A topic that is floating around the fly fishing community here on the Yakima is Snow. Not typically something that fly anglers talk about as we just want it to leave so we can get to spring. However there has been very little snow this year. Checking the snotel sites of the high country we are looking at some of the worst numbers in the past few seasons for snow. This means a lot of things for anglers.
The river flow here is controlled by two things. Nature and man. With dams that hold water back for irrigation that helps grow the hops, grapes, wheat, pot, and of course hay and all that other great stuff, anglers are blessed with a river that can be very consistent during the prime angling season. While the issues of dams is not the topic here I support dams and also their removal. I come from a family rooted in the agriculture industry and lived a good chunk of my life in an area that feeds the majority of this country in the Columbia Basin. I see dams as one of those necessary evils in many cases but also love when we as a species can remove our impact on our environment to help let it return to its natural state.
The dams here help make this fishery what it is today. No question about it. These small dams that hold back water to create these large reserves are always in the back of mind when the season begins. With our dismal snow pack and our extended forecast looking more and more like spring, it seems that snow isn’t going to happen. This means that when we get our normal snow dumps in the late spring and early summer above 5-6000 feet, the river has the potential to be a very different lady come this season.
Water will more than likely trickle out of the dams all season long to help keep the levels up for the growing season in the lower valley. This means low flows, warmer temps, and hopefully….some wicked awesome fishing. There have been a lot of complaints about the lack of decent hatches in the past seasons. High water, bad runoff, and later in the year, low water, and high temps. This past season alone we saw temps go well above 65 degrees in the lower stretches and stay outside optimal trout habitat ranges for extended periods. I myself witnessed a massive shift in the hatches of several aquatic insects this summer and fall due to high water temps and high air temps. We also had a lot of high pressure systems fall upon us this season which also does not help the bugs.
The summer and short wing stonefly hatches this past season were amazing…from 9 to midnight. Massive hatches of stoneflies in the thousands on the upper river especially. More than I have ever seen in my 9 years on the river. Fish feeding through the night and into the dawn hours gorging themselves on these huge naturals. Of course I overnight on the river when I can and thats how I came across these observations.
I spent some time with a pair of goggles and a snorkel this year and migrations of insects for the hatch were much later during the summer in the upper stretches than any of my journal entries from previous seasons. I expect much of the same this year if the weather is hot and dry again.
While observing the trout without the use of a fly rod I found that by the time anglers got on the water even in the early mornings, the fish had already had their fill. Many days of frustrating summer fishing are not because of poor fish numbers or poor hatches. Its all do to full fish and irregular hatching times due to weather and water conditions.
When did they eat them? All night long! I remember camping riverside enjoying a smoke and a tea over a small campfire and all of the sudden there were stoneflies crawling everywhere. I was amazed, realizing that the hatch wasn’t in its full bloom until lower temps set in and the river cooled. Typically from 9 to midnight. A few reports in my journal show late hatches and night hatches but nothing like what I was seeing. Think prime caddis hatch but with stoneflies, and in the dark. I was finding them in my boat and clothing for a week after that. The hatch I witnessed for the two nights I was on the river in this instance, was epic to say the least. When I fished blind at night just to see if fish were on the surface at 11:30 pm, I was welcomed with some of the largest trout on the surface I have ever had the pleasure of releasing.
When I rose to fish around sunrise the fish were still coming up but sporadically and mostly smaller fish. Observing the fish again underwater I found fish were in rest mode digesting all the food they gorged themselves on the night before. That was how the whole summer went.
When the October Caddis came around the same thing happened. Fishing with the October in the upper stretches was by far more productive during the very early morning and late evening with the hatch happening in full force considerably later than usual. If I was able to stomach pump fish I can guarantee that they would have upchucked insane amounts of stonefly and October naturals.
What does this have to do with crummy snowpack? Well the water is going to trickle out of the reservoirs all season long. Only increasing when demand is at its peak and when shots of water are needed for salmon runs. Otherwise, it should be rather consistent albeit low, even through the summer. We may not see flows over 3800 to 4000 cfs in the lower canyon this summer. We could potentially see some of the greatest fishing conditions for the the spring and early summer season. When late July, August, and the fall come about, we could see another season like last year.
I am especially interested to see how the mayfly hatches are this year and their time frames. In the past years I have only seen an increase in the upper river of hatches, save for the mahogany dun in the fall, but I attest that to the previous described conundrum of midnight rendezvous of horny insects.
I witnessed some wonderful PMD hatches this year as well as drakes. I am hoping that if the river operates in the way the community is talking about, we will see some epic spring and early summer hatches. I am particularly excited for the March Brown but more so for the Drakes of the upper river and Cle Elum.
I fear for the late summer and fall but over the past few seasons that has been a normal worry. With the dry and high pressure we have been having and the bloody BURN BANS! (I hate burn bans but always obey them, but damnit not having the ability to have a campfire is quite irksome especially when hiking into the blue lines or overnights with the dog and the boat on the river.) The river could have a late season like last year. Which was not bad, but not stellar in my opinion. Even the salmon were funky this season due to the conditions, and we at least had some snow pack last year!
The window for snow fall is rapidly closing. We have about 14 days before, if it doesn’t happen, its not going to happen. We have 40 degree days and rain….inches of rain in the forecast for the rest of February. The models are predicting the same for March. The spring could be one of the better ones we have seen in a few seasons and I look forward to feeling the pulse of the river as I anxiously wait for the weather to change. We have Robins in the yard, no snow base, lots of rain, and days that feel more and more like March and not like a typical February. At least in my observation.
Chime in, lets talk about it, at least it gives us all something to do while we wait for fishing to pick up.
Speaking of fishing. Hit the river from Ump to Slab yesterday with a good friend and while the fishing was down right awful it was still a good day being on the river and getting a sense of where she is at. She will tell you a lot. We have warm days that bring her to life and bugs move and things happen, but we are still having days of cold and gloom that make for rather unproductive days. I fished everything, streamers, nymphs, light nymphs, and I went deep, shallow, looked all over the river for trouts. We had one nasty smelly white fish, seriously just a gross “teenage boy” smelling fish. Big but oh damn! We had one rainbow 15 inches, purple and blue, just gorgeous. She took the Yak Sandwich, or shit sandwich, as we like to call it. A rubber legs stone and a san juan worm below. Sometimes its all that works. Its a bummer but its still a trout.
The main reason for the craptastic fishing, at least my assessment, is as the river has dropped over the past week these fish went from being pushed into the banks from all the water and needing food to help with all the energy they used. We had great days of streamer and nymph fishing near the start of the drop in flows. We also had sunny warm days which kick things to life in the winter here on the river. Now we are at colder water temps, less current, and less energy used. Making trout revert into their normal winter lies and patterns. We also had a warm and sunny day previous and would have given the fish ample opportunity to feed enough to hold them over through the cold day we floated. If you listen to her the river will tell you all you need to know. Well, the river and a group of anglers talking non stop about fishing.
Join me this Saturday the 7th from 11-5 at Firemans Park in South Cle Elum near the South Cle Elum Boat Launch for our Trout Unlimited Cle Elum River Clean Up. Its gonna be soggy so bring your rain gear. We will have trash bags, maps, donuts, and spots in boats available but we will be doing a lot of walking. You can visit my facebook page or visit the link below to RSVP. We also have a BBQ after for volunteers! Help us clean up the river, catch a few fish maybe, and it gives you a chance to hang out with a bunch of anglers for the day!