I never got a chance to fish the Toutle River before the eruption of Mt. St. Helen's, but have heard all the stories of how great the summer run fishing was on this river. It wasn't until the late 1980's that I first walked the banks of the South Fork, along with my longtime fishing partner Dean Linden. We had heard that the summer runs were returning in decent numbers, and decided to check out this river for a change of pace. We hooked several hatchery summer runs and I instantly fell in love with this little stream. I think more than anything else, it is the small size of this river that brings me back to its bank year after year.
In the early summer it is wadeable and can be crossed easily in most of the tailouts. By late summer its size has been reduced tremendously and most of the productive fishing is in the upper canyon. This water is perfectly suited to my chosen technique of fishing jigs suspended below a float. The riffle's and holes I fish are rarely over four feet deep, and I usually run my jigs eight to eighteen inches below my float. Jigs should be of a dark color, and my personal favorite for summer runs is a small 1/16 oz. marabou jig in black/cerise. This jig has accounted for at least 90% of my summer runs the last couple of seasons. Early in the summer I will also use a small "Leo's" style jig with a red bead body and black yarn tail. I will often tip this jig with a small piece of prawn meat. I've also done well here tossing small #2 spinners in tarnished brass or black into the very heads of riffle's and swinging the tiny lures through the drifts. At times the steelhead will smack these lures the moment they hit the water.
In June most of my efforts are in what I call the middle section of this river. This is the area below the 4700 bridge. This water seems to hold fish early in the season, but as the river level drops the fish tend to move up into the canyon, where the water is cooler and has more oxygen. The river up here has plenty of pools with white water at the head, which provides cover during the ultra low flows of August and September.
I have not fished for winter runs on the Toutle for many years. During the winter the state now manages the South Fork as a wild steelhead restoration area, which means catch and release for natives using artificial lures with single barbless hooks only. I believe this has been working and am encouraged by the number of "redds"(spawning beds) I have seen while fishing here in early June. The last time I fished winter runs I was impressed by the average size of these fish, around twelve pounds.
This stream is by no means a secret, and receives a fair amount of pressure early in the summer.But by August, the crowds have gone and you can find solitude. You will need to cover some water to find fish, but with a little research and exploration you will discover areas that will hold fish year after year. Small stream fishing for aggressive summer runs is what the South Fork will provide you if you choose to learn this little gem.