Growing up in Elma, Washington — on the Olympic Peninsula — Ashley Lewis didn’t have many entertainment choices.
She lived with her mom, a single parent. But her world was outside the house.
“My mom exposed me to all things outdoors.”
But it was a group of friends who exposed Lewis to fishing when she was a teenager.
“It’s one of those one-stoplight towns. You could either get in trouble or go hunting and fishing.”
She’s kept a rod and reel handy ever since.
Lewis now lives in Tacoma, while working on a degree in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences from the University of Washington. But as a fishing guide — Bad Ash Fishing — she frequently returns to the Olympic Peninsula to help clients chase steelhead on the Quinault and Queets Rivers.
Steelheading on the Olympic Peninsula
A member of Quinault Nation, Lewis is one of the few guides that works these rivers, which run across the nation’s sovereign land. All reelers must be accompanied by a member of the nation in order to fish its waters.
Lewis marvels at how the Quinault and Queets compare to other rivers she’s fished.
“You can see the difference between fishery management on the Olympic Peninsula and how other rivers are managed.” Lewis says. “Steelhead are plentiful on the peninsula. There is little human influence on the environment and not much fishing pressure.”
“I’ve never experienced ‘the fish of a thousand casts,’” she says.
Elsewhere, fishing pressure and human manipulation of the environment, like damming rivers, has led to habitat destruction and steelhead being listed as “threatened” or even “endangered” across much of its native range.
“I guide on arguably the best steelhead river in the Northwest. There’s hardly any fishing pressure, and we see the biggest fish.”
In spite of the good fishing, steelheading on the Olympic Peninsula is no cakewalk. The temperate rainforest climate makes it one of the wettest places in the United States.
“It’s a very rainy, volatile environment. You have to be prepared for anything,” Lewis says.
Although she has a preference for Shimano’s G.Loomis rods and Gerber fishing tools, Lewis is not dedicated to any one method for chasing steelhead: She will fly fish or use conventional reeling techniques, and lately, has been doing some center-pin fishing.
“Variety is the spice of life,” she says.
Connecting with the environment
When guiding, Lewis says her clients tend to fall into two general groups: Those who want to bag a lot of fish and those who want an experience.
Although she is always happy to accommodate the former, she feels that latter group offers a special opportunity for her to help them engage with the outdoors.
“If they’re not thinking about how many fish they’re catching, they get the chance to explore outside and connect with the environment,” she explains. “This gives me the opportunity to share what I know about where we’re fishing and help them appreciate it for more than just the fish.”
Although she sometimes allows clients to harvest a fish — when it’s permitted — Lewis is a strict catch-and-release reeler.
“I want my clients to see not only what taking out looks like, but what putting back looks like. If my clients see me release a steelhead, they are more likely to release the fish that they catch.”
“I want them to care about taking care of the environment and what we have here,” Lewis says. “And the best way to do that is to give yourself the opportunity to be outside and get involved in it.”