Time: 12:00PM – 2:00PM
Location: Above Sol Duc Waterfalls
Fish Landed: 15
While speaking to the gentleman at Waters West on Monday, I also asked if there were any streams where I might catch some resident fish in Olympic National Park in early August. The voice on the other end of the phone was quick to reply that the Sol Duc River held fish, although at the current low flows, a fisherman needed to cover a lot of water and search for deep runs and pockets. With warm temperatures forecast through Tuesday before clouds and rain were expected to move in on Wednesday, Jane and I decided to drive up the Sol Duc River valley and explore the attractions in that area of the park. Needless to say I threw my fishing gear in the rental car.
The drive from Forks to the Sol Duc River valley involved going east on highway 101 toward Lake Crescent similar to our trip on Monday. However, before reaching the western end of Lake Crescent, we needed to execute a sharp right turn, and then we drove south for approximately eighteen miles to reach the trailhead for the falls. Highway 101 crossed the Sol Duc River four or five times between Forks and the turn off, and it was evident that the river was quite low, and I understood the Waters West comments regarding covering a lot of water in search of fish. As we drove south along the valley in Olympic National Park, the streambed narrowed, and I became more optimistic regarding the likelihood of finding some fish.
On our way to the trailhead to the falls we encountered a pullout where we could view the salmon cascade. Unfortunately we were too early for the fall salmon runs, but the narrow ribbon of churning water was a pretty sight along the way. We continued on and after we passed the Sol Duc Lodge and campgrounds, we turned on a narrow gravel road and proceeded an additional six miles until we reached a large oval turnaround with parking on both sides. Signs indicated that we had arrived at the trailhead for the Sol Duc Falls. The map indicated that one could hike along the eastern side of the river, cross at the waterfalls, and then return to the Sol Duc Lodge on the western side.
Jane and I were undertaking a less ambitious challenge as we planned to hike to the falls where I would fish, and Jane would branch off on one of several side trails. I was the only person dressed in fishing waders and carrying a fly rod as we departed the parking lot for the .8 mile hike to the falls, and consequently I was feeling a bit abnormal. The hike was relatively easy, and we arrived at the bridge within twenty minutes and paused to take a few photos. Initially Jane and I hiked upstream along the right bank, but the trail seemed to fade and there were numerous campsites scattered about the area. I do not generally like to fish near campgrounds and well worn paths, so I suggested we cross back to the opposite side and find the Sol Duc Trail and hike further upstream.
Jane and I retraced our steps and made a sharp right turn at a shelter and then hiked uphill for .25 miles. The trail was beginning to move away from the river, so I decided to negotiate a steep descent through some large evergreens. I called out to Jane, and she waited and watched me carefully pick my path down the steep slope. Finally after some bushwhacking, I parted the bushes and stepped into the river. I pulled my line through the rod guides, and took a few steps into the stream, and then looked downstream to see where I was. I was quite surprised to discover that I was forty yards above the waterfall bridge! I had expended a ton of energy and risked injury on the steep slippery hillside to return to the spot that I could have easily waded into from the campground on the opposite bank. Sometimes I am prone to overanalyzing situations.
With that ridiculous adventure behind me, I shifted my focus to fly fishing. I read about the native rainbows and coastal cutthroat trout of the Pacific Northwest, and I was harboring hopes of landing a few of these species. I assumed they would be small, but at least they would be different from my normal Colorado trout species. I tied a size 12 gray stimulator to my line and began casting my six weight Scott to a nice deep pocket. The stream at this point was more akin to a Colorado headwater than a river that is connected to the Pacific Ocean. The weather was cool and cloudy and would remain this way for the remainder of my fishing time in the upper Sol Duc River.
As I began fishing, a woman appeared on the other side of the stream with her two blonde-haired sons. She stood directly across from me, and I felt some added pressure to not look like a fool in front of these spectators. My first cast generated an immediate refusal as did the second and third drifts, but I moved my fly to some slower water on the fourth cast and a fish jumped at the fly as if starvation was in its future. The flash of orange caught my eye, and I was both excited and disappointed as I stripped in a small six inch brook trout. I was excited because I found a place where resident trout were prevalent, and I would likely be able to enjoy some decent action. I was disappointed to learn that I’d traveled 1,000 miles to the extreme northwest corner of the United States in order to catch a species of trout that is native to my home state of Pennsylvania. I was truly hoping for coastal cutthroats or native rainbows.
In this first deep hole I probably landed ten brook trout, but I only counted five since the other five were beneath my six inch standard for recording on my fish counter. Meanwhile my tourist friend was more excited than me and continued to watch my every move. Jane returned from our ill advised attempt to escape tourists and spotted me fishing in the small stream above the waterfall, so she circled around and stood next to the blonde tourist. I later discovered that the fishing spectator was from the Netherlands, and she loves fishing, and she peppered Jane with all manner of questions. Amazingly my wife, who does not fish, was able to answer most of the questions with accuracy. Had I known that she loved fishing, I would have waded across and allowed her to catch a few fish. The small brook trout in the upper Sol Duc River were certainly willing targets for a novice fisherwoman.
After I exhausted the aggressive fish, I moved further upstream and continued landing small brook trout, and in no time I accumulated a count of ten landed fish excluding an additional ten tiny gems that were too small to count. I was getting somewhat bored with the ease of catching fish, so I decided to experiment with different flies. First I tried a lime green trude and landed another three counters, although this fly prompted more refusals than the stimulator. Next I tried a Chernobyl ant with the thought that the foam fly would not require frequent drying to enable floatation. Surprisingly the Chernobyl resulted in 100% refusals. I’m not sure if the hook was too large for the tiny mouths, or if there is some other explanation.
My last offering was a size 16 gray deer hair caddis, and that produced the last two fish. I looked at my watch and realized it was 2PM, and that was the time I committed to meet Jane back at the shelter. I hooked my fly to the rod guide and climbed up on a small island that split the stream. Once again as I pushed the bushes aside to cross the smaller braid on the other side of the island, I experienced a surprise. There was my pretty wife, Jane, sitting on a rock and reading at one of the many backpacking campsites along the river.
Despite the disappointment of discovering stunted brook trout in the Sol Duc River in Olympic National Park, I had a fun early afternoon. I landed fifteen countable trout in two hours, and I relished the opportunity to wade in new water and prospect with a large visible dry fly.