Trip Report: Hoh River
OK, here at last is an Olympic Peninsula report!
Jeff and I met Bob Ball on Monday morning in the Pay & Save café at 6am. Juro and others who’ve taken a meal there know that they serve good hot food and you can often hear the daily chat of the local fishing guides while enjoying your meal. Forks is an old logging town that now lives on the dollars of the sportsfishing and tourist crowds that travel there each year. After an enormous breakfast and multiple cups of coffee (it was sleeting and blowing outside and I think we were all dragging our feet a bit), we climbed into our rig and headed south to the Hoh River.
Bob is a personable flyfishing and gear guide and a leading proponent of Catch & Release regulations for the Peninsula’s wild fish. Both Jeff and I had corresponded with him and were looking forward to “talking shop” on our float.
Bob wasn’t optimistic and didn’t pump up our hopes – he said with dropping temperatures and a rising barometer we probably weren’t looking at a terribly productive day. We reached the Hoh at the Willoby Creek boat launch and were greeted by low colored water (about 18” visability). And was it * cold * - water was 36 degrees.
At this point Purist Flyfishermen might want to stop reading <g> - we talked to Bob and made a choice. We could either sit huddled in the boat motionless for long periods between the few flypools we could effectively fish under these conditions (slower flows, 2-4’ depth, defined seam) or we could fish drift gear to entertain ourselves on the trip. We both chose drift gear – bottom bouncing hugh pink plastic worms with conehead corkies. The upper Hoh is under Selective Regs, which meant no bait, no barbs, and wild fish release.
We put in and drift about 100yds to the first “spot”. I pick up a gear rod. Bob points out where to throw the worm in this little snaggy seam along a downed tree and demonstrates with a quick cast. Not being familiar with this gear, I chuck it out and get it within about three feet of the target. Bob yells “lower your arm” – as I turn back to him to ask him why, a Steelhead grabs the worm and nearly yanks the rod out of my hand! The Fight’s On! I’m reeling and pumping, the steelhead’s run out to the middle of the river and is working his way down and back toward the snag. Bob’s heading the boat toward shore and I manage to convince Mr Steelie that life’s much better upstream of the snag! We land and release about a beautiful 10lb native buck. He was a little camera-shy – Jeff was reaching for my camera when he decided he’d had enough of us and flipped from Bob’s hands back into the river.
I got a little optimistic at this point, which was a mistake. Bob tells us he wants to pull a few plugs through this next run- a deep slot along a brushy bank- because it’s practically unfishable any other way (very snaggy) and they’ve always gotten at least one fish everytime he’s plugged it in the last 3 weeks. OK – we’re convinced and let him at it. - - - - - Nothing, not even a touch!
We driftfish through a number of other runs and come to another primo spot along a steep gravel bank. Too deep and fast to flyfish, we run the driftgear through with no luck. Bob’s convinced there’s a fish there, so he runs the plugs out again and gets a hookup. Jeff grabs the rod out of the holder and fights and lands an 8lb wild hen. Poor fish looked frozen, but revived quickly and sped back into the river.
About an hour later we make it to the best fly run on this float and break out the spey rods and big bright flies. Unreachable by foot traffic and ignored by gear fishermen (too shallow and slow), it’s a great spot to swing a fly. The run is classic – a small creek comes in and creates a seam about 50’ from shore. The run continues for about 50 – 75 yds. The water in the seam is about 2-3’ deep and flowing at that nice slow winter speed. Light tips are all you need in this run – Type III or less. I’m in the head of the pool talking with Bob about flyfishing techniques (he laughingly tells me, “Flyfishermen that can take care of themselves – a Guide’s Dream!”) when we hear Jeff yell. He got the “Grab”, but couldn’t get a hookset! As we were about to leave, Bob demonstrates how to bottom-bounce in shallow water when he gets a grab on the worm and sets the hook! The pink worm comes flying throught the air and he turns to me with wide eyes and said, “Did you see that??” I laugh – the look of someone who’s gotten the Grab is the same for fly and gear fisherman!
That was it for the day – we fished beautiful water but were unable to get a touch on anything – fly or gear. There were certainly fish there, but they were lethargic with the cold water and many of them probably had sore lips from all the weekend pressure(we later heard that a record # of boats – over 150 – had floated the Hoh on Saturday). Bob was great – a fun guide who really knows the river. The wind howled, the rain poured down, the sun shined, and the temperature fluctuated wildly. Bald eagles soared above us and we experienced the wonder of a January trip down a glacial-fed Olympic Peninsula river.
Note for Juro – this river has changed drastically. Both my favorite pool at the forks and the run below the campground are unrecognizable. The water isn’t even fishable from the camp side, but has gotten much better on the other (gravel bar) side, especially the tailout!