Why I love the Yak

So we finally are able to fish. Damn wind is thinking it’s gonna keep me from fishing but trout don’t feel the wind and they still gotta eat. The Yakima in the summer is just fun. It’s a tailwater so the flows are controlled, things become consistent, and the fishing follows.

I hit the river Sunday with my kids. It was still high and has dropped another 600 plus cfs since we were out. Saw bugs, but fish were still shy. There’s a couple of things anglers need to keep in mind when fishing the Yak in the summer.

Water Temp: this is literally the single most important thing on this river. I can’t stress is enough. It is the determining factor for if these trout are gonna eat, move, spawn, it sets where they will be in the water column, the types of places they will look for to hide and feed. It’s literally everything. So beginning to understand how temperature affects fish and the environment will help you produce more trout in the net on this river. These fish aren’t very active when things are below 50 degrees down there. The sweet spot for trout is 54-58. They seem to be their most normal at that temp. When we start hitting 60 plus things start to get funky and over 65 I don’t fish.

If the fishing is slow but there are bugs it’s probably the water temp. If it’s low water temp…fish aren’t interested in this river. They literally go to the bottom, find the slow water, and eat cased caddis and chill until the water temps force them to do otherwise. I’ve seen it while snorkeling.

Flows: when the flows are jacked you can’t fish. This rivers fishable capacity is about 4000cfs in the LC and 3800cfs in the upper. For the summer time fish have a bit of a battle. The higher than normal flows cause fish to hold in places they have to…not places they want to. This does two things. It’s makes our troot super cranky…and it makes them eat.

When flows are jacked fish have to make due and deal with them. Meaning they have to burn more energy to keep themselves going against the current…as the water temp warms over the summer the fish eat more because water temp directly affects trout metabolism. This means, higher flows, warmer water temps, hangrier fish. When we see water temps hit 65 we start to see fish act negatively to the river and angling. At that high flows and those warm water temps the fish are already stressed and angling for the can be lethal. Later in the summer taking a water temp in the afternoon to make sure fish aren’t getting over stressed is always a good bet. Plus warm water temps can also cause slow fishing. As anglers we are looking for that window when fish are at their most active. On a tailwater in the summer it becomes a lot easier due to the consistency and is why the Yak is so popular in the summer. My advice when things get hot…fish really early and really late and skip the mid day stuff. I’ve launched at 5am and caught plenty big ass trout before 8am and launched at 5pm and done the same before 10pm. Fishing when those water temps are moving up and falling can be those big number days your after.

Sunshine and Shade:

The Yakima gets over 200 days of sunshine. Most of which happens in the 180 days of summer we have. Trout don’t like the sun, especially on the Yak. The trout are spooky, smart, and have been playing this game for a while. Fishing when the sun is highest is not recommended. As things warm up and water temps settle fish look for two things during summer flows. Food…and cover. With the high flows every trout down there is battling for good holding and hidey spots. They get really territorial, and typically when one fish gets moved out of a place there are 3 more ready to take it. It’s why you can get fish outta the same spot in the summer if you chill and take time with them. I always say fish the water not the fish on this river. Because when you don’t see em…they are still in there.

In the summer with that sun beating down, trout look for cover and easy access to food. This works out great for fish because the higher flows push them into the bank, and the river provides them with ample sources of food while they are tucked up in there. We have caddis every night…the main food source of these trout. We have big stoneflies that mate along the bank, a vast array of terrestrial insects from beetle, ants, hoppers, and more. There is no shortage of big sustaining food along the bank, and the fish will eat opportunistic and aggressively so they can keep up with the summer time shindig that happens on the Yak. Trout out here get super picky, sometimes only moving a few inches for food. The tighter to the shade and structure, and the tighter to the bank, the better chances of hooking fish. This makes the Yakima a little easier to fish because the trout are all in one place…along the bank. When the river drops back to normal everything changes again. So get that fly tight to the bank and shade.

There is one other reason that I love the Yakima. After 12 seasons of fishing it, the Yakima can get a little stale. Looking at the same water for years. The upper Yakima helps alleviate some of that burnout by changing drastically every few seasons due to run off. Once you are into the LC the river has basically been the same since ever…save for the river reclaiming Ringer Loop into the flood plain.

The upper Yak looks like a totally different river this season. With several new trees in the river, the flows have remade the river bed, changed the sediment placement, and with the new structure in the river, it’s like a brand new river for us to play in. This means that fish will be holding and moving around in a completely new environment to them too. Which means I get to read new water this year. It creates a challenge that I knew was coming with the high water and has made this summer season out to be a new adventure for my trouty brain. When I floated with my kids Sunday I was giddy with all the new stuff I get to break down, pick apart, and figure out for the guide season. It’s why I will always guide trout here in the Yakima in the summer and autumn. It’s just too unique of a system compared to others to not to. No matter what other waters and species I guide for in the coming years; the Yakima will always be my home water, where I learned, where I became a professional, it’s still my favorite trout river after all these seasons. And when the fall hits…it starts all over because this river is totally different up here this season and I can’t wait to share it with anglers again! This is what the upper Yakima is all about!



2 thoughts on “Why I love the Yak

  1. Hey Nate. I hope you are well. I am wondering if you have been way up on the cle elum yet this season and/ or have a good source of flow data for it? I found one site that lists inflow to the lake, but it’s not the best data. Cle Elum – Inflow Cle Elum Lake – river flow graph. I’m guessing there aren’t sensors way up there anyway. Thanks for the help. 

    | | | | Cle Elum – Inflow Cle Elum Lake – river flow graph

    Dreamflows-generated graph of realtime flows for Cle Elum River Inflow Cle Elum Lake |



    • There isn’t any gauges up there. And the river doesn’t open until first Saturday in June. Anything over 850 to 1000 coming into the lake makes it unfishable. That river typically fished best from mid July to mid August. Then again from mid September to mid October.

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