October seemed to come and go with the fury of a fall storm, its parting gift a blanket of withered yellow leaves lining the riverbanks. It’s nice to have some rain back in the equation, to witness the weekly ebbs and flows of current and feel the anticipation of fresh salmon pouring upriver as the waters are reinvigorated. November is a month of death and rebirth. The contorted corpses of last month’s salmon sprawl from twisted roots, feeding gulls and crows and the solemn eagles. All the while, sea bright fish appearing daily, sometimes in singles and doubles, sometimes in great droves, single-minded and intent on getting where they’re going. It never grows old. November is both the end of many seasons and the beginning of new ones. Most of our stillwaters and trout streams in the North Sound area are done until next year. Those that remain open can be hit or miss but still worth a visit when the winds are light and the days breathe a residual warmth of summer. Brandon and I are pretty salmon-centric this time of year. It’s the main game in town from the coho that’ll quietly continue to show through year end to the brawling chum that loudly roll and porpoise, grey-hounding and gnashing their canine teeth when they take your bright fly. If you want to know how strong your equipment is, how well-seated your knots may be, just how iron your resolve to duke it out with a junkyard dog is, these are the ones you’re after. River levels have been largely cooperative in the last few weeks and the conditions are lending themselves nicely to catching a few strong fish. We spend a lot of our fall fishing just north of the 49th and have that fairly dialed, but there are some fantastic opportunities close to home. Please take the time to comment on the WDFW’s rule simplification process by the deadline on November 30th. Simplifying our fishing rules is a very worthwhile endeavor but there are some extremely short-sighted proposals on the table. If you want to have a conversation about it, we are always willing and ready. Things slow down around the shop quite a bit this time of year so we’re taking the time to move things around and change the layout a bit. We’re really excited for a new look in the next month. We also have a few new additions like the Simms Rogue Fleece Hoodies and Cold Weather Flannel shirts along with the Drake Magazine. Be sure to take a look next time you’re by.
It’s been a long, challenging fall without the Skagit and Stilly to tow the line. The good news is that the Skagit and Sauk reopen December 16th, which is really right around the corner. In the meantime, we’ve enjoyed some good days on the Nooksack between the odd coho and incidental bull trout. With our cold nights, the Nooksack has been in shape far more than we usually get this time of year and it’s nice to get out and walk the gravel bars, traveling freely and finding new water. While it’s disheartening to find your favorite run high and dry when the river shifts course, there’s usually something new around the bend to replace it. We’re looking for those juicy runs right now with winter steelhead in mind, though we usually don’t begin to find them until mid-December. We’re hearing of some chum showing up in the Nooksack and hoping for a good return as we edge further into November. There’s some nice wild coho in the system too, with the hatchery ones really tapering off.
North of the border we’re still finding plenty of fresh coho from the Vedder to the Stave. The north Fraser tributaries like the Stave, Nicomen Slough and Harrison have been pretty good and should continue to fish well over the next several weeks. Our top coho flies vary from day to day, but chartreuse Rolled Muddlers, Copper Coho Buggers, Green Globs, Copper Globs, Olive Sparkle Buggers and Christmas Trees have been producing their fair share of fish in the sloughs and slow seams around woody debris. Our tip of the month is to fish #10-12 Maxima Ultragreen or even better, the Seaguar STS fluorocarbon. A lot of our coho flies are tied on heavy wire trout hooks, which will bend out when you stick a tree or submerged log. Simply bend them back with your forceps and you’re good to go. It beats breaking them off using lighter tippet. Just broaden your selection of flies rather than replacing the same old ones you keep losing. There are still some chum in the BC lower mainland rivers too, though they are not as fresh as what we’ll begin seeing around here. Coho prefer a strip retrieve in slow water. Chum like this presentation too, but a dead drift with a twitch is really the ticket. This can be done with a light sink tip and following the drift of your fly with the rod tip. An even better tactic is to dead drift your fly beneath a large buoyant indicator like the Airlock indicators. While some view indicator tactics as sacrilege, you’ll find you inadvertently snag few if any chum provided you set your fly depth a foot or so above the fish in the run. It’s good clean fun, but your arms may need a good icing at the end of a fruitful day. Purple, black or pink Starlight Leeches, Conehead Popsicles, Showgirls and Manhattan Beaches and Bunny Leeches in chartreuse, purple/pink or orange are tried and true chum patterns for our local waters. We’re finding some really nice sea run cutthroat out there too on our salmon excursions as well. They especially like the more diminutive coho patterns we typically fish in clear water.
Fall is a time when you can often expect to find your biggest, burliest, most aggressive sea run cutthroat out patrolling the beaches and estuaries of Puget Sound. While the North Sound cutts typically head upstream in the larger river systems until spring, look for beaches with a series of nearby smaller creeks draining into the salt and you’ll likely find a few willing cutthroat hanging around. Hood Canal continues to fish very well for cutts and late fall/winter is one of our favorite times to fish it. Marabou Clousers, Snot Darts, Reverse Spiders and Olive Woolly Buggers are getting the job done. Most of the time, our cutthroat are seldom choosy. Focus your time and energy on covering water and fishing efficiently until you find them. Sometimes you’ll find a lot of them in a relatively small stretch of beach.