Skagit/Sauk: Last Hurrah

He wastes no motion, no time and keeps the fly (usually black, articulated and tasty) in the strike zone. He fishes the hang down with a methodical purpose and keeps his leaders simple and short in winter. He always sharpens any hook he pulls out of his vest. He fishes the line to the reel (A well lubricated ready to scream Hardy). He will adjust his fly target zone on the cast to assist the swing in any way. He understands mending and attempts to find water that lets the fly "swim". He hates overmending. He plays fish extremely hard (losing his fair share due to the speed he attempts to get them landed and released) and knows how to apply side pressure in the fight. He looks for walking speed green and boulder strewn (nuggets we call them) waters with knee to chest depth and fishes the head, throat and tailout accordingly. He has the patience to stop in mid run, and change tips to get more or less depth or a better swing. Sometimes he will change tips 3 times in one run if it feels right. He is not Simon with a spey rod but more importantly is very consistent in his delivery and if needed can reach out and blast moon shots for those outlying shelves in lower water days on the Skagit. Most fish are hooked in the inside seams in well known and traditional runs but there are a few lies that are "deep in center field
Excellent observation Coach. :ray1:
All good points that us "novice steelheaders" should take note.



Joe from PA
FWIW, I had a terrible winter season as well, OP included, but in hindsight I enjoyed every minute of it and would do it all over again. On the Sky, which I fished hard around the holidays and then floated most weekends in Jan and Feb, I hooked only one fish this year (super hot fish though). It was a strange year on the Sky because of the very low water later in the season and the corresponding drop in company; most days in Feb I was the only fly guy floating the river and was joined by only 2-3 drift boats. I enjoyed the relative solitude, the challenges of the new runs this year, and fishing new spots I would never have been able to effectively in typical years due to the low water. Took a lot more pictures this year too.

Ed Call

Well-Known Member
Kerry S, I will echo what has already been said. The photos here are fantastic, as are all the ones you post. I hope you will continue to find some and put them here to enjoy.


Fly Addict
It's stories (and discussions) like this that get my blood pumping. I spent my first full season swinging flies for steelhead, after spending the past few years tossing gear. I didn't get a single fish, I'm not even sure I had a pull, but I enjoyed it vastly more than any of my previous (more successful) seasons.

I've never fished the S Rivers, but one day hope to make a trip down south, in a pilgramage of sorts. Doesn't matter whether I hook any fish, it was Dec's book that made me a convert, and I feel I owe those rivers some time.

Thanks for the words, folks. And that photo, KerryS... ethereal.



Well-Known Member

I think you understand, I think you know what you're doing, I think you're hardcore. I'm disturbed that you fished 40 days and didn't hook a Skagit/Sauk steelhead. Even when the luck of the draw isn't with you, that's piss poor results. Highly likely that the post-season run estimate will be a lot lower than the pre-season forecast. 8,000 steelhead ain't great, but it produces more than zero for 40 days effort.

I'm building a house and didn't fish much this winter. 3 1/2 days on the Skagit in Feb for zero fish and 1 day on the Sol Duc in March for 1 hooked and lost. It ain't pretty.



Active Member
I heard a good one today from my buddy Brian, aka doublespey, as we were discussing this thread.

He said that if you were to "buy half of all the lottery tickets available, it won't guarantee that you will win." I'd say that's a pretty good analogy to putting in time, doing it right and still not catching.



Active Member
Jason, based on what you are saying, and number of fish you are catching per hours on the water, I'd say you are doing something wrong. Joe may be right as far your confidince goes, or maybe you aren't fishing as well as you think. Before I left Portland 5 years ago I steelhead fished 100+ days a year for many years. I don't remember ever going 10 days in a row without hooking a fish if I was on the water all day, fishing hard. These were rivers I knew and I was going to catch fish period (in my mind), which is 80% of it. You should go with someone who has more confidnece than you at this point. Just to clarify, I'm not saying you aren't a good steelheader.
Pan - I have fished the alot on the skagit and this season got one fish in Feb and one grab in March - I was around (Landed) two fish this season for my buddies Laker and one for Marty. I know a number of good anglers that got one or two fish this season - they spent the time as did I and the fish were not there. You could have the confidence of TO with a two hander if there are on fish - there are no fish.
We as steelhead anglers on our S rivers have to understand that these things happen and have to have the metal toughness to fish through it.
Salmo, it was 3 fish for about 50 days on the water. That is about a fish per 16 days which is one of my worst seasons ever. They were all good fish and good size. Just too rare.

Chris DeLeone definately understands what I am talking about. Phrases like "mental toughness" almost understate it IMO. Getting up at 5:00 AM all the time and busting ass all day wears you down. My gf often says she is amazed at my determination.

But all in all I would say it is something that only bothers me in retrospect. During the day I am loving it and loving the river and scenery but after the season I just really feel like something is wrong with these poor steelhead in my guts and it kind of taints the whole thing. I wish I could catch more but I also deeply wish there were more. All that bad catching equals tough time for steelhead.
Just remember boys.

If it were easy, none of you would be into this shit. Your intelligence and talents have taken you into a hobby (way of life to many) that really has a far lower percentage than hitting a baseball in the major leagues. Remember the main delivery method on the Sauk/Skagit/Skykomish/Nooksack/Whitechuck/Suiattle is the swing. And no I am not inviting any more of this swing vs bobber bullshit but reality is reality. And that is we come from a very proud pro swing culture on the N sound rivers, thus making things even lower in success percentages. Take away our returning fish and in reality we have nothing. We are a hardcore strange lot us N Sound winter run hunters. But here's to you, every fucking one of you for lacing up the boots every winter day, in rain sleet and snow, breaking ice from guides, or wading in t-shirts, in high water and gin clear cold snapped locked up like a virgin's panties, knowing full on native nets are in the rivers, knowing full on the counts are never right, knowing full on that it might be 40 hours per fish. Here's to every one of you for BELIEVING because you have to. And every once in a while it all goes down, the sun and moon line up, and you feel electricity shoot down your arm as perfection goes screaming down the river with your fly. And for that short amount of time, you feel at one with your rod, your reel, the river, and the greatest gamefish that swims. Your hands are shot, your feet are numb and the old war wounds are screaming. But your heart is warm again. And you ask yourself "Is this shit fucking worth it man????" You wipe a tear from your eye and you have to turn away feeling somewhat silly (the emotions are welling up and getting the best of you damnit) as a true native Washington steelhead swims away and say to yourself out loud, "Fucking right it is." You know what that fish means to all of us, how even though we've tried to exterminate them they just won't go away once in for all, they keep fighting just as you do every winter with that spey rod. They are bigger than you or me, and we all know it. You head to the gas station for a pizza pocket wondering if you've just touched and felt perfection for the last time. You know the clock is ticking. Here's to all of you N Sound steelheaders for believing and refusing to take an 8 count. No, we're gonna be carried out on our shields just like our steelies. Aloha and I miss it every single waking day. Tight lines The Coach:beer2::beer2: