It was a rare opportunity. My brother-in-law had permission to fish on the property as long as he was wiring the new house there. And, because most of the fishable water on that particular river is bounded by private water, I jumped at the chance to go along.
It was an overcast summer morning, with the sun just hitting the water. Starting at the top of the riffle where Shannon had caught a fish the previous week, we began working our way downstream. Nothing happened.
There was a good-looking stretch at the tailout of the hole and we spent some time there, casting and retrieving. Still nothing. Standing in mid-stream, I turned and zipped one cast into the “frogwater” behind me. “What are you doing that for? There aren’t any fish there,” Shannon said. My sudden feeling of foolishness vanished with an arm-wrenching strike and a thrashing, jumping summer-run steelhead on the line. Shannon made a quick cast and soon had a fish on as well.
Loosely defined, “frogwater” is the backwater which pools up outside of the main river channels. It is the unlikely looking water that you walk past on your way to the riffles and holding runs.
There are several reasons why fish will ignore the classic holding water for awhile. These include: Pressure from fishermen, competition from other fish and, for migratory fish, a need to rest on the way upstream. High muddy water also will push fish into less turbulent places where they can rest and protect their gills from silt. Whatever the reason, as long as you have to pass it by, give it a try.
After a heavy hatch, when the main channel has been swept clean of flies, the eddies and backwaters may still hold insects that didn’t make it off the surface. Trout will patrol these areas to pick up what is left of the hatch. Similarly, after sunset, large trout will enter these areas to prey on crayfish and minnows.
I’ve hooked “frogwater” salmon, steelhead and trout by just trailing a fly, wading to the next hole. But the most exciting action comes from spinners. Walking the bank or drifting, I’ll throw a spinner out just to keep a hook in the water. When the jolting strike comes, it’s unexpected and thrilling.
Tarnished brass or black spinners work well on these fish. Chances are, they’re resting in these backwaters because they’ve seen so much pink and chartreuse that they can’t take anymore. Subdued flash, retrieved tantalizingly slow will often be all it takes to provoke slashing strikes.
My favorite “frogwater” incident took place when my Dad took me to fish at the Barrier Dam on the Cowlitz. Daylight found us walking down from the parking lot toward the river and I soon realized that I wouldn’t be doing much that day. A twelve-year old, I didn’t own waders or possess the strength to fight the heavy water of the main river. The “frogwater” was my only alternative. I stood around for the longest time while everybody else walked on past me into the big river. The last thing I wanted to do was appear foolish by fishing in the muddy backwater everybody was tromping through to get to the riffle. But as the day wore on I soon tired of watching the backs of the other fishermen and began casting. Sheepish at first, but at least I was fishing.
When I hooked that fish I lost all my insecurity. “Fish-on!” I yelled. And all the people in the main river turned to look at the little boy without waders. A few of them even turned around and started fishing in my little backwater. That fish was brighter than any others caught there that day. I didn’t even get my feet wet.
Don’t quit fishing the classic runs, your friends will think you’re crazy. But as long as you’re passing it by, give the “frogwater” a try.