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Methow River Steelhead Opener

Dave Graybill - 10/29/2013
The opening of steelhead fishing on most area waters was the big news this week. Anglers were able to fish on the main stem Columbia River, Wenatchee, Methow and Okanogan rivers. The weather was warm and clear, not exactly our usual steelhead fishing weather. There is nothing like chasing steelhead on a warm fall day.

As expected, the fishing at the mouth of the Wenatchee was productive. The first morning was a good one here. I heard of other good hot spots on the lower river and fish taken further up stream. Fish will continue to spread out offering more opportunities to find fish clear up to the Leavenworth area.

The Methow was good on the opening. I had several reports of good fishing all the way up to Winthrop. Steelhead arrived early to this stream and spread out well before the opening of the season. I hope the good fishing continues. I have a trip planned on the Methow very soon. Last year I got to float the river with my fly rod in hand, and had a terrific day. I will have a hard time sleeping the night before. I’ll have visions of big steelhead dancing in my head.

I spent the first day of the season with my fishing buddy Rollie Schmitten. He had been at the monthly meeting of the Methow Valley Fly Fishers the night before, so I met him in Pateros. We put the boat in at the launch above the bridges and first tried the estuary. We started way up, near the big rocks, where two anglers were casting bobbers from shore. They hadn’t had any action yet, and we didn’t during the time we spent there. We dropped down to the buoy, about where the river bends and in spite of getting an excellent drift through here we didn’t get a strike. We did talk to a passing boat and the two anglers in it had hooked two salmon—dragging flies!

Our next stop was down stream at The Rocks. There were just two other boats working this area, which was a surprise. We made a few drifts through here and only got one pike minnow for our efforts. I hopped across the river to a “sure thing” drift, and although I felt we hit it just right we didn’t hook anything here either.

There were boats all over the estuary. There were half dozen boats working the water near the bridges on the Columbia. The docks were packed with anglers, and when we pulled the boat out we saw the only two fish we had heard of being caught all morning. John Truex and Darrold Zentner each had a hatchery fish, and they weren’t about to tell me what they were using to catch them!

Schmitten jumped into the Ford F-150 with me and we took the Kingfisher to Bridgeport. We were amazed to see just one boat here when we arrived. Either people had got their fish early and left, or they just didn’t think there would be that many fish below Chief Joseph yet. We would find out.

The one boat was working one of our favorite holes above the launch, so we headed down to the Blow Hole. We worked this spot hard and Rollie only caught a couple of small triploids. We floated the bank down below it and missed a couple of hits. I was hoping that no one had fished the bridge area yet, and we ran up there. We made a few drifts here without any luck. It was getting late in the day now, and our streak of not getting skunked steelhead fishing for over three years was looming large.

We just had to give the Pines a try. We knew a boat had been there, but we were running out of options. On the first two drifts Schmitten hooked and released triploids. On the next one my bobber went down and I released a nice wild steelhead. We were excited now and ran up to the top of the hole and set another drift. This time it was Rollie’s turn to have his bobber disappear, and he landed a hatchery fish of about 7 pounds. Boy, did we celebrate. Our day had finally turned around and we kept our streak alive.

We made one more pass at the Blow Hole before heading home. I guess I thought we had become hot, but we didn’t get another fish. That was fine. We had a great day. By the way, we were using the same rigs that we finished our season with last year. We both use long rods, floating, high visibility running lines and fluorocarbon leaders to Maxi Jigs. Rollie was using a 1/8th-ounce jig, and I was casting a 16th ounce jig. We were able to bait our barbless hooks with shrimp, while fishing on the Columbia River.

I am planning to fish for steelhead again on the Columbia next week, and I may be following the same pattern as I did this week. I know there can be fish in all the places I tried on the opener, and with new fish moving into the area all the time, I just may find more than I did this past week. It looks like we will be getting about a thousand more fish over Priest Rapids Dam than the original 14,000 that were predicted.

There is good news for steelheaders lower down on the Columbia River. From the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco up to the old Hanford townsite wooden powerline towers anglers may now keep any two hatchery steelhead. Earlier this season only fish with an adipose fin clipped and a ventricle fin clipped could be retained.

Man, am I looking forward to next week, and then a trip on the Columbia and then a float on the Methow the follow day. I am one lucky guy!

By Dave Graybill