From the STS Vault (1967): Olympic Peninsula Steelhead - by Steve Raymond

From the STS Vault (1967): Olympic Peninsula Steelhead - by Steve Raymond

Bogachiel. Queets. Calawah. Hoh.

Even the names have a sound like the crash of whitewater over round boulders.

They are synonymous with another name: Steelhead.


A sample of the thrills in store for the winter angler. Seattle Times photo


Born deep in the crags and rain for­ests of the high Olympics, flowing downward through gloomy forest thick­ets and frosty meadows to the Pacific, the rivers of the Olympic Peninsula provide one of the last great wilder­ness steelhead fisheries in the United States. As yet untamed by dams and un­crowded by fishermen, the Bogachiel, Queets, Calawah and Hoh, as well as the Quinault, Soleduck and Quillayute, provide unique opportunities to seek the most noble game fish of the North­west. Far from the crowded banks of main­land streams, the steelhead angler can pursue his sport in relative solitude on the Olympic Peninsula. And once an angler strikes silver in one of the wild Olympic rivers he is bound to come back for more. 

From the steelheader's viewpoint the Olympic Peninsula could not have been designed any better. Following Highway 101 along the coast, the angler en­counters seven major steelhead rivers and several lesser streams.

During the winter season, starting early in December, tremendous runs of wild steelhead begin their migration into these seven rivers. As the fish make their way upstream toward their spawn­ing grounds, the angler is afforded op­portunities to waylay them from numerous bars and holes along the streams, or from boats manned by hardy guides working out of the town of Forks.


Traffic jams like this, often the rule on mainland rivers, seldom are found on the fabulous streams of the Olympic Peninsula. S. and J. Raymond photo


Every type of steelhead water is found in these seven rivers and every type of fishing is done.

The Olympic Peninsula steelheader must brave high waters and low, weather bad enough to drive lesser men to cover, and sometimes long, cold hours of waiting.

But all discomfort dissolves in the moment of the strike, the shrill scream of a straining reel and the eye-popping sight of a great silver shape shaking itself out of the river.

That's what the sport is all about. 

In the summer, too, runs of steel­head make their way up the Olympic rivers, providing angling well into the fall. In fact, there are fish in the Olympic streams every month of the year. 



It's up to you to find and catch them. THE RIVERS: 


If you approach from the north, this is the first stream you will encounter. Highway 101 follows it most of its length and other por­tions are accessible by side roads.

The Soleduck is a white-water stream, dangerous to drift in a boat. Bank fishing is best during low water due to heavy brush along the banks. There are numerous holes for plunk­ing and bars for drifting from the vicinity of Sappho downstream.

This river is a good bet during wet weather. It takes more rain to knock the Soleduck out of shape than nearby streams. Best winter steelheading in the Soleduck is from December through February, though fish are in the stream till April, Summer-runs are best in August, but there is some fall fishing. Steelhead to 18 pounds were caught here last year.



This river is crossed by Highway 101 near Forks. The upper reaches are accessible by side roads.

The Calawah River is hazardous to float. Muddy banks upstream make it one of the first to go out when rains hit. Best winter-run fishing is from late December through the season. Fish for summer-runs in the late sum­mer or fall.



This river is joined by the Calawah about three miles south of Forks. It Joins the Soleduck to form the Quillayute.

Highway 101 follows the lower reaches of the "Bogy," and the upper reaches are accessible by side roads and trails. The Bogy is a fast-moving stream with a good gravel bottom pro­viding excellent water for every type of steelhead fishing.

The Bogachiel is one of the most heavily fished streams on the penin­sula and drifters find it much to their liking because it is relatively free of snags. The river stays fishable except during prolonged wet weather. Some fish are taken in the shallow upper reaches when high water fills the low­er stream.

The guides from Forks take many float trip parties down the Bogy. Those who own boats may launch at Bogachiel State Park and float downstream to a take-out point near Wilson's Bridge, a distance of about six miles.

The Bogy gets one of the biggest steelhead runs on the peninsula. Fish­ing is good from early December on, and fish to 25 pounds were taken last winter. Summer-run fishing continues through October.


The author at work on a Peninsula steelhead stream. S. and J. Raymond photo



This is the door through which all steelhead must pass to seek their spawning grounds in the Bogachiel, Soleduck and Calawah. The Quillayute is only four miles long and much of it flows through Indian land where access is a problem.

This river is best fished from a boat, which may be launched at the con­fluence of the Bogachiel and Soleduclc. Fish tend to gang up at this point and a long bar below the junction is a hotspot for drifters.

Most anglers agree that fresh runs of steelhead enter the Quillayute on a rising tide. Hit it at the right time and the action will leave you limp.



Highway 101 follows the Hoh about eight miles and a side road ex­tends more than 20 miles upstream into the Olympic National Park.

The Hoh is too large for wading in most spots and carries a lot of silt that keeps it off-color much of the winter. Boaters experience good re­sults and access is readily available to bank fishermen.

The Hoh gets one of the biggest winter steelhead runs on the penin­sula and usually is good from De­cember through the season. Fish over 22 pounds were taken in the Hoh last winter, and there also is a run of summer fish providing fishing into the. fall.



This river is crossed by Highway 101 at its mouth and side roads and trails head upstream. The Queets carries a lot of color at all times due to clay banks and glacial silt.

The Queets puts out some of the largest fish of any peninsula river. From the middle of December through the season, fresh runs of fish con­tinue to enter the river.

There are many good spots for drift­ing and plunking along the river and the trick here is to use large lures or bait to combat the heavy color of the stream.

The Queets also receives a good run of summer fish providing fishing through summer till the close of the fall season. These fish are taken on light tackle with small lures or baits. There is very little summer-nm fly fishing.



This famous river gets one of the earliest winter runs and often is red-hot when the winter season opens. It's a good place to look for an opening-day limit.

The lower river runs through the Quinault Indian Reservation and may only be fished with a special permit and an Indian guide. The river above Lake Quinault is paralleled by side roads and offers good water for plunk­ing and drifting.

The Quinault rises quickly during bad weather but comes back into shape just as quickly. The river carries a lot of color except during cold weather. It is too large to wade in most places.

That's the lineup. Seven top-notch steelhead streams within a few hours' drive of one another. You could fish one each day of the week if you wanted to.


A. E. Wilson of Tacoma with an eight-pound steelhead from the Queets River.


There's no need to wait for the be­ginning of the winter season. Summer-run fish may still be found in the rivers during the fall months and these pro­vide fantastic thrills on light tackle.

Fly-fishing comes into its own when the summer fish are in. Once you hang a steelie on a fly you'll have tales to pass onto your grandchildren.

Most fly anglers come equipped with a strong 8-to-8-1/2 foot rod that will handle a forward-taper, fast-sinking line. At least 150 yards of backing should be kept on the reel and the reel should be a sturdy one with a good drag. Inexpensive reels have been known to explode when a steel head took off on a determined run.

A pair of waders, preferably with felt soles, is a necessity. A stripping basket for those loose coils of line comes in mighty handy unless you're an expert enough to keep line coiled in your free hand. Most anglers use leaders of 6-to-8 pound test and sel­dom anything smaller than a IX tippet.



A selection of fly patterns from one of the local shops will put you in good stead. Start with short casts at the head of a riffle and gradually cover all the water down through the tail of the riffle or pool.

Your casts should quarter down­stream. Let the current pull the fly underwater and allow a natural drift until the line straightens out below you. Then strip in, cautiously, step down a couple of paces and make your next cast. When a fish takes the fly, you'll know it!

On a winter weekday, chances are you'll have the river just about to your­self. But if you're new to the stream it's a good idea to drive up and down­stream until you spot another angler who has fish. It may be that he's lo­cated the run, and that's half the battle.

Winter fishermen usually use one of two basic techniques.

"Plunkers" are those who pick a likely stretch of water, usually a deep, slow hole, put on lots of lead and cast their bait far out. Then 'they prop their rods in a forked stick on the bank and sit back to await develop­ments.

The weight usually is tied onto a short dropper attached to the line or to a swivel connecting the line and leader. · The amount of lead depends on the swiftness of the water. The drop­per should be of weaker test than the leader so that if the weight hangs up it may be broken off without losing the leader, hook and bait. Leaders of 8- to-12 pound test are used.




Clusters or strips of salmon eggs usually are used for bait. "Straw­berries," or clusters of eggs tied up in strips of cheesecloth or netting also are used. Often the plunker will add strips of florescent yarn to the bait to entice the steelhead. Hook sizes run from 4 to 5/0, though sizes 1/0 to 3/0 will suit most conditions.

Some of the very largest steelhead are taken by plunkers.

"Drifters," on the other hand, keep moving, covering more water. Usually armed with 7-to-9 foot rods equipped with 8-to-12 pound test monofilament and an open-faced spinning reel, the drifters cast lures or bait and allow them to drift through the hole.

Drifting is the most popular method on Olympic rivers and usually is most productive. Weight is tied on in the same manner as in plunking, but the amount of weight is gauged to provide a proper rate of drift through the hole.

The weight bumps along the bottom where the steelhead dwell, and the bait or lure moves along just off the bottom till the drifter's line has straightened out below him and it's time to retrieve.

Salmon eggs, strawberries, bobbers, yarn and various types of manufactured lures are used by drifters. Some an­glers also cast spoons, of varying sizes and of weights sufficient so that sink­ers do not have to be added. The latter usually are more effective during low water periods.



The drifter should keep moving, cov­ering thoroughly as much water as he can. He should pick a hole with ob­stacles on the bottom to provide fish with resting spots out of the main cur­rent.

Boat fishing often is productive in stretches too deep to wade or too tough to reach from the bank. Sturdy, Mac­Kenzie-type river boats are used and only experienced boatmen should try to float any of the Olympic Peninsula rivers.

When winter comes, the only cer­tainty about steelheading on the Olympic Peninsula is that the weather will be uncertain. Unpredictable storms, freeze-ups or thaws keep the rivers rising and falling like the stock mar­ket.

It's best to plan a trip over several days, if possible, to guarantee you'll find a river in fishable shape. There's no substitute for patience and experi­ence on a steelhead stream, but there's always a chance for a "cracker," or first-timer, to hook into a big one on the first try.


A fresh summer-run fish taken on a fly. S. and J. Raymond photo


The National Park Service, Forest Service and state maintain parks and campgrounds both inside and outside the Olympic National Park. At least 10 campgrounds near rivers are open during the summer and one loop of the Kalaloch Campground (Highway 101, 35 miles south of Forks) is kept open dur­ing the winter. Commercial accom­modations and guides also are avail­able in the area.

Be sure to bring warm clothing and rain gear and it's always a good idea to have an extra set of dry clothes nearby. A Washington State steelhead punch card (free with your license) is required. Check the state and na­tional park regulations for open seasons.

The Olympic Peninsula, like the fish in its rivers, is rugged. The men who fish there are rugged, too. But the incomparable thrill of a steelhead on the line never can be matched by any­thing else, and the Olympic Peninsula is a matchless place to find it.

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