Top Fly Guide Service offers top of the line Washington fly fishing guides on the only Blue Ribbon River in the state.
The Yakima River is a tributary of the Columbia River in south central and eastern Washington state, named for the Yakama Indian Tribe. The length of the river from headwaters to mouth is 214 miles, with an average drop of 9.85 feet per mile. It is the longest river entirely in Washington state.
The river rises in the Cascade Mountain Range at an elevation of 2,449 feet at Keechelus Dam on Keechelus Lake near Snoqualmie Pass, near Easton. The river flows through Easton, skirts Ellensburg, passes the city of Yakima, and continues southeast to Richland, WA., where it flows into the Columbia River creating the Yakima River Delta at an elevation of 340 feet.
Aside from fishing, the Yakima River is used for rafting and kayaking, especially around the Ellensburg area and near the confluence of the Columbia River during the summer months.
Of the waters we fish, the Yakima River is ranked between Class I and Class II rapids, depending on the flow and season.
The dry climate of Ellensburg, with over 300 sunshine days a year, draws visitors from Seattle and all over the state. It is just a two-hour drive from Seattle.
The Yakima River and its tributaries have been heavily altered for the purpose of irrigated agriculture. There are numerous dams and irrigation canals. Irrigation runoff is in places returned to the river through canal drains.
The irrigation system in the Yakima’s watershed causes periods of both severe river de-watering and elevated flows. As a result, discharge statistics for the Yakima River are heavily affected by the irrigation system. The USGS operates four stream-flow gauges on the Yakima River. The highest average discharge recorded, 3,542 cubic feet per second, is more than halfway up the river at Union Gap. The two downriver gauges show average flows of a reduced amount.
The Yakima River boasts many good hatches throughout the year as many other good tail waters have. As expected we have a great Stonefly, Mayfly, and Caddis hatch on and off year-round, but we also have an excellent terrestrial hatch. This includes the infamous Hopper hatch in the lower canyon as well as ants and beetles.
Swinging streamers like sculpin, sparkle minnows, and crayfish are also good year-round on the river, though certain times of the year are better than others. Listed below is a monthly directory for the hatches on the Yakima River.
Yakima River Hatches
These months also bring the hatching of Midges and Winter Stoneflies. Swinging streamer patterns are productive this time of year but can be effective throughout the season as well.
● Midges are black and range from size 22-26 and are often mistaken for mosquitos on the water. Getting a fish to rise in the winter on a fly this small can be difficult, so most of the time we are fishing the earlier stage of the insect’s life: the Chironomid. Chironomids can be fished in sizes ranging from 16-20 and are the most plentiful of any insect on the river.
● Winter Stoneflies are the smallest of the stonefly family. They too are black and range from size 16-20. Fishing the nymph (immature) stages of this insect under a bobber is the best way to find fish on this particular species.
The Skwalla Stonefly hatch is popular among fly fishermen as it signalizes the start of many anglers’ seasons. Typically, it is also the first hatch where dry flies are a sure bet for catching fish.
During this time we begin to go into our first Mayfly hatches of the year, too. March Browns, Blue Winged Olives, and Caddis will definitely get some fish looking up towards the afternoon and evening time, but our biggest Stonefly - the Salmonfly - also makes an appearance.
Make sure to keep an eye on the flows this time of year, as snowmelt can make wading or even drift boat fishing difficult if not impossible. Streamer fishing with alevin or smolt patterns during these months can be effective as salmon have begun to hatch from their eggs and begin their long journey to the ocean.
● The olive with a black egg sack in a size 8-10 is the most used Skwalla Stonefly pattern. This pattern mimics the females laying eggs on the water next to woody shorelines. The males are typically a darker olive to a black color and can be a good secondary fly if fishing heavily-fished water. As for nymphs, your favorite stonefly pattern in olive will work just fine.
● March Browns are the most plentiful Mayfly hatch in the spring. March Browns are one of my top two favorite Mayfly hatches of the year because they are a little bigger than some of their counterparts; the fish go absolutely crazy for them! This hatch can be hard to hit though because of our spring runoff flows, sometimes it can be epic but other times it is a total bust.
● Blue Winged Olives (BWO) make their first out of two major appearances this time of year. These flies are olive in color and range from size 16-18 in the spring. These flies can hatch in abundance for a short period of time and can overwhelm anything else that is also hatching. Also, fish. Love. BWO! When these bugs start coming off, just put whatever you were using away and pull out a good Blue Wing imitation. They aren’t going to eat anything else!
● Salmonflies are easily our largest insect of the year. These flies are an easy 4-6 hook size and have a very large wingspan. Many anglers are disappointed with our Salmonfly hatch as fish are much more keyed in on the smaller Mayflies and Caddisflies this time of year. More fish are caught on Salmonfly nymphs this time of year than on dries.
● Grannom Caddis or Mother’s Day Caddis easily make up for our most abundant hatch over a short period of time. Millions and millions of bugs hatch in the evening time. At a size 14-16, it is smart to wear a buff just so you don’t swallow all the bugs. Although, since there are so many bugs, I have seen some of the best and toughest fishing there is, simply because of the sheer amount of biomass coming down the river. The fish are eating but what makes them want YOUR fly? Make it a slightly different color or try a hotspot.
Most of the water comes out of the Cle Elum reservoir (the largest of the four) which, obviously, raises the Cle Elum River. Kechelus, Keechelus, and Easton are the other three dams that add a little bit of water into the system.
This changes the game as fish are typically pushed in toward the bank, thus making wade fishing nearly impossible. This bump is done to give enough water for irrigation for farming down towards the Tri-Cities. It also keeps our river temperatures much cooler during the heat of the summer compared to many other systems that have to go on a hoot owl schedule, limiting fishing to the early morning and late evening.
These summer months offer us a couple of different Stonefly, Mayfly, and Sedge Caddis hatches. Among our Stonefly hatches are our Golden Stones, Yellow Sallies, and Shortwing (Summer) Stones. Pale Morning Duns, Green Drakes, and the occasional BWO are the Mayflies seen this time of year.
The Sedge Caddis are also seen during these months. They can be recognized aside from their similar Grannom counterparts by a tan body and wing, as well as the females diving into the water to lay their eggs instead of bouncing on top as the Grannoms do.
The Sedge Nymphs also do not make a casing like the Grannoms do. Swinging Sparkle Minnows seem to do best this time of year because of the Smolt migration to the ocean.
● Our Golden Stonefly hatch is among one of our most unique Stonefly hatches as it is the only Stonefly that is a water emerger. This means that the Golden sheds its shuck in the water film instead of crawling up on the banks like every other stonefly. The nymphs and adults usually run about the same size, the standard 6-10 being best. Nymphs can be gold to olive in color, but the adults are typically more golden.
● Yellow Sallies are a much smaller Stonefly than all the others that hatch this time of year and can easily be recognized by their bright red butt. They are a size 16 and typically hatch from the start of summer in June all the way until September when the weather starts cooling down.
● Shortwing or Summer Stones are seen in the early mornings and late evenings starting in July. They get their name “shortwing” because the males do not fully develop full-size wings like the females do. The females (6-8) tend to be a bit bigger overall than the males (8-10). This Stonefly, along with the Caddis, tends to be nocturnal, so fishing at first light or waiting until dark this time of the year is best. This is great for the fishermen, as well as the fish, as midday temperatures can exceed 100 degrees.
● Pale Morning Duns are a Mayfly about size 14. Not 16, and not 12. They all have a uniform size and color and rarely deviate. It is a fun hatch to fish if you are in-between hatches or at a lull part of the day. Nymphs also fish very well during this time. We usually see them in June and July.
● Green Drakes are easily the largest Mayfly that we have on the river and the hatch keeps getting better and better every year. The hatch is not as great as some of our other bugs, but at a size 8-12, they have a massive size lead over the other Mayflies. They are dark olive to light green in color, and the fish seem to key into them more and more every year.
This is when the water from the Cle Elum River drops, which in turn drops the Yakima to as low as 750 CFS in the upper river. The United States Geological Survey regulates the flows for the Yakima and decides when to shut off the water. Then they raise the water from Bumping Lake and Rimrock that feed into the Naches. They do this to allow the salmon easier access to come up and spawn in the Yakima.
Hatches to expect this time of year are Craneflies, Summer Stones, Mahogany Duns, Light Cahills, October Caddis, and a second BWO hatch.
● Craneflies give us the first clue that our season is changing. The Cranefly larva spends its life in the water and then emerges to become what you would see in your yard. This is one of the most enjoyable hatches to fish as the adults come skating across the water and the fish go out of their way to go acrobatic and eat them. This is the time where a poor mend is a good thing! A small, tan, leggy profile bug sized 8-10 is best for this hatch.
● The Blue Winged Olive hatch in the fall is one you have to witness with your own eyes. With blankets of bugs on the water, every trout in the river seems to have found a lane and is sipping on them. The BWOs this time of year are more like an 18-22 and trout can be VERY picky about what they want to eat. Try switching different flies to replicate the different stages of the lifecycle: Cripples, Parachutes, and Duns. If you are at the top of a run use Cripples, and at the bottom use Duns.
● Mahogany Duns are an inferior hatch on the Yakima but do not count them out. This dark brown Dun is a size 14-16 and the trout like them very much. However, with the BWOs typically hatching at the same time in higher numbers, they usually get a trout’s priority over the Duns.
● The Light Cahill’s story is much like the Mahogany Dun’s. Small hatch, sizes 14-16, light creamy color, and the BWO usually outnumber them.
● October Caddis is also a great hatch to fish in the fall. With a Caddis fluttering around that is a size 8 and vibrant orange, it is easy to see why. These flies are hard for fish to pass up and they hold up a dropper well, allowing us to fish two sections of water efficiently. These Grannom Caddis are much bigger but do not behave any differently than their smaller brethren. They hatch out of a case usually made of rocks rather than sticks, and the females lay eggs by dive-bombing on the water and bouncing back up before hungry trout can grab them.
Local Washington fly fishing guides!
Top Fly only offers resident Washington fly fishing guides. Aside from the Blue Ribbon Trout River, we offer trips on the Klickitat River for Steelhead and Salmon.
Waters we fish also include the Klickitat River. This is a unique system by the fact that it is the longest un-dammed river in the state. This glacier fed river is controlled by Mt. Adams and is very dependent on the weather.
The season for steelhead starts in June and goes till the end of November. In the summer months, you can typically have the river mostly to yourself and even find a few fish. Although low in quantity, the pressure and water clarity does produce some fish.
As stated before, the river clarity is determined by Mt. Adams, so when summer temperatures begin to climb, keeping a close eye on the river gauges and even making a few phone calls to the local Canyon Market can save you a long drive home if the river isn’t fishable.
We keep an eye on night time temperatures, as the river will cycle if it begins to get into the 40s at night. A cycle is when the river becomes un-fishable (blows out) because of the high midday temperatures and then eventually gains clarity as the day goes on.
In these instances, putting in at first light isn’t always the best bet for catching fish. On average, it takes about two days for the water to get from the mountain down to the fishing grounds. On these days, sometimes putting on at 9 A.M. to wait for that cycle of clearer water to come down is a good strategy.
You can actually see the water clarity go from 8 inches of visibility to 18 inches and back down to 8 inches in one float. Planning your day to follow that clearer water is a good plan if you are going to be fishing down here.
Starting in September, the cooler weather bumps the river back down into shape and the steelhead and chinook salmon start shooting up the river.
September also brings the crowds down as everyone wants to get their shot at one of these beautiful and hard-fighting anadromous fish on water we fish.
Finding steelhead can be a tough task but once you hook into one, get ready to hold on tight for the ride! Steelhead typically freak out when hooked and you can expect long fast runs up, down, left, and right all over the river as well as cartwheels out of the water and aggressive head-shakes.
The river will get lower during this time because of the cooler temperatures but is still dependent on the weather. High amounts of rain this time of year can blow out the river just as much as a bump in temperatures. Tributaries like the Big Muddy don’t get their name because they run clean! The Big Muddy used to have a dam on it until it was burned down in 2019. This dam allowed the silt to settle before returning back into the Klickitat.
As we wind down the season in late October/November, the river typically begins to clear up to 4-5 feet of visibility, but dress with plenty of extra layers and get ready to chip ice off your rod guides because temperatures can get down into the teens during the night.
If you are a “Do-It-Yourself” type of person and have never been on the Kilickitat River, it would be very wise to do some research prior to your trip, as some of the sections of this river are highly dangerous; even the easiest sections aren’t friendly to someone new on the oars.
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