OPST had our fly designer, Jonathan Farmer, come down from Alaska for a visit. Although we had done business with him for a couple of years, none of us at OPST had ever met him. At the airport I shook hands with Jon and heard that booming, affable voice in person. He had the same infectious sense of humor in person, and right away I could tell it was going to be a great trip. We wasted little time in getting up to the Bainbridge ferry. It was Jon's first time on a ferry and he enjoyed a beautiful view of Seattle as we departed towards Bainbridge Island. A few hours later we were in Forks, where Jon unpacked his impressive display of flies tied for this trip. Squid patterns, intruders, rabbit strip flies in blacks, purples, whites, lavenders and pinks filled his boxes—Jon was well-prepared for fishing the Olympic Peninsula. We watched the Olympics for a little while and then headed to bed. For our first day I had planned a float trip on the Sol Duc River. We did the lower float, from "Rayonier" down to Leyendecker Road, at the confluence of the Bogachiel and Sol Duc Rivers, which come together to form the Quillayute River.
As we inflated our one-man frameless pontoon boats, we discussed fly selection. The Sol Duc was pretty clear but it still had just a faint bit of color. It was really anybody's guess which color to use. After all, a lot of color selection is superstition and personal preference. John was feeling blue. I chose a purple and pink craft fur and hackle fly that Jon had tied. The Sol Duc was Jon's first introduction to the Olympic Peninsula, and it greeted him with steep banks, grass and brush and very little in the way of classic runs. Like anybody who fishes the Sol Duc, Jon did well not to fall in. Thankfully, I did the same. The Sol Duc is notorious for steep drops and boulder fields that can test an experienced oarsman and kill a careless or novice one. This float definitely presented us with some rapids that required our utmost attention. We were glad that we were in inflatables, although we did see several anglers floating the river in hard-bottomed boats. We went through several large standing waves on this float, one of which got Jon pretty wet.
Much of the fishing on the Duc centers around boulders, and there are so many in the river it would be impossible to cover even a fraction of them. In the clear water the boulders become even more important. We knew we had to penetrate the water column, but we didn't want to sink so deep that we would repeatedly get hung up. For this reason, we were fishing with our 132 and 168 grain Run sink tips, which sink at 5-6 inches per second. Jon was fishing his 11'3" Redington Prospector 7 weight with a 375 grain Commando Head.I was fishing my 11' 7 weight Red Truck Diesel switch with a 350 grain Commando Head. As always, we were fishing size 2 and 3 Swing Hooks. The Sol Duc is "varsity water". Do not come here if you are not confident in your wading and casting abilities. In most runs, your every step is contested by slick rocks, drop-offs and overhanging trees. The fish do not care if you can't cast. You just have to find a way. Switch rods, or even single handers, are highly recommended on this river, as a longer rod will not be able to find the holes amongst the trees that allow you to make a fishable cast. We fished hard on the Sol Duc, but by the time we floated under the sketchy chute between bridge pylons under Mora Road, we had nothing to show for our efforts.
We regrouped that night, and met up with James Iwase and James Millard, who had stayed behind in Seattle to man the Emerald Water Anglers Spey Day on the Skykomish River. The next day, we decided to float the middle Hoh River. We would use a put-in and take-out that are inaccessible to drift boats and rafts. Our put-in required us hauling our boats roughly two hundred yards, off a steep bank and into a side channel. It took us a good while to inflate our boats, carry them through the forest, then haul all of our gear, and get everything off the drop off into the side channel.
When we were finally ready to go, we pulled over to a fishable run right away. This run made a hard hook to the left, with a beautiful break right at the top. Fast and slow water were concentrated very close together, which we believed would allow us to put our flies right in the traveling lane- right in the fish's face. But the first run produced nothing. We floated by one of the truly impressive log jams that are common on the Hoh. Rowing skills and life jackets are mandatory on all Olympic Peninsula Rivers, as a wide turn or a careless few seconds of rowing could be the end of you if you go under one of these jams. I fished a white, lavender and pink intruder. Jon fished a white and pink single-stage intruder with a bear on the trailing hook—dirty for sure.
Around mid day, James and Jon were fishing an interesting section of the Hoh that features a bedrock bottom, with numerous depressions or "scallops". The water on the Hoh this day looked absolutely perfect, and you could just see the shallower parts of this run about two feet below the surface. Again, Jon selected a 132 grain Run tip so as not to snag up on the shallower patches of this extremely fishy run. The deeper spots ran 6 feet or so. I rowed across and started swinging a high bank that looked really fishy. Jon followed James through the run on the other side. About halfway down the run, Jon yelled out, "fish on!" I hurriedly rowed back to the other side and started filming Jon, hoping to catch a jump or some other excitement on film. Jon held his ground, and the fish stubbornly resisted. They battled back and forth for a number of minutes until Jon was able to tail the fish, a bright hen, scarred up from a net or a seal. She ran about 8 pounds. Jon was thrilled. He understood that from then on, his trip was a success. He had caught an Olympic Peninsula steelhead. We hung out with some Skagit regulars, Caleb Hanna and Taben Mellor that night at our hotel, and we made plans to fish the lower Hoh River the next day.