Rain, rain go away, come again some other day. After the wettest October on record, we are still wringing out our clothing, drip drying waders and Gore-tex jackets and laying out drenched flies in heated rooms to stave the onset of rust. Most of our rivers are beyond full, easing toward fishable for a few days before jumping the banks, cutting into the forest and reconfiguring the landscape with the next squall. It’s enough to drive a person infinitely mad. In the meantime, we cross fingers, pour over extended forecasts from the National Weather Service, tie flies, drink beer, make soup and get ready for that glorious day when the elements and water conditions conspire to allow for pleasant day of fishing.
If you look around, you’ll still find fishable conditions in the worst of weather. Rivers below dams, outflows from lakes, saltwater beaches away from river mouths and short systems that drop and clear as quickly as they fill up have been our saving grace for the last several weeks. Much of our local fishing of late has been in the lower mainland British Columbia, where a diversity of watersheds breeds a handful of rivers that seem almost immune to the endless downpours. Let’s certainly hope for a colder, drier November to say the least. As the month unfolds, we expect to see more coho, often some of the biggest of the season, chum salmon, sea run cutthroat, bull trout and even the first few winter steelhead making their way home.
It’s turned out to be a much better coho season than most of us ever would have imagined based on early forecasts, the trick has been getting on the water when it’s actually in shape, which has been easier said than done. With all the water we’ve had, fish have been blazing through the system pretty quickly, so we’re seeing them stack up near terminal areas like the Cascade, Stave, or higher up on the Vedder but not sticking around in the lower to mid river for very long. Typically November sees the freezing levels begin to drop, which should help keep the rivers in shape, even with a little rain.
Our hot coho flies on the Fraser tributaries this year have been the Chartreuse Beadhead Rolled Muddler, Green Glob and Copper Glob. Much of the water we fish up there is really clear, so these smaller patterns shine on a light sink tip or clear intermediate poly leader. We traditionally have fished a full clear intermediate line in many of our favorite coho sloughs and backwaters. This year we’ve spent a lot of time using OPST’s Commando Heads and tips or poly leaders. They perform well in tight quarters, give you more distance with ease and both spey and overhead cast like a dream. Spending more time fishing and less time casting generally equals more fish and less fatigue. It’s a pretty straightforward equation. We also highly recommend using a stripping basket when fishing slack water. It makes life much easier.
On our bigger waters down here, the same lines and tactics apply, but reach for larger flies like the Starlight Leech, Conehead Alaskabou’s, Chrome Magnets and Flash Flies to draw attention from the fish. As chum salmon filter into the Nooksack throughout the month, Chartreuse or Pink Comets, Popsicles, Pink/Purple Marabous are also effective flies to have on hand. The Stilly system re-opened for fishing on November 1st. Coho are still off limits, but some summer steelhead and sea run cutthroat remain. Cutthroat are still really susceptible to attractor patterns like Reverse Spiders and Mickey Finns, but you’ll often find them reverting to more trout-like feeding habits this time of year and sometimes encounter them surface feeding on Blue Winged Olives.
Both sea run cutthroat and bull trout also begin to key in on egg patterns as we approach the peak of fall salmon spawning activity. Glo bugs or Trout Beads fished below an indicator can be deadly in the right water as virtually every fish in the river will consume an egg, even if only through some latent feeding response. Look for trout to line up in soft water below heavily used spawning riffles. Find the eagles and you’ll find the salmon spawning. Find the salmon spawning and you’ll find trout, whitefish and char taking advantage of an easy meal. Please take care to avoid the salmon themselves when fishing for other species around them. They are old and scarred, guarding their very last reserves of vitality to produce the next generation. If you hook one accidentally, break it off immediately. Egg patterns are cheap and easy to tie. Lastly, if you’ve got the moves to do an anti-rain dance, by all means, dance away. The great sponge of the Pacific Northwest is about as saturated as it can get.
Many of our lowland lakes closed on Halloween and will re-open in the spring with the general lake opener in April. In the meantime, year round quality waters like Squalicum and Pass can continue to fish right through the late fall and winter if you pick your days wisely. Pass has been cranking out some really nice browns on streamer patterns fished right up along the brush lines. Beldar Buggers in black, yellow/brown and white and olive, white or olive Zonkers, white/olive Dude Friendly’s and various leech patterns have been producing some solid days.
Between the wind and rain, much of the North Sound remains a froth of turbid water and breaking waves. For cutthroat, seek out protected coves and the leeward sides of points for a respite from the weather. Concentrate on areas away from bigger rivers with a rocky and less sandy beach structure to find clearer water. Deep South Sound and Hood Canal have some great cutthroat fishing this time of year and as an added bonus, you can pack an 8 or 9 weight to tangle with saltwater chum around the estuaries and staging areas. Most of the beach fishing around the North Sound is done until next spring.