My first Olympic Peninsula winter steelhead pilgrimage went just about as I’d expected: great scenery, the promise of large native chromers just out of grasp, and consumption of staggering amounts of Wild Turkey at a local bar in Forks, WA.
The OP is experiencing the same bizarro late winter drought we are, so all of the rivers are extremely low, and very clear. Conventional wisdom said to put off the trip — wait a month for more native fish and better water. But circumstances dictated this trip was now or never.
We started the trip Friday morning at the Olympic National Park on the Upper Hoh River. We hiked in on a trail that runs upriver from the park visitor center and it’s the highest access point on the river.
The Hoh has a wide channel, with gravel bars spreading out to either side of the river, and with the low water we had access for miles, up and down the banks. But there wasn’t much holding water. The fish were supposed to be kegged up in the deepest pools, which were few and far between. But we didn’t sniff a bite on this upper section.
That night we got smart, pouring whiskey into a local fly fishing guide until he helped us come up with a plan: Fish the lower Hoh River with black or purple leeches. The water below 101 was much fishier. Bigger water, gun-metal blue glacial silt, and some really great runs for swinging flies on spey rods.
One of our crew hooked a steelhead on a big black string leech, but lost it a foot from the bank. Some plunkers had a nice hatchery fish strung up down by the reach of tide. But day two passed with no fish to hand.
We spent another night in that weird, Twin Peaks-ish town bar and wound up on a guided trip on the middle section of the Hoh for the next morning.
The middle section of the Hoh has great swing water, and a lot of deep boulder-strewn holes for pitching an egg and thingamabobber. But as the title of this post indicated, we didn’t catch any steelhead. Of the seven boats that the Washington Fish & Game official had checked that day, only one had caught a fish in that stretch.
The Olympic Peninsula is a fickle place. While there are a lot of gorgeous places to get skunked on winter steelhead closer to home, something about those rivers will likely call me back to Forks.