My First Bull Trout

Fishing for Bull Trout, an Adventure in Washington

I just returned home today from a quick trip to Seattle to see my best friend Rich.  Rich and I have been best friends for a very long time, going way back to our days in the Air Force, and you have read about him many times in my articles.  He moved to Redmond, WA 10 months ago, and I felt bad for never having gone to visit him when he lived outside of Spokane for seven years, it was a long overdue visit.  My plane landed early Friday morning, and after we found each other at the airport, it was such a welcome sight to see Rich.

As it always is with Rich, it was like we just saw each other yesterday; the conversation flowed easily and effortlessly as we caught up on what is going on in our lives while we drove from the airport to the Redmond area.  We ran some errands, got our fishing licenses, had lunch at a sports bar with a very cute waitress serving us, and then headed to Rich’s new home in a heavily forested area away from the city.  The landscape was beautiful on the drive; rolling mountains covered with lush vegetation, thick forests of tall cedars, pines, cotton woods, and too many others to list.

Rich was in the process of moving into his new home, his family was still in Spokane for another week, and he had a lot of things to do around the house.  I appreciated him taking the time out of all he had to do to host me for the weekend and to take me fishing.  His house is a beautiful two story, kind of a colonial style with hardwood floors, on ¾ of an acre, with an open floor plan, a long front porch, a porch and large patio area in the back, and the best feature of all was the two four car garages on both ends of the house.  I was jealous about the garages alone; I could see myself living in one of them.  He also had a big shed in the back yard, and a little building that the previous owner must have built as either a play house or a mother-in-law apartment, it was very nice, and I pictured myself living in there too.  The back yard was bordered by a dense forest with some of the trees over 100 feet tall, and it was full of birds that sang throughout the evening while we played cribbage on the back porch, the beginning of Rich hammering me on the cribbage board for the entire trip, I never won a game.  He must have been cheating somehow.

The next morning we were up at 5:30 and headed out to the Sauk River to meet our guide in Darrington.  For most people, the drive would take about two hours, but Rich notoriously drives like a maniac, and we made it in one and a half hours with the help of his radar detector.  We pulled into the Shell gas station in Darrington and saw Andrew with his blue river raft on a trailer behind his truck.  From there we went about five minutes to a place under a bridge to put the raft into the river.  I stayed there while Rich followed Andrew down river to drop off his truck and bring him back, and then we got on our waders, hopped in the boat, and shoved off.


Rich’s Bull Trout – 27″ and 7 Pounds

The Sauk is a big river, it reminded me of Alaska.  It was very clear, and up to 20 feet deep in places.  On that day, the river wasn’t even at full capacity, only about 3,000 cubic feet per second.  Andrew said that at times it can get to 9,000 CFS, which explains how the massive trees we saw littered along the river side and flood braids could be moved by the force of the water.  The huge log jams were evidence of previous high water, and the flood plain covered hundreds of yards at places, leaving large areas of river rocks the size of basketballs.

At one point early in the day I nearly took a swim in that river.  We were going downstream in the boat when Andrew said “Hang on; we’re going to hit some rocks.”  The only problem was that we hit a big boulder before he could finish his sentence, and I nearly went over board when the boat flung wildly to the right and I was thrown over the side of the raft.  I was able to grab onto the frame that was lashed to the raft and keep from falling in, but it was a sketchy moment.  Now that I think about it, Andrew never mentioned anything about life preservers on the raft.

With a big river comes big fish, and we were after Bull Trout, a member of the Char family of Salmon.  There was also a chance that we might run into King Salmon or Steelhead Trout, all of these fish were coming in from the ocean to spawn.  Andrew hoped we would find Bull Trout up to 30 inches, and we were excited at that possibility.  Andrew was a good guide and he worked hard, but the only thing I didn’t like about the trip was that the only option of fishing he offered was Spey Casting.

Spey Casting is a method of using a long, two-handed, heavy fly rod (12’ long, 6 weight in our case) with a heavy sinking line attached to a heavy shooting line.  The technique originated on the Spey River in Scotland in the mid 1800’s, and was meant for casting heavy flies in an area where you typically have no room to make a back cast.  The motions of the cast were not too difficult to learn, but executing the cast was quite different than what Rich and I were used to in our decades of fly fishing experience, and it was a struggle at first.  While the casting method is supposed to rely on little effort to achieve a lengthy cast, that’s easier said than done when you have certain casting motions ingrained in your mind and muscle memory from fishing with a one-handed rod.

We toiled at it all day long, and it really wears on your arms and shoulders if you are not executing the cast properly, which we weren’t most of the time.  After a morning of being skunked, Rich finally hooked into and landed a big Bull Trout that was about 27” and 7 pounds.  It put up a strong fight and took several minutes to land.  I got the fight on video, but I have to apologize that in most of the videos I took on this trip you can see my fingers holding the camera, which was unfortunate.  My Go Pro Hero camera has a fish-eye lens on it, and it picks up anything to the sides of the lens, like my fingers; a lesson learned on using the Go Pro camera.  I still posted the videos though; they are just not of the quality that I would prefer.[nggallery id=23]

The video of Rich landing his monster fish is still pretty good though, that bruiser put up a good fight, and it was a beautiful fish.  You can see in the video how Rich gets it close to the net several times, and then the fish takes off again, bending the rod and peeling off line.  Not long after that I caught my first and only fish of the day; it was a nice Bull Trout, much smaller than the one Rich caught, but still a good sized fish.

While we only caught two fish that day, at least we accomplished what we set out to do, and that was to catch a Bull Trout.  We had a great time, floated some beautiful country, and we had the river to ourselves all day.  In terms of the quality of the experience, I would have to rate this trip very high on the list; not only did we see some gorgeous wilderness, Rich and I spent the day together doing something we love, and we added another memory to the many adventures of our lives.

The fishing trip was great, but the best part of my trip to Washington was just spending time with Rich, I need to see him more often.  There is something about true friendship that holds no price tag, yet provides the greatest rewards in life, and that is what I experienced for the past three days.