Fortson Hole

Not to highjack this thread, but I've wondered why Fortson Hole is what it is. I've approached it from both sides. Don't recall it being a conflux of two streams. What causes fish to hold there - other than it's a deep hole. Is it that simple?

Hillbilly Redneck

wishin i was fishin

The creek from Whitehorse rearing ponds runs into Fortson. It is a terminal area for hatchery fish. The wild salmon like it because it has some depth in places.
The Fortson Hole gained its fame a way back in the 1960s (and earlier) when it was fished by Enos Bradner, Walt Johnson, Frank Hedrick, Roy Patrick and other icons of our sport. Fortson was different back then. It had a better flow of water. Floods over the years have changed it, and many other spots along the North Fork. I haven't seen any gear fishermen or snaggers around Fortson, but they sure do hang out around its confluence with the mainstem slinging bait an other illegal offerings.
Another problem with the Fortson Hole, for fishermen, is that it is indeed crowded with fishermen, and is also popular as a place for families to take their kids on hot, sunny days.
Les Johnson


Well-Known Member
Fortson holds fish because it's a hatchery blood hole as mentioned above. "Fortson" creek that drains the Whitehorse steelhead rearing ponds enters the river at the top of the hole.

Prior to the Christmas 1980 flood, Fortson was about twice as long as it is now. There were times when I and others counted over 100 summer steelhead holding in the main and lower holes (there was an upper hole & lower pool then). It wasn't too uncommon for a dozen anglers to share the pools at one time without feeling crowded, altho no one goes there for solitude. And fish would be caught off and on throughout the day.

My two cents is that it is designated fly fishing only water in the NF until Dec 1 of each year, and then only through March can the gear huckers get in there.....YOU HAD BETTER WATCH OUT FOR MR OR MRS GAME WARDEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! single barbless unweighted flys is what it says it is, and they WILL camp on you until you come out of the water......they seem to think that anyone fishing there is pestering the salmon that congregate there. Why do I know this, because of the numerous arguments I used to enjoy having with them when I would make them come down the bank to me, rather than the other way around, and they will search your person, make sure that every i is dotted and t is crossed, including your parking permit.....

It all started with my voicing my opinion while watching two old timers, obviously on fixed incomes, who should have been given credit for even making it into the water for the morning, get $100 tickets for not pinching the barbs on their flys.....I made the comment that it must be a tough living to have to do that kind of thing to get a point being that he could have warned the fellas, but it is what it is......he has had my number ever since. It isn't worth the waist of breath or gas, yes there are fish there, and it might be better to leave them be as they are there to spawn.....

Tight Lines



Active Member
Since no one seems inclined to answer Ole's question, I'll spill the beans. Drive east on Hwy 530. Turn left on Swede Heaven Rd. (you'll be about 6 mile west of Darrington at this point), there's a gas station/convenience store at the intersection. Follow Swede Heaven Rd. north and across the river, then west then south and east again to a parking lot. Take the trail at the south side of the lot a short distance to Fortson Hole.

An alternative is to turn left on the road marked Fortson Mill Rd. (roughly a mile before you come to the Swede Heaven Road intersection) drive north and park next to the old railroad right-of-way. Following a trail due north from here through the brush will bring you to the Picnic Table Hole. Walking east along the railroad right-of-way about an eighth of a mile will put you on the deep side of Fortson Hole.

As mentioned above, Fortson Hole has been a favorite spot because the hatchery steelhead reared at the Whitehorse Ponds tend to home on the scent of the water of the creek that drains the ponds and runs into the upper end of the hole. As Salmo points out, in its glory days you could stand on the high side and count incredible numbers of fish. In spite of declining runs there are still usually a few fish lying there. By this time of the year these fish are, as the English say of their salmon, "potted" or "dour"; they are holed up in the relatively warm water, conserving energy and waiting for eggs and milt to ripen. Even under these conditions they will occasionally perk up enough to hit a fly but it frequently requires putting in long hours of casting for very little action.


MA-9 Beach Stalker
You know that you're nearing Fortson Hole when you start to get that creepy feeling that you are being watched from somewhere in the brush. I think that "The Blair Witch Project" was filmed in this area, with the climax of the film occuring in the old mill house. Last fall I fished it and occasional gunshots rang out along the trail while I worked my way through the hole (I believe it was grouse season). It's a good place to meet interesting people.
The short-form answer to getting to the Fortson Hole is: from the "community" of White Horse (historical note: the scene in "War Games" where young Matthew Broderick hot-wired a pay phone with a soft drink lid was filmed at the then-existing pay phone at the n.w. corner of the crossroads.) Go north on Swede Haven Road, across the river; keep bearing left at every intersection on pavement, until you're in the parking area.

To my fellow old farts: Give it up gracefully. The Fortson Hole at one time was arguably the best-known steelhead hole in the state. Even when steelhead were more plentiful, most of them ignored every temptation that was drifted by them, every day. I remember that for a year or two, there was a large sunken log in the depths that mercilessly harvested countless flies and lures. Most of the Hole is now too slow of current to be what we consider good steelhead water. And if you're a social angler, and feeling lonely around the end of November, just arrange to be there at dawn on the first of December. Don't bother to bring a fly rod, but do bring your own rock to stand on.