While the Pacific Northwest lived up to its rainy reputation for most of my trip out there, I was very lucky that my scheduled day of fishing in Washington fell on a beautiful and sunny 80-degree day. Justin Kyniston is an excellent steelhead and salmon guide, and what most impressed me about him was his relentless desire to put me on fish (knowing only that I had come all the way from Virginia, not that I was going to post details of the trip online). Our morning on the Columbia River was slow and we did not catch any fish. The other guides on the river had not caught anything either and they called it a day, but Justin had the idea to go to another river in the afternoon.
We fished for steelhead on the Lewis River, an absolutely gorgeous tree-lined river with only a few private residences along it. I caught three nice steelhead, including a six-pounder and an eight-pounder, and two smaller fish. The other nice steelhead was a native steelhead (meaning its fin was not clipped), which Justin had only seen once before in all of his years of fishing. (Unfortunately, I had to release that fish before measuring it to ensure it survived, as native fish are not allowed to be kept.)
Like Oregon, Washington does a great job of conservation. Many people were enjoying the beautiful day near the boat ramp, and none of them appeared to be stuffing his cooler full of fish beyond his bag limits, much unlike the average weekend day along the Potomac River or on the northern Virginia lakes where creel limits are more punch lines than they are conservation-minded enforced rules.
Update February 2023: For my annual out-of-state trip in 2023, I chose rainbow trout and walleyes on the Columbia River with Austin Moser (austinsnorthwestadventures.com). Austin's continued ability to catch trophy rainbow trout, trophy walleye, and trophy kokanee throughout the winter months had me champing at the bit for years to do this trip. And it was everything I hoped it would be, albeit colder.
The record for the coldest I've ever fished in was set the year before in Nevada, with a wind chill of 14 degrees at the start. I shattered that on my first day with Austin, with double-digit winds and a wind chill of 4 degrees at the start. This was a drop of about 30 degrees from the day before, thanks to a front that brought some fresh snow. The dam was running full throttle too, which turned off the trout. I managed a few decent ones, with the biggest being almost five pounds. The walleye, on the other hand, were very cooperative in the strong current, which also made the fights awesome. I landed some good ones, with the biggest being a massive 26 inches and 8 pounds, easily one of the biggest walleye I've ever caught.
That record for coldest day ever was promptly shattered the next day with more double-digit winds and a wind chill of 6 BELOW to start. The dam was running wild again, and the trout were finicky, so, after a few trout up to 21 inches, we switched to walleye fishing again. Then, 4.5 hours in, I had what I thought was a nice walleye until I realized it was the trophy trout I was looking for. It was a nerve-wracking fight, knowing that that fish was the reason I chose to freeze my butt off less than 60 miles from the Canadian border in February. After an eternity, it was finally in the boat, a 24-inch, 6.55-pound trophy rainbow trout. The girth was an unbelievable 15 inches. And then it didn't matter that I was wearing three hoods and had already set my gloves on fire (twice) trying to warm up my hands with the propane heater. Austin had put me on the trophy I wanted and I was very excited to have made Washington the 45th state in which I have caught at least one trophy.
The trip itself was as intense as the cold. I was gone from my house for 73.5 hours, of which 29 were spent traveling and 16 were spent fishing. But the little time I did get to spend in Grand Coulee was great; it's a nice little town with beautiful surroundings, a huge and scenic dam, and a shockingly good Mexican restaurant (La Presa).
To give you an idea of how successful Austin is at catching trophies, he caught numerous rainbow trout over 10 pounds throughout the winter and even seemed disappointed I didn't get a bigger one. (Two months after I was out there, Austin caught a 23.5-pound rainbow.) He is definitely the guy you want to fish with for all the Columbia River in Washington has to offer. I can't wait to fish with him again sometime.