This summer season here on the Yakima is going to be unlike one we’ve seen in a few years. We have water. Not 100% of normal but not 36% like we did last year either. Before irrigation ramped up we were at 86% or normal for water storage. That dropped a bit but we went on storage control early which has kept the cold snow melt water in the reservoirs. With a cooler than normal summer and a wet and mild fall predicted this season is as close to a normal year as we have had in several. And the trout are noticing too.
The summer time on the Yakima is always a good freaking time. Big water, big bugs, big trout, and big smiles. Hoppers are almost upon us, these cooler 70-75 degree days are keeping them at bay…which will make them pop really good here in a week or two. Hell, its been sprinkling in the upper today while the clouds roll over. We did just have two wildfires yesterday though so it is summer time fo sho! The lower and upper river do different things in the summer time. Let’s focus on the lower end for part 1 of this blog entry. We will go over the Upper River in Part 2 which will post tomorrow.
The Lower Canyon or LC:
The LC is a fun game to play in the summer. There are three main bugs happening. Summer Stoneflies, Hopper’s, and Caddis. There is a PMD hatch in the morning, but we will focus on mayflies more in the upper. If you find a pod of trout feeding on mayflies before 10 am go for it.
Stoneflies and Hopper’s are fished the same way. A large dry, typically tan in color, but I play around with different colors all season long. I do like the purple chubby, but I also like classic patterns like the PMX and Dave’s Hopper. Size 10-8 typically. I use a 4X or 3X 9ft-12ft leader and a faster action rod with a little more backbone in it. The Redington Vapen 9ft 5Wt is my client rod. I like it cause it can throw everything well, and punches into that lovely LC wind we get. Flows in the summer time hover between 3800-4500 typically. So stiffer rod to fight fish fast in the heavy water is important. We like to net fish quick and get them back in as the summer heat comes down. This year it looks like we are going to be right around the 3800-4000cfs mark for the first part of the season. May drop as we get into August but it isn’t supposed to get as hot this year. Water temps yesterday were 58 degrees after a three day long 85 degree stretch. So that’s awesome. Upper river is still sub 58. The flows in the summer time in the LC make the trout chasing really fun.
In the LC when the flows get up around 3800 plus the water does something pretty cool. The middle of the river has flow that is super heavy, but the edges, typically 10-20 feet on either side of the river between the bank and the middle, almost form one big long eddy. With small backflows, undercurrents, hydraulics, and soft pockets because there is so much flow that the water literally slows itself down along the banks. It makes rowing really fun. I pick shorter stretches and hug that line all day riding the soft edge that the heavy current makes. Slow consistent oar strokes keeps the boat going nice and easy. The reason for this is because it gives my anglers lots of time to cast dries and streamers at the bank. There is a ton of fish in this river down low, and when those flows come up, they all head to the banks to sit in that softer water. They waste less energy there, all the food is there, and its the only place they can hide from predators and anglers. They tuck in tight. Like really tight. Up under the grass, literally in the bank. Riding the little shadow spots and pockets waiting for food. Chilling in the shade, just hanging out, waiting for the food truck to come by. So when I slow my boat down and give my clients a bunch of time to cast into every little spot that a trout could hide, we end up putting big numbers in the net. That’s how it’s done. Which brings us to trout food.
Summer Stones crawl up to the banks and logs and into the grass and hatch, typically in the late morning and again in the evening. They mate during the heat of the day a lot of the time, and the males die off while the females return the river surface and oviposit eggs. Trout key in on these big tasty bugs throughout the day. When they are mating during the day the wind can blow them off into the river where big trout are waiting tucked tight to the bank. When the females come back to lay eggs trout will chase them down and aggressively feed on the skittering turkey sandwiches. Throwing a size 10-8 hair wing stonefly dry or chubby style dry tight to the grass, rocks, and logs is the name of the game. Key in on shady little slivers along the edges. Seam lines and foam lines as well. Big trout are super tight to the bank. Like 2-4 inches. Don’t be afraid to twitch the fly too. Stoneflies don’t sit still.
Grasshoppers, are hanging out in the grass…hopping around…being all grasshopper like. And they are kinda clumsy, so they fall in the river a lot. And trout are all over that. Crunchy grasshopper legs are a big summer trout’s favorite snack. They twitch and try and save themselves but those bugs are goners. If the trout don’t get to them the birds will. Grasshoppers get active in the heat so throwing big foamy flies with legs tight to the bank, keying in on the grassy areas as prime real estate, during the heat of the day is how to play. Trout like the shade when the sun is high so look for those little shady slivers tight to the bank again. I like smacking the grass and tuggin’ the fly into the water. Super natural. You risk losing a fly or 5 but use 3x tippet and a shorter leader. Like 7-9 feet, and just lock that distance in. A good oarsmen that can hold the line for 50 plus yards of river at a time and keep the boat slow really helps. You end up not having to false cast, and you just drop casts right on the bank over and over. Hopefully dealing with trout every 5-20 casts.
Caddis…Caddis are wicked fun. And the game hasn’t changed since Mother’s Day. After about 5-6 pm; if they wind isn’t too heavy and it has been 75 plus degrees during the day. The caddis will start to come out. You will see females oviposting throughout the day typically but the hatches come off at dusk and into the evening. I like any size 18-16 caddis dry. Small is good. Something with a good stiff wing. I like the X-Caddis, Cutter Caddis, and I tie a few of my own. Nothing better than a LaFontaine Dancing caddis in my opinion.
As the light fades and the hatch starts, you might see shoulders and dorsal fins of trout break the surface as they feed on the emerging caddis. If you see this behavior along the banks, I throw on a non weighted sparkle pupa 12-16 inches below a large dry and hang on tight. Or axe the dry and use a small tuft of yarn in a blood knot 18 inches above the sparkle pupa. If you see noses breaking the surface the dry fly is where it’s at. Cast that bad boy tight to the bank. I mean in there. Those big boy trout will gorge themselves into the evening on those things. It’s typically all they eat. They feed heavy during the safest time, and chill the rest of the day. Survival dudes. When the light gets too low to see the fly, fish blind for about 15 more minutes, then switch to streamers until the take out. Trust me. It will work. (You could get really crazy and strip mice patterns to the take out in the fading light…but that’s not something we talk about;)
Now. I change it up and I’ll throw streamers Montana Style as I like to say as opposed to swinging them in the upper. I use a fast sinking sink tip. At least 4 ips but 7 ips is better. I like it short. Like 7 ft. You can buy 10 footers and cut them or try and find 7.5’ers. I just make them out of T1 and that. 350 grains-425 grains is preferred. I tie a 12 inch piece of 8lbs mono on the end with a loop to loop connection or a blood knot, tie on size 6 olive colored streamer. It doesn’t really matter which style. I am partial or standard cone head buggers with marabou tails and a few strands of krystal flash out the back. Change the color scheme up from time to time if you aren’t getting any followers. I go with white and olive first, switch to black, if I still ain’t getting nothing I go a size smaller. Still nothing…go two sizes bigger. After that throw something super flashy or go back to the dry.
I have my clients chuck that streamer as close to the bank as possible. Hence the 8lbs test. You will hook trees and that, so a good tug is required sometimes. Plus big trout hit hard. When the streamer slaps the water you let it pause and sink. Counting it down 3-5 seconds. Why we use the faster sinking head on the setup. Then you strip in 6-12 inch strips straight back to the boat. After about 5-10 strips pick it up and sling it back in there. Rinse and repeat. Over and over. Soon enough you will see trout come chasing off the bank for those things. I start out stripping fast, a strip every second or even faster. If I get followers or tagged by fish but no hook ups…I make the last three strips slower. Give the trout time to get the fly in it’s mouth. Target the same water you would as dries, but you are trying to get the fish to peel off the bank and go after the baitfish. Also target boulder gardens, small fish hang out in these areas, and they are not always up against the bank. Also look for areas there there is slack water above, and faster water below. Small fish will hang out in slack water, and big trout hang out below it snacking on the little fish that get swept down river. Streamers are best in low light, mornings and evenings but if the activity during the heat of the day is slow on hoppers, I go to a streamer before I go to a nymph.
Streamers work in the summer because the water temp is up so fish are active, that metabolism and cold blooded thing about trout, and the flows are up so they are burning a lot of calories. Baitfish are a big meal and a trout is more inclined to chase its food when the water temps are up and they need big meals to keep themselves going. Survival man. There are a ton of smaller fish like salmon smolt, baby troots, scuplin, that get bounced around in the heavier water, and salmon smolt are on their way to the ocean during this time, so predatory trout and big fish especially, are looking for meat! Streamer fishing is wicked fun and not a lot of people do it. It takes some skill but mostly confidence in casting big furry streamers. I can get new anglers into the groove in about 25 minutes of instruction if they’ve never done it before. When you get two anglers slinging streamers alternating each others cast…and then trout start hitting hard…its really freaking cool.
Nymphing in the summer…not so much. Trout will eat a dry or a streamer. You don’t need to look at an indicator. I rarely do. You have just as much chance sticking a fish on a dry on a slow day in the summer as you do on the nymph. And no one wants to look at an indicator all day. That’s not the case in the upper though. If your guide has you fishing the middle of the river in the LC on a summer day with indicators on…then you need to find a new guide. Those fish are in the bank, not in the middle of the river in the LC. If I do nymph. I throw a small size 16 attractor nymph. Typically a purple lightning bug or something. Under a big dry 12-20 inches or under an indicator 3 -4 ft. And I fish the same water I would if I was dry fly fishing or streamer fishing…because that’s where the trout are in the summer time in the LC.
There ya have it. A breakdown of how I and my clients chase trout in the LC on the Yakima River. It’s a fun game to play. The LC is a beautiful stretch of river. Especially on a weekday. There is something pretty special about floating big water in a big canyon chasing big trout with big flies. We have about 65 days of this headed our way. I fish and guide all 70 plus miles of the Yakima River. Give me a call and book a trip. Let’s go Fish The Lower Canyon. #FTLC