January Throw Down

Dave Pinczkowski, early devotee of Skagit, fishing guide, practicioner of the "crayfish hop," die-hard fan of The Allman Brothers Band and midwest legend, made his now annual trip out west. Dave came out in 2018 and experienced very high water, but was able to hook four fish on the Sol Duc. He lost them all, proving that I'm not the only one who loses fish sometimes. OPST has had a close connection with Dave, now an OPST "ambassador," for years, and James Millard, James Iwase and I made plans to fish with him on the Skagit for a few days, followed by a few days on the OP. Dave's plan was to fish with us on the Skagit, and then stay with his OP guide friend Ryan Celusta for the remainder of his trip on the OP. Also joining us would be Caleb Hanna, a 34 year old Skagit regular and OPST ambassador (you get a special pin and trophy, tattoo optional) who has more days experience than most fishermen twice his age. That is no exaggeration. His landed fish counts for one month on the early season of the Skagit alone often exceed the lifetime total of many serious steelheaders his age. The reason for that is fairly simple: he structures his year so as to not work at all during the winter. Everybody was pumped for this OPST hoedown/throwdown. At leas that's what they told us. They might have just been there for the free food. We met Caleb in the evening at our cabin, and began sipping on some beverages. Flies were tied, and we made plans to shoot some tying videos later in the week. As Val explained in the masterpiece "Tremors," we like to plan ahead—that way we don't have to do anything right now. Dave wouldn't get in until around midnight, if he got in at all, so we all stayed up in anticipation of reconnecting with or meeting this character for the first time. We were also looking forward to sharing some new prototype lines with both Caleb and Dave.

Dave eventually snaked his way through a small sea of cabins and trailers to our three bedroom cabin. He arrived in typical fashion—jovial, pysched to be in steelhead country, entertaining us with his signature Upper Midwest lingo, and wearing an Allman Brothers T shirt. Dave joined in the festivities, using a measuring cup for his water and beverages due to a lack of glasses in the cabin. I turned in at around 1, having a bit of anxiety as usual about getting up, inflating my boat, putting on waders, etc. But the party went on until 4. James Millard's booming voice, honestly a bit excessive even under normal circumstances (sorry James but it's true), reached decibel levels approaching a Texas high school football game.

Dave likes to have breakfast, so James Iwase showed up at around 7:50 to caravan a couple of us to breakfast. A couple of us were hurting a little bit and didn't make it to breakfast until 9, not naming names... So, after shuttling our rigs down to the takeout, we didn't make it onto the water until around 11. Nice. We're diehards, you guys. Caleb assured us that the bite had been strongest in the afternoon, so we weren't going to lose any sleep over our late departure. We would lose sleep over other things, like drinking. James Iwase and I embarked in our little one woman boats, and Caleb, Dave and James Millard set out in James Iwase's three woman raft. The first run was right below the put-in. Classic, long, easy to read, easy to fish and wade, this run is a dream. Dave went through first without touching a fish. James Iwase started way down below him. Nobody got any bites. Dave, like any true steelheader, was stoked just to be out fishing good water.

We spent the rest of the day fishing excellent runs. Most of the runs on this float are pretty easy to read, but there are some that aren't quite as obvious. As is often the case on big water, seemingly small features are in fact quite significant. Everybody on this float was fishing either a production Commando Head or a prototype, which consisted of various conformations of intermediates... stay tuned for those. I really didn't make a note of exactly which line everybody was using on which rod. I have better things to do, like watch crows and take slow-mo video of water going over rocks, and peel oranges. If you're wondering what Commando Head might work on your rod, please email James Millard at info@opskagit.com. He is more than happy to help you out, which he will gladly do even if he is fishing, or on his way to fishing thanks to the fancy bluetooth speaker system on his Sherman tank-sized truck. But the important thing is that both Dave and Caleb, serious steelheaders, choose to fish Commando Heads. We know the product is great, but the real sign that they are exceptional is that fishermen like them choose to use Commando Heads.

I'm not sure how the top of the loop looked.

I fished a little bit, but my main focus was to get footage of Caleb and Dave. Fishing is fun in the moment, but coming back from a week-long trip and having to explain just what exactly I accomplished can be a little bit awkward. Dave, an excellent caster, struggled with one of the premiere rods in the industry. Opinions varied on whether the damn thing was underlined of overlined. The rod is so stiff it's hard to tell. I didn't like it much better. Well, long story short we didn't get any fish that day, except Dave, who caught a dink little bull trout. Like any respectable equal opportunity steelheader, he pretended to be somewhat excited by it. We stayed on the water until we could see stars, and we hit Annie's Pizza in Concrete, which was VERY fortunately open until 9. We rolled in around 8:45 and had some very good pizza, apparently voted best in the valley. Dave and I chose chicken bacon ranch, Dave's half with no onions. We didn't make it to the cabin until around 9:30.

The fact that this bottle survived Night One is surprising.

We returned to the cabin for another night of revelry and fly tying. We shot a couple of fly tying videos, one of Dave and one of Caleb. Dave tied his Carpet Spider, which is, as usual, comprised almost entirely of craft fur, and Caleb tied a more classic version of an intruder than most people see these days. Be on the lookout for both of those videos, as I'm pretty sure I was in focus for at least half the time.

Carpet Spiders. Video coming soon. Notice Dave's measuring cup cocktail.

Night Two was a little more mellow than Night One, which isn't saying all that much. James Iwase had to bail to take care of some family matters, which meant that James Millard could move off the couch. The next day we decided to do a lower float on the Skagit, one that would close on February 1st, today. Speaking of Skagit closures, you may have heard that they are opening the Skagit from Feb 1 to April 30th, from the Concrete bridge upstream to the bridge at Marblemount, and including the Sauk River. You didn't hear it from us. It's such welcome news though, and it should really take a lot of pressure off those poor OP fish. This was a shorter float, so we took our time. Kind of the same deal as the day before. Nice water, easy to read, no fish. On the last run of the day we were treated to an exceptional sunset.

Even though I didn't fish much, the float was worthwhile for me from a fishing standpoint. In a stretch of water I usually float by, thinking it's dead, Caleb showed me a beautiful, very subtle little river right break. It's pretty hard to fish, but worth it. I hope to catch a fish in this piece some time during this extended season. Oh crap, I'm just realizing I actually can't because this spot is below where the river will be open. Damnit!

At least I got to fish it once.
Caleb swinging the last run of the day.
Dave just above the take out.

The next day we slept in, packed up our stuff, cleared out of the cabin and headed to the OP. I drove down to the Kingston ferry after stopping at Burger King for a double whopper with cheese and fries. It's a heavy-hitting burger that I unfortunately didn't finish, as I didn't really have my appetite. By the time we all got to Forks and checked in at Olympic Suites, it was too late to fish. We met Dave and his buddy Ryan Celusta at Plaza Jalisco for dinner. They informed us that they were out of carne asada as well as shrimp. This put a real damper on my plans to order the Plaza Jalisco special, which features both of those items. I ended up ordering chicken flautas after much deliberation. They were pretty good. Dave and Ryan informed us that they had caught a few fish on the Sol Duc that day, but they were all nymphing. Now normally Dave wouldn't nymph, and Ryan would rather gear fish than nymph, but they thought they might as well do something while floating downstream. The Duc was running pretty clear by this point, making reaching fish with a swung fly difficult, so we agreed we would float a middle stretch on the Hoh River. After a breakfast at The In Place for Homestyle Cooking, at which several of us had the customary chicken fried steak, we headed to Morgan's Crossing. Morgan's is sort of like, shall we say, the Times Square, the Fisherman's Wharf, of the Hoh River, maybe of all of the Forks Rivers. Everybody knows it. If anybody ever cues you in to a "hot tip" on where to fish, and they tell you about Morgan's, their credibility is shot. Not that it's a bad run. It's a very nice, very long run that's worth getting to first. There's also water way below it that you can walk to. It's just that everybody and their second cousin knows about it. That's where we wanted to put in, but as we pulled in through the scenic rain forest and alder bottom, we saw a ghastly number of trucks lined up. Which was surprising for a Monday. It really wasn't worth doing this float, so we headed upstream.

I decided to fish a run early in the day, so I pulled in behind Dave. I think I started a little higher than he did, towards the very top of a tailout above where the river split into two channels. On my first or second cast I got two aggressive tugs, then nothing. It was enough to wake me up, for sure, but I really couldn't tell if it was a steelhead or not. It really didn't feel that big, but it wasn't tiny. It could have easily been a bull trout. Let's say it was a bull trout. Whatever it was it didn't come back. Oh well. I started filming various things: scenic shots, floating shots, but mostly Caleb casting very well. I was making up a bit for slacking on the Skagit.

Caleb starting high in a run.

Soon we came to a really nice looking high bank that provided an excellent demonstration of the utility of the Commando Head. Most of us had our go at this bank, including Ryan. Ryan is a highly experienced guide in both Washington and Alaska, and a super friendly, humble guy. He's also a really excellent caster. It was a joy watching him work this bank and throw effective casts with beautiful loops. I didn't know beforehand that Ryan uses Commando Heads. Again, it's nice to know that a guy who gets to see very line in the industry in his line of work fishes our lines. He agreed to let me film him, so you will be seeing some of his excellent casting soon.

This is what Commando Heads were made for!

As we got towards the end of the float, we had to skip some water, most notably a river right run with a long line of bedrock scallops on river right. I was sorry to miss that one. But a little farther down and around a bend, Dave and Ryan got to fish what I consider to be perhaps the best piece of OP water that I currently know of. And sure enough, as I pulled in way downstream, I heard a yell. Ryan was hooked up. I awkwardly stumbled upstream with my ridiculously heavy boots and made a mental note of what mediocre shape I am in. I was literally thirty pounds lighter once upon a time when I fished out here. Anyways, Ryan landed a very nice fish that I would put at around 13 pounds. Maybe 12. The fish had some scarring on it. Dave later said it was kind of beat up, but I thought it was a very nice fish.

Ryan Celusta Hooked up!
This spot really ought to produce.

So, the float had been a success. We had hoped for a little more action, but you can almost always say that. We finished the float in the dark again and eventually got back into Forks and made our way to Pacific Pizza, where most of us got grinders and I got beef ravioli, which wasn't quite as good as some other things I've had on their menu. We were fortunate to return to the room and find Road House playing on TV. Perhaps a severely underrated movie starting Patrick Swayze, Road House is an almost constant stream of ridiculous bar fights, instigated for questionable strategic aims by completely cliche and unrealistic villains. It would be hard to imagine a more perfect fishing movie.

Day 2 on the Hoh

The next day we had breakfast again, but my body told me I really couldn't take CFS two days in a row. I got a single egg over hard (I really should ask for medium-hard) and sausage and felt like a grandpa. The upper Hoh was getting a little clear at this point, so we decided to fish the lower Hoh, which, thanks to several clay banks (it's the clay that give it most of its color, not the glaciers), is almost never really clear even during very dry spells. Gray Struznik, ace swing guide and super nice guy, joined us on this float.

There's plenty of excellent swing water on this stretch, and the six of us really frothed the water fishing it. There was one net in the water that we saw, although apparently they were supposed to be out of the water at 10am. Eventually we got down into one of those high banks where Commando Heads really come in handy. I took some photos of Dave and showed yet again that Commando heads can be cast with nice tight loops.

James Millard. Answers your emails. Ties great flies. Keeps me up at night.

I forgot to mention that at the start of the float, Caleb and I had both thought the agreed put-in was Allen Bar. We showed up there to find no Ryan. Well, it happened at the take-out too. We both thought we were supposed to be going to Barlow's, but as we floated by G&L we saw Ryan's truck backed up into the river. We would have been pretty screwed had we floated in front of him. Neither of us was under the influence at either time, but this really doesn't say good things about our attention spans.

Last run of the day.

We took out a little bit earlier on this night, as we had paid $30 for a shuttle and our rigs were already waiting for us. We got back to the room and shot a couple tying videos, one from Dave and one with Caleb. Caleb tied his "One Step Two Step," a simple and graceful fly, and Dave tied another craft fur creation, his version of the deadly Suskwa Poacher. These tying videos will be online soon, as soon as I clear all this other crap off my desk.

Caleb's One Step Two Step
Dave's Craft Fur Suskwa Poacher

That concluded our trip, but Dave and Ryan continued to fish for a few more days. Yesterday Dave messaged me excitedly with a photo of a steelhead! Ryan also caught a fish, and Dave caught a couple more nice bull trout. We were all really happy to hear that Dave had broken his OP losing streak. He fished hard, and very well, and he deserved to get a fish.

The streak is over!
Ryan Celusta. I think he'd be a great guide.

So, that about sums up this blog post. I returned so Seattle where I saw one of the best sunsets of my life over Green Lake. I also satisfied a burning craving by going to Arashi Ramen in Southcenter. I recommend the Arashi Ramen with thick noodles. Best ramen I've ever had. Thanks for reading. I hope this post has been somewhat more worthwhile than filing TPS reports.

-Ben Paull

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