Welcome to 2023 everyone! May the year hold much promise and a new opportunity to fulfill those unrealized fishing dreams. It’s always pretty exciting to begin another year and anticipate what that first day on the water will look like, that first fish, watching the seasons unfold over time, each offering up a fresh serving of your favorite places to be and different species to pursue. December certainly wrapped up with a bang. We stayed fairly busy around the shop on those days when the weather broke and the streets weren’t caked in snow and ice. Late December brought a whole new level of cold and wicked conditions to much of the country. If you had to travel for the holidays, we hope you made it to see your loved ones and have successfully made your way home by now. We saw several videos of the Nooksack and Skagit from the few hearty souls that braved the cold snap and figured they’d have the river to themselves. They certainly found plenty of solitude, along with perpetually frozen guides and the challenge of fishing water that resembled a pina colada slurpee. Sometimes it’s worth doing something just to say you did it and survived. If nothing else, the experience really makes you appreciate cozying up to a crackling fire and sipping a hot beverage.
Now that the Northwest has momentarily thawed, we’ve got steelhead beginning to show up, happy and healthy bull trout still hanging around after a particularly robust salmon return and even the icy winter waters of Pass Lake are back on the table and open for fishing once again after a year of various drawn out closures. The opportunities are out there if you’re simply done being held hostage by the weather or an overabundance of year end commitments.
I had the good fortune of spending 10 days in Belize last month. The bonefishing was great and pretty consistent, the permit fishing was permit fishing, but I did manage to overachieve on a goal I’d set for myself. I caught my first permit on the last Belize trip. A permit is permit but that one was scant bigger than a nice Texas crappie. This past trip I’d hoped to get one a bit bigger, should the stars align in my favor. Well, I pretty much got the permit of my dreams with some help from Hilian, one of the best guides out of San Pedro. I’m not sure who was more excited about this magnificent fish, me or Hilian. I may never see another permit like this in the rest of my days, but I certainly hope to spend a considerable amount of time trying. That’s the fun part anyway. A big thanks to the buddies that shared the experience and to Jeff and crew at Cayo Frances Farm & Fly. I’m already looking forward to the next trip.
We’ve got some exciting events coming up this month. Be sure to see us at K2 on January 12th with North Sound Trout Unlimited for the world premiere of “A Steelhead Story: The Legacy of Bill McMillan.” We’ll have another open fly tying night on Thursday, January 18th at the North Fork Brewery’s Barrel House and we have a few more closeout rods going on sale too. In other news, we just got another run of Confluence Logo T-Shirts in some new colors. If you’re finally ready to retire that greasy, tattered, spaghetti-stained relic of yester-year or your spouse already made you toss it in the trash eons ago, we’re here to help you rebuild the Confluence T-shirt collection. Stay warm out there and we hope to see you in the shop and on the water.
It’s such a rare sight to see our Northwest rivers clogged with ice floes and partially frozen over but that was the story a few weeks ago. They’ve fortunately resumed flowing and while it’s not exactly toasty out there, rivers are mostly fishable and have some fish around. We’ve heard of several steelhead encountered recently in our local rivers and folks are still finding a few late coho in the Skagit and Nooksack too. The bull trout fishing has been pretty steady, with bulls in both good shape and good numbers. Hoh Bo Speys, Pick Yer Pockets, Intruders, Burnt Chickens and String Leeches are all good patterns to swing for steelhead. If targeting bull trout, these flies certainly work as well, but flesh flies, sculpins and egg patterns are also producing very well. If you want to flex the 4 or 5 weight a bit, egg patterns and small dark nymphs are working well for winter whitefish. Most local rivers remain open through the end of January. Check the WDFW state regulations for details. On another positive note, the WDFW recently announced their application plans for a spring catch and release steelhead season on the Skagit and Sauk this year. We should see additional details later in the month.
Winter is hardly primetime for stillwater fishing but when the lake’s not frozen over, we have some relatively temperate year round lakes that will continue to produce fish during the colder months.
Pass, Cranberry and Lone Lakes are all good winter options. I fished Pass the day after Christmas and despite the bone-chilling 37 degree water, caught several nice rainbows fishing Boobies on a full sink line. At these water temperatures, you’re not going to find an abundance of hatching insects that the fish will key on, but staples like leeches, bloodworms and dragonfly nymphs work well. Attractor patterns like Boobies or January’s Fly of the Month, the Blob, catch their share of fish too.
Locally, we’re not doing much beach fishing this time of year. The northeast Whidbey beaches can be worth a look for sea run bull trout during the winter months, but South Sound and Hood Canal offer far better opportunities for sea run cutthroat and resident coho salmon until late spring.