Washington Travel and Life Magazine
Casting About – Fly Fishing Washington’s Dream Streams
by Dave McCoy
In this world of fast-paced, competitive work and play, fly fishing is one place where a person can find a small reprieve and wade into a slower moving, methodical landscape. The proverbial “rabbit hole” resides in each and every facet of fly fishing from mastering casting techniques and knot tying to developing a near PHD in entomology. Washington has more fly fishing diversity than anywhere in the country with regards to types of water, topography and seasonality as well as the shear challenge of landing a fish capable of humbling even the most seasoned fly angler.
Eastern Washington is rich with desert lakes full of hard fighting rainbows, browns and in some cases huge carp. Sight casting to these giants by either wading the shallows or from the bow of a boat will electrify the senses in any angler. Throw in wonderfully scenic rivers and rarely explored streams from the west side of the state, to mere trickling spring creeks holding enormous brown and rainbow trout nearing 10 pounds. Each fishery in Eastern Washington allows novice anglers the experience necessary for complete immersion in the sport while being challenging enough to bring world traveled anglers back year after year.
Moving west, the Yakima River descends from the Cascades to become Washington’s most popular trout stream. Managed as one of our only catch and release fisheries, the upper reaches of this waterway provide small water walk-and-wade access in a mountainous setting for wild cutthroat and rainbow trout. Once out of the mountains, the Yakima begins to take on a high desert feel and is heavily floated by anglers for most of the year. Fish respond to a large number of insect hatches from Skwala Stones and Beatis in the spring, followed by March Browns and Pale Morning Duns to the ever popular Mother’s Day Caddis hatch in May. During this time, trout as large as 20 inches will take flies on the surface for much of the day. Come summer, hoppers and streamers become popular choices. Once below the Yakima Canyon stretch, south of Ellensburg and below Rosa Dam, the river quickly warms with summer heat. Anglers looking for a new challenge have found one in this smallmouth bass and carp fishery as the Yakima heads towards the Columbia River.
The small creeks and tributaries tumbling out of the Cascade Mountains are the places where those seeking solitude and shear beauty will find sanctuary. These are the reason the phrase “Take only pictures and leave only footprints” was coined. While not large, the trout are as beautiful as anywhere in the world. Average size will be around eight inches, but in some cases, one pool will have 40 fish in it all vying for your attention. Native rainbow and cutthroat call any of the hundreds of creeks home. These are places where “wild” has never been truer. For those anglers craving the minimalist approach, bring a couple hand-tied flies, your grandfather’s vintage bamboo rod and a sack lunch and you are set.
Setting foot in the Puget Sound region of Washington, you have now entered legendary steelhead waters. Much of the history of fly fishing for steelhead was written here on such rivers as the Skagit, Sauk, Hoh, Skykomish and Stillaguamish (the first ever “Fly Fish Only” designated watershed in the world).
Steelhead in this region grow upwards of 20 pounds and catching one is a once in a lifetime experience. Anglers swing classic flies on 14-foot, two-handed spey rods through runs like Hole and The Mixer for fish that traveled up to 7,000 miles to return to these very spots. Winter is prime time when fish are big, fresh from the salt water and feisty to say the least. The two fisheries to set Washington apart are the Puget Sound and Pacific Ocean. With over 3,000 miles of shoreline, anglers have an unreal amount of beach to target the Sea Run Cutthroat and Dolly Varden. The Sound is protected from the Pacific rendering it very calm and peaceful much of the time. While standing in the water casting to rising fish, anglers can glimpse gray whales, porpoises and sea lions. During summer months, fly anglers need to mentally prepare for the excitement of bait fish being slashed by arriving salmon species a mere 20 feet away. Get a fly in front of one and hold on! Coho salmon hooked while still in the salt are amongst the strongest fish fly anglers can target .
More than half the enjoyment of fly fishing is derived from the beautiful surroundings, the satisfaction felt from being in the open air and the many pleasant recollections of all one has seen, heard and done. Charles Orvis said that. As age and experiences evolve each of us, so do our souls’ yearnings for fulfillment. Fly fishing in Washington is no different.
(Dave McCoy is professional fishing guide and owner of Emerald Water Anglers, a fly fishing outfitter based in Seattle, Washington. For more information of fly fishing in Washington, visit ewa.wpengine.com or call (206) 545-2197.)