquiring if we’d stayed dry through the night’s rain. Bonnie and her husband were great friends and neighbors of the old-timer and his wife. Bonnie’s husband passed from Alzheimer’s and then the old-timer’s did the same a couple years after that. With both of their partners gone and a few years of grieving gone by, the old-timer and Bonnie partnered up. They both liked camping, fishing, baseball and most importantly: one another’s company. They could share the stories of their lost partners, embedded with a context only known by someone who was there when it all happened. Bonnie and the old-timer and the lost husband and wife had been great friends and shared many memories together raising their families as neighbors in a small community. Bonnie and the old-timer knew that together they could watch a baseball game on TV and both agree that it was better than seeing it in person, because you got to see more. They knew they could enjoy the outdoors together and camp and fish and start building their own traditions together.
It was a dense interaction with the old-timer in that short amount of time. Our campsite forced pleasantries in the least as we were situated right behind the facilities and resort office/restaurant/general store. We were situated on two of the tent sites available at Jack’s Resort, with the majority of the small property being reserved for RVs. There are multiple boat launches on the lake and Jack’s will rent you a boat without a motor for $30 a day. We brought our own electric motors but if you wanted to use their gas motors it would cost $60. The boats were leaky but tracked well. I wouldn’t suggest anchoring anywhere you couldn’t see the bottom without sonar. The lake runs up to a 130′ deep at points.
Our group fished a variety of methods, with trolling and casting spinners surprisingly being the most productive. Most fisherman were using bait off the bottom and that turned out to work just fine, but was a bit boring and tough to manage from a non-anchored boat on the lake. All weekend there were periodic squalls of sideways rain and with the cloud cover I stuck to bronze spinners, but silver worked as well once the sun came through the clouds. After a day’s fishing we took a break and headed into the surrounding hills to set up a firing range where we could test out our friend’s arsenal of handguns. Jameson Lake is a great, remote lake that provided consistent fishing this late spring. WDFW looks like they stock it again in October and I would love to head back and try it again once the trout population is allowed the chance to get a little bigger.
With new pontoon in tow I headed out to camp at Potholes State Park and fish the Seep Lakes over the weekend of April 9th-11th. I had fished a few of the lakes two years ago around the same time of year. WDFW describes the lakes as “within the ‘channeled scablands’ of Eastern Washington, that were created by ice age floods during the Pleistocene Epoch.” In less poetic but more descriptive text, they are a group of over 50 lakes that were formed when the Potholes Reservoir was formed and the water starting moving through the water table and arising from the desert south-east of the reservoir.
Not a lot has been written in the way of consistent fishing reports from the lakes. What is known that various of the lakes have been stocked a few times over the last ten years, with some holding big trout and some holding none. It is also known that some of the lakes were poisoned at one point or another over the last five years in order to clear out carp that had found their way in via the irrigation channels connected to the Columbia. It was hard for me to get any clear timeline of what had been poisoned and when. This made it hard to be confident in the only two lakes that we chose to fish during our time there. There was barely any surface activity and depths were scratched out for us via Scott’s sonar, which were helpful to know in colored up water.
We fished Corral on Saturday from mid-morning to after lunchtime. It’s a longer lake with pocketed channels and typical rocky points and walls which is where we concentrated our efforts. I fished a spinner that Scott had made with a black snowman body and wide, heavy gold Colorado blade. Scott found me a drop off on the sonar and marked some fish. I was having oar issues and stubbornly left my motor at home so that I could experience the ride of my new watercraft. I dropped anchor and cast into the deep, let the spinner sink for about 10-15 seconds and slowly reeled. My thought was that the spinner would be reeled in at an angle matching the incline of the bottom towards where I was anchored. I was thinking too much. There was a fair amount of snags to be had and the water clarity was a bit rough. Regardless, I hooked a nice fish close to 9am and then nothing the rest of the day.
After a siesta we stacked the pontoons on my truck and headed to Blythe Lake, which is just a hop over the hill from Corral. Blythe is smaller and more manageable in a pontoon or float tube, had some great structure and scenery, but was a soupy mess from aquatic plants coloring up the water. About an hour before sunset there was an intense gnat hatch along with some emerging insects of some sort that brought on our first real surface activity of the day. What I was convinced was the same fish made it’s way from the boat launch south across the lake, periodically coming up for a thrashing gulp. We got zero bites but were somehow satisfied that at least we knew they were there. The lake had not been poisoned.
Below is a map of the area. The first lake is a few minutes away from Potholes. The Clark-Skamania Flyfishers were a great resource and I would encourage taking at least a couple days and buddies to try and hit as many lakes as you can. I’d like to take a trip there in the fall with some time set aside for hiking in to some of the lakes only accessible by foot.
I stumbled upon Pete Rosko’s “one man show” video collection while searching for some footage of anglers jigging darts for Chinook salmon. It was nice to some of the techniques and rigging that I’d been using up in BC while fishing from a small tin boat and often also by myself. I’d basically figured out what I was doing over hundreds of hours bobbing around in a small tin boat, close to Bliss Landing. Fred’s Hump is a classic spot for me and one that I learned about from a former caretaker at Bliss who was also a guide on the side. I’ve fished this way, with 2 oz. Pt. Wilson darts for years and hooked enough fish to keep me out there as much as I can when I’m not in the big boat trolling. From Pete’s tactic for measuring depth to his choice of lines, leaders, color, how to cover water, etc. It’s a great technique and one that can even be employed without a depth finder..as long as you have a good set of charts, keep an eye on the weather, and fish with the tide changes. “Teacup on a wooden dowel” comes from Pete’s description of a de-hooker design that one can make in a pinch. We don’t get to see a prototype, but the description leaves one to wonder.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There will be days when the fishing is better than one's most optimistic forecast, others when it is far worse. Either is a gain over just staying home.