I feel like we’re all now pretty well entrenched in the craziest of times. The world is a far different place from the one we left in February. Our hearts go out to all who have been touched by this terrible virus and all who are struggling to deal with the many hardships that continue to pile up. I’d like to extend a warm and hearty thank you to all who continue to help support their local fly shop during these tough times. We wouldn’t be here without you and your business really helps us to at least tread water until things get a little better out there. We just hit 7 years earlier this month and really missed having another outrageous anniversary BBQ. We’ll just have to celebrate extra big next time around!
There’s a daily chatter about when things will go back to normal and be like before. Truth be told, it’s hard to imagine a return to “normal” after such a devastating world event. Life will be different on many levels and it’s going to take time to rebuild. At least for those of us who shape our lives around fishing and being outdoors, we got a little taste of “normal” on May 5th as we resumed the opportunity to do what we love. Sure, perhaps it’s not quite the same these days. Sometimes your A-list spot is a little too crowded and you have to move to plan B or C. Your annual trip to that BC interior lake with jumbo trout ain’t happening at the moment. Camping’s still on hold and those long and sinuous road trips across the west aren’t really in order either. It’s different but it’s still fishing and there are a bunch of nearby options to take advantage of.
I’ve wasted no time in getting back on the water since the re-opener and have been sampling everything from bass and bluegill to trout and saltwater beaches. Monday, I explored some new waters out in the county and probably caught some of the smallest panfish I’ve ever encountered. The notion that these fish could zealously suck down my fly was like me attempting to eat a 14 lb. hamburger. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day to relish being on the water and I welcomed every second of it, tiny, tiny fish and all. It definitely beat the pants off watching TV and being encouraged to inject myself with Lysol.
Use this time as an excuse to discover new places in your backyard that you normally don’t bother with when you’re distracted by some gorgeous far off locale with gloriously big trout. There are some real gems out there. And when all’s said and done, fishing is fishing, be it in a quiet stream nestled at the bottom of radiant snow-capped mountains or some dingy neighborhood pond surrounded by duck poop. And regardless of which one you’re lucky enough to get to go do…I promise it’ll make you feel at least a wee bit normal again for the afternoon.
Since we do get to fish again, we’re going to spruce this newsletter up with some actual fishing reports. I do enjoy writing the more in-depth discussions of various fisheries and will continue to do so from time to time, but after waiting several months to experience what’s happening out there in the watery world, it’s time for the lowdown.
May is always a heavy focus on stillwater fisheries and this year will be no different. Rivers and streams have in large part been closed and we’ll have that to look forward to shortly. We’ll talk trout first and then take a look at the local warmwater scene. Most of our lowland lakes that receive trout plants have been stocked recently. You can find the plant data on the WDFW website. It took a while to get the website updated but low and behold the info is there. Padden, Toad, Cain, Silver all get more or less the same size fish in varying numbers and you will find similar fishing at most, save for the occasional holdover. Woolly Buggers in olive, black, brown, Carey Specials in red, green, peacock and black, Hale Bopps, Simi Seal Leeches, Pumpkin Heads and Hare’s Ear Soft Hackles have been working. The simplest method of fishing is dragging a fly behind your boat or tube until you find fish. While these fish aren’t known to be the sharpest tools in the shed having been hand fed and coddled through much of their life, they do at times show a preference for one color or another, a bigger or smaller fly.
If you’re getting a lot of nippy grabs on your Woolly Bugger, shorten the tail by pinching off some of the marabou. If this still isn’t working, try a smaller fly of the same or different pattern. Depth is often a factor as well. On these nice bluebird days we’ve been seeing, try fishing an intermediate or full sinking line. Floating lines are pretty darn versatile but are not going to get it done all the time. In the calm evenings you’ll often find fish working near the surface. Small Parachute Adams and Purple Hazes often work great. If the trout aren’t taking the dry flies, a small Peacock Soft Hackle on a dry line and leader greased with floatant can be just the ticket. Sometimes a Tom Thumb or Elk Hair Caddis twitched and stripped across the surface actively really gets their attention. Play around and come prepared with a variety of fly options. These are great fisheries for a 2 or 3 weight as most of these trout are going to run 9-11″.
For our fly only lakes, Squalicum, Pass and Lone, they’ve been on the busy side when the weather is nice, though I drove by Pass Sunday afternoon on my way back from fishing a Whidbey beach and saw only a couple of folks on the water. We’re still seeing some chironomids, the occasional callibaetis and a definite surge in damsel activity with the warmer temperatures. It’s never a bad idea to throw a streamer or two in the evenings either. Picking out flies at the shop is certainly tougher these days without being able to peruse the newly organized bins, but rest assured we can pick you out a good selection for curbside pick up and also have no problem handing you a sterilized cup of flies in the parking lot for you to inspect and pick out what you like. The late afternoon rise on Squalicum has been pretty consistent when the wind abates. Adult Midges, Griffith’s Gnats, CDC Midge Emergers and Lady McConnells have been working. Be sure to have a few large black or maroon Bomber chironomid pupae in your box as well as we see these showing up some days in late May and June.
By now, many of you have learned that as much as I do enjoy targeting trout, especially the nice ones, I’m also a certifiable bass and panfish nut. I’ve had some pretty good days lately (and a few slow ones) hitting the area spiny ray lakes and ponds. Fazon, Terrell, Wiser, Whatcom and Sunset Pond are all producing bass and or panfish this month and things should continue to improve into June and beyond. On the largemouth side of things, you have a mix of spawn and post spawn fish. Most have come fishing weighted leechy stuff like Jawbreakers, Bass Masters and Bass Turds low and slow amongst the weeds. I did pick up my first topwater bass of the year on a Diving Frog the other night, a sign of good times to come. Your shallower lakes like Terrell and Wiser are going to warm up more quickly to get fish active and aggressive on the surface.
Bluegill and pumpkinseed are hitting both surface and subsurface these days. Bluegill Bully’s, Hot Head Squirrel Leeches, Slight Leeches and BH Woolly Buggers are working underneath, with Mini Panfish Poppers, ant patterns, Madam X’s and PMX’s working on top.
Whatcom smallmouth fishing has been pretty good this year, with most fish in the shallows on beds right now. You can cruise the shoreline casting toward docks over rocky substrate or actively look for beds and slowly work flies over them in the hopes that somebody’s home. North Whatcom and mid-lake are really good now, and the Sputh end should be picking up too. Zoo Cougars, Marabou Muddlers, Conehead Buggers, Clousers and Zonkers work excellent for searching with a cast and strip presentation. Jawbreakers, Bass Turds, Crazy Dads. And Near Nuff Crayfish work well for crawling around visibile bass beds. I haven’t hit any topwater bass on Whatcom yet, but then again, I haven’t tried very hard. That typically becomes more my focus in June as things further warm up.
Now’s the time to fish our lakes. I get a ton of questions from people every week asking where they can fish a lake from shore. Honestly, there are not a lot of options. Most of our lakes have a soft silty bottom and shoreline and are going to be uncomfortable, ineffective and even unsafe to try to wade or fish from shore. Invest in a float tube or watercraft for a far better fishing and catching experience. We have a lot of optons to choose from at the shop, some of which are relatively inexpensive.
There’s lake folks and there’s river folks and then many who are just happy to be on water of any nature searching for fish. The river folks are about to get their home away from home back as many moving waters open Saturday, May 23rd. The Skagit is currently open up to Gilligan Creek for spring chinook. It’s big water and pretty challenging on the fly. When the river opens from Rockport to Marblemount it’s a little more realistic to put a fly in front of a chinook. Surprise of all surprises, the NF Nooksack will actually open for chinook on June 1st. While far from being an easy quarry on the fly, it can and has been done many a time. Break out your T-14+ tips, Guide Intruders and Signature Intruders in greens, pinks, blues, blacks and purples and give it a shot. An 8 wt. would be bare minimum for these fish, with a 9-10 single hander or 8+ wt. two hander being more appropriate.
Smaller trout waters will also be open to fish once again. Sometimes the early season can be challenging on our high mountain streams or upper river sections with higher colder flows making trout sluggish to come to a fly. The 40 fish days on Canyon Creek on dry flies are likely another month or two away. If you do head for the hills, small Prince Nymphs and Flash Back Hare’s Ears under an indicator or tight line nymphed are most productive early on. Lower gradient, lower elevation options like Whatcom Creek and the Samish River offer more stable flows, warmer water and the chance to fish both dries and nymphs. While a lot of folks live for dry fly fishing, and after all, who can blame them, don’t be afraid to throw small streamers like Bead Head Woolly Buggers, Wounded Sculpins and Bunny Busters into the deeper pools and around undercut banks. You’d be surprised by some of the fish that turn up in our local waters from time to time and this is an effective method for seeking out these bigger boys and girls.
Beach fishing has been decent though spotty along Whidbey. Much of the better cutthroat fishing has been around the south end near Possession Point. Find the bait, find the fish. The northeast Whidbey beaches have been producing some sea run bulls and a few cutthroat. Fly wise, small Clousers, Mini Ceivers, Deceivers and Rio’s Just Keep Swimming have been working. Though I’ve not seen much in the way of fry along the beaches I fish, I always keep a few bigger chum fry patterns around through the end of May in case you encounter a pulse moving along the beach. For those with a sea-worthy boat, 10 weight and sense of adventure it’s also ling cod season in the Sound through June 15th. 30′ of T-20 looped to a running line and some monstrous flies gets you in the game. Roll cast up current, let that line drop and get deep then strip and release the line in 5-10′ increments or simply pump the rod to make the fly jig up and down. Lings are ferocious and a true powerhouse on the fly rod!