The Yakima River one of the most unique river systems in the country. During the course of the year on the there are many variables that change the river, bugs, and therefore we, as guides have to change our strategies to continue to keep you in the fish.
Sometimes on the Yakima River we are fishing the fast, shallow, heavy water where fish are feeding, and sometimes we are in the slow and smooth water.
What changes in the fish’s behavior that forces us to drastically change our strategy on the Yakima River?
Starting at the beginning of the year in January, (or winter in general), we find the fish are in the slower moving water. We look for water that is moving about walking speed. Why? Fish, just like us get lethargic in the cold water. They do not want to have to work hard and fight the river flows, so they are going to move into slower water to conserve energy.
Typically, this time of year you will find better quality fish then quantity because again, just like people bigger fish need to eat more calories per day then the smaller fish do to stay alive. Since the bug life is not like it is in the Spring-Fall, the bigger fish take up the primary feeding lines and get first dibs on insects.
The Springtime has the most variables of the season.
We always talk amongst ourselves that this is the time of year when we really earn our money on the Yakima River.
So many variables contribute to Springtime fishing between water levels, hatches, and weather. Take a look at some of our highest recorded floods here!
First of all, the snowmelt during this time of year is high so we have influxes of water from 1000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 4500 in as little as 24 hours, as well as temperature changes. This has the fish all over the place. What I mean by that is, fish could be in the heavy seams sipping Skwalla stones one day and tucked down deep in slow water the next if we are experiencing a high-water event or cooler temperatures come through.
On top of this we are starting to get the first “hatches” of the year. Most people are familiar with the Skwalla Special most services offer this time of year. So, are the fish going to look up to take a dry or should we continue fishing sub-surface?
We really must be on our toes and be on the water consistently to know where the fish are. Years of fishing in the Spring and conversing with other guides gives us an advantage.
As the river bumps up to around 4000-4800 cfs in June we know we are starting our summertime fishing and is a unique time on the Yakima River. The river bumps up due to the use for agriculture. This is a guides least favorite time of year as high temperatures and high water really has us getting our workouts!
We will typically fish early in the morning or till dark in the coolest part of the day for the benefit of the fish and everyone else.
Plus, a lot of our summertime bugs are nocturnal like the Shortwing Stone and Caddis.
The high-water has the fish pushed up against the banks for the most part. This is due to the banks having slower water and bug life. Dry fly fishing this time of year becomes popular because of the water having a little color and the river having more water and therefore more habitat to hold fish.
For example, a run-in lower water cannot support as many fish as the Summer because there is not enough water. This time of year, we definitely see a higher quantity of fish then quality, but there are always some bigger fish lurking down deeper.
Fall time is considered for most guides our favorite time of year on the Yakima River.
This is due to the water dropping from ~4500 to ~800 cfs. The fish begin to move away from the shoreline and into faster, riffles because of the dissolved oxygen content (DOC) also drops. We also begin to fish more of the “bucket” water and the fish pod up in these holes.
We begin seeing a lot more quality fish, but the quantity is much more as Winter. The river also becomes wader friendly at this point and we see a lot of do-it-yourselfers out.
Our hatches in the Fall are at a peak too as we have Cranefly, Blue Winged Olive (BWO), October Caddis, and Shortwing stones are also still around. During the BWO hatch you can see a huge mass of insects hatching and trout mindlessly sipping these small mayflies off the water.
We are typically dry-dropper fishing to get the best of both worlds, taking advantage of the low water because in the high flows we really need something heavy under an indicator to get down to the zone.
The Yakima River has 4 distinct fishing seasons, and it is almost like fishing 4 different rivers. It is really worth coming out and experiencing all of them. If you are a newer angler I would recommend coming out in the early spring, summer, and fall where most anglers who have been fishing this river for a long time really know that all 4 seasons are fantastic out here.