OUTDOORS: The lure of Hurricane Ridge

MY LAWYER ONCE imparted some sage wisdom to me.

“Matt,” he said in a foreboding tone, “nothing good happens after 10 p.m.”

With only a few exceptions, the slick suit-wearing shyster was right.

Very little good is accomplished under the blackness that accompanies the witching hour . . . even if it’s only a little late night golfing practice.

The relative darkness of early morning, however, is another story all-together.

It is during this time when North Olympic Peninsula anglers often score their best catches, birders their best owl shots and hikers (if equipped) their best vistas.

The latter couldn’t be more true at Hurricane Ridge, which is often at its most picturesque during daybreak.

To score such sights, hikers often must hit the trail before day begins its slow ascent on the eastern horizon.

Trust me when I say it’s well worth it.

Cars gather at Hurricane Ridge Road pull-offs at 5:30 each morning just to catch a glimpse of its glory.

And dozens of Peninsulites can’t be wrong, right?

The views above the clouds, tickled by the first rays of sunlight out of the east, hovering above the Strait of Juan de Fuca are simply breathtaking.

Peninsula fly fishing stalwart Terry Metheny and I witnessed it first hand when we traversed Switchback and Klahhane Ridge trails (approximately 4.3 miles) en route to Lake Angeles on Tuesday morning.

“A little piece of paradise,” Metheny called it.

Took the words right out of my mouth.

Ridge rewards

Outside of “Twilight,” nothing draws tourists to the Peninsula quite like Hurricane Ridge.

They swarm the mountain during the summer, asking questions like, “Was this where they filmed ‘The Sound of Music?’ “

They proudly sport their North Face apparel, toting around backpacks stuffed with Cliff Bars, assorted flavors of Vitamin Water and the latest digital camera technology.

And if the word “deer” is even uttered while driving Hurricane Ridge Road, expect whoever is at the wheel to abruptly slam the breaks.

Obviously, this is a group best avoided.

The good news: None of them know to hit the hills prior to 6 a.m.

That means early morning jaunts through the pristine trails snaking around the Ridge are intimate affairs.

Metheny and I had the scene at Klahhane Ridge all to ourselves Tuesday.

It was as if the trail were our own backyard.

The wildflower-filled alpine meadows glowed in iridescence under the morning sun.

The craggy contours of Mount Angeles’ peaks were underscored by sharp shadows.

And below it all was the Strait and its surroundings, covered by a white fog that would burn off before midday arrived.

It rolled over Port Angeles and Dungeness Valley like glaciers once did so many centuries ago in the very same spot.

As a park ranger once told me, “When I look down [at the clouds] I think, ‘That’s how it used to look.’ “

It’s hard to imagine it being much prettier than it was Tuesday.

Steep descent

The descent from Klahhane Ridge to Lake Angeles — called Klahhane Ridge Trail for obvious reasons — is a bit on the steep side.

Under the current dry conditions, it makes for a slippery schlep, to say the least.

Nevertheless, we made it down without injuring an ankle, getting on a bug-swarmed Lake Angeles by 8 a.m.

The 20-acre lake is like many of its high-elevation counterparts that dot Olympic National Park.

The water is clean and gin clear, and nonnative brook trout (four to 10 inches in size) dominate the scene, feeding on anything they can find.

This is especially true during the spring months of May and June, according to Metheny.

At that point, the water is still cold as snow melt waterfalls flow into its southern banks. Meanwhile, the brookies are also quite hungry after a dormant winter.

Thus, the fish have no problem hanging out in the shallow water on the lake’s more accessible western banks where most of the bugs are at.

As Metheny said, “A lot of competition, and very little food,” makes for aggressive fish.

Heat wave

Things change as summer takes hold and the water warms up.

The bigger fish are more apt to stay in the shaded and deeper water on the east side to stay cool.

Since we couldn’t get any back-casting room on that side Tuesday, we settled for the water on the west.

That was just fine by me.

The clear shallow water, made more transparent under sunlight, provides the sort of sight fishing trout anglers salivate over.

You can literally watch the trout fret over your fly as you tease them with slight twitches and tugs.

The excitement builds on both sides of this little dance until, finally, the fish either takes it unabashedly or zips off in fear.

This is, of course, a double-edged sword.

For while you are able to see the fish, they can also get a glimpse of you.

As a result, it usually doesn’t take very long to spook out whatever fish are in the area.

We did a lot of that during our foray, hooking a couple in nearly every spot before the fish were on to our game. But it was never truly “hot.”

Metheny and I came away certain we were at least an hour too late, having missed the true morning bite by about an hour.

The lesson of the day: When it comes to summers in Lake Angeles, nothing good happens after 10 a.m.

_____

THE EXTENDED KING salmon season in the Strait of Juan de Fuca season won’t be as long as expected.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced chinook seasons in Marine Areas 5 (Sekiu) and 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) will come to a close after today, nine days earlier than scheduled (Aug. 15).

State officials pointed to concerns about incidental impacts on wild chinook stocks as the reason for the closure.

“With a very successful fishing season for hatchery chinook this year, anglers have caught and released more wild chinook than were forecast in the preseason estimates,” Fish and Wildlife salmon policy coordinator Pattillo said in a news release.

“We want to make sure we meet our conservation goals and avoid impacts to wild chinook.”

Anglers will still be able to fish for pink and hatchery coho in both areas seven days a week. The daily limit is two salmon, plus anglers may keep two additional pink salmon.

“The fishing for coho and pink salmon is excellent and anglers should enjoy a good season through September,” Pattillo said.

Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected]

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