Tis the tail end of the summer. The dog days, the final push before everything simmers down and we get to that sweet funky fresh time of fishing in Autumn. Don’t get me wrong…I love fishing in the summer, even this summer with it’s not so cool attitude and Smokey demeanor. But the summer on the Yakima is not even in the same realm of the Autumn here.
The late season is my jam. Fall is by far my favorite time to fish and guide. I see a lot of familiar faces in the fall…and the more experienced, or higher caliber anglers…tend to venture forth in search of Yakima River Treasures. The entire tone of the river changes as the summer leaves us. The Yakima calms back down…she returns to her normal flows. The fish, after being hammered by heavy irrigation water, hot water temps, and lots of traffic and pressure, start to return to a schedule. A routine if you will. They react to their environment like a proper trout…because their home is finally back to normal. The Yakima is not a large river. It’s barely a medium sized river and the 3 months of high flows…I really don’t count them. It’s high, hot, and heavy…super fun, but as the summer wanes the fishing shifts to early mornings only these days, and fish go deep in this river, and some never come up off the bottom the whole summer.
When the flip flop occurs, and the dams shut down for the season….the Yakima goes back to her normal self. It’s like the dams aren’t there, and the river is as free as it can be. The fish know and feel this too. Once again the fish are able to move about the system, feeding, swimming, resting. They aren’t pushed around by the heavy summer flows and can move freely throughout…and they do. Trout in the fall have one thing on their brain…as do all other critters. Winter is coming. Trout start to feel the water temps react to the overnight air temperatures getting lower. This triggers trout to start prepping themselves for the winter cold, hibernation, and general trout-sickle conditions. Luckily the Yakima River has some amazing hatches and as the water temps start to go back to normal fluctuations, the hatches return…and the fish respond.
The trout will start to wake up and move about to their daily feeding areas, some will hold on to key areas that they’ve decided to stay in for the winter as things get colder too. But fish will move to areas where they can gorge on food and get fat for the winter. This is seen when the salmon show up and fish follow them around the river eating eggs and flesh as the salmon do their thing. Trout will also do this for other food. Like Craneflies.
The Cranefly Hatch is the first Autumn hatch. It typically hits its peak when the air temps get back below 75 consistently. I’ve already seen some flapping around…but they aren’t the ones I’m referring too. There are a few species of cranes, some aquatic, some terrestrial. The big aquatic ones happen usually the 2nd and 3rd week of September. They are algae eaters when in the larva stage. They are a big leggy mess of food for troots. And ovipositing females are better than stoneflies…because fish eat them better here over stoneflies…at least in my opinion. That’s mostly because trout will eat cranes on the skate.
There is nothing like skating a dry fly and getting a fish to chase it and hammer the absolute shit out if it. It’s like streamer fishing and dry fly fishing got wicked f’ed up one night after fishing together and decided to make a dirty baby. It’s almost not fair how much fun it is. But truly, I’ve got clients that will tell you, cranefly fishing is f’ing silly. It beats skating October Caddis simply because I don’t have to be in waders for it. I hate waders…and shoes.
Fish are hangry in the Fall. And they show it by chasing food down, eating aggressively, and testing anglers skills by needing damn near perfect presentations and good trout playing skills. Inexperienced anglers…that’s your heads up…you will get tested in the Fall on the Yakima. Typically trout will eat cranes anywhere in the river. Because those leggy morsels fly and flop all over the damn place. I’ve seen cutties literally come clear out of the water and snatch cranes out of the air dudes…it’s sick, it gets my shit going, and makes me all tingly. They cranes get active around 10 am, and we fish them until about 2pm if things are good.
Get a drag free drift over the water you’re reading…then at the tail end of the drift…just start skating the fly. Enjoy.
The next hatch is the Mahogany, Light Cahill, and BWO Mayfly Hatches. And they can all happen at the same time and last from mid September to mid October. They are like most mayflies, needing overcast, low barometric pressure days, rainy days, and days where things take a bit to warm up. They usually come off in the late afternoon…after they’ve percolated down there. This is why nymphing Copper Johns in a size 16 in the Fall can be money during the mid day prior to the hatch.
Look for riffles, and when things are cooler both in air and water temp, fish tend to be in the slower water and tail outs of riffles. Waiting for the food to come to them. Lazy troots. I like an Adams in Cream or Red or Wine colored , size 16 for my Cahills and Mahogany’s. You can get fancier…but the fish need more of a better presentation over a wicked cool new fly. I use a 12 foot 5X for my mayfly stuff. When the water is smaller fish can see you easier…so longer casts and varying angles of approach is best. Stalk the fish. Read the water…wait…watch…and then cast. You may see a fish rise…we typically do…but just because you don’t doesn’t mean they aren’t there and won’t eat a mayfly. The reason I use this method is because if you beat the water in the Fall…you will spook every fish in the river. Don’t cast over the water. Fish smarter not harder so to speak. And in the fall…fish will just move to another spot if too spooked. And they’ll tell all their friends as they leave.
The BWO hatch happens a little later in the Autumn typically. BWO’s really like the damp days. Look at back eddies and slow seams on riffles with small size 18 Emerger style patterns. Paras. Fish sip on these little bugs, and sometimes that little nose…is a really big ass trout. Rainbows really like BWO’s and they eat them like uppity rich folks to be honest. Super sneaky, with their noses up, only showing their nostrils when they break the surface…the smaller the rise…the bigger the troot. Hehehehe.
Then we have the caddis. There are a few that hatch in the Fall evenings. Like the Spruce Moth…not actually a caddis, bit a cream colored size 14-16 caddis will do the trick. Late September usually. Or the Silver Sedge…my personal favorite, as it’s a larger size 10 dark brown caddis with a dark fuzzy olive body. It has some cool white colorations on its wings that it gets its name from. It’s in early October and I use a size 10 moose hair caddis with dark angora dubbing and light hackle wrap on the body.
But everyone knows the big guy in the Fall…the October Caddis. It’s big here…like a size 8-6. It has dark brown wings, a fuzzy, rusty, sometime bright orange body, big legs, and long antennae. It hatches like a Stonefly. It crawls up along the bank, pops out of its casing on the rocks, and flies up do to its thing. Fish key in on the hatch as bugs will fall in the slower water along the edges of the river, they will also pick them off as they move towards the bank. Swinging wet flies during the early evening before the hatch can be super fun. And skating big dries as it gets dark makes for some amazing end of the day fishing.
The Fall is a fun time to fish the Yakima that is for sure. It’s the time of year where I am at my best as a guide. I know the Yakima River in the Autumn better than most…and I can say that with the utmost confidence. I’ve put more time into figuring out the late season fishing than any other time of the year on the Yakima. It’s still the only time of year where I’ve got into over 30 trout with clients during a trip. It’s consistent, it has never been bad for me in 12 years, and to this day it’s when I put the most consecutive trips on the calendar. Last year I worked almost every day, and fished almost every day myself either prior or post trips. I can’t get enough of the Fall fishing, and we get roughly 60 days of it…might as well fish every one that you can.
So that leads us into the sales pitch. Book a trip for the Autumn on the Yakima River! September is filling up fast…and October will go quick. It always does. Come let me show you what the Yakima River is all about in the Fall. Plus the colors change, you can wade your ass off, we go back to full days of fishing, French Dips riverside for lunch, overnights with campfires again…mmmm….I can smell it already.
The Countdown to Autumn has begun!