Scenic skunking on the Hoh River for winter steelhead

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.

Scenic Skunking on the Hoh River

Scenic Skunking on the Hoh River

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.

Scenic Skunking on the Hoh 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.

Scenic Skunking on the Hoh River

Scenic Skunking on the Hoh River

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.

Scenic Skunking on the Hoh River

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.


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6 Responses to Scenic skunking on the Hoh River for winter steelhead

  1. Jim says:

    Love the last shot, went backpacking there last summer, awesome place!

  2. Rob Lewis says:

    Thats all right Matt! There is always the upper Chetco next month!


  3. David Jensen says:

    I have fished the Hoh, Sol Duc, and Bogachiel many times. Sometimes great fishing, sometimes not. I typically go in March or April when the weather is better, and there is less of a chance of the rivers being blown out by storms (not an issue this year). Because it is so damn far to trailer a boat, I recommend trying to fish 3 days to justify the long drive. For those looking for a guide, I recommend Chris Olsen, 896-0439, who has guided there for probably 40 years. He lives on the McKenzie, but is in Forks every Winter.

  4. Mark Sword says:

    Caught my first Steelhead on the Hoh back in 1980, lived in Forks at the time and fished the Hoh and the Sol Duc frequently. The photos bring back some wonderful memories of that magical place.

  5. James Waggoner says:

    Did a first time trip on Jan. 1, aside from tying into a couple fish the first 1/2 hour, we got skunked the three days we were there. Have another trip planned for the first week in March, hopefully the water conditions improve. Looking for one of those O.P. native monsters!

  6. steven larson says:

    The Hoh is a special place and yes you can fish the place for a week , hook into or miss a fish and that is all you get but you will come back again.

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