Urban Adventure: Seattle
by Maria Dolan
Western Washington — the part of the state west of the Cascade Mountains — has an abundance and variety of waters that sustain a robust fishery. Turquoise alpine lakes hold brightly colored native cutthroat trout. Rivers fed by the glaciers and rain forests of the Cascades and the Olympics support runs of mirgratory fish that spend most of their lives in saltwater. Some, such as the sea-run cutthroat, live out much of their adult lives feeding in or near the estuary of their home stream. Others, such as the Chinook salmon and steelhead, have been known to migrate as far as eastern Russia. In many cases, the rivers and lakes and the bodies of saltwater into which they empty offer great opportunities for sport fisherman to catch large fish in large quanities. Salmon, steelhead, and several other salmonids are probably what most people think of when they visualize fishing the Great Northwest. It is still possible on a given morning to wake up in Seattle at 4 AM on a drizzly January morning, put your boat into a river by 6 AM, and be home with two 30-pound salmon by noon. When the coho salmon peaks in September, “sick days” are taken and, in a good year, freezers are filled with fish caught in Shilshole Bay, 15 minutes from downtown Seattle.
In particluarly good years, at just the right time, the waters described in this chapter can provide such opportunities. But they aren’t necessarily what everyone would cal the “best”– that is, if you define your finest fishing days as the one when you can catch your limit. You are most likely to do this in government-managed waters: Rainbow trout are planted in lakes periodically throughout the year so you can pick them off with a few flicks of the wrist. Hatcheries release young salmon and steelhead into rivers and in two or three years, many, sometimes hordes, return, full grown. When the word gets out that there’s been a hatchery return, people line the banks as close to the hatchery as they are allowed to fish. If a hatchery is too successful–more fish make it back than are needed to sustain the run–the excess fish are trucked back downstream and dropped back into the river to provide more opportunities for anglers. Some are even released into local lakes. It is, on occasion, possible to catch a 15-pound hatchery steelhead that spent three years migrating to Kamchatka and back in the local trout pond. Information about such opportunities aren’t especially closely guarded secrets and a bit of casual research will unearth them.
This chapter is weighted heavily towards fly-fishing, and the methods for doing that in our waters may seem relatively unsophisticated compared to many fisheries in the West. The fly-fishing enthusiast who has spent time in Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming or Colorado will find that, for the ost part, the fish of western Washington are far less “educated.” The west slope cutthroat native to our rivers and lakes tends to be less selective than the rainbows and browns found throughout the West. Nonspecific pattern–stimulators, humpies, spider patterns, wooly buggers–that imitate something buggy and filling often are all that is needed. Methods for catching the fish that migrate from fresh to salwater and back vary greatly. One generality that can be made with some confidence is this: When fishing for salmon and steelhead that are returning to the rivers to spawn, year are trying to take advantage of a fish’s territorial instinct rather than its feeding instinct.
Each body of water discussed here was chosen for some reason in addition the fact that it is sometimes a great place to catch fish. Most are surrounded by spectacular scenery. Some are remote enought to seem unmanaged. and the rare opportunity still exists to catch a fish in a place that looks just like it did 200 years ago.
I have tried to include all the current information about local fishing regulations, but keep in mind that fishing openings and closing change rapidly, as do license fees and rules, and you’ll need to check with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (www.wa.gov/wdfw/fish/regs/fishregs/.htm).
Location: About 40 miles northeast of Seattle
Fish: Coho, steelhead
Season: June through October for steelhead, fall for Coho
Outfitters: Emerald Water Anglers (206-545-2197 ewa.wpengine.com), Mike Kinney (360-435-3778 www.mikekinney.com)
Map: Washington Atlas and Gazetteer
Heads up: Stunning setting, very popular
Description: The scenic “Sky” is especially gorgeous in winter, when the snowcapped Cascades just up in the distance like something from a Swiss tale. These waters are legendary in the Northwest for steelhead, and there’s even a fly named after the river. Loved half to death, the Sky can be congested and difficult to fish. On a busy day you’ll see lots of people up to the tops of their waders in the section near the town of Sultan, wrists flicking to and fro. For the hardcore angler who doesn’t mind some bushwhacking, it is sometime possible to find a beautiful stretch to call your own upriver, perhaps 10 to 15 miles past Sultan. “Higher up it can be gin clear, wadeable, and intimate,” says Dave McCoy of Emerald Water Anglers.
Directions: Take I-5 north to Everett and the exit for US 2 toward Wenatchee. Continue east to the town of Sultan. You’ll see the river on your right.