This blue ribbon trout and salmon canyon is so close to Seattle’s spectacular urban setting, you may swear you just drove from the Denver airport right into the great streams of the Rockies. Here’s the knowledge and gear you need to successfully fish the Yakima river.
The “Yak” – as locals have named it – boasts prolific insect hatches that are fueled by the pleasant “high desert”climate, and has achieved Washington’s only blue ribbon trout fishery designation. All of this culminating in a spectacular canyon, thatmakes you swear you were actually fishing in Wyoming or Montana or Idaho or Colorado!Not to mention, with a fall salmon run, more on that below.
What’s surprising to many, is that this trout fishing mecca is as close to Seattle as fishing in the Rocky Mountain National Park is to Denver. I can actually be fishing on the Yakima – line in the water – in less than 2 hours from landing at the Seattle airport.
There are many “secret” reasons why famous movie actor Harrison Ford built his ranch for retirement in the Yakima valley, and why the budding Suncadia resort is also located here.
Secret only till you come in person to experience Washington’s world-renown apple and cherry orchards, wineries that are literally “crushing it” on the word-wide wine stage, and sprawling hops farms that now supply over 75% of the USA’s entire craft beer industry. All of this in a golden prairie landscape, shaped by the 4-seasoned “high desert” climate,carved out by deep basalt column canyons.
The Yakima river’sexceedingly rich heritage is named for the indigenous Yakama Indians (who’s current spelling was adopted by the tribe in 1993). In fact, had Lewis and Clark come just a little upstream from their camp at the Columbia river confluence in October 1805, they most likely would have the Yakama’s catching salmon in nets and wooden traps as prolific salmon runs were at the time undisturbed by Columbia river dams.
This river fishes well year round, yet comes alive in the fall like few rivers can. What makes the Yak one of my favorite rivers in the USA, is the incredible October caddis hatch (which typically starts in the middle of September, name notwithstanding).
Watching trout lose their inhibitions to smash the surface for these abnormally large caddis with orange bodies, that normally feed with a cautious sip or dart, is my version of watching Sunday football or the Indy 500. So prominent is this hatch, that I keep large fly box dedicated to the simulator patterns – one of the best flies for trout ever – used for little over 1 month out of the year.
Fishing Conditions – What You Need To Know
The Yakima is served well by all-purpose trout fishing gear, however different sections of the river are quite different and demand different gear, with our specific recommendations below. Here’s what you’ll want to know before deciding which gear to take with you.
Fishing the uppermost section of the Yakima river, from the Keechelus Lake Dam down to Easton, is most easily fished by wading. Here, the river is narrow yet very productive, with tight-corner turns and occasional log jams that make drifting more difficult. Lighter gear works well, and you can access the river at various points along I-90, taking care to avoid private land.
Also part of the upper Yakima, the stretch from Easton down to Ellensburg is more easily floated, but still wadable depending on irrigation flows. Here the river widens considerably after being joined by the Cle Elum river and other small tributaries.
The canyon stretch, from Ellensburg down to the Yakima’s entrance into the Columbia river, is a large river that demands different gear, and it is here that the largest trout are landed. The river can move very swiftly during spring irrigation releases, demanding a sinking tip or weighting to get your streamer or nymph down, then subside to gentle flow over shallow gravel bars in the fall.
While much of the river is reachable on foot from the many BLM access points and walking along the bank and railroad tracks on the far side, you’ll be able to access much more fishing from a drift boat or pontoon boat.
These two preferred fishing craft on this river will get you access to float past endless undercut banks, by large rip rap reinforced bends (from the original railroad construction) where many trout in lie in wait, and an easy way to stop and fish
eddy lines thoroughly on both sides of the river. The canyon stretch cannot generally be crossed by wading, except for key points during the lower summer flows. In addition to longer casts in the larger canyon stretch, a stiff wind often funnels through the canyon during the late afternoon, making casting a challenge. No wonder, as these winds emanate from the world-famous windsurfing, kit surfing, and wind-power-producing airstreams along the Columbia River basin. For these reasons, you’ll want a longer, stiffer and stronger rod for the canyon section than you need in the upper stretches.
Tamarack’s Guide Service
Yakima trout are not nearly as leader-sensitive as on rivers in the east, yet you’ll want to use as thin a leader and tippet as you can get away with, erring on the stronger side. I’ve lost too many Yakima trout by enticing strikes in part with thinner tippets, but not having the horse power to land them in strong current or when they are hyped up on fall October caddis.
Best Fly Fishing Gear For The Yakima River
With all that in mind, and based on our experience (including some really nice fish lost during the fight), here are our recommendations for the best fly fishing gear you can use on the Yakima.
As you can tell from our recommendations, tailoring your gear including choosing the best fly fishing line can make a big difference in your success.
For your best fly fishing net while on the water, we have no specific guidance as most nets work fine for Yak trout which tend to be in the 12 – 24 inch range, with an occasional larger lunker. Same for fly fishing vest, your call. For best sunglasses for fly fishing, see link to our article below.
The Yak is a river where many of the standard patterns will serve you well, as will the fly fishing basics, it’s more a matter of knowing when and how to fish them.You’re fishing primarily for rainbows, some cutthroats, and smallmouth bass. Salmon are on a comeback and not yet open for fishing.
As we described above, spring and early summer flows are high not only due to snowpack and runoff, but also due to irrigation releases to the rich agricultural farms and orchards. As a result – think deep – weighted flies and streamers at a minimum, usually with extra weight and even a sinking tip line.
As the river warms you’ll start to have luck with dry fly fishing patterns, starting just in the evening. As the summer progresses, you can use dries much of the day, but don’t count nymph fishing out as they are often the key to the day’s success. While this is true on many rivers, it is especially true on the Yakima which can leave many dry fly purists scratching their head.
If you enjoy fly fishing for bass, be sure to check out the lower Yakima which holds a fine population of good sized smallmouth bass.
Here are some of the best streamers, best nymphs, and best dry flies you can count on, with fly fishing flies listed by season [to be added].
Fly tying your own works fine, as most of the patterns you can easily find materials and instructions for online.
Watch Video : Nymphing On The Yakima With Red’s Fly Shop
Red’s fly shop recently added a lodge, has guide services, and is one of the best sources for a Yakima River fishing report. Be sure to view Red’s fly fishing videos, because they are situated right on the Yakima and have developed the techniques shown specific to Yakima trout.
Fortunatelythe Yakima’s salmon runs are recovering, a result of concerted efforts needed after more than a century of interference by the dams built on the Columbia river to fuel irrigation, hydropower, and supported
industries such as aluminum smelting and agriculture.
It’s worth reading about the “Yakima Basin Integrated Plan,”which, among many measures being taken to manage the fishery, is adding fish passageways. These efforts could very well bring back potentially the largest sockeye salmon run outside of Alaska in the lower 48 states. That has to be good news to any fly fisherman or fly fisherperson.
While reading is one thing, be sure to discover the may secrets offered by the Yakima river by fishing it soon. You are set with all the information you have just read, for some of Washington fly fishing there is, no need to read another fly fishing magazine!
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