Bogachiel River Fishing: Steelhead Paradise

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Editor’s Note: The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been enacting restrictions on coastal steelhead fishing due to very low returns. Watch for updates to regulations prior to fishing.

Stretching across 50 miles of the Olympic Peninsula, the Bogachiel River is one of Washington’s great steelhead rivers. The fact that its course traverses some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Pacific Northwest is just icing on the cake.

After leaving its headwaters in the mountains of Olympic National Park, the Bogachiel River—you’ll hear local anglers referring to it simply as the Bogey—is eventually fed by the Calawah River, and then merges with the Sol Duc River to form the Quillayute River.

The entire Quillayute River system is ground zero for Olympic Peninsula salmon and steelhead fishing, but the Bogey is arguably the most popular river of the bunch. A main reason for that is that it’s relatively easy to fish.

Granted, that statement should be taken with a grain of salt. Catching salmon and steelhead is almost never easy. 

But compared to the neighboring Sol Duc River, with its narrow, boulder-strewn course and technically challenging pocket water, the Bogachiel is relatively broad, with smooth flows and effortless wading. 

You could say that it’s a very beginner-friendly river, but one that also rewards experienced anglers. In addition to ample hatchery-raised steelhead, there are also feisty wild fish of several species to be caught here.

Another of the Bogachiel River’s charms is that, unlike many coastal Washington rivers, it’s not glacier-fed. That means that—despite its name, which roughly translates to the Quileute words for “muddy water”—the Bogachiel is not prone to sediment-heavy spring and summer flooding.

The upshot of that is, there’s a longer fishing season here. And with a huge steelhead population along with coastal cutthroat trout and modest fall salmon runs, there are chances to fish this river almost year-round.

Steelhead Fishing

Every tributary in the Quillayute River system hosts some steelhead, with total annual returns estimated at around 50,000 hatchery fish and as many as 19,000 wild steelhead.

But the official catch reports published by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife suggest that the Bogachiel hosts the most substantial hatchery steelhead runs by far. If you are fishing the Olympic Peninsula and want to catch a steelhead to take home to dinner, the Bogey is tough to beat.

The river also offers a solid shot at catching steelhead in the 20- to 30-pound class, and provides a lot of different habitats for almost any fishing technique.

For all of the above reasons, the Bogachiel River was an easy choice for our listing of best steelhead fishing rivers in Washington.

Granted, the river can also get very busy during prime steelhead months. Popular stretches of the river are often shoulder-to-shoulder in winter, and it’s not uncommon to see a steady train of drift boats heading downriver.

That being said, the Bogachiel is a good-sized river, and with a wide calendar window of angling opportunities, you can usually find a time and place to beat the crowds. 

Best Time to Catch Steelhead

The first winter run steelhead start to show up in the Bogachiel River during early November most years, and are caught right up through March. For numbers of harvested fish, December is almost always the best month for winter steelhead fishing here. 

Most of the fish that appear before the new year are hatchery steelhead. Due to hatchery operations, these fin-marked fish tend to return in numbers during the early part of the traditional steelhead run times.

Wild steelhead, by comparison, spawn more sporadically, and tend to come a little later.

Visit in February or March if you’re after wild fish. These also tend to be the biggest steelies of the year, including a few giants that push past 20 pounds.

The Bogachiel River also supports a summer steelhead run, albeit a much smaller one. A few good-sized fish are caught most years in July and August.  The catch rates may not be high, but the weather is often perfect.

Best Steelhead Locations

The character of the Bogachiel River changes quite a bit between its headwaters and where it merges with the Sol Doc River.

Up in the mountains, it’s a comparably narrow and rocky stream, but also a steep one, with swift waters and deep pools favored by fly fishermen.

As the river descends, it also flattens and widens. The lower half of the Bogachiel is primarily the domain of drift boats, but there’s shore access as well. 

The lower portion of the river offers a lot of great fishing spots especially for mint-bright hatchery fish.

The most popular section of the river is the four-mile stretch from the Bogachiel Hatchery’s Rearing Ponds downstream to Wilson Bridge. This is an excellent drift, and there are launch facilities with shore fishing access at either end.

The upper portion of the river is tightly regulated because of its location within Olympic National Park, but hiking trails offer fly fishing access to many miles of the river, provided anglers are willing to walk a bit. Far above the hatchery, you’re also far more likely to encounter wild fish.

As a general rule, spots farther upriver get better as the season progresses and steelhead make their way upstream. That said, the fish tend to be fairly well spread out throughout most of the Bogachiel by the end of December.

Steelhead Fishing Tactics

Because the Bogachiel River provides such easily navigable water and diverse habitat, there’s room here for a wide range of angling techniques. 

Among fly fishermen, swinging flies and streamers using a two-handed spey rod is a popular tactic, and there’s a lot of great water for it in the upper portion of the river. Farther down, some fly anglers use drift boats to hop from one spot to another. 

For those who prefer spinning tackle, spoons account for a lot of big steelies on the Bogachiel. The river includes numerous deep holes, especially at the mouths of its many small tributaries. Jigging spoons excel in these areas. 

Heavy, wide-bodied spoons fare especially well, but the trick tends to be keeping your jigging action slow and steady. The water is often clear, and aggressive jigging can turn off wary steelhead. 

As is the case just about anywhere steelhead swim, salmon roe can also account for some big fish. But check the regulations before you hit the water. Natural baits are prohibited during all or part of the year on specific sections of the river.

Find a bunch more steelhead fishing techniques and tips in our simple guide.

Salmon Fishing

The Bogachiel River has long been known for good-but-not-great salmon runs. While there’s no doubt that salmon spawn here, the simple fact is that most anglers come for the steelhead.

Overall, the nearby Sol Duc River and mainstream Quillayute River tend to produce more salmon to take home, but they also are more crowded during peak runs.

But there’s still good reason to arrive early and get in on the salmon action. Recent WDFW reports show generally improving catches of both Chinook and coho salmon in recent years, to the point that hundreds are being taken by anglers annually.

Chinook salmon and coho salmon both spawn in fall, and October tends to be the best month for both species on the Bogachiel River. Chinook tend to arrive a little earlier, with a few fish trickling upriver in September, while cohos show up in October and are sometimes caught well into November. 

Rain is often the wild card. Like a lot of rivers on the Olympic Peninsula, the Bogachiel is usually fairly low in summer. Look for the first big fall rains to bring the water levels up and allow salmon to make their way upstream. 

Numerous tactics can work for salmon here. For Chinook (a.k.a. king salmon), large, aggressive wobbling plugs are the lures of choice. Kwikfish and Maglips plugs are perennial favorites.

Cohos may strike similar lures, but are just as likely to be tempted by twitching jigs and corkies. Many anglers target coho salmon on fly-fishing tackle as well. Big, colorful streamers account for some beautiful fish. 

Deep holes near the mouths of creeks are often the best places to target salmon on the Bogachiel. These fish use deep, relatively slack water to rest before pressing on upriver. It also pays to cast around any significant seam or current break. 

Of course, natural baits like salmon eggs and shrimp can also be highly effective, either under a bobber or bounced along the bottom. Again, be sure to check the current regulations regarding bait fishing.

In addition to Chinook and coho salmon, wild sockeye salmon and chum salmon have been reported in small numbers, but catches tend to be incidental.

Cutthroat Trout

The Bogachiel River welcomes solid numbers of sea-run coastal cutthroat trout most years. Much like steelhead, which are rainbow trout that spend most of their lives in the ocean, sea-run cutthroats are born in freshwater but spend time foraging in nearby saltwater areas. 

These trout return to the Bogachiel and other coastal rivers to spawn in mid- to late summertime, and they have a devoted following among local anglers. August and September offer your best shot at catching them. 

Cutthroat trout are considerably smaller than salmon or steelhead—any individual larger than 18 inches is a noteworthy catch—but they put up a great fight on light fly tackle. They also don’t mind a bit if the water is still at its late summer low point.

Another reason for cutthroats’ popularity is their voracious appetite. They’re known for being far less selective than most other trout species, and at times seem willing to gobble up any fly that appears in their line of sight.

Cutts are commonly caught around boulders, log jams, beneath undercut banks and anywhere a current break provides a place to rest. Wet and dry flies with a bit of sparkle and flash have a way of catching their attention. 

In addition to the sea-run cutthroat trout that invade the river every summer, upper portions of the Bogachiel are home to year-round resident cutthroats, as well as a smaller population of Dolly Varden trout.

These fish mostly reside in pools and pockets far up in the upper Bogachiel and the North Fork of the river, both of which lie within Olympic National Park and are accessible only by hiking trail.

While you can’t legally target the Dollies, also known as bull trout, they will sometimes hit while you fish for other wild trout.

For fly anglers with a taste for adventure and a good pair of boots, hiking upriver in search of wild fish is a worthy pursuit.

Check out our free guide for more simple trout fishing tips and techniques.

Planning Your Trip

Depending on your target species and preferred fishing methods, there’s hardly a season in which fish cannot be caught on the Bogachiel River, with the possible exception of late spring into early summer, and even then there are small resident trout to be caught. 

November through February is definitely the peak steelhead season here, so expect stiff competition, especially if you visit on a weekend.

And as always, check the current regulations, which are always subject to change, especially when it comes to fishing for wild salmon, steelhead and trout. 

Directions to the Bogachiel River

The city of Forks in western Clallam County is the largest population center near the Bogachiel River, and the simplest way to get there is to follow U.S. Highway 101 north from Aberdeen or southwest from Port Angeles.

U.S. 101 also runs parallel to the Bogachiel River for much of its course, with the exception of the lower river, which is more easily accessed from Washington State Route 110. These two main highways meet in Forks. 

Since it’s located convenient not only to the Bogachiel but also the Sol Duc, Calawah and Quillayute Rivers, the city of Forks goes out of its way to cater to anglers.

You’ll find a lot of great resources here, from lodging and dining options to fly shops, outfitters and fishing guides. Many local fishing trips begin here.

Bogachiel River Bank and Boat Access

Throughout most of its 50-mile course, the Bogachiel River is very accessible, with numerous public boat ramps and bank fishing sites. Many of these are managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, while others lie on state or national park land. 

Access sites on the Bogachiel River, listed here from farthest downstream to farthest upstream, include:

  • Leyendecker Park: Located at the spot where the Bogachiel and Sol Duc Rivers meet to form the Quillayute River, the Leyendecker Park access site has a concrete boat ramp, and is a popular drift boat take-out spot among anglers who fish all three rivers. 
  • Wilson Bridge Access: With a concrete ramp and ample parking, the Wilson Bridge Access is a good launch site, and is also commonly used as a take-out point for boaters who launch four miles upriver at the Rearing Pond access site. 
  • Rearing Pond Access: With its location adjacent to the Bogachiel Fish Hatchery, the Rearing Pond Access is perhaps the most popular fishing spot on the river, with an in-demand boat launch and ample shore access. The mouth of the Calawah River is immediately downstream from this site, and there’s an excellent hole where the rivers merge.
  • Bogachiel State Park: A great base camp for anglers, Bogachiel State Park offers tent and RV camping, along with river access, hiking trails and picnic areas.
  • Thomas Access: The Thomas Access site, sometimes referred to as the Kallman Road Access, is a WDFW-owned site with bank access only, just a couple miles above the state park.
  • Vannausdle Access: This off-the-beaten-path access site on Dowan Creek Road offers only walk-in river access for bank anglers.
  • Bogachiel River Trail: Within Olympic National Park, the Bogachiel River Trail is nearly 25 miles in length, and follows the Bogachiel River deep into the mountains before breaking off and following the North Fork Bogachiel River. Along the way are countless places to fish, along with several backcountry campsites and trail shelters. 

In addition to these locations, there are numerous informal fishing access sites where one can pull off near the river and try their luck.

Walking or wading up the river itself is also possible along much of its course during normal water levels. Do take care to avoid encroaching on private property.

Find more fishing spots on the Olympic Peninsula (Clallam and Jefferson Counties)

Washington Resources

WDFW Fishing and Stocking Reports
WDFW Fishing Regulations
National Weather Service forecasts