When you arrive in Forks, of Twilight fame, you don't see much....a hardware store / combination supermarket, a couple small hotels, gas stations, a few diners and lots of rain forest. You cross over rivers on the way into town and look at them trying to decide if you know enough about steelhead fishing to figure out if they are fishable. Not to worry- everything is under control.
Arriving at Dustin's house, which he also uses to accommodate his guests (at an incredibly reasonable price)..... 3 bedrooms. 2 baths, full kitchen, washer/dryer, sofa , over-sized chair, satellite TV, Wifi, picnic table, storage shed..... you name it.
When you go steelhead fishing with Dustin Russell, you don't have to get up at the crack of dawn. Let the other locals guys go out and do their thing with their technique. Get up at 7, have a quick breakfast, get to the river to do your shuttle and fish for 8+ hours, maybe seeing one or two other boats all day. Dustin uses uses nothing but the best and newest equipment. The drift boat is comfortable with nice seats and a heater and accommodates 2 -3 people (just your group). I was fortunate enough to be going by myself.
I'm not a novice fisherman, however I was humbled by the incredible knowledge and ability. Trust me, this is not patronizing. After launching you start right away to either "cast left" or "cast right" . Dustin watches your line like an eagle watching for his next morsel. You might not cast were you think the fish are. You cast where Dustin knows the fish are. He reads the water like Peyton Manning reads the defense...... always anticipating his next one, two or even three moves. He sees your bite and yells "PULL" quicker than you can react to feeling the bite and setting the hook. If you get good, it might occasionally be a tie. He's correct 90 percent of time.
Within 15 minutes of my first cast I had my first Forks steelhead in over 30 years. It was a bright 9 pounder, fresh in from the Pacific Ocean. It wouldn't be the last. As the day went on the rains came. It was cold and wet but Dustin never once wavered. Like a cardiac specialits evaluating your main arteries, Dustin reads the river and surgically maneuvers his oars to be in the right place for you to make the most of your next cast. We were successful over 10 times and hooked fish......6 of them got to the boat the other four, for whatever reason, got off (Probably angler error) If you know steelhead fishing, you know that anything over 2 or 3 steelhead bites a day is considered exceptional. Amazingly, even at 5 o'clock PM. Dustin is as meticulous and focused as he was at 7 AM
Only in his early 30's, Dustin has an incredible ability to guide. Albeit natural, innate talent or over 15 years of experience on the Northwest rivers, or a combination of both, it gave me the best chartered fishing trip I'd ever had and that was only day one.
Day 2 started with sun, an unusual sight in Forks. After the overnight rain, Dustin checks the flows ....CFS ( cubic feet per second) on all the local rivers. From his experience,he knew that the best river for today would be the Sol Duc (I might not be telling the truth lol) We arrived at the launch and the river was at 9 "boards" which is another way to measure fishable range. To me, it was a perfect clear green in color with 8 feet of visibility. Again within 15 minutes, we had a bite which again Dustin beat me to, again. With a shout of " pull " as I almost simultaneously felt it, a 14 pound bright hen was jumping. It was brought to the net several minutes later. One the best steelhead that I've ever caught, it was only considered a good one in Forks where they get 17 to 20 pounders with some regularity. For the day, we hooked on landed 13 steelhead and lost several more. We also had at least a half dozen other bites.
Dustin doesn't show his frustration when you miss a fish although he truly wants to catch them all. I know him well enough to know that he was perturbed a couple times, but he would never let on. He would aggressively row back up against the current and fish the hole again I can't count the times we did that.
At the end of the second day, we returned to the house and I cooked the steaks, he cooked the clams, we both drank the beers, and couple more friends came by. We had a great dinner and they are fishing again today. This time they are on the Bogachiel as I jealously drive to Portland for my flight home.
If your fish with Dustin you will hear "pull" many many times during the day. Occasionally he will shout "jerk" and I think in my case that meant more than set the hook.... but that's okay.... we have that kind of relationship. And it isn't what he shouts to our friend Eric Banko
I'm lucky..... not only to have fished with who I consider the best fishing guide in the Northwest but a friend, a great family man and a terrific boss. I'm also lucky that I get to spend the entire summer near Dustin and his great family , along with my wife and a bunch of good friends and guides up in Alaska, where we guide salmon, trout and halibut.
Enjoy these photos and if you come to Alaska with us I hope you get a chance to talk to Dustin a little bit about steelhead. Honesty, It is not for everybody....it can be cold and wet, but hardly ever boring. When you finish with Dustin be prepared for the best individual steelhead charter you'll ever have.