The early season is here. Late January ushers in trout fishing. It’s slow, it’s cold, but it beats sitting around doing nothing. I’ve been prepping myself for the guide season in January and February for the last nine years. I get to fish for myself a lot more in the early season and spring before things get crazy. I had started guiding by this time last year and am grateful I am able to take my time getting back into the rhythm of things before having to guide and produce at level. This will be my last winter here on the homewater. I’ll be in warmer salty-er pastures come late October.
Fishing this warly in the season isn’t my favorite. I’ll be straight up. It’s tougher, it’s fing cold, and the fish don’t have food on the brain yet. Water temps are still low enough that trout metabolism is at its literal minimum. Trout are not going to expel energy for much until water temps rise up closer to 45 degrees and above. This means trout are in winter lies. Or the slow, deep water. They are bunched up in big pods, basically doing the equivalent of hibernating in trout form. They eat but they don’t move much. Literally has to be in front of their face. A good early season is 4 to 6 nice fish to the net. That’s a good day before March.
There isn’t much food, and there is no need for trout to move for it or seek it out anyway. It’s funny how nature works that way. As water temps crest 42, the river bed starts to wake up. Caddis and stoneflies start to move about slightly. Mayflies perk up under rocks. They aren’t really doing much. Just taking their time coming alive. As things start to warm above 45 degrees underwater, the place comes alive even more.
Bugs begin feeding, moving around- stoneflies, skwallas, and salmon fly nymphs begin to migrate from the deep boulder gardens towards the bank to become adults, mate, lay eggs, and die. During this migration, they feed and are fed upon ravenously. This is when trout season officially commences. Usually, this is late February or early March. It can take 10 days to 3 weeks for the river to wake up. It also moves upriver, this warming trend and river coming to life. It starts here in the LC and slowly works its way upriver, and by late March or early April, the whole watershed has spring in full swell.
As this happens, trout do two things. They become hungry, and they begin to move about more. They become food responsive dictated by their environment. They seek out food as their metabolism increases with each increment of a degree in warmer water temps. They begin to behave differently. As many this season are of spawning age. This means they also do another thing. As water temps get closer to 50, trout begin to focus their behavior on spawning. They forgo a lot of normal trout behavior during this time. They become ravenous for food prior and post spawning. They also move about the river more during this time. Moving towards spawning areas but also general movement towards feeding areas, shelter, and the normal trout movement.
Moving means spent energy, which makes trout feed. They seek out and move for food during this time with reckless abandonment unlike any other time of year. They need to eat for the process of spawning on top of everything else. This means they become ‘stupid’ for flies. What it truly breaks down to is trout become incredibly respondent to food because they have an appetite that survival depends on. Not just their own survival but their genetics and offspring. The desire to reproduce makes trout seek out and hunt food, eat opportunisticly and ferociously.
Sexually mature fish are larger, and springtime is your best chance at getting shots at them. Doesn’t matter what you throw, they wanna eat. Dries, nymphs, streamers, it’s all on the menu. These fish are harder to chase later in the year. After a season of anglers throwing flies at them, each generation of fish gets ‘smarter’ to the fly. PHD trout. The Yakima is known for it. And with how much pressure these fish get, anglers with skill and with good instruction can excel on this river. Again, this is a behavioral response to all those casts and flies each day every day from March to October. The fish aren’t as sensitive or ‘smart’ to anglers in the early season, and the conditions described above as well as weather and river flows and temps are all at the anglers advantage during the spring.
Phd trout is a real thing here, and it happens as fish age and fishing pressure get to them. Fish literally caught 100 times over its life. Sometimes more. In the course of a single Yakima River trout life, they can be hooked into 500 to 1000 times. If you had fake food hooking your lips every other day for 5 to 7 years, you’d learn to be wary of food, too! This fishery breeds those kinds of technical fish. It’s also where my guiding and skill set really come through. Being able to teach and educate anglers and clients is the bread and butter of my guiding, and this river can turn you into a really, really good angler.
I’ve been saying this for a few seasons. Since 2020 when these fish had no pressure. It’s been getting really friendly and chummy out there with the Yakima trout…which means it’s about to get really technical. The Yak cycles like this. I’ve seen it over the course of guiding and over the almost 20 years fishing here. These fish are getting smart. And that’s when this river makes and breaks you. If you can trick them here, anglers, you can trick trout anywhere. The Yakima is still in my top 5 for technical PHD Level fisheries. It’s up there with Silver Creek and the Ausable.
Tis’ why I do love the Yakima and will always fish and guide its waters. No matter where guiding takes me. The Yak will always be the homewater. And aside from January, I do love the spring. As February warms up the basalt cliffs of the Lower Canyon, I get to frequent the slow, quiet banks of the river. There aren’t too many people, an angler or two here and there. A boat or three on the weekends. Eagles stoic, sitting staring at the quicksilver water. Gray and ever moving the glare against the low angled sun. Each morn, the light begins a little earlier, and each eve, the sun lingers just moments more. Every day, I watch the lower canyon try and break free of winters grasp. A snow flurry clutches onto the hillsides, reminding everything that it’s still early. Not yet… but soon. The quicksilver waters inviting, and a wild trout soon to be eager for food.
See ya riverside anglers