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Fly Fishing

On swinging flies, bull trout, and river closures. + Video

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After more than a month off from fishing, I finally found the time to take my fly rod out and swing some flies for steelhead. With the end of the local steelhead season looming, due to emergency closures, time was running out for me to get some much needed river time in.

Due to projected low runs of native steelhead, our systems have been closed or are ready to be closed early. Most of the rivers in northwest Washington closed on February 1st to all fishing, with only a handful of tributaries remaining open through the 15th. The north fork of the Nooksack River was one of the branches slated to remain open through the 15th due to the fin clipped steelhead returning to the Kendall Creek hatchery. This will be my last trip of the year for Steelhead in the rivers close to home.

My take on the Howell Prom Dress fly

My take on the Howell Prom Dress fly

My search started me off about a mile below the hatchery in a nice long run intermixed with good sized rocks. With the water level up slightly the river was running fast. The water was flowing a little faster than usual so I chose a type 8 sinktip followed by a short leader to 12lb fluorocarbon tippet. The fly I chose to swing this day was an untested (at least by me) replication of the Scott Howell Prom Dress. Now, some purist fly fishermen might snicker at this fly and some might not even call it a fly. No, it’s not made of feathers or fur, but it sure does work. The Prom Dress fly is essentially a large fly tied Intruder style in the color of choice. I tied the fly I was swinging in blue with a pink dubbing head. The fly is weighted as well with dumbbell eyes, so paired with the type 8 sink-tip I had no trouble getting down to the bottom, and to where the fish were holding amongst the rocks and boulders.

I started off in shallow water at the top of the run and began to work my way through the run in cast, step, cast, step fashion.

Nooksack river Bull Trout

Nooksack river Bull Trout

About halfway down the run I was rewarded with a sharp pull and the fight was on. Several minutes later I had a nice bright, roughly 20 inch, Bull Trout to hand. After snapping a few photos I quickly removed the hook and sent it back to the river to continue its journey. Bull trout, also sometimes called Dolly Varden, are protected in the Nooksack River system and must be released. That being said, they are still a nice incidental catch and their strong pulls and head shakes are always a nice treat.

After landing the one nice Bull trout, I waded back into place and commenced to finish off the run in the same cast, step fashion, but with no more fishy action.

The wind was starting to pick up and beginning to really wreak havoc on my casting, so I trudged back to the car in search of a down river bend that might offer more protection from the battering wind.

Nooksack river bull trout

Nooksack river bull trout

A quarter of a mile downstream, an undignified scramble down a steep decline, and a short wade across a riffle later I was fishing a stretch of river on the opposite bank that was protected from the wind. Now I faced a new problem; this stretch was not suited to swinging flies at all. With more pocket water and smaller stream-like channels, I made the move over to a nymphing setup by switching out the sink tip for a floating line. With two egg imitation flies and a strike indicator in place I was ready for more action.

Three casts later my strike indicator twitched sideways in an all too familiar telltale sign. Another Bull trout to hand, this one much smaller, and I was now thoroughly enjoying myself. With the scrappy little guy released I positioned myself a few yards upstream of where I caught the last fish and began to work down the run in a methodical fashion.

small nooksack river bull trout

Small nooksack river bull trout

Ten minutes later the skies opened up and nature began doing it’s best to drown me in sheer volumes of water. With my mind on the river flow predictions for rising water in the afternoon, I decided that the far side of the river from my car was probably not the best place to be.

Here is a short video I created of fishing this day.

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