Fish America: The Pacific Northwest

This week I rounded out the westward-moving portion of the trip by doing some fishing on the left coast before heading back East. After fishing San Francisco Bay, I couldn't leave without seeing the Giants fans celebrate their recent World Series victory in the streets. I caught the tail end of the parade; here busloads of players are making their final exit from the streets as fans shout thank yous. The city had good reason to celebrate, with the Giants winning for the first time since moving west. That night, back in Sausalito, where I kept my jeep, I'd be the only one holding down a stool in a small bar, talking about the 1967 Red Sox, Yaz, barnstorming, the rich history of the sport and the way it had changed with a bartender named Brian who'd seen his share of baseball.
And inspiring though San Francisco was, I can only spend so long in cities, so I headed to a place I'd been looking forward to seeing: Yosemite National Park. I stayed at Yosemite Lodge. No, not the lodge itself, which was outside my budgetary means, but the lodge parking lot. The park was covered up in stars, and arriving at night meant I'd wake up with some of the most spectacular natural wonders in the country waiting outside my window.
Yosemite, too, has groves of giant sequoia trees, like the one pictured here. Mariposa Grove is a place worth visiting if you make Yosemite a destination.
But Yosemite is perhaps best known for its waterfalls, cascading hundreds of feet, like the one pictured here. Every field, stream and waterfall begs to be photographed.
Yosemite's truly one of those places you've got to see to believe. Valleys, streams, waterfalls and giant sequoias make up the 1,200-plus square miles of park. The fall is an especially beautiful time to visit with the foliage turning and herds of deer moving through the valley.
While visiting Yosemite, I made it a point to see the Mariposa Grove of sequoias, and Glacier Point, one of the better overall views in the park, from what I'd read. There's enough here to spend a month exploring, but if you go, make sure to check out these two places.
The sun sinks over the park.
On my way back east I passed Clear Lake in California, known for some great fishing. I had no guide, no boat, and not much knowledge of the lake, but you can't just drive by, right?
I worked the area around the boat ramp with a jig and tungsten weight, unsuccessfully. Fall winds sweeping over the lake kept people at home, but at least I tried. I continued moving west.
I climbed the California coast northward to another anticipated destination, the redwood forests of northern California. The tallest trees in the world, the redwoods were something I'd always wanted to see up close. These trees can live more than 2,000 years and grow taller than 370 feet in height.
Scenic drives through the park let you get lost in these dense forests of redwoods, with the afternoon light filtering through.
Through the trees you can catch glimpses of the Pacific coast. It's one of the more visually impressive places I've visited, with the forests of thousand-year-old trees sitting on the edge of the crashing ocean. Although the park is famous for the trees, it protects miles of coastline as well.
Beaches like this one inside the park provide a stark contrast to the dense forests of redwoods.
It's hard to pull yourself away from places like this.
But Oregon waited, and you can't visit Oregon without going to Portland. Portland, from what I learned, is known for many things but perhaps foremost its beer brewing prowess. I was told to visit the Deschutes River Brewery Pub in Portland, and it seemed like a good idea. The brewing company is known for their award-winning beers.
Of course, you can't just pick one beer when you're trying to cultivate a more sophisticated beer palate. My "what's-on-sale" taste from college didn't do me much good in Portland. Thankfully, Deschutes offers this six, 4-ounce beer sampler. Pictured, clockwise, are Black Bitter Porter, Green Lakes, Forest Park, XXII, Inversion and cascade. I'd recommend the Cascade, which is a crisp, light beer. That admittedly comes from someone with no beer-drinking taste whatsoever.
These guys, however, judging from the walls of awards from beer contests across the country, know what they're doing.
A glass wall lets you see right where you're beverage is coming from.
Making the trip up the Oregon coast, I stopped by the Nehalem Fish Hatchery in Oregon to get a look behind the scenes of the stocking process.
Mike Hazen oversees a lot of the day-to-day processes at the hatchery, and here he shows off some 8-month-old rainbows. The hatchery raises the Coho and steelhead salmon that the Pacific Northwest is so famous for. The Nehalem hatchery is somewhat unique in that it offers access for the physically handicapped right behind the hatchery, providing an opportunity for more anglers to get a shot at these beautiful fish.
Continuing north, I couldn't pass Woodland, Washington without stopping at the G. Loomis rod factory to get a look to see how some of the rods I've been carrying around the country get crafted.
Thanks to Bruce Holt at G. Loomis, I got to put on an orange vest and safety goggles and get a closeup look at what goes into making a G. Loomis rod. The G. Loomis staff keeps a wall of photos that anglers send them of fish, large and small, taped up inside the factory. One department handles broken rod claims, and tries to verify the stories anglers send about their two-piece that became a four-piece. Although, Holt says, they almost always give the angler the benefit of the doubt.
The factory, on the banks of the Columbia River in southern Washington, has more than a little bit of a fishy feel. Impressive fish caught on G. Loomis rods adorn the walls, next to the rod model they were caught on.
From Woodland I continued my trek. As long as you're going to drive cross-country, you might as well go as far as you can go. Pictured here is Cape Flattery, Washington, on the coast of Neah Bay. A half-mile trail leads you through dense forests and emerges along the steep cliffs of the crashing Pacific, at the Northwesternmost point in the continental United States. For my journey westward, this was the end of the road. It's as beautiful a place as I've ever seen.
With no choice but to move east, I visited the northern edge of Olympia National Park. If you go, check out the half-mile hike from the Storm King ranger station on Crescent Lake that leads you to the 90-foot Marymere Falls. Surrounded by towering cedars and firs, it's hard to remember how close you are to highway 101, especially when staring down at the falls.
Olympic National Park is worth a visit if you're anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. The Crescent Lake area is especially scenic.
The Sol Duc River trail, along the park's northern edge, at last light.
It seems like the water itself is the last thing to let go of the light pulling back up through the treetops.
I needed a change of pace to balance the solitude of the park, so I headed to Seattle.
Seattle might conjure images of rain and coffee, but I came to find fish.
To assist me, I'd enlisted the help of Seattle area guide Chris Senyohl, and he gave me the heads up to check out the Steelhead Diner on 1st Avenue before we fished. The diner's owner was fascinated with the fish, despite never having caught one at the time he designed the diner, Chris explained. He has since, however, caught the fish his restaurant is named in honor of. Chris and Seattle area fishermen meet at the restaurant every-so-often to discuss … what else? Steelhead.
The panoramic puzzle of fly-fishing images behind the bar makes for an urban oasis of angling art.
I'd exit the city and head east on Route 90 to get to Preston, Washington to float the Green River with Chris the next day. The Green River is a 65-mile stretch of water that holds, depending on the time of year, pink, silver, chum and Chinook salmon, as well as steelhead. Chris and I would float an 8-mile stretch of the river in his aluminum driftboat. The winter steelhead run typically gets good around Thanksgiving, and the run of pink salmon is almost strictly a September thing, so we'd be targeting silver and chum salmon on the mid-November Monday.
Here, Chris shows one of the pink bucktail jigs that we'd be targeting the salmon with. We fished them both under a float and without one.
Chris has been guiding in and around the Seattle area for more than a decade. He grew up in the Seattle area, and caught his first steelhead when he was 7 years old. His great grandfather was a steelhead fisherman, that shared a deer camp with George McLeod, a man who tied one of the most famous steelhead flies of all time: the Skykomish Sunrise, a fly on which he caught what was at the time the world-record steelhead. Chris has albums full of 20-plus-pound steelhead he has caught and guided clients to. You can see for yourself at www.intrepidanglers.com, where he's posted some of his photos online. I could go on, but I think you get the point: this guy lives eats and breathes steelhead fishing.
Need more proof? This 26-pound beast of a steelhead is mounted in Chris's home.
Even though my timing was early for steelies, Chris put me on my first sliver salmon in the morning.
Darker in their in spawning colors, these are still beautiful fish.
Speaking of spawning colors, I was able to land this chum (or dog) salmon as well, which was particularly painted. By suspending a flatfish-like lure in the current, we got this guy to strike later in the day.
These fish, which were staging to spawn, were another gorgeous fish up-close. The fangs, which Chris explained to me that they lack when at sea, make them look particularly menacing.
We floated the river from 8 a.m. until dark, and an on-and-off drizzle turned to a steady rain right as we put ashore, which meant one thing: get dry and grab a beer. I can cross "Moose Drool" off the list of beers I have yet to try.
There are times, thanks to generous people like Chris and his wife Laney, when roughing it cross-country becomes decidedly less rough. I woke up Monday morning at 5:30 to the sound of rain beating on roof of my jeep, and less than 15 hours later I was sitting in front of a plate of pork tenderloin and a glass of white wine. Turns out Chris is a better person than he is a fisherman, and that's saying a lot based on the countless albums of photos of enormous steelhead lying around his house.
Pictured here is the famed and aforementioned Skykomish Sunrise, a legendary steelhead fly, tied by George McLeod himself. The handwriting is George's as well.
The next morning there was an extra seat in the truck for a pheasant and duck hunt, just outside of Everett, Washington. Chris's 12-year-old lab can still clear a foot off the ground jumping when you say 'birds.' Here, she waits patiently to hit the ground running.
Chris and Bill ready the shotguns for a walk.
In less than 90 minutes, Chris had shot his limit of two pheasants, a hen and a rooster. The dogs, a 6-year-old male lab and a 12-year-old female, stand proudly over the birds. "These guys don't quite understand bag limits," Chris says. "They can't figure out why we're done."
It's tough to argue with a state where you can get a close-up look at the spawning colors of a chum and silver salmon one morning, and get some delicious meat and great fly-tying material in the field the next.
All told, after Bill filled his limit as well, and including a successful duck hunt prior to Chris and I's arrival that morning, it seemed like a pretty good fall day to be in the field.
If You Go: Fly-fishing or conventional, freshwater or salt, in and around the greater Seattle area: Chris Senyohl, www.intripidanglers.com. This guy has guided and fished from Alaska to Argentina and the stories alone are worth a trip. Although my guess is he'll put you on some fish that will keep you coming back. G. Loomis Rods: www.gloomis.com

Deschutes Brewery Pub in Portland: www.deschutesbrewery.com

A World Series parade, Yosemite National Park, the redwood forests, an award winning portland brewery, a look behind the scenes at the G. Loomis rod factory, a quest for silver salmon and a fall pheasant hunt. I've been busy.