Tuesday, February 24, 2009



The first man to cast a fly for Skagit River winter-run steelhead was likely Ralph Wahl of Bellingham, Washington. “There may have been others, but they weren't where I was fishing," Ralph says.
Ralph was fishing whenever he could find time to break away from working at the family store (Wahl's Department Store) in Bellingham. Ralph had been an obsessed fisherman all of his life. In 1935 Ralph Wahl set out to do what no one had ever done, catch a winter Steelhead on the Skagit with a fly. With persistence and unrivaled tenacity, Ralph began a blind exploration of an unknown, untapped winter fly fishery on the Skagit River. After four years of trials and tribulations on a bitter cold and often turbid river, Ralph had succeeded in his quest. One cold winter's day in 1939, Ralph beached a mint-bright buck of 17 pounds, a fish nearly twice the size of the North Fork's summer cousins. There was no stopping Ralph now, but there was still much work to be done.
It was a frigid winter day in 1947 when Ralph’s two friends, Al Knudson and Wes Drain fished the Skagit on a legendary day. Al was unsuccessful fishing his honey hole when he heard shouts from above. Wes was fast to a huge cart wheeling steelhead. After a lengthy and tenacious struggle, a mammoth buck that tipped the scales at 20 pounds, 7 ounces lay in the snow at Wes's feet. The fly that soon came to be known as Drain's 20 had enticed the fish that would stand as the unofficial state record for fly caught steelhead for twenty years. It was Ralph Wahl who eventually took top honors with a fish that bested Wes's by one ounce.

The Skagit has produced more lore and innovations than any other Winter Steelhead River. Its power mirrors the fish it holds. Its legends run deep. Today the Skagit is still full of a mystic feeling of the past and legends still are being made. The biggest influence in modern times is the advent of “Skagit Casting”. Soft spoken Ed Ward has been the leader of this innovation. Ed has a style that beats to his own tune. His design influence with the innovation of modern winter Steelhead lines with major manufactures is unprecedented. Ed saw the light and the masses are following.

Ed Ward tailing Mia Sheppards fish on February 22, 2009