Yakima River Fly Fishing
Fly Fishing the Yakima River
The Yakima River headwaters are found on the east side of the Cascade Mountains in the Stuart Range, less than 75 miles east of Seattle. From here the river is formed as a tailwater of Keechelus Lake and flows over 200 miles to the southeast through vast desert terrain to its confluence with the Columbia River. The Yakima offers fly anglers visiting Washington something very different that the coastal salmon rivers to the west. The river is home to the states densest population of wild rainbow trout and has been awarded Blue Ribbon honors. Healthy insect populations of caddis flies, stoneflies, and mayflies can be found hatching throughout the year enticing many anglers out on the water, even when conditions are less than optimal. The best wading opportunities are found on the upper section of the river above the Cle Elum River confluence. Most float trips are done below this confluence as the river is more secluded and conducive for drift boats.
Historically king salmon, sockeye salmon, coho salmon, and steelhead called the river home. Dams built in the late 19th century ended much of these spawning runs of anadromous fish. Today a very small population of steelhead can be found in the rivers even as the barriers have all been removed. Cutthroat and rainbow trout are still managed under catch and release regulations throughout the river creating a healthy population of reproducing trout. Efforts to restore the historic chinook, coho, and sockeye runs are taking place at the local hatchery in Cle Elum. While some positive results have been seen, the projects are still underway. To learn more about the extensive plan, check out this article on the Yakima River Subbasin Plan.
Yakima River Fishing in Winter
Between December and February, the cold air temperatures drive many anglers off the water. While the insect hatches aren't as prolific, this can still be a great time to get out and have the river to yourself. During the coldest months of the year, midges will be about the only hatches available to anglers, but only occur during short windows. Anglers looking to see more bites throughout the day should focus more on scuds, small mayfly nymphs, and larger stonefly imitations that trout have a tough time passing up in cold water. Toward the end of winter and into spring, BWOs and skwala stoneflies will begin emerging, indicating that it won't be long until the majority of anglers find their way back on the water. Low water in the winter months means better wading opportunities on the Yakima as it's normal Spring and Summer flows can be daunting to fish in anything but a drift boat. As the snow melt begins in Spring, the water levels in the river will rise quickly, limiting the wading opportunities.
Yakima River Fishing in the Spring
High waters are the norm during Spring. In April, a hatch of March Browns will gather the attention of most anglers on the water as their numbers can be prolific and an excellent food source for the trout. This hatch will die off by May, when the caddis hatches begin. This is likely the best hatch of the year as the trout have a hard time passing up on the millions of caddis swarming the river. The last spring hatch that occurs is the salmonfly hatch found in the upper reaches of the river below the Keechelus Dam to the confluence of the Cle Elum River. This hatch is nothing like the salmonfly hatches of Montana and Idaho, but big bugs will always garner attention of hungry trout.
Yakima River Summer Fly Fishing
Water levels will continue to run high during the early summer as the number of hatches begin to wane and move to the late evening through the early morning hours. PMDs, Golden Stones, Green Drakes and sporadic caddis hatches can happen throughout June and into July. The insects are prolific, selective trout can be tough to crack at times. By mid August the water levels will recede, making wading a possibility in some areas. This is when hoppers become the choice of many anglers looking for some splashy rises from aggressive trout. Smaller terrestrial imitations can work just as well, as ants and beetle patterns can also be popular. Nymphing takes center stage once again in the summer to fall transition when larger hatches become less prevalent.
Fly Fishing the Yakima River in the Fall
As the water reaches its lows for the year and begins to cool toward the end of September. Caddis hatches will return alongside the presence of Cahills. These caddis hatches will last through October and transition to smaller insects. Light Cahills disappear by the end of October as the BWOs, and Midges return to the menu. These hatches can test the best finesse fly anglers as light line and tiny flies become essential.
Yakima River Fishing Access
Wading Access can be difficult on the Yakima, especially during high water in spring and summer. Bridge crossings such as the Thorp and Cle Elum Bridge offer some access but better areas for anglers to search further are the Easton Dam Access,East Nelson Siding, the KOA campground off Hwy 10, Rinehart City Park, and the Roza Access just above the Roza Dam. Though the full extent of the river may not be at the wading anglers disposal, short runs will provide adequate habitat for the trout to stage and feed in.
Best Flies for the Yakima River
The hatches mentioned above are what anglers should match in order to see the best results on the water. High water allows for anglers to get away with heavier tippet sizes, but as the water drops and clears in late summers, tippet sizes and fly sizes will generally get smaller and smaller.
Midges- the coldest months of winter and warmest of summer bring the best midge hatches to the Yakima. Size 18 to 24 is a good place to start. During low, clear water periods, going smaller may even be necessary. Zebra midges, two tone midges, matt's midge, and griffith's gnat patterns will be productive.
BWOs- On the shoulders of the winter midge season, the blue wing olive hatches will fire up. Adams variants, sparkle duns and small emerger patterns will produce trout in the similar size 18-24 patterns as the midges.
Skwala Stoneflies- The skwalas are best matched with larger dries such as an over sized stimulator of coachmen in the size 8 to 12 range. Foam body patterns also work well when the hatches are on the heavy side and allow anglers to better float the fly in rough conditions.
March Browns- Adams variants in the size 12 to 14 range are the best imitations. Be sure to have emerger patterns on the water as the trout can get selective on where the flies sit on the water.
Grannom Caddis- caddis pupa, walts worms, caddis emergers, x-caddis, and the trusted elk hair caddis in the size 14-18 range will certainly catch trout in the spring and fall seasons. Bigger patterns can produce at times.
PMDs- In the early mornings and late evenings of summer the hatches of Pale Morning Duns call for a size 14-16 fly. Much like the march browns, trout can again get dialed in to the emerger patterns at times, so avoid some frustration on the water and bring a few of these emerger patterns with you on the water.
Nymphs- A myriad of nymphs will work well on the Yakima river. Winter and summer being the most prominent times where anglers must fish down in the water column. Bigger stonefly imitations in the size 6 to 12 range and over-weighted scud patterns size 12-16 are some outliers from the typical caddisfly and mayfly nymph patterns that would work well on most rivers in the area.
To learn more about other trout streams and fly fishing opportunities in the area check out our Fly Fishing Washington and Fly Fishing Oregon pages.