If you like catching trout and you like solitude on the river, the Olympic Peninsula in July is the place for you. This is the land of steelhead fishing, lifted pick-up trucks, weed shops and “Women for Trump.” Not the kind of place where people are satisfied with a 12″ cutthroat. We found a bunch of rivers filled with trout and no one else fishing. It took some bushwhacking, rock-hopping and creative casting to get the fish, but I found myself giggling, and feeling like I just learned a really juicy secret.
My favorite place was the Sol Duc River, a beautiful aqua blue river just west of Olympic National Park. The river mostly borders the park, and while the fishing regulations do not change within the park, the dog regulations do. We stayed out of the park, the dogs ran wild and we found some really stunning, deep fishing holes as we walked up the river. Are the rocks slipperier than others? Maybe so, and if you get wet after landing in the river at least the sun usually shines in July.
We also explored the Upper Dungeness River. A great access point for this is the Lower Dungeness trailhead. The trailhead itself has slumped down the hill in a landslide, but you can still head out on the Lower Dungeness and Gold Creek trails, and find your way down to the river. Some people come here, but they seem like the kind that keep to themselves and more than anything were surprised to see us. They may carry guns.
We started by finding a game trail down to the river off of the Lower Dungeness trail. The landslide has pushed a lot of logs and trees into the river, creating some enticing pools, but this section of river is heavily treed and requires very careful casting. Lots of fun fish to catch when you aren’t catching branches.
The Gold Creek trail is narrow, overgrown and, frankly, a little spooky. Even the dogs were reluctant to head down it. But it leads to a bridge and excellent access to the river with some fast moving water, rocks, logs and pools. If you find my sunglasses, let me know! I loved fishing here, but hiking to and from the car gave me the heebies. Take a friend.
After the solitude of the Lower Dungeness, we had a bit of culture shock at the Upper Dungeness trailhead. We felt lucky to find parking, and yet had the river to ourselves (except for a couple of folks doing laundry…) as the cars seemed to belong exclusively to backpackers heading into the Buckhorn Wilderness. More cutthroat for us!
Good to Know: The state of Washington has some incredibly complex fishing regulations. Get the regulation book and an atlas in order to figure out which sections of which rivers are fishable for which fish at which times. There are even regulations about NOT releasing certain fish on certain rivers. Sort this out before you drink beer or whiskey. It is also helpful to be able to identify the different species of trout.
Even in the upper sections of these rivers you may encounter a steelhead. While a 3-weight, 7 foot fiber glass rod is a great choice for the tight shrubby sections of river and the vast majority of trout you will catch, you might regret the choice if you hook a steelhead. And while having a soft, small rod is reason enough to not be successful in landing the steelhead, you still might spend the rest of your vacation listening to your husband wondering what else he could have done.
Flies: Orange stimulators and anything that looked like a salmon fly were very successful here, as was the Royal Wulff. The lady (!) at the fly shop suggested something called a sofa pillow… It was orange and worked okay.
Camping: No joke, we spent a couple of nights in a 40-foot, 1930s cabin cruiser that was parked in the middle of a forest. Though dark and a tad musty, this was pretty deluxe, with an outdoor shower, wi-fi, and lots of teak. We also camped in the Dungeness Forks National Forest Campground, which was not collecting fees and may have had some semi-permanent residents. It’s right on the Dungeness River, but we could not fish here (due to the regulations) and were somewhat distraught at the local habits of washing dishes in the river and burning green wood, but it was a nice place to camp. And free.