The summer is over. Autumn fast approaches. Already I see leaves turning in the highlands. Soon the nights will be chill and biting in the mountains. The larches along the high alpine will beam yellow against the cold granite backdrop, a beacon of the shift of the seasons. My favorite time of year. The river becomes her true self. The way I envision the Yakima before man built dams across the river systems of the PNW. She is as free as she ever can be during the fall. Mostly because no one cares what her flows are. Irrigation is done, the few cfs that is controlled is for salmon spawning. The flows fluctuate with the rains, the river is cold, clear, and the fish are more inclined to act like their wild selves during this time of year. It is as close to a wild river the Yakima will ever get…the fall season.
Some would argue spring runoff is pretty wild, but they control and hold back the torrent and true power of this river during the early season. If the Yakima ran free during runoff, most of the lower valley would be underwater. Those flood planes are there for a reason. We grow crops and put up houses in them now. Look at the Teanaway March 2017…that river will rip that valley a new one come next season if the winter is anything like they are predicting. At one point this last spring the Teanaway was over 6000 cfs. It flooded the entire upper end and ripped tons of new trees into the river while making new gravel bars and destroying old ones. Times that by 2 or more and you have the Yakima. Even the lower yak hit over 10,000 cfs this spring…that’s nothing…we only had 86% snow pack this year! Anyway…back on track here.
The late season, fall, autumn, or Septober, is the best time to fish the Yakima River. The late season has the most consistency of any other time of year. Roughly 60 days of damn near perfect trout fishing weather, cold water, low flows, and 5 major hatches. Frankly, if you haven’t fished the Yakima River after Labor Day…you haven’t fished the Yakima River. This is especially true anywhere above Ringer Loop on the yak. The lower 24 miles of river really just isn’t that great in low water. I just get bored down there really. But for the angler that likes to wade fish and read water the lower river just isn’t that interesting. Lots of boulder gardens, sharp basalt rocks, and big wide shallow sections of river. Also, a little known fact…the fish move upriver a lot during the late season…they follow salmon. We see it all the time, some out there don’t believe me, but I see it when I snorkel….those fish gotta come from somewhere. When the lower river drops the fish run out of places to hide next to the bank and all those overhangs, undercuts, and grass lines are inaccessible to the trout. So they head to the deep shelves, big runs, and pocket water in the boulder gardens. This can be fun, but when fishing from a boat you find these very devoid sections of river that you have to get through to get to the fish. Plus the take outs and put ins on the lower river are designed for longer floats, which become harder to do when the river drops. I find myself rarely floating the LC because I end up having crummy rhythm during the day. Where the upper offers everything that the lower doesn’t, plus it holds cutties, and the majority of the salmon are up here.
Let’s touch on the salmon really fast, and get it out of the way. We have Chinook and Sockeye Salmon that come into the river here. The majority of the spawning grounds are above Ringer Loop access. There just isn’t a whole lot of gravel in the LC. Its a lot of basalt. So the salmon come up near Thorp and Cle Elum. The Chinook go near the hatchery too, the Sockeye head for the lake instinctively but are also trucked into the headwaters until new fish passage is completed. This means there is a massive protein source migrating up river. If you were a trout, wouldn’t you follow all that food up river so you can chow down and fatten up for the winter? Damn straight you would. All wildlife key in on salmon. From the raptors, the bears, the wolves, the trout…they all show up to feast on this seafaring nutrient rich fertilizer we call salmon. It is the lifeblood of PNW rivers, which means its the lifeblood of this entire region. Something we are learning more and more about every year those salmon numbers dwindle. The Yakima is a river that is trying to rehabilitate an extinct run. To its effectiveness I cannot say…but the trout like it and really…if these wild animals are good with these salmon…then so am I. Do trout eat eggs patterns here…yep. Should you fish them…if you wanna catch trout you should. Do trout eat flesh flies here like they do in the wilds of Alaska? Yep. Should you slow strip flesh flies in the upper stretches…only if you wanna catch really big fish. These salmon have also helped boost our bug populations and increased our hatch activity. Which brings us to the hatches of the late season.
Right now, August 31st…the craneflies have started. They aren’t prolific or poppin’ yet…but they are here…and the trout are all over them. So let’s start there. The Crane Fly is a wicked awesome bug. The gangly things hatch in the river unlike the ones that hatch in your yard. These are aquatic. Slightly smaller, tannish or reddish colored here on the Yak. It is my favorite hatch next to March Browns. It usually comes off in late morning, 9-10 am. It’s usually what I fish after throwing big stonefly dries in the early morning. I love tying the flies just as much as I love slinging them. It’s a simple hatch, and a simple technique to fish them, and fish are eager for them. It’s like the perfect bug for trout. Trout eat them two ways…dead drifted…or my personal favorite…on the skate. Everyone comes to fish the October Caddis hatch and skate big flies for troots. But I cannot tell you how many times I run into anglers on the river that are seeing trout rise all around them, but they can’t get them to eat an orange stimi. I hand them a crane…and boom….mind freaking blown.
Already these trout up here are keyed into the cranes. I have had several fish the last three days chase and smack crane patterns. It’s glorious. There is nothing like drifting the fly along the seam only to think that the fish just didn’t want it…but then as the fly skates along the boulder and out of the drift…the trout shows itself, like a f’ing shark! And with one last heavy stroke of the tail, the trout lunges onto the fly enveloping it legs and all. A tight line, an air catching wild rainbow, and a rush of adrenaline! Dude…whooo…ya…that’s my shit right there. It gets even better with wild cutties peeps.
They may not fight as hard as their rainbow counterparts…but they take the cranefly better than anything else I have ever seen. There are days, you can catch those wily cutties in the air. They literally jump out of the river and snatch cranes out of mid air. Especially later in the hatch when the females come to ovisposit. Holy crap is it cool. The larger females have a heavy abdomen swollen with eggs. They dab like a caddis, but the clumsy bugs have big wispy legs that stick to the river surface. This creates a very unique indentation on the meniscus and the trout know this. A pattern that represents this perfectly is hard to come by in the fly shop. But my personal hand tied…has been doing a damn good job in some shape or form for the past several seasons. It’s all about the legs. They gotta stick and lift lightly, but also get mangled as this happens when the naturals get rolled and they become sunk or crippled. To mimic the oviposit, skate that fly…I’ve seen the biggest cutties in the river turn and burn off the bank for these things at Mach 10 and just hammer the shit out of them to the point that literally all the angler has to do is hold on. It’s wicked, and you are usually knee deep wading the river when it happens, with overcast skies, a good warm flannel on your back, some warm tea or coffee in the boat or on the bank, and the colors of autumn all around you…come on…tell me what’s better than that? Oh…Shortwings Stones…October Caddis….Mahogany, BWO, Cahills….there is no shortage of awesomeness when it comes to hatches and the late season.
Shortwings will arrive here in the coming days they are nocturnal typically. Hatching in the evening up to the early morning. It’s how I start my trips in the fall. With a big stone fly dry. It’s a smaller almost Sqwalla sized stonefly and a short lived hatch like the sqwalla albeit typically more prolific if not the most prolific stonefly hatch on the river. The males are flightless and small, females large with big wings, like a summer stone. Fish them like any other stonefly dry. Next to overhangs, boulder gardens, and grass lines. That’s where they hang out, and fish do to. October Caddis…think regular Caddis, only instead of a size 14…it’s a size 10 to 8 and freaking orange. They hatch later in the day…usually 3-4 pm in the late season up here. You end your trip with them…just like regular Caddis. A big stimi in orange works just fine. I like a lower riding one…but I keep it simple and fairly traditional.
Mahogany Duns are a small size 14-16 mayfly that is a burnt rusty color or sometimes peachy red. Think fall trico. Fish like them a lot. Especially pods of rainbows below riffles. Look for feeders below riffles and in back eddies and that. They hatch in the afternoon, and like a damp morning. Just like BWO’s. These blue winged bad boys will start hatching once the temps stay below 65, and especially on overcast and rainy days. I’ve had some of my best fish on a drizzly fall day and a good BWO hatch. Again target riffles and slack water where they congregate. Don’t ever be afraid to throw flies in the fast water. Fish eat them in the fast riffles up here. Especially when the water temps are 52 ish. Like turbo charged torpedoes these wild trout love that cold fast water. The Light Cahill is a type of sulfur. It’s a size 14-16 creamy peachy colored mayfly that usually hatches around 3 pm on the Cle Elum river below the dam in late September early October. I am usually fishing them in between the crane and October hatch if I don’t feel like slinging eggs or stripping streamers.
Streamers are always good in the fall. Think small, like size 6 and 8 cone head buggers in white and black, black and olive, and black. Swing and strip those streamers on every shelf, drop off, log jam, and boulder garden you see. Nymphing, look for the green water, the drop offs, the shelves, the pockets. Think deep on the big runs and go for the fast water and big mends. I like October Caddis pupa, cranefly larva, and smaller pats stones for big subsurface flies. I like small hares ears for the little nymphs, and Copper Johns…in whatever color you fancy, size 16. It’ll work…I’m partial to red and blue ones. Chartreuse is also a particular favorite of wild cutties. Swing nymphs too. And I also like a good soft hackle October Caddis swung underneath in late October…especially in the mornings when the last few female Caddis come to ovisposit. When nymphing…think in anticipation of the hatch and fish nymphs accordingly. If the cranes are coming off at 10 am, fish crane larva under an indicator at 9:30 am. I hold up in the spot I want to dry fly fish, nymph for a bit, catch a few trout. Hang out for 10-15 minutes, drink some tea, swap stories with anglers, take a selfie, then when I see the bugs show up and a few trout rise. I sling the dry. Just break down each hatch this way…and you’ll put more numbers in the net. I mean…it works for me and I am so stoked to finally get to do it here on the yak. Last years drought and lack of rain just made the fall crap. Not this year!
Boom…just broke down the hatches and how to fish them for ya this late season. Once the temps settle, these things can come off any day of the season really. Shortwings usually quit by the 3rd week of September but the rest are around until it really starts to freeze in late October early Novembeard. The BWO’s hang around until mid November. Then it’s midges and winter fishing.
For trips in the fall. I pick shorter floats in the upper, between 4-8 miles. I usually make hot tea or coffee on the river at the first stop. It’s a more laid back day, with intense moments of awesome. Full days we have 8 hours to enjoy 5 or so miles of river…its amazeballs dudes. Just working the river, the fish are all podded up in the troutiest freaking water you will ever see on the Yak. Lunch is usually pulled pork sandwiches or french dips with ajus sauce. Maybe a hard cider or two. We get out of the boat a lot, and walk and wade sections of the river, walking a few hundred yards from the boat sometimes. I like my clients to enjoy the late season for what it is. A slower paced, fish rich experience, that is unlike any other time of year on the river here. This fishery in general is pretty unique in the late season. Just days where you are knee deep in a run, leaves orange, yellow, and red, falling off the trees periodically. An overcast sky, a morning where you can barely see your breath. A pod of Sockeye chilling in a pool next to the log jam. A rising fish just below the riffle. A long cast, an aggressive take, a firm hook set, the ferocious head shake of a wild trout. Cold water on the hands, a feisty trout in the net, quickly releasing it, because the next one you are going to trick just rose out of the corner of your eye…yes…the late season is here.
I only have 16 days of availability left in September. They are filling up quick. October will be soon to follow. If you book before Labor Day I’ll swing ya a discount for your late season trip. I hope to see you riverside this late season. It is already shaping up to be one of the best we’ve had in a few years.
Let’s Chase Some Trout