Forks, Washington is well known for its vampires, werewolves, timber, spotted owls and thanks to Nat Geo, Mick Dodge. But, if you favor. massive snowcapped peaks, fern carpeted rainforests, pristine rivers which were the birthplace of anadromous salmon and trout (Steelhead), look no further than the far northwest corner of the great state of Washington, the home of the Seattle Seahawks.
My travels took me there last week. My boss and friend, Dustin Russell invited me for a few days of fishing. As an Alaska guide, I don’t get to fish for Steelhead much and Dustin promised a great time. Joining me on the magical and possibly mysterious tour would be two other professional guides from southern Oregon, my twin brother Cleatis and his second cousin through multiple marriages, Knuuck-Knu’uckk.
Most fishing visitors fish the Sol Duc, Bogachiel, Hoh and Clearwater, the Augusta’s, St Andrews and Pebble Beaches of the Steelhead world. However, as a seasoned guide who thrives on challenges, Dustin took us to some hidden jewels we will refer to as the Hohgachiel, Bogaduc and Solwater so no secrets will be revealed.
Our first morning dawned chilly with ice freezing the driver’s side window so Dustin couldn’t see. Without much hesitation and with the beep of the horn and the rev of the diesel, off we went….unscathed by the possible 12-15 other residents or visitors of “Twilight” town. To say the least, the fishing was phenomenal. Serious and accurate casts created many hook-ups including a few “doubles”. By the end of the day a large number was “rung up”. I can’t divulge the actual number but if we hadn’t practiced catch and release of these trophies, we could have fed the Quinault nation for a day. Beaten badly by the bucks and bad-ass hens, we went back to the house for burgers, beers, basketball and bed (not really but what a great alliteration)
Day two was again chilly but sunny. (Knuuck Knu’uckk claims it never rains in Forks). An ominous start as Cleatis noticed a tire in need of some air. Rather than change it on the paved driveway of the local gas station, we waited until we got to the river and pulled out the jack and all the tools from the F950 (not a wimpy Silverado) cubbyholes, and settled in to some fish egg strewn drainage mud off the side of the road. An hour later the 4 “guides” who surely never worked as mechanics were back in business. We launched and a couple fly dudes with their hand pressed Simms jackets and waders, neck gaiter, Costa Polarized sunglasses, caps down tight on the balding melon, 2-handed Spey rods and Squidro flies gave us a “who farted” look and were on their way, looking for a “hatch”. Cleatis remembered the lesson from Hank Patterson and we decided to create our own hatch. I picked up the bag of multi colored puff balls and dumped at least 100 into the crystal clear flow. I think that did the trick. Over the next several hours, we hooked fish after fish. Every run, pool, gravel bar, eddy and rock, held fish. Only when one of our casts went awry, crossing lines or in a tree, did we fail to get a hook up. Once, Knuuck Knuukk’s ponytail was the end of one of my errant casts. No harm, no foul. The day before was beginning to look like amateur hour. That day’s fish were awesome. The downers were skinny fat and the resident bucks had bright chrome sides. Could this have been Dustin’s record day?
Guide legend has guides drinking shots, smoking weed, pounding beers and passing out at night. Not these pros. We ate the two steelhead we killed when Dustin prepared a great sashimi in a wasabi sauce which matched the best “bite” we had earlier.. Then the pros tied yarn ball leaders, cutting them to the exact 37.5 in length. They sharpened hooks, shined their poles, and even changed the line on their reels nightly. We watched Hank Patterson even though he is a fly dude. https://www.youtube.com/?feature=ytca After all the prep was done, we tuned in to the local native radio call in show, looking for some bargains. We found quite a few. First, a 15 in, 8 ply, truck tire that would serve us well on our F950 (not a Silverado remember) after our morning debacle…$25 bucks. Then we were able to bid on some used breathrite strips for Knuuck Knu’uckk and his snoring problem which sent Cleatis to the couch at bedtime. Finally, the “piece de resistance” of the Peninsula was a slightly tattered electric blanket with a hole where the dog chewed, but with a fine electrical cord. They were asking $5 or best offer and we got it for $2.50. We would pick it all up the next morning. We stayed up late enough to see the werewolves and vampires, (no-show).
Before the last day of angling, which was bluebird all the way, we had to stop at the local mercantile and get another license we had caught so many steelies.. Mike Price of Forks Mill Creek Inn fame and the Chairman of the Board of the Kasilof (No Dustin, Pops is mayor), made a cameo appearance in his camouflage sweat suit circa 1986. Due to my flight schedule, this would be a short day (sorry Cleatis I wasn’t talking about your stature. Short and sweet that is. In 4 hours we hooked 15 steelhead including a beautiful 15 lb hen and a larger buck that I, Cap’n Gilz, lost when I applied the emergency brake too soon as it blistered upstream. The third of three spectacular days ended. I was honored and Privileged (yes capital P) to fish with 2 great fishermen and a world class steelhead guide. I learned quite a bit. Knuuck Knu’uckk taught me how to “feel” the bite and even taught me some native tongue.EH. .Cleatis showed me how to let em eat it until it exits below their anal fin, and the perfected technique of the sit down, behind the head reel in. Dustin showed us how to play Superman when about to crash and burn. Heartfelt thanks for the fun and camaraderie. It is now an annual event.
A couple tips if you decide to join Dustin on one of these lifetime experiences:
1. Bring some personal air freshener. Someone will forget about hygiene or eat too many hard boiled eggs
2. If it’s cold, jump in the boats front seat where the heater is
3. Don’t wear waders. You won’t have to get out and push off some of the low water sandbars
4. Wear a neck gaiter and Seahawks hat.just to piss of the guide
5. Bring lots of Crappies
6. Learn how to pitch right and left accurately but don’t bother trying to see or feel the bite. Take a cat nap and let Dustin wake you with a JERK! Or something that sounds like he is yelling in tongues. He will beat your reaction every time
7. Watch out for the log jams.
8. Holler MICK DODGE every time you hook a fish…lets drive that homeless Wildman crazy—er!
9. Visit the Timber Museum, the Kalaloch Lodge, the breathtaking rocky beaches, go find the world’s largest spruce and cedar tree in the Hoh rainforest.
10. Take photos of the Olympic Mountains, the bald eagles, the river bank minks, river otters, river swimming deer and herds of majestic Elk.
If you read all of this, you are a diehard angler or one of our Alaska guests. No matter which, a trip to Forks in the spring or southern Oregon in the winter should be on your bucket list.
The perfect trip with the almost perfect guide (would be if he was a Seahawk fan),
MICK DODGE- catch you later, copy?…….Our Ch'i is now right….North to Alaska!
Cast of Characters:
Dustin-Dustin Russell, owner Russell Fishing
Cap’n Gilz, Glenn – guide, booking agent. and sage of the group
Knuuck Knu’uckk-Zachary Hancock, Captain of the Badger, professional guide and hunter
Cleatis-Brent Lamb, professional guide, and beer drinker extraordinaire
Mick Dodge-Mick Dodge
Mike Price-COB Kasilof River
Russell Fishing Company