Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Our Hearts Beat: Wyn - ooch - ee

Fishing with Casey of Waters West Guide Service
When you fish with us you're not just in another guide boat on the river.  We're not just another guide service headed to the Wynoochee because it's January and the fish are in.  When you're in Casey's boat - you know there's not a better seat on the river.  Not only because he always runs new and up to date drift boats, or because he knows every nook and cranny, every bend every log every underwater rock ledge where the fish hold.  If you're looking for the best of the best for a particular fishery - you've found it.  The long days season after season Casey has spent perfecting his game plan to catch you fish on this river cannot be matched.  He doesn't follow the latest trends and fads in gear or rely on online forums for information.  He knows what works and what has worked for guiding customers to fish for over a decade.  He continues to improve on his own gear set up every season to sharpen his edge for catching you more and more fish.

Tidbit: (* did you know that Casey met, proposed to and married his wife all on the bank of the Wynoochee River?) Wyn - ooch - ee!!

When you decide that you want to fish in January, February or March for Winter Steelhead - maybe you googled fishing the Wynoochee River or a friend referred you to us, maybe you saw an ad on  Facebook.  Or maybe you met us at a Sportsman's Show or follow the reports on Steelhead University.  Whatever it was that got you to call we're grateful for.

Tip Top Customer Service 
When you do contact us - Jessica is always waiting ready to make sure your reservation is complete and accurate.  If you call at 8pm on a Sunday you're going to get an answer.  You can also book online 24/7 - if you call at 3am we probably won't answer :)  We hope our professionalism in scheduling your trips is always evident.  Our customers are very important to us and we never want you to feel any other way.

So you found us, you called or booked online.  You have a confirmation email with reminder emails a week before the trip.  Every day when Casey checks in he gives the daily report to Jessica and confirms whether he needs to meet at a new time.  For this winter season most start times have been 6:15am - meeting at the Chevron in Montesano where Casey has been meeting many of you for over 13 years.  We always recommend staying at the Monte Square Motel which is at this same location.  Very convenient to wake up and meet Casey right in the same parking lot.  ( Monte Square Motel 360-249-4424)

Meeting the Morning of the Trip
At the peak of the season there are trucks and boats everywhere - guides and friends meeting up to fish the famed Wynoochee River.  You spot Casey's black truck and head over to meet him.  Everyone has their coffee and cold weather gear you head up to the take out spot.  You will follow Casey to one of several take out spots on the Wynoochee River.  Twin Bridges, Black Creek, Grandma and Grandpas (private launch), the Culvert, Cross Over or White Bridge.  You leave your vehicle at the take out spot.  Grab all your gear and hop into Casey's truck.  Another point we strive for is your comfort on the ride to the upper launch.  We always have a large 4 door truck or SUV so you'll know when you bring wives or customers that they will be comfortable (as first class as steelhead fishing can be) all the way.

You head up the Valley in the warmth and comfort of the truck.  If this is your first time fishing with Casey you make small talk - you might have lots of questions about the river, the fish, the valley.  Casey may not know that the fish stock for this river last year was 170,300 or that the ancient ancestor of modern salmon and steelhead was the Onorynchus Rastrosus, but he does know how to help you catch the Onorynchus Mykiss (steelhead) currently in the system.  You get to the upper launch - any launch above Twin Bridges (the lowest launch) including the 7400 line bridge or the private launch at Sutherby's.  From the comfort and warmth of the truck you wait while Casey launches and secures the boat.  Then you park put your waders or other warm gear on.  You walk down to the boat launch to the river.  You place your pack in the front of the boat and get in - sit down in those brand new padded seats.  Then Casey hops in and you're off.

Finally on the Water
Bright rays of sun coming up over
the edge of the Wynoochee Valley
It's still dark when you launch so you can barely make out the tree line and where the bank meets the water.  The morning fog is hovering over the water waiting for sunrise and warmth to evaporate.  The morning moonlight is often visible.  And all you can hear are the paddles from the boat lightly splashing as Casey rows you down the river to the first fishing hole.

As you're rowing downriver in the darkness you're wondering when you will get that rod in your hands.  The rods are all neatly lined up behind you - all pre-tied ready to fish.  Maybe you're a bit nervous because it's been so many years since you last caught a lake trout or maybe your excited because you caught a 20lb steelhead last season and you're hoping to see another beautiful monster today.

Suddenly the water flow picks up - small rapids hurry you round the bend and you can see rays of sunlight stretching up over a high cliff overlooking the river valley.  That first bright burst of light reminds you you've been up for hours in the darkness and it's about to pay off.

Time to Catch some Fish

You hear the anchor rope softly dropping and then the thud of the anchor hitting the river bottom.  It's time to fish.  Casey grabs a rod and hands it to you.  He explains that you will be pulling bait divers in this first spot and slides some rod holders closer to your fishing station.  You pull the line out 20 times per Casey's instruction then place your rod in the rod holder.  You sit down and start watching the line and tip of the rod dancing.  The dancing of the rod tip indicates that the plug or diver at the end of your line deep in the cool water is wiggling perfectly - mimicking the action of a small bait fish.

There are likely fish in the slot of water you're fishing right now.  The hatchery steelhead you're targeting were released about 10-12 months previously.  They are returning from several months - sometimes years in the ocean.  They've been out their feeding on the feast of small sea creatures that we rely on to grow our salmon and steelhead.  These fish are biologically programmed to return to the river they were either hatched or released into as fry.  The fast cool water at this spot is perfect for steelhead to sit in as the faster water carries with it more oxygen which efficiently travels through the steelhead's gills and oxygenates their blood.  That is why we know they are likely to be in this spot.  The fish are either there or traveling to this spot up river as you sit and wait.

You take a deep breathe in.  There's nothing like the cool winter air which hovers close to the surface of the Wynoochee River.  The stark white trunks of the alder trees, bare of their spring green leaves, are most visible in the morning light.  The evergreen forests on the surrounding hillsides protect the small creeks and streams keeping them cool as they flow into the Wynoochee.
Perfect Winter Steelhead
Wynoochee January 2014

QUICK.  You're brought back to reality when Casey yells 'you're hit wait for it.'  You wait just a minute for the fish to take the bait.  Once he's hooked you grab your rod out of the holder and set and hook.  Your fishing partner also reels in their line to keep it out of the way of the traveling steelhead attached to the end of your line.  Then the game begins. Casey is excited instructing you to keep your rod tip up in the air.  If you point the rod at the fish it will come off.  Keep your rod tip up.  As you reel the line in you do lower the tip of the rod - but never so low that it points at the water.  Reel reel reel down, pull up.  Reel reel reel down, pull up.  After several plays the fish is in sight still in the cool water, IT JUMPS!  The jump is to distract you - and the fish runs back down river - pulling your line with it.  Keep that rod tip up!!  The drag of the reel stops the fish and you reel reel reel down and pull up.  Reel reel reel down, pull up.  The fish is tired, you're winning this game.  When it comes into view this time you reel it close enough to the boat to see it's chrome bright skin and bright fins.  Before you know what happened there's a net in the water and your fish is caught.  Casey brings the fish in net on board.  SUCCESS!  You caught the first steelhead of the day.  Casey removes the hook from your freshly caught steelhead and instructs you to mark it on your catch record card.  The catch record code for the Wynoochee River is 337.  You fumble in your pocket or bag for your license and a pen.  You find the area of the catch record card designated for marking hatchery steelhead.  You enter the code for the Wynoochee of 337 under the catch area code and then the Day and Month.  You're allowed 2 hatchery fish per day on this river so you have more work to do.

The first fish is in the fish box.  You're ready for round 2.  Casey checks your lines and replaces any bait or gear as needed.  Then you let the line out again.  That familiar dance begins again as the tip of the rod dashes quickly up and down then bounces gently.

If you don't catch another fish in this spot soon - Casey instructs you to reel 'em up.  Rods tucked away safely inside the boat - you head down river.  You pass another boat or two in the morning light.  Other excited fisherman and women out here in nature.  Maybe they nod or wave or congratulate you on the fish they saw you reel in up above.  You thank them and continue down to the next fishing spot.

A wide stretch of river appears which is perfectly suited for 'free drifting.'  You anchor up and Casey prepares some specialized rods with leaders and bait.  Unless you've fished with Casey or one of his close fishing partners you've probably not seen this kind of bait before.  We won't spoil the surprise here.  We'll just tell you this bait is perfectly suited for bouncing along the bottom of the river and catching the notice of unsuspecting steelhead.

Limits of Steelhead January 2015
You take turns casting upstream.  You cast upstream and let the current of the river bring your gear downriver.  You can feel the gear bouncing off the large river rocks on the riverbed.  Bounce bounce bounce.  Once you're gear has drifting down and is nearly parallel with the nose of the boat you reel in and cast back up stream.  The gear is specifically weighted and sized so that the bait is floating mid stream where the steelhead are holding in tight to the small channel.  It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between the feel of your gear bouncing on the river bottom and the soft bite of a steelhead.  But once you recognize the bite you set the hook and start playing that fish.  The others in the boat reel in their lines so they don't tangle with yours.  After some jumps and runs you've wore the fish out and it's netted and boated.  Another fish for the card.

As your day on the water draws to and end you start wondering where the take out is.  You see the river stretching out ahead of you and it's hard to see where the boat launch is from upriver.  All good things must come to and end.   Casey rows the boat up to the launch and drops the anchor.  You're vehicle is waiting at the top of the launch.  You gather your things and take them to your vehicle while Casey cleans your fish.  You bring your cooler down and the fillets go in.

Your sense of accomplishment isn't only about the fresh bright red fillets in your cooler but about taking the time to get out on the water and spend time with a valued friend, family member or customer and your favorite new guide, Casey.