Finding New Waters
Jason Brooks, September 02, 2019
It seems that each year I find myself fishing the same places for the same fish. It is comfortable to go someplace you have been before and with success. Not really any need to find any place new, that is until you find yourself not catching fish, water conditions change, or maybe access has been removed. There are many reasons why we find ourselves needed or wanting to explore new waters. Maybe it is a new species, technique or even a “destination” trip such as Alaska, Canada or even a different part of your home state. But finding new waters can be challenging as well as stressful with all of the “what if’s” and unknowns. This journey can be a lot of fun or a lot of frustration but either way you will become a better angler by finding new waters.
Starting with what type of trip or fishing you plan on doing you need to focus on what is truly “doable”. For those that are thinking of an Alaskan adventure to one of the remote fishing lodges where catching barn door sized halibut and more Chinook than you could possibly reel in during a single day then you better start doing your homework. The first place to look is the “cost” tab on those fancy websites. Then add in the incidentals such as airfare, a day of lodging in town-as sometimes there are weather delays-shipping the fish home and other amenities. Now that reality has set it don’t put off that dream completely, instead plan for it. You might not be able to go this year, or next, but by putting a little away each month that trip will become a reality sooner than you realize.
Another way to look at a “destination” trip such as Alaska or Canada is to research the options of a partially guided trip, boat rentals, and a “Do it Yourself” adventure. There are many places that offer lodging, even camping, and also have boat rentals or offer half day guided trips. One thing the angler needs to realize on these trips is that you should have a little bit of humility in mind. Such as learning how to fish the way the locals do it instead of what you already do on your home waters. One place I go to up in Nootka Sound is often a Sandlace bite, which means small spoons, herring strips and streamer flies. If I went up there and put on a green label herring expecting to catch a lot of fish, then I would be disappointed.
One last thing about destination trips since this could be an entire article in itself, is to not get “boxed in” on catching those barn door halibut or expect forty-pound Kings. Go with the mindset that this is an adventure, and a vacation, not a “fill the freezer” trip. By doing this you will have a lot more fun, learn more about how to do it again, and have less stress over the amount of fish your bringing home versus the costs of the trip.
If you are planning on trying someplace new that is within a day trip, then the stress of such an excursion is lessened but still you need to do some proper planning. Finding That new destination can be half the fun as you research new places to go. Word of mouth is always a good resource. In this age of Social Media you can find ideas from the various groups out there on Facebook. Don't forget the tried and true web site that has a plethora of information on it - NorthwestFishingReports.com. You'll find thousands of reports and articles to give you ideas on new places to go fishing.
Each fall I find myself looking at my drift boat and wanting to explore a few more rivers. Other friends of mine are getting ready for a great October trout bite with nobody else on the lake. Salt anglers are anxiously waiting for the larger ocean Coho to arrive in Puget Sound or those “Dogs of Fall” the large and toothy Chums that are such a blast to catch in the salt as well as the rivers. So where do you begin to find a new place to fish where you can go and get away for a day with success depends on your personal desires.
Taking a look at a new river to explore, either by boat or along the banks. Run timing is the first thing you need to research and thanks to Social Media and great sites like this one just look around for reports. Be aware that most anglers don’t always tell the truth on where, what or how many they caught but one thing to look at are any posted photos. Don’t just look at the fish but also look at the background, such as weather and water conditions. The day it was posted also helps. Once you see a pattern from several anglers, not necessarily on the same year but during the same time frame, such as mid-September, then you have a starting point on run timing. Each year will be different but if you can at least find a few weeks where fish are being caught then you can target visiting this river during that time.
The river graphs or flows is one of the most important and overlooked research tools. Before going to a new river be sure to look at the current flow as well as the history of the river. Ask yourself if it is within normal limits and if the weather is going to cause the river to rise or fall. A few years ago we planned a trip for an Olympic Peninsula river. This trip meant driving a long distance and getting a motel room for the night before so we could be on the water at first light. It rained all night and the graph rose to a historical high. The river was “blown out” and if I had looked at the graph the day before, saw it was on the rise, and that the weather forecast was for a large amount of rain I could have saved the trip for another day. Always look at the weather forecast as this will help you plan on conditions as well as if you need to bring rain gear. It also can affect how you fish, such as throwing spoons for Coho during a heavy rain and rising river is very effective but floating eggs is not as the fish are not holding. Same goes for the salt angler and the tides. Most that head to the salt know this already but it can affect other things such as boat launches. One launch I visit on Vancouver Island is high and dry during an extremely low tide which means I need to get to the launch before low tide or wait until it is coming back up. It is a four-hour drive and it really sucks to get there and have to wait a few more hours if you don’t plan the tides right. Same thing with mud flats if you are trying to intercept Coho or Chums at an estuary such as the many streams in Southern Puget Sound that get Chum runs. It is a lot of fun to pull into a bay and twitch jigs, throw spinners and float red label herring for Chums until you realize your boat is stuck on a mud flat.
Access is probably the biggest factor, especially for the bank angler. In years past the only way to figure this out was through visiting the river and exploring. Now you can do that from your laptop. Start with the game department website and look for public access sites. From there look at county parks, state parks, and other public access. One local river that is within a half hour of a million people (actually more like three million people) has a great county park that offers bank access to fishing but hardly anybody knows about the park because most anglers only look at the WDFW access sites. Other map programs such as OnX maps show public lands and even offer landowner information for those banks that are locked down. Sometimes a knock on the door is all it takes to find your own private fishing spot. There are a few “pay to play” river banks and this can be a good option for a day’s outing to explore the river and may become a yearly endeavor if you find it to your liking. One such river is the Yakima where one of the best floats in the Canyon means paying a launch fee at a private boat launch but allows you to fish some of the best fly fishing waters in the entire Pacific Northwest, especially in late Fall.
The lake angler who plans on using a boat doesn’t have such issues as long as they find a public boat launch, or a private one that allows day use with a fee. Bank anglers suffer the same struggle as the river bankie. It amazes me how void the lakes become in fall, especially in October when this is the last month for the Lowland Lakes to be fished and the angling can be really good. Rainbows have been feasting all summer and now the crisp fall mornings often mean calm waters throughout the day. Water skiers, swimmers, jet skis and such are gone and the lake is probably the most peaceful now than at any other time of the year. Trolling a whooly bugger or casting a Rooster Tail on a calm fall day and catching large, feisty rainbows is one of the best ways to spend a day in the Northwest.
Once you have figured out where to go, and how to get there, the next step is to plan the technique. This is often done by which species you want to target. For lake anglers heading out for trout it is hard to beat trolling this time of year. For the river angler where salmon are on the list then be ready to fish a variety of techniques. Whenever I fish a river in my drift boat on a fall day with two friends we have at least nine rods in the boat. This is because we will be fishing at least three techniques during the day depending on water conditions and fish species. My favorite way to catch fall Chinook is to float eggs. This requires a stout rod from 9-12 feet in length with my “go to” rod being a 10 ½ North Fork Custom’s Rod. This allows me to mend the line and have enough power to hold a large fish out of a log jam. But twitching jigs for Coho-which run at the same time as the Chinook in many rivers-means twitching jigs. A short 7 ½ foot rod with a fast action tip and medium action butt end is needs. This rod will also work for throwing spinner and spoons if you need to keep the rod count down, such as hiking along the banks of a river or limited space in the drift boat. The third rod is my plug rod which is used for pulling plugs, bait divers or back bouncing eggs.
Be sure to plan accordingly when it comes to gear, bait, and safety. Regardless if I am sitting in a rowboat, hiking along a stream bank, or floating a river in my drift boat, I always wear my life jacket. It amazes me how many times I will go to a river and wade out to fish and see a few other anglers standing there with no life jacket on. One slip, a deep slot, swift current or any other of the many hazards while fishing and in a split second you can find yourself under water. Especially when learning new waters, safety comes first.
Hire a guide. This probably should be the first thing you do but it is often overlooked or not considered due to cost or availability. A few friends have asked me about rivers I have fished that they are interested in. I try and explain to them everything I know but usually follow it up with “Hire a guide”. An average drift boat trip for two anglers is about $200 per person and you will learn the river including its hazards, the holes to fish, techniques to use and various other information that you can use the next time you visit the river on your own. What would take you three or four-or more-trips on your own you can learn in just one. Time is our most valuable commodity and wasting it when you can be fishing just doesn’t make sense. If it takes you three trips to learn the river, and in gas, lodging, bait, shuttle, and gear it costs you $100 per trip then you actually spent more than if you just hired a guide for the one day and learned the river. Same goes for any salt water fishing or even some lake fishing. Guides offer several different kinds of trips and be sure to research the guide. Some won’t share info once they learn you have your own boat and are just trying to learn new waters, others are more than helpful and want you to be successful.
Before you read this article and throw a dart at a river, lake or other fishery and load up the boat there is one more important consideration. Be sure to read and fully understand the regulations. In my home state of Washington each river, lake and salt water “Marine Areas” have their own rules plus the statewide rules. And for river anglers it can be even trickier with sections of the river having different rules. One famed Olympic Peninsula river I fish has a “no salmon” fishing deadline above a popular WDFW boat launch. It also gets a good run of late Coho and winter steelhead anglers who fish the river above this deadline often forget Coho is closed. Be sure to research gear restrictions and possession limits as well, especially if you plan on fishing multiple days.
Fishing the same water for the same fish is reliable until something changes and you need to find new waters. Instead of waiting for this to happen start planning some new fishing adventures now. You will learn new techniques, places to go, and even how to fish for certain species. Don’t box yourself in with thinking you need a freezer full of fish and instead enjoy hitting the new water. Jason Brooks hails from North-Central Washington. The son of a fishing guide, Jason is an avid hunter, angler, outdoor photographer and published writer. He resides in Puyallup with his wife and two boys.