Last week I left town and headed for Forks, Washington. I have been wanted to put together a hosted trip on the Olympic Peninsula for years, and finally had the opportunity make it happen this year. After stressing about water conditions and weather for weeks beforehand, I arrived in Forks to nearly ideal river conditions for each of the streams within striking distance.
We arrived at Blue Heron Lodge on the Calawah River on Sunday evening and were quickly impressed by the comfort level of our lodging. Being a short drive from the town of Forks, the lodge has a feeling a being secluded. And when you step inside, you’re immediately impressed by the high ceilings and comfortable furniture.
The first night of a steelhead trip always has the same feel to it. It’s an odd optimism, that you’d think our experience on the water would have snuffed out of us years ago. And yet, here we are, sorting through flies, wondering what colors will entice the fish that’s been on your mind for months. Then we’re telling fishing stories, listening to others, and remembering all the times you were out on the water, grabless, and then all the sudden, the line finally came tight. Some sleep light in pure anticipation, others pass out hard from the long commute getting from A to B.
We had four people in our group including myself and we all fished the lower Hoh river on the first day of our trip. I remember pulling up to that first gravel bar and seeing the far bank colored glacial teal, from clay slowing falling in chunks into the river. We launched the boat and fished a run just downstream from the put in. Immediately I liked the way the Hoh set up for swinging. It had the depth, color, speed, and structure that screamed steelhead. Each bend of the river seemed to unveil more and more epic pieces of water to pick through. If I was solo, I would have been overwhelmed. But fishing with Dax Messett, who's been guiding up there for ten years, I felt a certain confidence in each run I stepped into.
After going fishless the first day, I returned to the lodge just hoping that the other boat in our group had encountered a fish. I came back and saw the big smile on Rick’s face and knew something must have happened out there. He had landed two totally chrome steelhead that day, connecting with both the fish that grabbed his fly. We ate dinner and were all smiles, being treated to some truly excellent dinner and desert.
The second day we headed for the Sol Duc river. After fishing the turbid, teal blue water on the Lower Hoh the previous day, the gin clear water of the Sol Duc called for a slight change in tactics. I switched to a heavier fly and sink tip, hoping to drop into the deeper, juicy slots in a hurry. Of all the runs I've fished during the trip, my favorite was on the Sol Duc. There's a heart pounding feeling watching your Skagit head creep across really slow, deep, boulder strewn water.
For the third and final day, we set out for the lower stretch of the Bogachiel. This was the only day of our trip where all four of us got to fish the same stretch of water. To me, the Bogachiel seemed to offer a similar feel to both the lower Hoh and Sol Duc. It had both the vast, broad swing runs and smaller pinch points and buckets with structure. With heavy rains on our first two days of fishing, the blue bird skies on the Bogachiel for our final day was certainly welcome. The river was dropping and green which gave us the sense that something epic could happen on any cast or in any run.
For me, this was not the trip where the line came tight. I've been at this game long enough now where that doesn't phase me all that much. I was just happy to be in such an incredible place, with a great group of people, fishing water that was new and interesting to me. As I swing flies each year, I'm coming to a genuine appreciation of the process of swinging good water, rather than endlessly chasing that grip and grin result that we often search for.
In closing, I'd like to thank our guides Dax Messett and Jason Rolfe. Each of them were really exceptional guides and enjoyable to spend a day on the water with. And a special thanks go to Dax for organizing the lodging and meals for our group. Without him this trip would not have been possible. The food and accommodations for our trip were nothing short of amazing. Dax runs an great program up on the OP as well as plenty of other venues throughout steelhead country.
- words and images by Marcus Mattioli
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