15 Years Coming

Posted on November 20, 2016

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At least 15 years ago, sitting around the fire late at night, Chris Owens, then of AEG, and lately of the Animal Planet show Fish or Die mentioned that at the way home he was checking out this little creek that he had heard had bull trout in it. Bull trout to me are like the Great White Buffalo, rare and powerful totems, a quest unto themselves rather than a  goal, so I filed this away into my fragmented and beer-soaked hard drive as a step on the journey.

My first attempts to find this creek, a tributary to a famed trout water, I went with a fishing partner who insisted on driving and using doo-hickey navigation. Despite the fact that I had looked at an actual map we argued relentlessly over his doo-hickey, spent a long a fruitless day on powerline roads, hiking trails, and generally well, lost and on the wrong side of the river, before he had to visit the woods where he blew out a knew while squatting, fell over into his own waste, and we decided (thankfully) to call it a day.

I’d looked at several other maps since then trying to plan an after-work trip with friends that has yet to materialize and just knew where to go when my friend Mauro and I decided to quest off for the main river. Mauro also uses doo-hickey navigation, but he works for Google and created the EZFishn application, so my faith in him runs somewhat deeper. Plus, he’s made it this far with both knees intact and doesn’t smell like feces. We weren’t actually looking for this creek, but since the exit was eponymously named for the creek, I figured we would naturally end up there (this is compounded by the fact that the only thing Google Maps doesn’t include are exit numbers). Turns out this was a red herring and we were still on the wrong side of the river, but through previous misadventures I knew the water and we still had a productive day. I didn’t really bring up the creek because normally I like to pre-scout the water before hauling somebody else along, as scouting new water takes a lot of time and energy and not all fishermen appreciate the journey as much as the destination, especially with as little time as we get to fish .

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Speaking of running out time, I decided it was time to finally make it to the creek, explained to Mauro my true goal, and off we went. Of course, now that I had fessed up, we drove right to it. It was an early Fall day, with blue skies, crimson maples, and golden birches. The creek, however, was down to jumping-across width. No surprise really given that you couldn’t wet a sponge in the Raging River when I drove across it that morning – not without draining the watershed anyway, and the South Fork of the Snoqualmie wouldn’t hold two skips of a stone unless you did them straight down stream. I ran down the bed and found a hover of smolts in a pool not larger than a bathtub. The pool was marked as a redd with a ribbon on a branch above it, and since there are no anadromous fish here, I figured them for bull trout. As I was standing there a dozen wild turkeys crossed below us before we geared up and hit the main stem. While the creek was a thread now, you could see from the multiple deep channels that when the water is flowing that like many of the steep mountain streams around here, it could be formidable in the right season.

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You don’t build a bridge like that over a creek like this unless it gets much bigger during floods.

This was only my second time out this year and I had bought a little underwater point-and-shoot camera to get in-water pictures should I ever again hook a trout.  You know one of those little cameras where  you cannot set the f-stop or shutter speed, but you set to the mountain, or flower, or running figure icon, except here I have an underwater icon. I am definitely out of my element here. I snapped a few landscapes during the 30 min it took to hit the main stem. When we got to the main run upstream of us was a large marshy section, the kind of spot in New England where you might search for browns. The creek came into the mainstem in text book fashion, with a huge rock at the apex and a cliff downstream on the outside edge. Mauro noted that on a day like today and a spot like this, he wouldn’t mind so much not even fishing.

As a result of such appreciation of the spirit of the exercise, I deferred the money water to Mauro and walked upstream to fish the run between the marsh and the trib. The water seemed featureless and I would’ve sworn it was so clear and so shallow there  wasn’t a place for a trout to hide, but it seemed like a good spot to practice my extremely weak dry fly skills, so I borrowed a stimmy from Mauro and took off.

Upstream

Upstream

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Downstream

I was pleasantly astonished when about ten casts in I hooked a nice little 10″ fish. I had him on solid for a few tail walks before my “Whahoos!” turned to “Boohoos” but, there is nothing like looking at a map, finding new water, getting to it, and hooking a fish. That whole process of self-guided discovery to some place where you know you are not going to seen another fisherman, that is what I truly love. Here we were, on perfect, productive new water, and we had it all to ourselves. Not so much as a boot print in the sand.

I was astonished that neither Mauro nor I hooked up in that perfect pool, so I put on a Hornberg and  went through it again while he fished the next bend. Again, as the water turned from a riffle, dropped over a natural log dam, ran into a root ball and sliced along a dark cliff, I was astonished to not hook up, and this was despite Mauro tying on a dropper. The next run, I grabbed the lead, sliding the Hornberg under the dangling trees at the top of the pool below the incoming riffle. I didn’t hook up there, but I did a few casts later when I cast across the stream into the slack water on the far side. It was one of those casts, after several  hundred fruitless casts, where you knew that nevertheless you were going to hook up. And I did. I broke out the camera, got enough shots to realize the tool alone was not going to solve the problem, but that I was really going to have to think this through, and then we repeated it all over again when Mauro caught the fish I had fished over under the tree .  Fortunately, he has one of those old fashioned cameras that lets you do the thinking and we got a few shots.

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Picture by Mario Regio

We hit another hole, but by then it was time to go. We followed an elk trail up to the railbed, took that to the road and were back at the car in 15 minutes. I spent some time thinking about it this morning, and I’m pretty sure that in the last 10 years I’ve pieced together enough of this puzzle to know where the bull trout are, however on closer inspection of the regs I’m not sure we can target them. There must still be some big ‘bows holding in those holes, though. Maybe someday soon, I can enlist my friends to test my theory.

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