Things are finally beginning to unfold into a more palatable landscape of blue sky, budding trees, and breathless days that make spending a few hours on the water in pursuit of fish downright pleasant once again. I even heard the faint song of a varied thrush echoing through thin walls of an outhouse in Forks last weekend, a sure sign that spring is not far off. Lakes are warming up, bugs are hatching, steelhead are making their way up the rivers and even the salty beaches have been putting out a few nice fish as the winter doldrums slowly fade away. It still ain't exactly hot out there by any stretch of the imagination, but that's what fleece, wool and Primaloft are for. At least the rain is taking an occasional vacation from the relentless downpours we've suffered through much of this winter.
Things are picking up around the shop too, with lots of spring orders showing up every other day. We have new flies, new equipment, lines and tying materials making their way onto the Confluence Fly Shop floor this season and are pretty excited to experience them working their magic on the water. I took the OPST Pure Skagit 8 wt. for a spin on the Olympic Peninsula last weekend and we got to be pretty good friends. It's an easy casting, soulful rod well-suited for the backcountry sections of rivers we hiked into and slung a 10' chunk of T14 and weighted fly with a grace that I am seldom accustomed to.
Thanks to all the folks that showed up for our February tying night at Brandywine. It was a riot with a lot of laughs and some cool flies being tied. We'll likely have another in late March, keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram pages for details as we get something scheduled at one of our many fine drinking establishments around town. After a few months of whipping up steelhead and bull trout bugs, it's time to fill the gaps in the stillwater boxes and get ready for spring bass and beach fishing. Be well and savor your time on the water.
Moving water options close to home have grown sparse. We're down to the Olympic Peninsula rivers on the west side for the most part. If you already have your BC license, there are a number of viable options just across the border. If you don't have a BC license, the license year resets on April 1st along with our Washington license and it's well worth purchasing. We don't appear to live in a state that prioritizes recreational river fisheries so being able to travel north opens up a lot of windows and possibilities at certain times of the year.
As evidenced by large scale river closures on the Chehalis system and Willapa Bay in addition to the usual suspects in Puget Sound, steelhead numbers are not exceptional overall this season. That being said, fish are being caught. We fished last weekend around Forks and the concensus was that we should have been there the week prior as a good push of wild steelhead made their way into multiple rivers. All told, we found a fish at the end of a lot of walking and exploring. Covering water is always important in the winter steelhead game. When the numbers are less than stellar, it is even more imperative to beat feet and fish as much quality water as you can find.
The Vedder River in BC has been putting out some decent fish lately. Generally the crowds start thinning out in late March and April, making it more feasible to find your own piece of water and a little solitude. We are getting mixed reports of fry beginning to emerge. They're coming out one day and then nothing the next. As we near the end of March, expect more regular pink and chum fry sightings and with them, all the bull trout, rainbow and cutthroat looking for a protein rich meal. The Fraser, Squamish and Harrison Rivers up north afford some exciting and explosive fishing for trout and char during the spring salmon fry outmigration.
A bit closer to home, the lower Skagit from the Memorial Hwy. Bridge in Mount Vernon down to the mouth is once again open. When the river's running at a modest flow, this is a good spot to play the fry game. A boat makes fishing and covering water much easier, but there are some shore fishing options too for those willing to put in some time. Make sure to have a variety of fry pattern sizes, or a pair of scissors to trim them down to size. While a variety of patterns work, from Chum Babies to Epoxy Fry, you'll do best to match the prevalent size of the fry you're seeing in the river.
While we're still a month and a half away from the general lowland lake opener in April, a number of stillwater opportunities abound. Pass, Lone and Squalicum are year round options that are beginning to turn on with the approaching Spring. Several eastside lakes like Lenice, Lenore and Dry Falls also just opened on March 1st.
Chironomids start hatching with some regularity once the lake temps hit the mid 40's F. With our consistent cold nights we're not quite there yet but are seeing some afternoon hatches here and there. Squalicum, which tends to warm a bit more quickly as a shallow lake has even provided some mid day dry fly action on CDC Hatching Midges, Chironomid Adults and Lady McConnells of late. In the absence of the big spring hatches, bloodworm patterns fished deep within a foot of the bottom have been productive. Small Woolly Buggers, Micro Leeches and attractor patterns like Boobies and Blobs have also accounted for some fish on full sinking lines.
As we approach mid to late March and on into April, expect chironomids to be coming off consistently and you would be well advised to have a variety of sizes and colors in your arsenal. If you are new to chironomid fishing and ready to take the plunge, don't hesitate to come by the shop and we'll gladly give you a primer on how and where we like to fish them. While trout in lakes are largely opportunistic and will feed on a staggering array of available food items, unlocking the mysteries of chironomid fishing will drastically improve your catch rate as these common skinny pupae account for a very large percentage of the trout's diet during the Spring.
Things are beginning to heat up along our North Sound Beaches. We're finding the odd cutthroat, salty bull and even an occasional blackmouth around Whidbey. We're not seeing really any fry in the salt but expect that will get going later in the month and especially into April and May. Currently, our better patterns have been large gray/white Clousers, Rio's Just Keep Swimming in White Bait and White Deceivers, presumably imitating the abundant surf smelt that are a preferred forage fish for many of our area salmonids right now. Farther afoot, Hood Canal is seeing some early chum fry and cutthroat fishing has been pretty decent.