Winter-Run Steelhead – Olympic National Park, WA

Winter-Run Steelhead – Olympic National Park, WA

Fish for winter-run steelhead in the pristine waters of Olympic National Park with our good friends at Evergreen Outfitters, February 15-20, 2021.

Winding through towering stands of Douglas Fir and Giant Spruce, the glacier-fed rivers of Washington’s Olympic Penisula boast wild, winter-run steelhead, with some fish pushing into the 15-20 lb range and even larger. 

Only a handful of operations are permitted to guide in Olympic National Park, and fewer still are allowed to float the Park’s famed waters like the Hoh and the Queets. 

Big Sky Anglers’ guide Jared Cady hails from Washington State, and has been guiding winter steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula for more than a decade. Jared’s personable, hard-working, knowledgeable style of guiding has earned him a reputation as one of the region’s top steelhead guides, and his jam-packed calendar shows it. 

It’s rare for Jared to have prime availability during peak season on the Peninsula, but these are unusual times, and this is your opportunity to experience some of the finest fly fishing for winter-run steelhead in the lower 48 states. 

Guide Rates are $550 per day. Lodging packages at Kalaoch Lodge are available starting at $276 per night. Vampire tours available on a first come first serve basis. 

Take advantage of this rare opportunity to experience Olympic Peninsula’s winter-run steelhead on the fly! Get in touch with Jared Cady today for more information!

Jared Cady

Evergreen Outfitters

(253) 302-6828

Finding the Rhythm in the Motherland of Steelhead

Finding the Rhythm in the Motherland of Steelhead

I hadn’t caught a steelhead since 2001. Maybe 2002.  While the memories of the fish are still vivid and clear, what year it was doesn’t really matter anymore.  At the time, I was fishing a two-piece, single hand, Winston IM6 eight weight, swinging flies in Idaho with sink tips in search of migratory fish several hundred miles from the salt.  Black egg-sucking leaches worked just fine, so did a Sparrow nymph. My first and only steelhead was a 26-inch buck from the Salmon River in Idaho.  We all drove beater rigs back then (still do really), crammed with plenty of gear, a few buddies, and a cooler within reaching distance.  This old school, late 80’s, red suburban with tinted windows sticks out in my memory more than the rest.  It belonged to our buddy Brian.  Johnny C, Brian and I camped out for several nights, cooking on a Coleman two burner and by most accounts drinking too many beers.  Spring in the Rockies is cold and inevitably some of those chilly nights would drive us into the local bar searching for warmth and a pool table. There was no need to walk outside for a cigarette back then, one could smoke in the bar while eating a bacon cheeseburger.

Those were also my first years living in West Yellowstone year-round, and we generally made it a practice to get out of town sometime in March and April to get off the volcano. Winter at 6667 feet can be brutal; heading for lower altitude to see some grass for the first time in five months is good for anyone’s state of mind.  I never got into chasing steelhead during October and November. Rather, I’d trade out rods and waders for shot guns and bird dogs.  For me, it was a choice to take a break from the six-month fishing season and walk through the sage brush, wheat stubble and grasslands of the high plains.  I had caught enough fish, rowed countless river miles, stumbled on enough slick Madison cobblestones and by the time early October rolled around, I was ready for change.

On a random day off in late August of ’99, Doug Pope took Brian and I into the Barns Pools for our first Spey lesson.  Pope pulled out this incredibly long Sage flyrod and riffle hitched a #2 Dave’s Hopper to the leader.  He stepped out into the Madison bare footed, stripped off a pile of line and with zero effort shot to the far bank and skated the magnum fly through Number Two. Pope cracked another Old Mil, handed over the rod, found his seat on the picnic table and proceeded to smash a few more beers as we learned the Snap T.  My next Spey lesson was seven or eight years later, with my buddy Kunhert on the Missouri River. Nine-foot rods still suited my needs and I really wasn’t convinced just yet that Spey rods needed to work their way in to my collection of graphite sticks. Matt and Justin taught me a few more things the past few years and as my exposure increased, I’ve slowly gained an understanding of the long rods and confusing fly lines. Presenting the fly is more important than the fly itself, but even then, everyone has a fly they believe in.  That definitely counts for something when you find yourself in the Motherland of Steelhead country, a place they call British Columbia, for the first time, like I did in April of 2019, while hosting a trip for a group of a few of my long-time fishing clients.  I didn’t really have faith in any flies, so I tied on a blue, pink, or red intruder and got to work swinging.

Travel angling is always a bit of a gamble, but that’s really part of the fun of it.  Fishing for only a few days in a distant land means that you must do all you can to take advantage of every single opportunity that comes your way.  Or you must be incredibly lucky.  As we learned, Springtime in BC isn’t for the faint of heart, but the fish are fresh, and some are giants.  You never know how things will fish in the end; you just go with the flow and roll with it. Steelhead themselves are a tough bunch of characters and some anglers will tell you these fish don’t eat flies.  I tend to believe that migratory fish are moody and eat for the love of being picky or ornery; but in the end, all fish eat flies. They also pluck the fly, peck the fly, follow the fly, and sometimes, every so often, they rip the line out of your hand crushing the fly and take off for a 100 plus yard electric stroll back towards the Ocean as your backing screams off the reel. You didn’t even have to set the hook – how wonderful is that?

There is a rhythm that I always try to find whether guiding or fishing on my own. For me, fishing is coveted time, I like to do things a particular way and don’t want to be rushed whatsoever.  Anymore, guiding and fishing are one in the same for me. It’s a process that happens without thinking about it; because thinking about it means that it’s not natural. In the beginning, to find your rhythm, you have to train your mind to relax and create muscle memory.  You must learn to let go.  For me, it starts the night (or weeks before depending on the trip) before a fishing trip or guide trip and begins with preparation of the actual trip. Setting out rods, lines, flies and other essential tackle sets the brain into motion. If you haven’t had the luxury of spending your entire adult life working on the river, this doesn’t come easily, but in due time it will.  Ever notice how guides at the boat ramp have a certain way of doing things to get ready?  Most fishing guides use the exact same process each and every day; disrupting this is a bad idea.  Allow yourself to enjoy this process as you will learn there is a method to the madness. Listening to the river and observing the natural world is the next part, and possibly the most important.  It’s noticing the pair of Kingfishers downstream chattering about and getting lost in the sound of running water. It’s sitting in the gravel next to a river in BC which you’ve never stepped foot in and hoping a 15 pounder is out there waiting to blow your mind. Once I’m in the rhythm, time slows down and I forget about everything else; these days that happens more often during guide trips as I don’t have as much time to fish.  I employed these tactics while in BC and began to decompress from a crazy, busy, stupidly snowy winter in West Yellowstone.

Fortunately, I’ve got a group of fellas who, for some wonderful reason, love to travel with me.  I’ve been guiding one of these guys since 1999.  He’s more of a father figure than a client and he’s introduced me to some of the most loyal anglers a guide can have. On hosted trips it’s not about me, but I do like to influence anglers in a way that has helped make my days on the water more successful. On hosted trips, we fish alongside our anglers and experience the trip as they are.  I find this to be rewarding in so many ways as it builds the bond between myself and anglers whom I’ve guided and never been able to just fish with.  Long time professional fishing guides have a certain amount of fishiness we bring along no matter if we’re rowing the boat or not. It’s a time on the water type of thing that does rub off.  Hosted trips are a combination of guiding, fishing, and taking care of anglers who are traveling with us.  Depending on the group, you must teach them to find their own rhythm; the earlier the better.  This process normally starts off at the airport with a cocktail of some sort to blow off some steam.  Some of these folks might have come off a super stressful month or two of work and letting go just isn’t that easy.  Self-employed business folks never stop working, they…we, can’t turn it off.  One has to learn to turn it off, because, when I do return to the shop after a hiatus, I find that I am much more in tune with everything going on in my business.  Fly fishing, in general, will release the mind. This is so incredibly important, and I must admit that I forget this from time to time.  Steelheading is an even different sort of fly fishing, I believe that you just can’t care about catching one.  You might go all day or even three days without a grab.  Keeping one’s head in the game for when that moment creeps in and something hangs on to your fly long enough for the hook to slip in the corner of it jaws is no easy task. This is where the rhythm of doing things the right way every single time pays off. I found this to be even more important with the Spey rod. On this trip to BC, for the most part, I fished a two handed Burkheimer 8 weight,  lined up with a 600 grain shooting head, twelve feet of T11, and a Hatch 9+ reel. I rarely changed flies and concentrated on presenting the fly with a slow swing across the run. That started out, most of the time anyway, with a smooth but deliberate casting stoke which resulted in the coils of line in my hand shooting across the river and turning the fly over completely. Next, maybe, was a mend to slow things down and drop the fly in the zone and once the line was tight the swing began.  I must say, there is something terribly addictive about this process and the hope one feels when it’s done right is amazing.  Three different days, out of the five, I caught a fish on my last cast. I never once stopped believing that something just might eat my fly. That reminded me of a very serious lesson, one that I have known for years, but forget from time to time – never give up, not once all day long.  Anything can happen at any time in the sporting world.  I am, by no means a steelheader.  However, I am a professional fisherman who observes the natural world and adjusts to the conditions set forth by Mother Nature. Pay attention to these things and you might find yourself on the business end of a giant migratory fish that has never looked an angler in the eyes.

The Pull

The Pull

I moved away from Oregon in 2014, and after a crazy year in southern California, I wound up, thankfully, back in the state that has always felt like home to me – Montana.  When I lived in Oregon, steelhead fishing was a huge part of my life, a true passion, and something that I dedicated countless hours and days to.  From mid-July through late-November, it was nearly all-consuming.  I called it the “summer run”, after the steelhead we fished for, and because of my own manic devotion to the pursuit.  Even in winter we searched for steelhead with our flies.  Twelve months a year.

Towards the end of my time in Oregon, though, I found my passion waning as my friends and I watched steelhead numbers around our region declining more and more every year.  When I moved away from Oregon, I left behind a lot of that passion for steelhead fishing.  Since then, my beloved summer run rivers have seen even poorer returns.  Other things have occupied my life, including a new son and a rejuvenated interest in trout fishing, which I am surrounded by close to home.  The poor returns of steelhead haven’t been enough to motivate me to make the long drive or flight west from MT to steelhead country.

My last steelhead fishing trip was in October 2016.  I got skunked for 4 days, alongside some of the most experienced steelheaders I’ve ever known. 

I caught my last few steelhead in October 2015, on a roadtrip over to Idaho and Washington, nearly four years ago.

Recently, I tied a huge batch of steelhead flies for Joe Moore and his crew of anglers who are travelling to British Columbia this April.  The flies I’ve been tying for them are some the same ones that I used to fish with confidence across the Pacific Northwest when I was so engrossed in the pursuit.  As the dozens stacked up on my tying bench, and the marabou stains on my fingers grew more pronounced, my mind wandered back to the old days.  So many good memories came back, not just of great steelhead hooked and landed or lost, but of time with great friends in fishing camps, freezing or burning up, dehydrated, tired, delirious, but also happy.  I dug through some old photos.  Most of all, I thought about what it feels like to swing one of those big flies through a run, the tension of the line just right, the sink tip curving down and away in that perfect “slow J” shape,  and the sudden, expected-yet-unexpected, heavy pull of a fish that has filled your thoughts and dreams for so long. 

The pull. 

The pull that I haven’t felt in so long.  The pull of a fish, but also the pull of the river, and of the camaraderie and friendships among steelheaders. 

A few dozen flies into the batch, I felt that pull again.  And it felt pretty good.

Take Care and Fish On,

Matt

PS – This essay first appeared on the frontpage at Sexyloops.com where I’m a regular contributor.

BC Steelhead – Fall 2019 Opportunities

BC Steelhead – Fall 2019 Opportunities

Hi folks.  As you may know, I’ve been travelling to BC to steelhead fish and hosting trips for a number of years now.  Without questions, BC is one of my favorite destinations.  A unique place with wild rivers, big wild fish, and wonderful people and accommodations.  I just got word from a couple of lodges about open dates for fall 2019.  This past season was one for the record books, so most of the 2019 dates filled up immediately with return visitors.  That said, there are still some openings available on the Sustut and Bulkley Rivers, but we expect them to fill up fast.  If you have any interest in BC steelhead, feel free to give me a call or shoot me an email, and I’d be happy to discuss these and other opportunities with you.

Justin

jspence@bigskyanglers.com

 

Steelhead Valhalla Lodge – Sustut River
  • October 14-21: Two boats, Six rods, 6 days guided fishing on Sustut. Price $7300 per rod.
Trout Creek Lodge  – Bulkey River
  • Aug 24-Sept 1: One boat, fishing two per boat, 7 guided days fishing, Price $8300 per rod.
  • Oct 20-27: One boat, Three rods, 6 guided days fishing. Price $7100 per rod.
  • Oct 27-Nov2: One boat, Three rods, 6 guided days fishing. Price $7100 per rod.
Sustut River, BC – Steelhead Valhalla Lodge

Sustut River, BC – Steelhead Valhalla Lodge

We are excited to have 3 spots available at Steelhead Valhalla.

Prime Dates. October 2019.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us as these spots will fill up fast.

 


British Columbia is a special place to visit, especially if enjoy swinging a fly for steelhead. The mighty Skeena River and its tributaries provide some of the best opportunities to fish for big, wild steelhead in the world.  For many years my friends and I have been fortunate enough to explore various waters along the Skeena system.  Every year when I board the plane to leave BC for home I find myself already mentally planning my next trip.

Two seasons ago, in October 2016, I had the opportunity to host a group of anglers for a week on the legendary Sustut River, one of the uppermost, and perhaps the most remote of the Skeena tributaries.  After that first trip I knew I had to come back to the Sustut, and made the necessary arrangements for fall of 2017 as soon as I was able.  Now, with two trips under my belt, I’d like nothing more than to make this trip an annual pilgrimage.

To get to the Sustut we depart Smithers, BC on small plane with all of our gear and travel north for about 45 minutes. We land on a remote runway in the middle of the mountains and travel another 30 minutes on quads/four-wheelers to the remote lodge.  Aptly named Steelhead Valhalla, the lodge is located right on the banks of the Sustut River, with an awesome piece of steelhead water running right in front of the cabins.

The river is spectacular and the fish that make it all the way to the Sustut are truly special.  Neither photos nor words do them justice, but I will try my best.   One often thinks of sheer size when they imagine steelhead.  On the Sustut, 10 to 14 pound fish are common, and large males that tip the scales at and above the magical 20 pound mark are hooked and landed every year.  But these fish are special regardless of size.  They are summer run steelhead, and in October, they are full of the strength and vitality gained from multiple years at sea.  In his unmatched work “Steelhead Fly Fishing”, Trey Combs reported that the steelhead of the Sustut are impressively robust regardless of their length and carry more weight than all other races of Skeena steelhead with the exception of the Kispoix River fish.  Untainted by hatchery genetics, Sustut steelhead remain that way to this day.  Their coloration varies from the bright chrome of the sea, to blushed pinks and iridescent teals on some of the hens, to deeper shades of red and olive on big mature bucks.  Each fish is unique, they are all wonderful, and they are all very strong.

We approach the river mainly with wet flies in October, both unweighted and weighted, swung on either light sink tips or floating lines.  Skating or waking dry flies does work on the Sustut as well, and one of our friends found success on the surface this past trip in water right around 40 degrees!  That’s very cold:  too cold for dry fly fishing on the rivers in the States, which makes me think we should be fishing more dries and tiny wets near the surface when we are up north in BC.  As long as the water temps were on a warming trend, as they often are in the mid-afternoon, I think there is always a real chance of success on or near the surface.

One of the real joys of fishing the Sustut is the diversity of water types you can explore over the course of a day.  We fish water ranging from broad, classic runs to slottier, pocket water and canyon sections.  Every run provides a wilderness experience, surrounded by beautiful trees, wild animals, birds, and more.

Even deep in the wilderness, steelhead fishing is still a game where success is not measured in large numbers, and the catching depends on a sound mix of angler skill and probability.  We fish hard each day for as long an as well as we are able, both to take advantage of our time there, and also to honor the steelhead, which deserve our best effort and utmost respect.  Some days you return to the lodge with only stories and memories of a “pull” or two, a lost monster, or a black bear that walked by on the far bank.  On other days everyone celebrates hooking and landing several fish.

What sticks with me most about this trip is the remoteness of this river.  There is something really special about standing in a place few have been.  If anyone wants to experience a true wilderness steelhead river this trip is a must!

And the best part of my experience, hands down has been the lodge staff and guides that make up the Valhalla Lodge team. They are among the best I have seen. As a guide myself, I really value guides that are so passionate about what they do, and also so knowledgeable about the nuances of their home water.  That knowledge often makes the difference in steelhead fishing, because you spend your day concentrating your skill on the runs and buckets that are known to be A+ steelhead water.

I have been thinking and planning our next trip to BC (Fall 2018) since I got on that plane back to the US last month.  I’ve even started a list of the flies and lines I want to be sure I have.  I’m getting excited just writing about it!  If anyone ever wants to visit with us about steelhead fishing, either in BC or the Pacific Northwest, please don’t hesitate to call or email.  We are happy to do all we can to get you on the right track.

All the best,

Justin