La Push is near the town of Forks and is a typical northwest small town - people are friendly, you can drive forever without a stop light, and see breathtaking landscape at every turn. This small town had an added bonus, as it was home to many rivers. These rivers were home to massive salmon and steelhead, the reason we took the long journey from Florida.
Our plan was to wade fish the rivers, and do an all-day float trip. I was accompanied by Patrick Mullen from Florida, and the day of the float trip we met up with Aaron O’Leary from Angler’s Obsession. While Aaron was on a vacation in Florida a month ago, I had the opportunity to take him out in the kayaks for a saltwater fly fishing trip.
With the roles reversed it was now my turn, and I was looking forward to fishing with Aaron again in his home waters. The rivers are low in August, so the float boat of choice was a custom-outfitted raft built to take the hits from the rocks. It had an aluminum grab rail completely around the raft, leaning posts, and stripping baskets to make fishing and pulling the raft over low areas easy.
Our primary rods were 8wt fly rods. We also brought a couple spinning rods to cover all the bases.
The first fish were steelhead and brown, and Patrick seemed to have the touch. His fly rod was on fire, drag screaming, with Aaron attending the oars and using his classic deep radio voice to say “Hit, hit, hit!” at every strike.
I finally got in the game and started to catch fish. We floated for hours picking up fish, and then Patrick got a nice steelhead that made it home for dinner.
Now for me, the words “steelhead” and “ballistic” go together. The fish go crazy, screaming drag, doing complete flips out of the water, and going on like a crazed snook/tarpon hybrid. Add the rapidly-moving, cool, blue steel-colored water, and I can tell you the adrenaline was pumping.
As we floated, we beached the raft occasionally on rock bars to hit prime areas a little harder. This particular time, we stopped where the river split - and what a stop it was. I saw an area that had fallen trees on the left, current flow, some logs under water halfway down to the right, an eddy, and it was deep. Because of the depth, I switched from the fly rod to my little spinning rod I brought from Florida and cast a single-hook spinner. I let it sink first, then retrieved slowly to keep it down. I kept staring at the deep eddy, and I just knew a fish would be there. On my fourth cast the line stopped dead in its tracks. I pulled back, and immediately my line started screaming out drag - SCREAMING.
The fish got to the set of logs fifty yards to my right and made a U-turn. It shot straight back, paralleling the rock bar, and spun around right in front of me. I reeled reeled to try to keep up and that’s when I saw it… a MONSTER.
She took off again, back to the logs on my right, but this time underneath and through to the other side that led back to the main river. I followed as fast as I could, walking over the rocks with my drag still screaming. I got to the area where the log pile was underwater, and realized my line was going right through the logs and I couldn’t go any further.
Aaron, back from getting the huge net from the raft, yelled for me to get in the freezing water to try to get the line out from the logs.
I immediately jumped in, feeling no cold at all, and managed to follow my line through the logs. Rod held high, I followed the fish as she continued to run. We finally caught up, and again she turned and went back to the log pile. This time I got lucky, and she went around the outside of the logs and not through.
My prize was finally tired. Aaron scooped with the massive net (it’s really big) and the battle was won. This huge fish was my personal best king salmon to date. As we were admiring the catch, we also realized it has its adipose fin which made it a “wild” king salmon (not a hatchery fish) and an even a more exciting dark-mouth catch.
Wild kings are protected, so we carefully took pictures - ensuring the salmon never left the water - and released her back into the wild. At that point my vacation, regardless of the many days still to go, was complete! I just caught my largest king salmon! I walked back to the spot where it all started, put my rod down, and sat on the rocks to relive the dream – I was good!
I want to again thank Aaron O’Leary from Anglers Obsession. If you are in Seattle or closer, make sure you give him a call - http://www.anglersobsession.com/index.html From the breathtaking mountain hikes to the rugged beaches and rivers, and unbelievable fishing, the upper Northwest is a special place you will always remember.
Thanks to all the people we met along the way who helped make this trip truly unforgettable! Live life by the minute, and get outdoors and have some fun!