Every March I make the journey out to the Washington Coast and the west slopes of the Olympic Mountains, near the town of Forks, to spend a few days fishing the legendary Hoh River for its large native winter Steelhead. This trip is one I look forward to all winter, and has provided me with some great memories, of some great fish.
The Hoh River has one of the strongest returns of native steelhead in the continental United States. This, in despite of a tribal net fishery which takes its toll on the native steelhead runs. I believe the reason that these runs continue to be strong has to do with the many miles of protected spawning habitat in the upper Hoh river drainage. The entire upper Hoh, and many of its tributaries, originate in the Olympic National Park. These waters are protected from logging and other human influences that could degrade these pristine waters that are so important for successful spawning.
The large native winter returns are supplemented by hatchery plants from both the state and the tribes. These hatchery fish begin to show in November, along with a few early returning natives. The hatchery run slows down in late January and the large natives start to show in good numbers at this time.
Most of my efforts on the Hoh are on the upper river, above highway 101. The lower river is best fished from a drift boat because of limited access, but the upper river is easily fished from the bank. The road closely follows the river up here and there are numerous spots to park and access the river. The river here changes with every high water and new channels are being formed constantly. This provides the challenge of reading new water after each monsoon.
All techniques are used on the Hoh, and the upper river provides decent fly fishing opportunities for the fly angler. Most of my time on this river is spent tossing spoons. The many pockets and riffle's are perfect for working the wobbling metal lures, and native Steelhead really clobber them. Because of the glacial color of this river, the genuine silver plated spoons are the most productive. The extra flash they provide draw the Steelheads attention from greater distances than other finishes. I have had many multiple hookup days on this river, and the quality of the Steelhead in the Hoh River is hard to beat. Steelhead in the fifteen to eighteen pound range are common, and twenty pound plus fish are caught regularly.
The Hoh River also hosts both spring and fall run Chinook salmon, coho salmon, summer steelhead, Dolly Varden and sea-run cutthroat. I have not spent much time fishing for these other species on the Hoh, but have heard it can be fantastic at times.