Sep 24, 2014


That's the spot. Right there!
That's the spot. Right there!
Every day fishermen come into the shop or call wanting to know about this river or that river. It happens all day long; the phone rings and someone wants to know how the Deschutes or the Klickitat is doing. “The fish are there, get out there and catch them” I reply. That should be enough to spur anyone who is contemplating a fishing trip to get out of the house and do it. Often, that advice is not enough; there are a lot of people that would like a map with precise directions to exactly where the fish are, preferably with a sign on the river that says “there is a fish behind this rock that will eat a purple size #2 hobo spey.” Doesn’t that take all the fun out of it?

gorge fly shop: fly fish the world with us
Get Bent!
I moved here a few years ago and hadn’t really expected anyone to show me anything. The very first thing I did (yes, before checking into my hotel or stopping at my new job I was to start a few days later) was drove up the Klickitat as far as I could with the light I had left. I mentally noted some good looking water and fished a promising run, and caught my first couple of Fall Chinook on a fly. The process of exploring a river, finding runs and access points is just as exciting to me as the actual time fishing.

gorge fly shop: fly fish the world with us
Kodiak Horses
I spend a lot of time looking at Google Earth, often more than is healthy. In the past year, I have fished 14 new (to me) rivers and about 15 new lakes. Each time I went to explore a new river, I spent hours looking at my computer finding trails, logging roads, access points and good looking water. Sometimes, it doesn’t pan out, but often times my preparation leads to an easier time getting to find places to fish and coordinating a plan for the day.

gorge fly shop: fly fish the world with us
Bugg'in Out
I love finding a new piece of water. There are some secrets left out there and web forums are usually not going to be any help at all. The only thing you can do is go out there and check it out. The biggest steelhead I have hooked in ten years was on a tiny little creek that just “looked good” on Google Earth. There are no roads across it and it only flows for a couple of miles. There is not one mention of it on any fishing forum anywhere (I checked). We spent an evening scouring through maps, cracking beers, creating a game plan, and then we made it happen. Ryan and I followed a couple of logging roads for what seemed like hours to a clear cut and then starting hiking downhill until we found some water. Then we found one little tiny pool that was holding (to our surprise) exactly two 15-18# steelhead. We each hooked and lost one, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences fishing that I have ever had.

Exploration meets Adventure
When arriving at a river that is new to you, there are a few things that I have always found very helpful. The most important thing you can do is to drive as far up the river as possible. Drive up to the boundary where the river is closed. Too many of us just fish the first place that we come across that looks decent, but there could be an amazing run just up around the corner that would be much more worth fishing. Take note of any and all pull-offs, access points, possible trails, etc… Some rivers are easier than others. For example, just about anywhere on the Klickitat that has more than enough room to pull a truck off the road usually has some fishy water near it. It’s almost all next to the main highway, so its not too difficult to figure out.

On the coastal streams, that is not always the case, as the vegetation can be so dense that seeing the water from the car is often a problem. I print off sections of river from Google Earth and stop the car and make notes of interesting areas and label them. I try to highlight good looking water on my maps and then figure out how to get there. “Must explore this area” “trucks parked here” and “possible access to sweet run” are common markings found on printed maps loosely organized (more like scattered across my tying bench and truck). Possibly the most helpful thing you can do when exploring a new river is to find where other fishermen are parked and take notes on that. Luckily for us, most dedicated fishermen cover their trucks in stickers advertising their passion, and also advertising the best places to fish.

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Campfire Fly Tying Session
I never expect to catch anything the first time I go to any river. The one thing that I can expect to do is to learn the topography and geography of the river. I hope to identify good looking spots and I am willing to hike for quite a while just to look at a run. I hiked about three miles last spring on the advice of an old man I met at a diner in Nehalem only to figure out that the run he was talking about would have been awesome at a much higher water level. My dog was happy for the walk and now I know what lays down that stretch of river. I will no longer wonder what the water looks like down there.

In the late spring, I turn my attention to lakes. That is even more fun for me because some of the lakes I find have no fish in them, but some of them have some mighty big fish. It takes dedication to hike into a lake that quite possibly has nothing in it. John T and I did quite a bit of bushwhacking this spring in order to find some off-trail lakes. It was one of my favorite explorations because these lakes had no sign of people. No fire rings, no cigarette butts, no beer cans, no trails. It’s pretty rare these days to find that type of place. There were definitely fish in the three lakes we hit. The fish weren’t huge, but they were eager and had never seen a fly.

Sometimes it just requires getting a little lost before finding oneself. There are hundreds of lakes in this area and many of them are not to be found in any fishing book or internet forum. It takes some time scouring Google Earth finding water that has good depth, yet is far enough from a road or trail to not see any pressure.

So next time you want to fish somewhere new, just go. Don’t worry about what the internet (or your favorite fly shop) has to say about it. You can learn by listening or you can learn a whole lot more by doing. Fly fishing has always been about exploring just about as much as it is catching fish. There are the people that figure it out and those that wait for others to figure it out.

Andrew Perrault
Gorge Fly Shop

"Fly Fish the World with Us"

Sep 23, 2014

Simms Vapor Wading Boot Review

The first time I put my hands on this wading boot I knew it was different than anything I've seen before from Simms. Sure it has the Simms' name on it, the familiar Simms Orange trimmings and the jumping trout logo but the boot was something way different. As soon as I handled it I understood the name Vapor

Simms Vapor Boots and Bass Bugs

While Simms has manufactured some of the best boots in the industry they are not known for being light. The Vapor is now the exception. As I looked them over closely visions came of rambling down shoreline trails and skipping boulders to reach that special bucket in my favorite run. Lightening the load is liberating. It's like the feeling you get when you drop your overstuffed daypack on the shoreline after a three mile hike. Ahhh! Now it's time to play.

But look and feel doesn't mean a thing until you test it. Will my dream be realized or forgotten?

My first opportunity to get these new boots wet came on a little warm water stream. Not the most demanding river to wade but it still has the ability to fully submerge you. It proved that on the first evening when I walked in with only some wet sandals on. I just made one wrong step and I quickly got a baptism. With warm water and no harm done I found myself laughing out loud as I crawled my way back up on a boulder. I could have waded the remaining trip in sandals like my fishing partner did but instead I chose to put some protection under me.
Alumibite Cleats

Over the last couple years I have become quite fond of rubber soled boots over felt. 

Wading boots are like boats in that there is no one perfect vessel for every situation. Some western rivers you need every once of traction you can achieve but I find that properly studded rubber soles have many advantages over felt. I often hike good distances, fish in freezing temperatures and might jump in and out of the truck often on my quest for fish. All of the above favors rubber sole boots. Gone are the days of packing felt full of mud, freezing into blocks of ice and leaving giant mud puddles on the floor of my truck.
Brr! Time to turn my thoughts back to the warm water trip
First off yes I studded them right out of the box.
While rubber soles have improved greatly in recent times I still don't believe we can ever be fully confident in the traction without some help. Just as the soles have improve so has the studs today. Simms Hardbite Studs are my immediate "go to" for general purpose use and most the time they are all I need. If your wading situations exceed these studs than go all out for the Alumibite Cleats. I have yet to find anything that sticks better than aluminum. The boots soles are specially configured to accept Alumibite cleats and/or Hardbite studs.

Simms Guards Socks
Since my first use involved wading without waders I purchase a pair of Simms Guard Socks. These proved to be awesome. They are anatomically correct 3.5mm neoprene complete with built in gravel guards and boot hook tab that lines up perfect with the D-ring that is permanently fixed to the wading boot. Everything fit like a glove. The first day I also wore the Simms Wet Wading Socks but the second day I just went barefoot inside the guard sock. Both methods worked great.

Last week I got out on a little coldwater trout stream. My first chance to try the Vapor boots out in a pair of Simms G3 Guide Waders. I found the same smile on my face. Like many streams to reach the good fishing it takes some trekking. The Simms Vapor boots were ready for the challenge.

Wrap it up! I'll take em!

This is my kind of boot for 90% of the fishing I do. Why 90%? Like I said earlier boots are like boats, there is no one perfect vessel that does everything great. If your wading is extreme, basalt rock, ankle breaking stuff (i.e. Oregon's Deschutes River) than the Simms G3 Guide or G4 BOA boots would be a better foot protection option. From wet wading warm water rivers or hiking miles of freestone streams, I couldn't be happier with what I experienced in the lightweight, comfortable and great traction of the Simms Vapor Boot.

My feet feel liberated!


Gorge Fly Shop Internet Sales Manager | Product Specialist

"Fly Fish the World with Us"

Sep 17, 2014

Morrison Files: Summer Edition

Hi Lyndsey,

Finally summers about done, most of our trips are now in the books and I’ve got to go to work for a while. I’ve attached some pictures, the first two are from the Middle Fork of the Salmon trip in late August. Jeanette caught the cutthroat on a stimulator with legs, a really nice fish. The next is a shot of Big Creek that feeds into the Middle Fork, the main river was blown out so we fished anyplace we could and this one was hot. After we got home I had a show to go to and then we went to Twisp, WA for Labor Day and fished the local lakes and streams and had a great time. The remnants of the fires were all around but there was still lots to do. Two days after we got home Craig, myself and a couple of good friends went to Cordova, AK, after getting stuck there for three days because of bad weather we finally flew out to the Tsiu River, pronounced Siu. It’s about a 45 minute flight over some really beautiful and rugged country. There were four of us and we were only able to fish Sunday, Monday and half a day on Tuesday but we still managed to catch 302 silvers and one 10# steelhead between four guys. Not a bad trip, plus once we got there it never rained and that’s a real bonus in Alaska especially this time of year. The one with me is a 16# Silver, what a place to fish. There is an area there where they go after top water flies, it’s really a kick to have a silver come up and slurp your fly off the top.

One last trip, Jeanette and are going to do the Rogue in late Oct for half pounders and hopefully one’s bigger than that. If 2015 is half as good as 14 has been I’m looking forward to it.

Hope all is well with you guys and that you’ve been able to get out and play a little.

Take care and I’ll talk to you later

A. Morrison

"Fly Fish the World with Us"

Sep 11, 2014

Klickitat River Mid Season with John Garrett


In my last blog article (John Garrett's Guide to Early Season Steelheading on the Klickitat), I mainly focused on swinging flies for Steelhead on the Klickitat River and approaching it from a Steelheads point of view. I touched on the clarity issues the Klickitat River can often have and I gave some insight to selecting the right fly profile and color. I wanted to follow that article up with a Mid-Season, early Fall article and focus on swinging flies for Chinook on the Klickitat. Bear in mind that steelhead will still be in the system but because of the numbers of Chinook they will become harder to catch.

Early predictions for this year’s fall Chinook run boasted numbers too big to ignore with a ship-load of fish returning, I thought it fitting to include Chinook this time around.  In other words, if you’re going to head over to swing for steelhead in September and early Oct, you have an excellent chance at hooking Chinook.  Andrew, a fellow Gorge Fly Shop employee and swinging addict, just scored a mint bright Chinook on the swing last night right before dark.  To be bluntly honest, if the river gets the return they’re predicting, catching a steelhead on the swing will be difficult because the Chinook will dominate the runs.  If you want to focus on steelhead alone, you’re going to have to search for small buckets where the steelhead will be hiding from the big boys.  That said, I’ve caught some “HOG” Steelhead right in the middle of the Chinook.  I think it’s because they think they’re big enough and bad enough to hang out with them.

Typically during the heat of the Chinook run, you will hook fewer steelhead on the swing because they are nervous and hiding out.  I have literally seen steelhead so tight up against the bank and tucked under the edge of a rock just to avoid the bigger, aggressive Chinook.   I have witnessed Chinook chasing steelhead down and nipping at them.  Later on when the salmon are staged up and spawning, I’ve seen steelhead sit right behind them just waiting for a stray egg to float by.


I once had a client ask me how I could tell the difference between a steelhead and a Chinook just by looking at them in the water as we floated by.  His question came at a great time because we were just about to come to the tailout of a run that traditionally held a number of Chinook and with the water as clear as it was, it was super easy to spot them.  We were nymph fishing at the time (don’t hold that against me! – I had kids to feed) and we were using Trout Beads.  You could see the beads as we drifted into the tailout, it was that clear, and as we started to see the fish and as I started physically pointing out the Chinook, I would say…”there’s a Chinook, there’s a Chinook, that’s a Chinook, and that one right behind them is a Steelhead!” and no sooner did steelhead come out of my mouth and that steelhead, like a rocket, took the clients Trout Bead as if on cue.  We got to see the whole thing go down!  That steelhead ended up being a hatchery Steelhead that we harvested and when we cleaned her out, her stomach had quite a few salmon eggs in her belly.  Who says, Steelhead don’t eat when they enter fresh water?

A Fall Chinook that couldn’t stand this Orange, Red and Black Mojo invading its home!


Fall Chinook weren't always in the Klickitat River and if my memory serves me right, we started stocking Fall Chinook or Upriver Brights (URB’s) in 1985 or 1987.  Since then for the most part the URB’s have done well, although I can remember in years past they were much bigger in average size than they have been in the past few years.  We get the Chinook smolts from Hanford Reach and on average four million smolts are planted yearly.


As I sit and type this out, in the past three days, the fish counts over Bonneville Dam have exploded.  A total of 113,397 Fall Chinook alone have made it past the counting window.  In addition to the Fall Chinook making their way up stream there were also a total of 19,300 hatchery and wild steelhead joining in the journey.  The warm Columbia River temperatures have forced the returning Chinook to be a bit later than normal and with no rain to speak of, the Klickitat is becoming low and clear which in my experience can make for tough fishing conditions.  On the Klickitat River one of the toughest conditions to catch a Chinook is not the off colored water we spoke of in my last blog article, but the low clear conditions that we are facing now.

If you will, Imagine a fish that spends 2 to 5 years out in the big deep ocean, sometimes known to swim at depths of 1800’, now entering in comparison a small stream that at best only has a few runs that are deeper than 20’.  To say they could be spooky is an understatement.  So, we’ve set the stage, how do we approach fishing the Klickitat River with tons of fish coming back and at least at press time, deal with low clear water conditions?


Most Chinook caught on the Klickitat River while swinging a fly I would dare say were hooked by accident, in other words hooked while swinging for steelhead, especially when there’s glacial color to the water.  When the Klick is running with glacial color, chinook will be found where you would typically target steelhead.  When the river is glacial, the Chinook become very comfortable hanging out in shallower water.  This makes them easier to target for the swing fisherman.

On the other hand when the water is low and clear, I find that the Chinook will concentrate in the deeper, boily, runs.  This scenario presents a challenge to the swing fisherman because it’s very difficult to get a sweet swing when your fly line looks like a snake crossing the road.  Over mending becomes the norm just to try to get a decent swing.  The beauty of two handed Spey casting and the Skagit system is the versatility it brings to the river.  In the instance we just talked about, I would pull out my intermediate head and it doesn’t matter if you like Rio’s Skagit i-Flight Heads or Airflo’s Skagit Compact Intermediate Heads, they both are the perfect answer to runs that are dominated by conflicting surface currents.  These heads with the appropriate sink tips allow the head to sink below the pesky surface current and actually will slow down your swing while maintaining the desired “J” swing.  The hype you’ve heard of feeling a direct connection to your fly while using an intermediate head is very true.  If you need proof, try swinging the run with your normal Skagit head and concentrate on the feel, then switch to an intermediate head and do the same.  You’ll quickly notice the difference.  Here’s a quick descriptions of both lines from their respective manufacturers.


RIO’s new iFLIGHT is the latest addition in the arsenal of heads for the Skagit fly fisher. The short, powerful head has an 8ft long highly visible floating back end that is easy to track during the swing, and can be mended for total fly control. The unique clear camo intermediate front section is a fantastic asset for when extra depth is needed, in strong current and also on windy days, or when a slower swing is needed.

RIO’s iSHORT heads are powerful, intermediate based Skagit heads (with a short floating back section), designed for shorter Spey rods, Switch rods and single-handed rods. The intermediate front section give anglers deep, slow swings, and cast large flies and the fastest of sinking tips with exceptional ease. For anglers using shorter Spey rods, Switch rods and Single Handed rods, and for tight casting situations, the iSHORTS are a fantastic choice. All Skagit heads are built on an ultra-low stretch core for the maximum in casting and fishing sensitivity.


Great lakes anglers identified the need for a line that would cast and fish like our Skagit Compact, but would avoid all the surface hydraulics caused by corrugated bottom structures. While in development and testing the Skagit Intermediate Compact opened our eyes to a whole new level of fly presentation. No longer do you have to put up with tumultuous surface currents pulling at the floating portion of your Skagit system. 

The Skagit Intermediate gets you below the surface and into more even, mid-strata flows, allowing for a smoother more direct fly presentation. Two tone in color, the front taper and belly section are transparent blue intermediate, and the floating back taper is Heron gray. Featuring power core for direct contact and solid hook set, our industry leading Flexi-loops at both ends, and easy to read head size designation. Skagit casting anglers will benefit from this line no matter where you fish.


If you’re going to target Chinook an intermediate head will be your friend, your best friend! Typically when lining up your rod with an intermediate head you will want to match the same grain weight of your normal Skagit head or go a line size smaller, I personally recommend a line size smaller, but there are folks out there that will stick with the same grain weight as their normal Skagit head. In other words if your Sage Method 7126 takes a Rio Skagit Max 525 grain head I would put a Rio Skagit iFLIGHT 500gr head on. If you like Airflo and you use the Skagit Compact 510gr or 540gr head I would go with the Airflo Skagit Compact Intermediate 480gr or 510gr head.

These heads are a little bit harder to cast than the normal Skagit heads because they sink. You will want to bring the line to the surface completely by slowly lifting your rod tip and then perform a roll cast downstream to then set up your Spey cast. If you try to cast the intermediate heads without doing this you will struggle and in turn not enjoy fishing with an intermediate head. Another thing while casting intermediate heads is this, during your casting stroke you will want to keep things moving. You won’t have to rush things, you’ll just want to keep your stroke moving not allowing any hesitation for the head to sink. Once you start don’t stop.The intermediate heads are perfect tools for also swinging the faster choppy water at the heads of runs and pools. In my experience salmon and steelhead often will concentrate at the heads of runs when the water is low and clear for several reasons. More oxygen and more cover. This is especially true in a run that is considered shallow by Chinook standards. If you need a reference, I would say runs that are 6’ or less in depth are great candidates to focus some additional time at the top of the runs. I have seen salmon and steelhead hold so far up into the head of the run they are almost in the tailout of the run above it. I have seen fish holding in this type of water with their fin sticking out of the water. Often times when you have choppy water at the head of a run there are soft deep pockets just as the run starts to get deeper. This is an excellent spot for a spooked fish to hold. In a fish’s point of view, what’s not to like. They have oxygen and they have cover.

Now, with all this about intermediate heads they don’t always work under every condition. They shine in the faster, boily, deeper water and at the heads of runs where you have enough current speed that you’re not always hanging up on the bottom. There can be a fine line from dredging and dragging. Dredging means I’m down deep enough and my fly is swinging right where I want it. Dragging means just that! I’m too deep and in turn ineffective, dragging my fly across the bottom just waiting to get hung up. Salmon and steelhead see up and you want you’re offering above them where they can see your fly, not below them where they could care less. I will agree that you need to get your fly in front of the Chinook, and Chinook are somewhat lazy but I can’t stand my fly dragging on the rocks constantly and often getting hung up and losing flies. Losing flies can be a huge waste of time if it happens too often. If I tick a rock or two during my swing I can live with that, but if I am constantly dragging I am going to change something in the set up. Maybe all I need to do is add a lighter sink tip or cast further downstream so I don’t allow as much time for the fly to sink or maybe I change the head all together. If the river gets too shallow and clear I will use summer tactics and go with an outfit that is less likely to spook the fish. An Airflo Rage Compact with a clear intermediate Polyleader or even long 14 to 16’ fluorocarbon leaders with smaller flies can and has paid off for me in really tough conditions.
This hatchery steelhead caught in low clear water made for great fish tacos!


If you fish the Klickitat in the next four to six weeks, you’re not going to have to wonder if the fish are there, you’re not going to have to call the shop for a fishing report. Get online to our website: or better yet just stop by the Gorge Fly Shop and pick your swinging self up an intermediate head and a few effective flies and head on over to the Klick and start swinging. You’re going to see fish roll all around you. You’re going to wonder why you might not be getting grabbed. Next thing you know, you’re getting ripped out of your waders. The difference between a Hero and a Zero is a split second. Hold on, if you’ve never landed a chinook on the fly it could take a bit.

And please remember, these are things that I have done and still do that are effective for me and in no way are the only way to catch salmon or steelhead. I write these things to share insight and I know other anglers who have had great success that could easily add to what I have written here. I am always on the lookout for fresh information that I think could improve my success on the water. Bear in mind that as swing fisherman we are trying to get fish that supposedly don’t eat when in fresh water, to eat our fly. Doesn’t that sound like a challenge from the get go? I mean if they ate like they did out in the ocean it would be too easy. I know for a fact that I could nymph fish or use a centerpin with a single bead and crush chinook and steelhead on the Klickitat River, but that is not what I want to do. Nothing against it but I just love the challenge and the grab on a tight line swing. Of all the methods I have used over my steelhead and salmon career, the grab on a tight line swing is hands down my favorite way to catch them. It can also be the hardest and that again is why I like to do it.

Remember in my last article I stated that when the river is full of fish, it always and I say again always plays in your favor toward success. I would rather fish a river that is low and clear with a ton of fish in it than a river that is low and clear and baron. This is stating the obvious.

FLY CHOICES (Conditions can dictate choices):

Chinook tend to like certain colors like blue, chartreuse and black or orange, red and black. I have also had success with chartreuse, purple and black. They really like chartreuse for whatever reason. If hooking a Chinook or steelhead in the same run is a strong possibility, I will choose a fly that works for both. The flies pictured below would do the trick…

Pictured above are a few of my own favorite ties that have caught Chinook in the past and as an added bonus steelhead as well. If you tie your own flies the possibilities are endless. I’m a big fan of chartreuse for Chinook but if I had to choose just one fly to use it would be my Orange, Red and Black Garrett’s Mojo to the far right because it has landed Chinook, Steelhead and Coho for me.  These are flies I would choose, in a heartbeat, if the Klick had glacial color.
If you don’t tie your own flies or you’re in a jam and need to pick up some, stop on in at the Gorge Fly Shop and the flies pictured below would be excellent choices as well. The photo to the left would be great low, clear water choices and the ones pictured to the right for glacial, off colored water. Remember in my last post that I stated the darker the color water…the darker the fly choice. Keep that in mind when you make your choice.

Low, clear water flies pictured on the left, top to bottom: Howell’s Signature Intruder size 6, Morejohn’s Bantam Purple and Orange, Hickman’s Fish Taco, GP Spey Orange, Polar Shrimp, Silvey’s Brass Monkey.

Glacial or off colored water fly choices pictured on the right, top to bottom: Metal Detector, Larimer’s Reverse Marabou tube fly, Jumbo Critter, Bjorn’s String Butt Prawn, Hot Butt Prawn, Pick’yer Pocket Orange, Foxee Dog, Pick’yer Pocket Blue and Chartreuse. Again, these aren’t the only flies that will take Chinook, they’re just great choices!

The beautiful thing about fall is that both steelhead and Chinook are present in the river and the chance at hooking both on the swing is like a magnet to me. Like I said earlier, I think that most Chinook that are caught on a swung fly are caught by accident while swinging for steelhead, at least on the Klickitat. With everything that I have said here, get out there, tie on a sweet fly, relax, take a deep breath, leave your stress behind for the moment and enjoy the day. Tomorrow is never promised, soak it all in. And when you do get that grab try not to lose your mind! So just…

"...Relax Bro"
ONE LAST HINT: If you’re struggling to get a grab by a chinook and you know they’re in the run your swinging, try tying a dropper with a trout bead off of your main swinging fly. Use about 12 to 14 inches of dropper and just see what happens. I’m not saying that I do this very often, in fact I do it very rarely, but when you just have to get a grab or your gonna die, try it. Salmon and steelhead naturally key on single salmon eggs this time of year. Salmon don’t spawn clusters of eggs. It’s just a thought and if you don’t like it, don’t try it.

Salmon don’t spawn clusters of eggs. It’s just a thought and if you don't like it, don't try it.
Klickitat Fall Chinook fooled in fairly clear water
Thanks again for taking the time to read my ramblings. If you ever need anything just call the Gorge Fly Shop or stop on by, we aim to serve your fly fishing needs. We love to fish, we love to talk about fish….

See you out on the river and if you recognize me say hello!

The GFS Team
John Garrett

Be sure to also read - Chapter One:
John Garrett's Guide to Early Season Steelheading on the Klickitat


"Fly Fish the World with Us"

Swinging for Fall Chinook

Most of the hardcore steelhead fishermen around here get a little sad this time of year. The Chinook Salmon start pouring into the rivers and the steelhead can get awfully elusive. Classic steelhead runs fill with salmon and push the steelhead into pockets, riffles and tiny little trout holds. I love steelhead fishing. It is one of my favorite activities, but there is this old saying: “when in Rome…”

Well, Rome is full of Fall Chinook Salmon right now. I like catching Chinook, not nearly as much as steelhead, but there are incredible amounts of salmon in the rivers right now. The Columbia has had over 200,000 fish through Bonneville Dam the past week, which is more than many of the entire fall runs in the 90s. With record numbers of salmon in the river, it might be a good time to try fishing for them. The Klickitat is going to be stuffed to the brim with Chinook into October, along with most of our other local rivers. The Hood is not open for targeting or retaining salmon as of September 10.

Most people that don’t like catching Chinook dislike it for a couple reasons. First is that they don’t actually fight that hard. They are super strong, but that’s not what I mean. They tend to “dog”, where they put their heads down and try to hold in one spot. Where a steelhead runs and jumps and screams line off your reel, a salmon tends to swim right back to the spot where you just pulled it from. You pull and pull, only to have a fish pull back just as hard. It’s kind of anticlimactic for how big the fish is. The other reason is that you can fish for them all day, watching them roll and not have much, if any success. I don’t mind not catching steelhead all day because it is a mystery whether there are any fish in any given run and I know that if I work the water right, then a steelhead would surely bite my fly if it is there. Salmon let you know that they are there and they aren’t eating your fly.

It is possible can catch them on the swing just like steelhead, but there are a few things that will help you get into them if you really want to take that dive. The difference between steelheading and salmon fishing is vast. In a run full of hundreds of Chinook, you might get one or two to eat a fly. In that same run the rest of the year there may be three or four steelhead in there and you might get one or two to eat a fly. The Chinook roll constantly letting you know of their presence. Seeing a steelhead rolling is pretty rare.

I got my first Fall Chinook of the year in early September. The previous two years, I had swung into a few by the end of August, although the fish seem to be a bit late this year. It was also my first effort of the year in a run I like for salmon this last week. I brought a 13’6” 8wt spey rod, 525 grain Rio Skagit i-Flight intermediate head and an Airflo T-18 FLO tip. Five feet of 16# fluorocarbon and a large, flashy, lead-eye fly in pink and purple finished off my set-up.

When steelheading, I tend to move through a run fairly quickly. Two or three steps between casts and a nice smooth swing . When fishing for Chinook, I take a different approach. I tend to wade out pretty deep in order to keep my fly in the deepest part of the run. I hold my rod way out over the deep water and let the fly dangle and work as slow as possible. Casting straight across the river and then throwing a huge mend into the line lets it sink quite a ways before it comes tight and starts to work its magic. I make at least three casts before taking a very small step if any. If I am absolutely sure that my fly is being presented to fish, I won’t move much at all, but will throw different mends and casts at different angles in order to give the fish different looks at the fly. They are not steelhead, as in many of them will not take a fly no matter what. You just need one player and it can see dozens of casts before it finally attacks. This means that you should work a pod of fish as hard as you can and goes back to the old saying: “never leave fish to find fish”.

Fishing when the sun is off the water is advantageous. I believe this even more so for salmon than steelhead. I just have an hour or so after work to get into them and so far am one for two on evenings swinging for Chinook this year. There are no secret spots either. Expect company during September on the Klickitat. Just find yourself a little piece of water and work it hard. Don’t get frustrated when dozens of salmon are rolling all around you but not taking the fly. Patience and experimenting with your swing will reward you. You don’t need to fish slow deep pools for salmon. One of the runs I like to fish is decently fast and varies from 4-8’ deep. It actually seems like it is too fast to be a good steelhead run. It just has a defined trough where the fish definitely hold between two little rapids.

I have found that when the salmon are rolling, catch rates are fairly low, but at a certain point in the evening, the fish really stop rolling, or at least tone it down quite a bit. I find that when the fish have stopped (or slowed) their rolling, I tend to have the most success soon after. Salmon are known for having a high release mortality, so when I catch one, it is going home with me (where legal). They often fight themselves to the point of exhaustion resulting in death when released.

If you decide to take on Fall Chinook on the fly, it can be a rewarding experience, and hopefully helps you get through the fall when steelheading can get tough.

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