In the Pacific Northwest, summer time brings the best of our country to light.  In the fall and winter, most of outdoor sporting happens for those of us who chase salmon, steelhead, and hunt big game. As a guide, the summertime is more or less my “downtime” where I pursue other interests, and wait for the first rains of September to return to the river.

In the last 30 days, I have been reminded once again of how truly incredible the Pacific Northwest is. From the endless opportunities once you step outside, to the incredible men and women that carry on the heritage of outdoor sportsman life, there is much to fill our lives with the things that make us feel, well, full.

Guiding two private rivers on the Olympic Peninsula has been a great privilege to me, and it’s pretty difficult to pull me away from my home waters. As is the case with many of us that are fortunate to have some body of water close to us that we know inside and out. However, with my season slowing for the summer and a well-deserved break from school, I decided I would do a bit of exploring in my own way. My own way meaning I try never to limit myself when it comes to experiences, and I will try new things. I am not a fly fisherwoman, spey fisherwoman, terminal tackle fisherwoman, nor a centerpin fisherwoman. I am a fisher woman and enjoy all parts of fishing, whether I am proficient at the skill or not.

Destination: The Olympic Peninsula Gear/Technique: Single Hand 5 wt, Casting Rod with Spinners

Before I trek to new waters, I decided to start this 30 of summer on my home rivers, the Quinault and Queets rivers. I guide these rivers much of the year and wanted to see what is swimming in the post snow melt flows of the two rivers.

I headed out to the coast with intention to camp along the Quinault River, and launch my 15’ NRS Pontoon raft early in the morning at the top of the Quinault River where the upper and lower section of the river is divided by Quinault Lake. Knowing there was an opportunity for coastal cutthroat, bull trout, and summer steelhead I decided I wanted to cover first few miles of river underneath the lake. Those fish love the turbulent waters that are provided by big boulder gardens, and nearby spawning grounds to approach. I had my friend Max and my boyfriend Kiley with me. All three of us are capable of most types of fishing, but I very much wanted to try my hand at cutthroat on the fly. I am fairly young in my fly fishing journey, and though I could see stoneflies and caddis along the river banks, I was determined to catch a fish on a fly I had tied. Up until that point, that was an olive and black wooly bugger. I also know these cutthroat aren’t exactly picky, and a few casts in earned me my first ever cutthroat on a fly I tied. That was followed up by Kiley with a healthy bull trout he caught on a #4 Rvrfisher spinner. The float was only a few miles, and after our first mile of water we saw many but caught few fish. The clarity of the river was clear and for a hot sun without a cloud in the sky, fishing shadowy banks and boulders is where a few more we hooked and lost.

At the take out, we loaded up and headed 45 minutes north the Queets River. Upon reaching the river, we immediately saw impact that snow melt had to the already glacial river. The color was teal icy blue, the clarity of the river about 8 inches of visibility. This float required more of me on the oars, with the guys fishing out of each end of the raft, we set out to find more summer steelhead and bull trout in the river. Where I launch I quickly come down to the meeting of the Clearwater and Queets Rivers, where the Clearwater held up to its name. The two rivers met and made a perfect seam of murky snow melted water and perfectly clear and warmer water from the other side. As we came upon this, I directed the guys to cast into the clear water seam right along a bank that had structure. I heard a reel sizzle and felt the stance of an angler behind me jolt.  Max had a burning fish on the line, that immediately ran from one bank of the river to the other with too much speed and weight to be a trout species. Starting late June, the Queets River gets a run of summer Chinook Salmon. Chinook Salmon continuously pour into the river with tide changes through November.  They are not to be retained until fall, but this one had a flavor for a purple #4 Rvrfshr. I had a fraybuilt catch and release net with me, and after a few more sprints across river we had the hen in the net. One day, two rivers, multiple species and lots of them.

Destination: Kenai Peninsula, AK Gear/ Technique: Back trolling plugs

On the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, I spent time with and met many incredible people. There is a magic that happens to a person when they sit and hear their elders speak of their fishing battles of the past. As I sat at River Bend Lodge fish camp, I listened to fisherman talk about 40, 50, 60, 70, and even 80-pound Chinook Salmon. These river monsters still swim the Kenai, and people by the hundreds come to get their chance at a fish of a lifetime. As folks returned to their camps at night, I looked down at my phone in perfect daylight and saw it was 11pm. The lack of daylight, while tough to get use to, is exciting. The hard-core angler in me immediately thought of a fishing days that never ends, but fishing from 3am is still enough of the day. We set out to the fishing grounds and in the few moments of a sun up/sun down twilight, we back trolled plugs. Three passes, three fish. A 40lb bruiser of a Chinook, a 45lb blushed hen, and a 65lb blushed hen. Each time the fish rose, I couldn’t believe the quality size, and determination of the fish to drag you and your gear straight down to the river bed. I enjoy letting fish go, and I enjoy eating fish; I respect conservation in any form, and was happy the boat decided to release all large fish so someone else can write about river monsters in the future.

Going back into town, I had to stop off at “Loose Moose” another local favorite spot, and picked up some “Reds Cookies”. In every way, the town comes alive when the Reds come through. Reds cookies, reds drink specials, reds clothing, and a line of red tail lights coming into town for miles. The red season in the Kenai River isn’t what it used to be, but is a run of 240,000 fish- and people that come from everywhere to fish for them.

Destination: Deschutes River, OR Gear/ Technique: Spey/ Fly Fishing

 

Of all of the places I got to fish, this took me out of my comfort zone the most. From the damp, thick, lush green forests I emerged onto a river in a higher desert. Large Canyons, white stage four rapids, basalt rock, snakes, no tidal influence and a river that has hills and drops unlike my sea level home waters. I hoped into the sled of my friend and mentor Tom Larimer, and we embarked after Tom graciously allow the working guides the courtesy of allowing them to get their clients to the waters before we chose our spot.  We rolled up river between canyons and deserts, chose a first stop, and were trotting up deer like trails to ease into our water. Tom has spent some teaching time with me up until this point. One thing I know for sure, is that nothing has connected me more to the water the way spey fishing does. I am hyper aware of the river, its hydraulics, the singing Canyon Wrens that indicate a good bite, the way my line lays in the water, the dance of a fly as it swings into a potential fish. Over the next four days, I spent my energy learning from a craft expert, and re-learning the way I think about fishing. Even after the day has passed, I can recall the exact feel of a steelhead grab. I can even recall the way the line went tight, whether the fish grabbed or plucked my fly, and how I carefully planned my strategy to convert a fish to a full take of the fly. 

All of the excitement of the day had been eclipsed, by literally an eclipse. The morning of this exciting event, we packed special glasses into our fishing packs and speculated as to how the fish would react. Would they be freaked out? Likely. Would the think the evening has approached with the low lighting? Hopefully. As the eclipse started, I was a woman divided. Do I stay and watch, or do I catch an eclipse fish. Do I really have to tell you the answer? I used a sparkly pattern that caught the unique low light well. With my ridiculous glass in my wader pocket, I began to sing across my water. Grab, but no fish. I swing again with another grab. No fish. Over the next 10 minutes of being captivated by a potential player, I noticed my surrounds have changed drastically. Its nearly dusk, the deer came out as if it was a fall evening, the bugs were hoovering over the water, the birds got louder, and there were absolutely no shadows but rather a dusty looking light that I have never seen in my life. The eclipse was at 99% totality, and that 1% of light is the strangest type of light, but the kind that made fish happy.

On the last day, I swung through a piece of water and felt a grab. I dropped the loop of floating line in my hand and it immediately went tight. A quick pop of the rod to my outside shoulder as the fish turned, and the fight was on. Countless hours of improving my cast, Larimer’s philosophy classes, and tripping on basalt rock lead to this fish.  We danced all the way to the bank, and with a flip of the tail he was gone. He did leave me with a memento that I keep on the wall of fame at home.

Destination: Illwaco, OR “The Deep Canyon Challenge

I joined Bret Dickerson’s all-star team sponsored by WestlieFord. The team that you have for tuna fishing can make or break your day and becomes even more important when a trophy is on the line. I was only bitten by the blue water bug a year ago, and this was my first tournament. Joining us was Kiley Brehm, Dave Anderson, John Childs, Zack Shirley, Chad, our camera guy Rene Wagner, and myself. All side pots are entered, the boat outfitted, and we went into the Friday evening watching Captain Bret Dickerson scan weather, fishing reports, and other ocean information to try and make the best call for what fishing grounds we would head to. As a fishing guide, I could immediately identify with the red-eyed decision-making process written all over Bret’s face. I looked over at him on his phone, and noticed 42 awaiting text messages. Clearly other captains were concerned as well. Tuna fishing had been quite slow out of Ilwaco during the week leading up to the tournament, and it was obvious that simply getting enough fish in the boat to be eligible for weigh in could be a struggle.

We woke the next morning, and were among the first to line up for our live bait. We accepted 10 scoops of anchovies from the bait dock, and proceeded to line up alongside 54 other teams on their boats. A countdown by Del Stephens and a flare from the coast guard would signal the beginning of the tournament. We ran 65nms out, found some signs of life, then began trolling to see if we could pick anything up. During the troll, we were marking a mass of tuna about 40-100 ft under the boat but couldn’t get any to pick up a trolled bait. We stopped over a mass of fish and dropped Shimano Butterfly Jigs and Flatfalls downs to the appropriate depth to try and convert a fish- to no avail. Finally, we started letting out live bait. This decision earned me the first albacore on the boat moments after. The rest of the team tossed more live bait out, and before long Chad was hooked up on a Tuna as well.  We continued to convert a few more fish, then decided to move on after a swarm of sharks took our bait before tuna had a chance to see it.

The next few hours would be a grind, picking up a few fish here and there on live bait. The formula that got the decks bloody, was marking fish on the fish finder, long lining a live bait, letting it hang for a few moments, then reeling in an albacore. Each member of the crew capitalized on the few opportunities we had, totaling 10 tuna for our boat. The run back to the docks was about 2 hours for us, as our 5pm tournament deadline approached, we needed to make a game plan. We could try another area that showed some promise, or continue as we had for the day and maybe pick up another fish. The team meeting resulted in running to new grounds. Captain Bret sat atop his custom 40’ boat, and searched for color breaks in the water, for groups of birds, and for floating debris that can sometimes shelter fish. As I stood searching next to him, he suddenly ripped the wheel straight toward a floating log and hollered at the team to cast at it. John Childs tossed a swim bait by it, and then someone hollered, “YELLOWTAIL!” You can’t mistake the bright yellow forked tail of this fish.  Childs tossed a swim bait to it, eliciting a few follows without commitment. A host of lures were pitched at the fish, with follows that never converted to a grab.

Childs walked away, and returned with the largest live anchovy in the bait tank. He carefully tossed it to the log, slid the bait down to the fish, and the line went tight. The team was roaring with excitement as Childs skillfully fought the fish to the boat, where Zach was waiting with the net. Once the fish was onboard, our celebration time was cut short by the urgency of returning to the docks before it was too late to enter our fish. We arrived at the docks and sent our tuna to be weighed. We ended up with a total of 127.6lbs for the five fish we entered (placing us 11th out of 55 teams). Our team was the only entry into the Pelagic side pot. It was the only entry that day, and the only pelagic entry since 2012.

The greatest gift these experiences gave me, is the gift of seeing opportunity everywhere. Next summer, I think I will go to completely different places because we are afforded that opportunity in the Pacific Northwest. Whether it’s the lake 10 mins from my Federal Way home, the desert rivers below me, or even the mountain streams above me, the exploring never has to stop. I hope you give yourself the time, and allow yourself to go outside and get your fill of adventure. Share your experiences with me on Facebook at Bad Ash Fishing or Instagram @badash_pnw