Cowlitz “B” Run
By Terry Wiest
We’ll it’s called the “B” run but it doesn’t reflect a grade. This is one A+ river for winter steelhead in March.
If you’re not quite into “springer” mode yet and the Oly Pen is too far to drive, set your sights on the Cowlitz in March for what has historically been a red hot fishery.
With Puget Sound steelheading a non-existent factor you will not be alone on the Cowlitz. Oh, it’s a big river but the guides and weekend warriors all hit it for a reason, there’s fish and lots of them.
The one thing that sets the Cowlitz apart from many rivers is its diversity. Bankies, sleds and driftboats can all fish this river, and surprisingly enough, fish the same areas and manage to do so without too many confrontations. The Cowlitz is however where the term “combat fishing” was coined.
Water flows are regulated by Tacoma Power and Light with the use of dams so you’ll find that the Cow is generally fishable even when most rivers are flooded.
For the bankies, the Barrier dam can be phenomenal. It’s pretty much a given as to where to fish here, just look for the line of people. As long as the flow allows it float fishing a jig pretty much rules here. But, old school corkies and yarn has always been a big producer. In heavier flows obviously you’ll have to use more weight, but try using two corkies (#10 or #12 peach… hint hint) to get the presentation off the bottom into the strike zone.
Another terrific bank spot is around Blue Creek and the Salmon Hatchery. From the ramp down to blue creek is great for float and jig presentation. Down where the creek drops in will normally be too fast for float and jig so out come your corkies again.
Wherever you’re fishing again you’ll have plenty of company, so, a good tactic here taught to me by good friend and guide Phil Stephens (206 940-0052) is to toss a spinner or Spoon every once in a while. Number 5 Vibrax's can be deadly when those fish have been bombarded by jigs or corky and yarn rigs.
River flows are going to be more important for the sleds and driftboats, not necessarily for when or if to fish (like I said it’s generally fishable), but what drift to fish.
Says Stephens, “With most if not all the fish heading to barrier dam fishing between Blue Creek and the Barrier Dam can be very good.”
“If flows are below 7,000 we will be able to fish the entire river, not just the area around the Blue Creek.”
If the water happens to be below 7,000, side drifting can be very good from the Barrier Dam all the way to the Columbia. Once you find a fish, pound them until you there’s no more action, then start searching again.”
Stephens continues, “I wouldn't drift from Mission to Toledo or I-5 unless the water was below 5,000cfs. I 'd concentrate more on the upper river from Barrier to Blue Creek and Blue Creek to Mission.”
“When Sidedrifting pay attention to how much weight you were using when you got bit. Where you’re dredging bottom or when you’re gliding some days those fish really want the offering slowed down so draggin that lead or slinky hard on bottom will pay off but we go through a ton of gear, some days they want it moving a little faster so less weight and gliding your bait is the way to go. Also pay attention to your leader lengths some days we get them on 4 footers the next we can't hit a fish on anything shorter than 5 ft.”
Since this is a good size river and the flow can be heavy at times, I recommend the new Fetha Styx FS-HW-SH-1022-2S 6 – 10lb rod. This is such an awesome rod and was designed specifically for side drifting for bigger fish and/or bigger flows.
Pautzke cured eggs or prawns chunks like those found on Steelhead University are the bait of choice for side drifting. Small yarn balls will catch tons of fish and fish better than bait some days, but make sure to add some kind of scent like sand shrimp to the yarnys.
For you plug pullers, using Maglips (double trouble) for Springers killed the late Steelhead last year so this would also be a good ploy.
The best drift boat drift is from blue creek to mission. Bobber doggin a float and jig is deadly if the flows are below 7,000cfs.
If you haven’t fished the Cow in March, you’re missing the best run – oh that’s it “B” run stands for Best!