Salmon Fishing on the Hoh River

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Distance: drifting a few miles – – Time: all day

Rating: Lots of Fun and Excitement

October 11th 2011

Hoh River Fishing 2011

The Hoh River is a magical. Not because the river runs through one of the few temperate rain forests in the United States, but instead the river is magical because this time of year so many salmon appear.

I was lucky to be fishing on the Hoh with my friend Tom. Our families have enjoyed the outdoors together over the years, from canoeing on the Missouri River to camping in the North Cascades. Tom is a fly fisherman who, like most of us busy trying to earn a living, doesn’t fish as much as he should. Pat Neal was our guide. I went steelhead fishing on the Bogachiel River with Pat this summer. Pat is a Peninsula native who’s had many careers including logger, guide and now writer. Many have enjoyed Pat’s witty books about his outdoor exploits.

We didn’t shove our drift boat into the current until ten. There were dark clouds roiling about. While the river was open and spacious, the dense forest grew right to the edge of the bank. The rows of trees closest to the river had toppled over in piles of branches and roots, like people in a crowd being pushed forward against their will. We were alone on the river, nothing but trees, water, and sky. Pat steered the boat with his oars. Tom and I sat in our seats in the bow, our poles in their holders, lines far downstream with shiny lures fluttering down deep in the cold river. It was good to be out on the river.

Bret lands a stealhead

Bret lands a stealhead

We fished from the boat until we needed to stretch our legs. We walked in the shallows casting our lines into the middle of the river. No luck, so we climbed back into the boat. The wind picked up and dark clouds flew by. The rain held off but so did the fish. That was until my pole tip bent down almost into the water. “Fish on!” shouted Pat. I grabbed my pole from the holder. The reel sang. The line was being yanked off the spool even though I had the drag set tight. The water boiled. The fish broke the surface trying to throw the hook. This was a big boy.

At the same time the rain came down. Pat stood on the side of the boat net in hand. I slipped, caught myself and managed to reel in some line. The fish thrashed and pulled out all the line I had just reeled in. We were drifting close to a nasty snag pile. I reeled some more. Finally the salmon was close enough to the net for Pat to yell, “Pull up!” I lifted my pole for all I was worth. Pat deftly scooped the net under the whipping and slapping water. In an instant Pat had him in the boat – a huge steelhead.
I looked at the magnificent fish. The steelhead is the evolution of perfection.

In his book “Wild Life” Pat wrote,

  • “Steelhead are the most beautiful animal that swims. They are a living rainbow trimmed silver and blue. They swim thousands of miles through dangerous seas where everything wants to eat them. They fight upstream through rapids far into the mountains to a secret home in the hidden gravel. To hold a steelhead after a hard fight is to touch the mysteries of migration, life and death in the wild. Wild Life. Watch the least quiver of the tail push the fish upstream, further, home. I know what it means to touch the fish. They have touched me.”

Pat Neal is an eloquent writer, but at heart I think he’s a fishing guide. And do you know what makes a guide most happy? It’s when your client lands a fish right in front of another guide’s clients. Yup, that’s what happened. Tom hooked into a nice silver just as we were floating by a fellow guide and his clients sitting in their boat. “Any luck today?” Pat asked them nonchalantly as he netted Tom’s thrashing salmon.

Seven on the line and seven in the boat!

Seven on the line and seven in the boat!

We caught seven beauties. Tom is a skillful fisherman so he was one of the reasons that we didn’t lose a fish all day. But I think the other reason was Pat’s sense on where to maneuver the drift boat and when to net the fish.

We continued to catch salmon right up until the sky opened up and a biblical deluge poured down. Runoff sluiced down the exposed river banks and hunks of clay collapsed into the river. The water visibility dropped to near zero. Salmon attack a lure because it flashes, so if they can’t see it you’re out of luck. We didn’t get a bite the rest of the afternoon. After a time I gave up and watched the wildlife, but our guide Pat couldn’t help himself. In the end it was Pat who was casting into the gray murky water as we drifted to the take-out. I think they might have to bury Pat with that fishing pole in his hands someday.

If you’d like to try fishing on the Olympic Peninsula don’t worry about equipment. Your guide should have all the gear you need – you don’t even need waders. To get to any of the rivers on the west end of the Olympic Peninsula from the Quality Inn and Suites, Sequim where I was staying:

  • Just head west on Route 101.
  • Drive toward Forks, WA
  • Call Pat Neal before you go.

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4 thoughts on “Salmon Fishing on the Hoh River

  1. Steve Russak

    I have heard much about Steelhead fishing on the Hoh river but even that short “clip” was exciting and I was salivating at those beauties…… When is best time time of the year for salmon on the Hoh? And is “Pat Neal” still guiding people? If so how can I contact him or other reputable guides for a full day or half day drifiting on the Hoh? Do I need a Washington State special fishing license? I am also a disabled vet. from the ole Vietnam days……

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