Five Rivers for 20lb Steelhead

By Terry Wiest

Originally Published in the February 2009 issue of Northwest Sportman Magazine

Northwest Sportsman Magazine

It’s February and the allure of “wild” steelhead is making my heart race. We’ve already been fishing for hatchery brats for a few months, and although very fun and productive, now it’s time to get down to business and really tie into some amazing fish.

To me there’s nothing like catching a native steelhead. “Wild” not only indicates that it’s not clipped, but it also magnifies the intensity of the battle. They have not been raised in concrete pens, they have had to struggle to survive since hatching and they’re not too inclined to give up that easy.

They’re spookier, more finicky, more elusive, and just downright mean when it comes to fighting one of these magnificent creatures. Above all, they’re one of the most beautiful fish on the planet. That being said, I strongly recommend Catch and Release of all wild steelhead even where regulations allow you to keep one. We need to ensure that strains of wild fish remain for our children and grandchildren to enjoy as we have.

Methods used should be:

Pink worms – either a 6″ pink worm drift fished or a 3″ worm on a jig head.
Plugs – Wordens M-2 or T-4 Flatfish in metallics or reds, or Tadpollys in Dr. Death or Orange Herringbone.
Bait – (When and where legal) – Eggs or EZ Eggs for Side Drifting, Sand Shrimp for drift fishing.
Jigs under a float – To me the most effective steelhead method there is, but not necessarily for the larger wild fish I’m looking for. Pinks, peaches and purples.
Spoons – Big fish like big spoons – they do call them metalheads don’t they?

We are very blessed in the Pacific Northwest to have such a wide choice of rivers that have good native steelhead fisheries, but here are my top 5.

Skagit River: Big water, big fish!

When I first think about fishing for wild steelhead, the Skagits’ catch and release season is the first thing that comes to mind. This is trophy fishing baby! Although the Skagit stretches over 90 miles, I like to concentrate on the upper stretches from Marblemount down to Concrete. Marblemount to Rockport is my favorite drift.

Not a river for the beginner, and not a bankies river at all, the Skagit does give you that chance at a true 20lb’r and produces many each and every year.

Because the river is so big, it’s often hard to distinguish where the fish will hold and where the holes are. My suggestion is to hit the river the first time with a knowledgeable guide who will not only show you how to fish it, but show you the different spots. Wayne Ackerlund (888 675-2448) has consistently put me on some nice fish.

Selective gear restrictions are in affect so no bait, no scent and only single barbless hooks may be used.

Fishing Preference: Plugs, Jigs, Pink Worms, Spoons

Sol Duc River: Dangerous water, big fish!

The Sol Duc may even produce more big fish than the Skagit, but it’s not a river for the beginner or even average person on the sticks. There’s no other way to say it, this river is Dangerous! This is a must river to go with an experienced guide on THIS river. Bob Kratzer (800 577-8781) has put myself and all his clients on many Sol Duc fish and has many years experience on this river.

Dangerous as it is, it flat out holds BIG fish.

The best drifts for native fish are the Bear Creek and the Hatchery Runs.

Very few bankie opportunities here, but if you go around the hatchery and beat the brush there are some prime holding waters.

Fishing Preference: Pink Worms, Plugs, Bait, Jigs, Spoons

Wynoochee River: Easy drifts, lots of fish!

Ah, definitely a favorite of mine, and a few hundred of your closest buddies. The nooch gets a lot of pressure, but for good reason, lots of fish. Although the 20lb’rs will come from the river, most are your average 8 – 10lbrs.

Loaded with fish from up high at the 7400 gate, all the way down to the mouth, almost all methods will produce fish. 7400 to White Bridge is a popular drift, but White Bridge to Black Creek is even more popular.

Side drifting with roe or EZ Eggs is probably the most affective method here and there’s none better than my friend and guide Phil Stephens (206 940-0052). He just flat out gets his clients on fish.

Another good thing about the nooch… bank access! Yes, a great river that you can actually fish from the bank.

Fishing Preference: Bait, Jigs, Pink Worms, Plugs

Queets River: Lots of water, lots of fish!

From the same system as the Sol Duc, the Queets also gets a large run of wild fish. It’s also glacial water so sometimes the holes and structure are hard to see. At it’s best, the Queets is an optimal steelhead green.

The best drift to target wild fish is from Hartzell Creek to the Clearwater Bridge. Once you leave the boat launch you’re in the rain forest and it’s just you, your buddies and mother nature. Completely uninhabited, it’s truly breathtaking scenery and as wild as it gets.

Bankies have a few choices, but the mouth of the Salmon River is very popular. Other than that following the Queets River Road allows glimpse of the river so you can hike in. If the park is open it will provide numerous holding water for these great fish. Be careful, the forest is thick and it gets dark quick.

The river blows easy, but as soon as it falls back into shape hit it because you could be into a double digit day.

Fishing Preference: Bait, Plugs, Pink Worms, Jigs, Spoons

Humptulips River: Easy float, big fish!

Probably my favorite all around river, I just love to fish it. And fortunately for me, the Hump does get back enough nates to keep my blood pumping.

Steven’s Creek to Rynvan’s is a the popular drift, but the upper drift down to Steven’s Creek will produce more wild fish.

On the long gravely runs work the plugs good. While traveling to the next run, have someone tossing jigs at all the structure on the sides.

Although not a lot of wild fish, there will be those that tip the scales past 20 each year.

Fishing Preference: Plugs, Jigs, Bait, Pink Worms

Keep them Wild

Again, I strongly recommend and encourage catch and release of all wild steelhead. Take a good picture to relive the memories, but let the fish go to spawn and help out future runs of these magnificent fish.