For Martin Luther King Jr. day, I had the day off and I continued my fishing trip with a float with skilled photographer Justin Bailie. Our chosen river was the Calawah, which we chose because water levels looked good (as they did everywhere), and because I had never fished this river before. Which is strange, because after fishing the Peninsula for almost ten years you would have thought I would have fished it at least once. Part of the reason I never fished it was because I heard it was dangerous. And indeed the upper stretches are—most notably the "Devil's Half Mile" which is reportedly extremely dangerous and requires local knowledge of the exact route to take. I had been reassured, however, that the lower float on the Calawah, from Highway 101 down to the Bogchiel, was manageable. So we set out, I in my Outcast Fishcat Scout and Justin and Frank in their Dave Scadden two man raft. My Fishcat Scout is an incredible boat and has to be my most prized possession. Quick, maneuverable, light enough to lift up and over steep banks and logjams if necessary, this boat is a real game changer. It also fits easily in the back of my Subaru with room to spare. Actually, two of them will easily fit.
Before long, we came to the first drop—several feet of elevation in a tumbling, boulder-filled rapid where the river split in two. We weren't sure whether to do left or right. I was inclined to go right but Justin disagreed, so we went left. It turned out to be ok, although I did hit a boulder near the bottom that I luckily skidded right over. We would go over roughly half a dozen such drops throughout the course of the float. None of them were particularly gnarly, and they were doable for us as first timers. However, it must be said that if you are a novice boater, you should not attempt this float. It would be possible to get into real trouble on this float if you hit a boulder and got tipped over. We had to pay close attention to our route and pick our way between the boulders. There weren't too many really big standing waves or "holes", but there were boulders everywhere that could have easily tipped us. I also would strongly advise against attempting this float in a hard-bottomed boat. I am sure some locals with long experience will do it, but it looked extremely dangerous to me and I would never attempt it at any flow. The channels are just too small and boulders are too numerous.
The Calawah looked identical to the Sol Duc. If you had blindfolded me and put me on the river I would have bet my life that I was on the Sol Duc. That being the case, this is not an easy river to fish; it's not a river well-suited to full-length two handed rods. There are very few classic gravel bars, and a lot of woody high banks. Almost every step is contested by slippery boulders and wader-filling depressions. Sure enough, I took water over my waders in the first run we fished. This is most definitely a switch rod river. I fished my 11 foot 7-weight switch rod, a 350 grain Commando Head and a 168 Grain Commando Tip, S8/9. The heavy sink tip cut right through the soft current on the Calawah's high banks, and had my fly hovering seductively over the numerous boulders. Because of the perfect speed and preponderance of boulders in the Calawah, I felt more confident swinging a fly in this river than I have in months. For most of the day I fished a red intruder tied by Jonathan Farmer. After I lost confidence in that fly, I switched to a pink and purple craft fur and marabou fly, also tied by Jonathan. I placed my confidence in a size 3 OPST Swing Hook.
Floating over the many boulders of the Calawah, we expected to see more fish that we did. We saw four, with all of them resting in tailouts. Of course, I am sure we missed a bunch more that were hiding in less visible spots. We did expect to see more, however, and we know that in a few weeks and months, more fish will be entering the Calawah. We floated out of the Calawah and mostly just passed over the little stretch of Bogachiel we floated, between the hatchery and Wilson's Road. There's not much there for the swing fisherman. Even though no fish were caught, we had a great time, and Justin took some photos which I am excited to see. I will be back, with a little more knowledge of this intimate river. But I won't come alone. And I will be wearing a life jacket.