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Snoqualmie Falls Pool Steelhead

Bob Johansen - 12/29/2008

Snoqualmie Falls was named for a tribe of Indians, the SDOH-KWAH-BU which means “Moon People.” According to legend, many years ago, the council fires of several different tribes burned near this site. The majestic falls were reportedly a source of awe and mystery to the Indians.

The first white man to record his visit to the spectacular 268 foot falls was Samuel Hancock in 1849. A few years later, in 1858, the land was ceded to the United States. And, a few years after that, on November 11, 1859 Washington became the 42nd state of the United States of America.

A lot of water has plunged over the falls since that day when it was first admire by Samuel Hancock. Now anglers from many different ethnic backgrounds ply the waters of the 65 foot deep pool below the falls for salmon, trout and steelhead. And, like the Indians of yore, most of the anglers are still awed by the beauty and height of the falls. As a comparison, these falls are over a hundred feet higher than the famous 167 foot high Niagara Falls in New York. Snoqualmie Falls probably doesn’t receive nearly as many visitors as Niagara Falls but it is my bet that it is visited by far more steelhead and salmon anglers.

Does the big, deep pool below the falls provide the most beautiful and awe inspiring salmon and steelhead waters in the Pacific Northwest? Although the Northwest has many beautiful fishing areas, I think most anglers who have seriously fished the Falls Pool would agree these waters are not only one of the most beautiful fishing areas in the Northwest but one of the most bountiful as well.

This pool is as far up the Snoqualmie River as the salmon and steelhead can migrate. Although these fish are great jumpers, the Snoqualmie Falls are a bit too much for even the best of them. As a result, the pool collects and holds large numbers of fish practically the year around.

Starting right off on the first of June, when the river re-opens after it’s annual two month closure, anglers can find very good fishing for fresh, bright summer-run steelhead. Very early mornings, right at daylight, are the best times to fish during the summer. Some anglers use flashlights so they can be there at first light. Not only do the fish strike better before the sun hits the water, but the area is far less crowded at this time of day.

On nice sunny days, during the spring and summer, sight seers, photographers and even sun bathers tend to gather in the area. If you keep a fish for table fare, you may even have to listen to a few “oohs” and “ahs” as you carry your beautiful steelhead past some of them on your way out. You could also face a negative comment or two from die hard C & R folks.

For falls pool steelhead, most fishermen cast their favorite spoons in 3/8, ½ and 5/8 ounce sizes. Stee-Lee or Wob Lures in hammered nickel or brass, with or without an orange stripe are among the most popular. Some anglers prefer the Wob Lure in light reflective colors of metallic blue or metallic green. Weighted spinners, that cast well, are also effective for both steelhead and salmon. Try a Mepps Aglia 1/3 or ½ ounce or a Rooster Tail, either the original or the vibric in 3/8 to ¾ ounce sizes.

One angler, who catches a lot of both salmon and steelhead from this pool, fishes almost entirely with a metallic Flat Fish. He generally uses a size #7 MSIL (metallic silver) or a size #7 MSBS (metallic silver, with blue scale). The Flat Fish is tied to a leader about 24 inches long, which is connected to a swivel and to the mainline. A weight is attached to the swivel with surgical tubing. The lure is then cast out and slowly retrieved.

Plugs are also a popular lure choice at the big pool. Hotshots and Wiggle Warts are among the most popular choices. I like the blue or green Wee-Steelie-Wart with the red diving bill. Most plugs cast well without weight but some anglers add a little lead to get them deeper.

What ever lure you use, don’t let it sink too deep or it will be claimed by the Fishing Gods. The bottom of the pool is very deep in places but shallows toward the tail-out. It is all very “snaggy” and is sure death for terminal tackle that is allowed to sink too deep. Because of the snaggy bottom and the steelhead’s attraction to bait, I like to fish this pool with cluster eggs or shrimp suspended under a float. By using a bobber stop, it is possible to fish the bait as deep as you desire. Summer steelhead can also be caught by fishing a jig under a float. Try a “Big-Jig” or “Jig-A-Lou” manufactured by Beau-Mac Enterprises in Auburn.

The drifts between the big pool and the power house also hold quite a few fish. This area is very rocky and just murder on drift rigs. I also like to fish these drifts with bait or jigs under a float. Even with a float, you should carefully limit the amount of line suspended under it or the terminal gear will still hang up.

Landing a fish in this area can be quite a challenge. There is no nice gravel or sand bars and the shoreline boulders are all large, some about the size of Volkswagons. I never carry a landing net. I feel the very few fish that are lost from the lack of one simply does not justify the inconvenience of lugging one around. I will, however, sometimes accept help if someone with a net offers it. (Thanks guys)

The summer-run steelhead fishing holds up well into the fall and winter. Although the Washington Wildlife Department considers only those steelhead caught between May 1st and October 31st summer-runs, they can be caught well into December and later. Several years ago, I caught a late summer-run at the Falls Pool on December 30th.

Water conditions play a major role in fishing the Falls Pool. Sometimes in the spring, warm rains and melting snow in the mountains, create high water conditions that make fishing impossible. At other times, even with moderately high water, fishermen wear rain gear to ward off the spray from the falls. And, sometimes early in the morning, when the demand for electrical power is the strongest, there can be a mere trickle coming over the falls.

During the fall, the same tactics that work for steelhead also work for salmon. Unable to continue upstream, Chinook, coho, and chums (and pinks on odd numbered years) all stack in this pool. Many are still in good shape and are kept for table fare. And, remember that the Chinook and Pinks must now be released.

To get to Snoqualmie Falls from Fall City, cross the bridge and take Highway 202 south toward Snoqualmie Falls for 2.3 miles to 372nd Ave. S.E. Turn right onto 372nd Ave. and go .2 mile to the Tokul Creek bridge. Cross Tokul Creek and continue to the end of the road and enter the large gravel parking lot. Walk down the asphalt access road to the lower power house. Follow the trail behind the power house and then down to the river. Continue upstream to the Falls Pool. A word of caution: The trail behind the power house is enclosed by a cyclone fence, even on top. It’s a good idea to break down your rod in this area to avoid inadvertently poking it through the fence and breaking it.

Note: It has been a few years since I last fished this beautiful fishing hole so some things may have changed. Be sure to check the current Washington State Wildlife pamphlet for special rules and regulations. So keep your hooks sharp, your line tight and carry a camera when you visit the “Spectacular Snoqualmie Falls.”

Beautiful steelhead and wonderful scenery at the Falls!