The end of August is upon us. The Labor Day Weekend will be over soon. And despite the wildfire currently raging only 11 miles from where I am sitting…the Autumn will take on a softer tone, a slower pace, with a briskness to each morning, and a slow cool down every evening. Everything around me on the river points to its approach. The caterpillars in the trees in cocoon. The preliminary large fall caddis hatching sporadically. The craneflies dancing and dabbing along the river’s soft edges. The water has dropped, even with the heat and can feel the cold creeping back into the water. My toes ache after standing in the river in the mornings. The sun angle, even through the amber haze from the smoke, has changed, elongating the shadows, and shortening the days. The heat of the day dissipates hastily, leaving the fringes of the day cool and calm.
I love the slowness of the Autumn. June, July, and August this season have been busy, heavy rowing, and lots of fish. With around 100 trips already completed this season I feel pretty fortunate considering the way this season started. The Yakima may be cold hearted some times, but she is the most consistent in the Autumn, and above all things required for good trout fishing….consistency is the key. In my angling opinion the Yakima River is the best in the Autumn, as a guide she becomes an absolute blast…but more of a challenge. Already the upper river trout are becoming selective, shy, and tricky to locate from day to day. But…nature works in favor of the angler, and as the temps drop, the hatches return to normal schedules, and the trout feed in trance like rhythms…the fishing becomes…well for me its that perfect balance between utterly unforgiving and frustrating….and fucking amazing.
This time usually comes about around the 2nd week of September when we’ve beaten the last throws of summer. A few things are happening as we inch closer to the end of the season. The stonefly hatch returns a normal time…Right now the temperatures and conditions for good a decent stonefly hatch are around 4 am right now…when its dark. And fish in the upper river are eating them. I know this, because I’ve seen them do it. I saw them do it this morning. The first three fish of today’s trip, all good size, all good solid smacks at the fly, no thought, just a big ol’ eat…all three missed! I was a little bummed before 8 am today.
There are Summer Stones or Shortwing Stones hatching. And they continue to hatch into mid September in the upper river. While the lower river stones are just about done, on a normal year the colder water and colder nights in the upper river elongate the hatch and as the temps settle the hatch shifts from 4 am to around 7 am. This is already starting in the upper. We’ve had some 40 degree nights. When this happens the stoneflies hatch earlier in the evening, but the majority of the hatch shifts to the morning. Then the shortwing males that typically hatch first show up and are all over the banks and brushy overhangs. The females don’t arrive until the morning. So its just a bunch of dude stoneflies hanging out in the evening getting hoovered by nocturnal feeding trout. Right now the females are around at 4 am. Those bigger wet shucks on the rocks when you get on water at 7 am right now. Those are the females and you missed them by 3 hours. But it’s dark AF so its not your fault.
But the Autumn works in favor of the angler. The temperatures shift and the hatch follows. The males still hatch when its evening and typically around 9-11pm if you camp on the river in early September. The ladies show up at first light typically. They hatch, quickly, along the rocks, where fish can’t get them. They find a mate along the bank, do their thing, and then the males die…get eaten…and the females return to oviposit before it gets to hot and light out so the birds can’t get at them. A big big flying around in the afternoon light gets eaten 9 times out of 10. So the Summer or Shortwing Stones get down to business early before the temps start getting closer to freezing. I have seen that hatch last into the week of the 20th in the upper river. While the LC is in that weird lull of lower flows, fish moving, and no bugs yet because the water is still to warm and the summer lingers in that basalt canyon.
Fishing large dry flies as the light comes onto the river is the preferred method to trick fish in early September. Trout will eat nymphs in the am…but come on…2 nice trout on a nymph are better than 5 on the nymph…at least for me anyway but I don’t chase numbers and I like dry fly eats better than indicator drops. Besides…as that pink sunlight hits the edges of the river through the trees. Long warm shadows against the cool night air clinging to the surface of the river. A slight mist, breath just visible. A deep inhale…as the large dry fly drifts along the seam, touching the light, presenting a dark silhouette to the trout lurking just below. The nose breaking the surface, your breath pushing through the cold air billowing with your excitement. The rod bends, and there is a deep, ferocious, and quite angry headshake from the wild animal who’s morning you just completely ruined. It’s F’ing glorious people, and after 5 refusals from 5 bigger trout the past 20 minutes as the sweet spot of when big fish eat fades; it beats an orange indicator dipping in the morning…just saying.
The afternoons are filled with cranefly eats. Smaller fish snapping at dabbing and skating cranes as they bustle about the river’s surface gangily and clumsily, rolling across a riffle only to have a large cutthroat lunge out of the river at it and miss. But a cranefly dry stuck in the surface attached to my fly line…ya…they don’t miss that very much. Dead drift them through the fast water, and skate them through the soft edges and eddies…trout will be there…the more bugs you see flying around the more you should be throwing big cranefly dries. They are already hatching and as the temps settle and cool they will only get thicker, typically peaking around the 15th-20th of September and trailing into the last week of the month. A great hatch, thick up here, and cutthroat and cranes are what dry fly fishing is all about…its amazing…and anxiously wait for it every season…its my second favorite hatch behind March Browns.
The cooler days will bring us mayflies but they won’t be prolific until the day times highs stay under 65 and the low pressure systems return and bring us rains and cloud cover. Then Light Cahills, Mahogany’s, and BWO’s will be on the menu in the afternoon when pods of fish get into that oh so sweet rhythm and you have to cast in time and sync up with the river, the drift, and the trout. The juicy stuff.
But everyone knows that there is this large moth like insect that arrives in the last week of September and brings us into the month of Fishtober. The last of the season…the home stretch…the final countdown…the end of the season. We shall touch on Fishtober and those deliciously delectable October Caddis show up. They are getting there. You can grab one off the under side of the rocks and open them up and see for yourself. If they still have a black head then they are not ready. If they are all orange but don’t have wings formed yet, they are about 10 days to 2 weeks out. If they have wings…you will probably see them flying around in the evenings at dusk. As the temps get colder the hatch intensifies and settles in the later afternoon.
Last season globs of them were falling out of the trees the 3rd week of October…I know because I took the whole week off and fished every day. I will be working this season…so don’t hesitate to get on the calendar soon…I am almost full in September and October goes fast.
Hope to see ya out here this Autumn. Part 2 will come out after I finish the next 5 trips in a row.