Fly Fishing Washington
Where to go Fly Fishing in Washington
The best fly fishing in Washington revolves around the smaller coastal rivers in the Western part of the state and desert prairie streams that wind through the Eastern sections. In the Eastern part of the state, the smaller Columbia River tributaries such as: Rocky Ford Creek, Yakima River, Spokane River, Tucannon River, and Crab Creek, and to the west, the rivers around the Olympic Peninsula such as: the Chehalis River, Lewis River, Hoh River, Cowlitz River, Sol Duc River, Humptulips River, Quinault River, Bogachiel River, offer fantastic fly fishing opportunities for their anadromous residents while the Skagit River, Skykomish River, Green River, Snoqualmie River, and Nooksack River offer similar opportunities from the lower Puget Sound to the Canadian border. Washington has twelve species of salmonids found throughout the state. The native species being the Pink Salmon, King Salmon, Coho Salmon, Chum Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Rainbow Trout/Steelhead, Bull Trout, Dolly Varden, and Cutthroat Trout. Brook Trout and Lake Trout have been introduced in several stillwater fisheries across the state, and Brown Trout are stocked in several of the desert streams to the east. The high elevation lakes of the Cascades and Olympic Peninsula give Washington anglers another valuable fly fishing resource accompanied with outstanding scenery.
Best Fly Fishing Streams in Western Washington
The rivers of Western Washington are home to the various species of Pacific Salmon and other anadromous salmonids who's life histories are intertwined with their specific rivers of birth. These rivers are still somewhat productive on their own, with moderate insect hatches that feed young salmonids early in life. To grow to larger sizes and increase their fitness and fecundity, many of these fish move to the salt to feed up in the highly productive estuaries. These salmon limit their eating after entering the rivers, but swung flies such as intruders, dolly lamas, and egg sucking leeches can produce well once salmon are located. Steelhead are more likely to indulge in snacking once they hit the freshwater. Nymph and egg patterns can be productive on smaller waters when dragged down along the bottom. Cutthroat Trout, Rainbow Trout, and Bull Trout can reside in these rivers year round, surviving on insects, remnants of the salmon spawn, migrating smolt, and other fishes, but do have the ability to move into the estuaries if resources become scarce. We will begin discussing these rivers from the south end of the Olympic Peninsula and move northward.
Chehalis River Fly Fishing
The Chehalis is best known for its fall Coho Salmon runs. These fish will enter the river each fall, usually by October, and be present through to December. Chum Salmon runs begin around mid November each year and will present along with the Silvers for much of the season. Chinook Salmon can also be found in the river but to a lesser degree. Steelhead runs can be equally popular to that of the Coho Salmon but will not begin until the colder weather arrives in December. These trout will continue to move in and be present through April each year. The tributaries of the Chehalis are the best locations to target these fish as the smaller water is easier on most anglers. The Wynoochee River, Satsop River, Skookumchuk River can all be productive and have fair public access.
Quinault River Fly Fishing
The Quinault River is found on the Quinault Indian Reservation and managed exclusively by the tribe. Visitors must be accompanied by a tribe guide. Similar to the Chehalis River, the best fly fishing on the Quinault River is found during the fall months. October sees the most action with Chinook and Coho salmon flooding into the river. Alongside these salmon runs coastal cutthroat can be caught this time of year as rising water levels drive their push upstream. Hatchery Steelhead will migrate upstream towards the hatchery in larger numbers in December and January while wild Steelhead enter the river in February and March.
Hoh River Fly Fishing
The Hoh is one of the most popular fly fisheries in Western Washington. It flows from its headwaters on Mt. Olympus down its upper, middle and south forks through pristine coastal rainforest. Steelhead, Coho, and Chinook are the primary targets for anglers visiting the river. Coastal cutthroat can also be found in the river along with wild rainbow trout in its headwater streams. Coastal Cutthroat and bull trout can be found in the river as well but move steadily up and down the river throughout the year. Learn more about the Hoh in our article on The Best Fly Fishing on the Hoh River.
Bogachiel River and Sol Duc River Fly Fishing
The Bogachiel River and Sol Duc River are the largest tributaries of the Quillayute River watershed that drain much of the Olympic Peninsula. Salmon runs consist of Coho and Chinook with wild and hatchery steelhead also entering the rivers in late fall and throughout winter. The watershed drains the northernmost section of the peninsula, but unlike most of their neighboring rivers, the Bogachiel and Sol Duc are not glacier fed. Without relying on glacial runoff the rivers run clearer and are less susceptible to large flood pulses, making them more conducive to newer anglers. Towards the mouth of the Quillayute River, sea run cutthroat and dolly varden can be found throughout most of the year. These fish will migrate up the tributary arms, following the salmon in late summer through fall. Small baitfish imitations are the best flies for targeting these species. Ghosts, bright woolly buggers, clousers, and other minnow imitations will produce the best results.
Green River Fly Fishing
The Green River is a smaller river flowing into Puget Sound that runs through the middle of the Seattle Metropolitan area. During odd numbered years Pink salmon make heavy runs up the river in September which can be quite the spectacle for visitors. The many parks and stretches of public access along the river can be great for anglers looking to spend a few hours on the water close to town. Coho and Chum salmon make runs up the Green River later into the fall but in smaller numbers. These runs typically won't hit the river until November as the pink salmon expire. King salmon are found even more sparsely during their run in late summer but are protected in the river.
Skykomish River and Snoqualmie River Fly Fishing
The Skykomish and Snoqualmie Rivers are tributaries of the Snohomish River which enters Puget Sound just north of Seattle. The rivers begin further to the southeast in the Cascade Mountains. Steelhead, Coho Salmon, Pink Salmon, Chum Salmon and Sea Run Cutthroat are the seasonal visitors to the rivers. Resident trout can be found further upriver in the headwaters and tributaries. Fishing these river is very similar to that of the Green River. Public access can be found readily on both rivers In the upper reaches of the Skykomish River and the Snoqualmie River above Snoqualmie Falls wild rainbow trout and westslope cutthroat trout are excellent targets for those looking for seclusion and beginners learning how to fly fish.
Skagit River Fly Fishing
The Skagit River is the iconic steelhead river of Washington. The large numbers of wild steelhead attract anglers from across the country. On top of the steelhead runs, October coho salmon runs, November chum salmon runs, and odd year September runs of pink salmon add to the fishing opportunities. Following these runs are transitory sea run cutthroat and bull trout populations that open up a different fishery for anglers. The cutthroat and bull trout will remain in the rivers throughout the runs feeding on flesh and eggs. October through January are the best times to target these species as they are feeding heavily. To learn more about the Skagit check out our article on The Best Fly Fishing on the Skagit River.
Nooksack River Fly Fishing
The Nooksack is the northernmost river in Washington and is split into three main forks. The river fishes very similarly to the Skagit with two minor differences. The Steelhead populations in the Nooksack are minuscule compared to the Skagit River. Some steelhead can be found by dedicated anglers but are not the staple of the fishery. The second difference is the availability of a sizable king salmon run towards the end of summer and into the fall. The northern and middle fork see glacial runoff while the southern fork will run clear much of the year. Bull trout occupy much of the river system but are protected by the state. On the south fork above the falls anglers can find wild rainbow trout along with the occasional cutthroat and bull trout.
Best Fly Fishing Streams in Eastern Washington
The rivers of Eastern Washington have much less diversity than the rivers further to the west. These rivers can still have high productivity with good insect hatches that allow trout to reach larger sizes. Cutthroat Trout, Rainbow Trout, and Brown Trout are the main residents of these rivers. The dry climate makes many of these rivers fishable year round.
Rocky Ford Creek Fly Fishing
A small spring creek winding through central Washington and into the Columbia River, Rocky Ford Creek gives Washington visitors a unique opportunity to target large rainbow trout in skinny water year round. The water temperature within the creek stays nearly constant, keeping anglers and trout cool in summer and warmer in the winter. The submerged vegetation supplies a healthy source of food in the form of scuds which keeps the trout growing consistently. In the cooler months, midges and blue wing olives comprise the majority of hatches. Spring sees sulfurs, PMDs, and caddis as common flies. Summer brings a steady diet of terrestrials and tricos during the low light hours. The terrestrial bite continues then tapers through fall along with some callibaetis and caddis. It is always fun to pattern hatches on the Ford, but don't leave the house without your size 12-18 scud patterns when you visit.
Yakima River Fly Fishing
The Yakima River attracts more anglers than any fly fishing stream in Eastern Washington. It is designated as the only Blue Ribbon Trout Stream in the state with a healthy population of rainbow trout and the occasional westslope cutthroat. Beginning on the east side of the Cascades, the river flows southeast to its confluence with the Columbia River. The upper Yakima which runs from the Easton Dam to Thorp, bull and brook trout can be found in river alongside the cutthroat and rainbows. The lower sections see more angling pressure as fish density and size is a bit better. To learn more, check out our article on The Best Fly Fishing on the Yakima River.
Crab Creek Fly Fishing
Not your typical trout stream, Crab Creek is a smaller stream that periodically dries each year in certain stretches. Small, cool water springs give refuge to what trout inhabit the stream, during periods of drought. Redband rainbows and brown trout are the most common in the creek and may reach modest sizes if they can survive. The upper section of the creek, North of Odessa is anglers best bet of running into trout. This is also the area where anglers can find the best native redband trout fishing.
Rattlesnake Creek Fly Fishing
A major tributary of the Naches River, one of the more popular fly fishing destinations in the state, Rattlesnake creek offers excellent fishing for rainbow and cutthroat trout. Anglers can find some of the largest Westslope Cutthroat in these waters. Terrestrials and larger dries work well for most of the year here. Moving subsurface as the weather cools is necessary when the dry fly bite slows. Late summer and fall are the best times to visit Rattlesnake Creek and the Naches river as the lower water levels make the streams easier to traverse.
Fly Fishing the Alpine Lakes of Washington
High in the central Cascades lies the Alpine Lake Wilderness Area. What seems like an endless stretch of public land is filled with dozens of small lakes, each stocked with different species of trout. Cutthroat Trout, Brook Trout, Rainbow Trout, and even the Golden Trout of California are stocked in the various lakes of the wilderness area. Many of these lakes require strenuous hikes to reach but are still incredibly rewarding for their visitors. If you are searching for a specific species in any of these lakes, be sure to use this tool from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to get you going in the right direction.
Over on the Olympic Peninsula, anglers looking for cutthroat trout can hike to the Jupiter Lakes to find success, while Lake Ellinor and the Mildred Lakes have healthy populations of rainbow trout. Moving lower in elevation to some larger water we can find another worthy challenge for fly anglers.
Fly Fishing for Lake Trout (Mackinaw) in Washington
Fly fisherman can target Lake Trout on the fly just before ice on and following ice off each year. These can be short windows each year. Lake Cle Elum is likely the most well know location to target mackinaw on the shoulders of winter. Targeting the sides of points and channel swings is critical to finding fish as they will want deep water close, even when patrolling the shallows. Deer Lake to the north of Spokane and Lake Chelan, in the center of the state are also known to have Lake Trout but in lesser quantities than Cle Elum.
Washington Trout and Salmon Fishing Regulations
Daily catch limits differ by species in Washington. Regulations on salmon runs change often and are published on a daily basis during the season.
Kokanee Salmon: Catch limit is 10 fish per day with no size limit.
Steelhead: All wild steelhead are to be released immediately, hatchery steelhead over 20" can be kept with a daily limit of 2 during the season.
Brown Trout catch limit is 2 fish at a minimum of 8" in streams and rivers and 5 fish in lakes and ponds with no minimum size limit.
Brook Trout have no minimum size limit or catch limit.
Cutthroat Trout catch limit is 2 fish at a minimum of 8" in streams and rivers and 5 fish in lakes and ponds with no minimum size limit.
Lake Trout have no minimum size limit or catch limit.
Tiger Trout catch limit is 2 fish at a minimum of 8" in streams and rivers and 5 fish in lakes and ponds with no minimum size limit.
Bull Trout fishing is under special regulation or closed in specific rivers.
Golden Trout catch limit is 2 fish at a minimum of 8" in streams and rivers and 5 fish in lakes and ponds with no minimum size limit.
Grayling catch limit is 2 fish at a minimum of 8" in streams and rivers and 5 fish in lakes and ponds with no minimum size limit.
For more information about America's best trout streams and others in the area, check out our articles on fly fishing Montana and fly fishing Oregon.