There is that one stonefly in all of Riverdom that anglers have in the back of their minds as we transition out of spring and into summer. The Salmon Fly.
Talked about all across the west as June approaches. Here on the Yakima we get ours a little earlier. Due to our tailwater, and how our weather is here they tend to show up weeks before other rivers. The Salmon Fly is the biggest and the baddest stonefly in the river. They are ravenous, huge, and are the perfect food source after a long spring with runoff and spawning making trout hungry.
The salmon fly can live in the water column and substrate of the river for up to 4 years before it emergers as an adult. They eat everything. From algae when they are young, to vegetation, and also other bugs. Man do stoneflies love to munch on caddis! Throughout their lives they can grow up to 4 inches long. They can withstand intense pressure under rocks and substrate, they can swim, and they can even chow on small fish if they are so inclined.
As water temps warm, the season changes, and the air temps rise, salmonflies begin thier river bank migration to hatch. They like water temps closer to 50 degrees, air temps over 60 and bright sunny days. Stoneflies, unlike caddis and mayflies do not hatch out of the water. They are bank amd vegetation hatchers. As the spring runoff moves through the river salmon fly nymphs begin to migrate en mass towards the bank. This is typically a nocturnal migration, happening early in the morning pre dawn and dawn. Much like their skwalla counterparts from March; they crawl and feed their way towards to shore and bank line. They emerge out of the water onto the grass, woody debris, and rocks.
There they drum their bodies and vibrate themselves out of their exoskeleton shuck wings first. They flap and pull themselves out of the nymphal shuck like a caterpillar into a butterfly, and emerge as an adult with 4 powerful big wings and one thing on their mind…procreation.
The females are larger and more abundant than the males. After the hatch. Males amd females drum and beat thier wings to find each other. This typically happens within a few feet of the bank as we are putting our boats in the morning. By the afternoon mating has usually been completed and male salmonflies die in the trees or grass, or are eaten by just about any critter that can get them. Birds, muskrat, fish, otter, frogs, you name it it will probably eat a salmonfly. Rich in protein and lots of calories they are a major food source for western River ecosystems.
After mating is finished, females stick around and develop an egg sac filled with more stonefly larvae for the next generation. The culmination of her existence of 4 seasons as a nymph just for a few hours of life as an adult to pass on genetics to the next generation. It’s amazing. Truly. If you can’t see that I invite you to come bare witness to the Salmon Fly Hatch.
As the air temps peak, around 3pm. The Salmon flies take flight. Better fliers than other stoneflies, but big and easy to spot, they launch from the banks and trees and flutter to the river surface to lay eggs. This is when trout key in on them for surface eats. An opportunistic eat, like a grasshopper, trout lie in wait along the banks and edges of the river waiting for these big insects to finish thier business. And trout will see to it that salmonflies meet a swift and violent end.
Trout are ravenous this time of year. Many are post spawn and hungry. Water temps have crept up so trout metabolism is higher meaning they need to eat more calories. Salmon Flies meet that need and then some. The takes on Salmon Fly dries are explosive. More so than skwallas due to warmer water temps. Trout are turbo charged and have no problem chasing down amd crushing the absolute fuck out of big orange and black bugs. Many times trout take multiple swipes at these bugs because they are so large and hard to eat. They need to be chewed and broken apart to swallow…unless your a really big trout with a toilet bowl for a mouth.
Its aggressive. It’s sexy, and it’s something that we see get really good every few seasons. Like other stoneflies, hatches are cyclical, like cicadas. Every 3 or 4 season the hatch is ridiculously big. We are due up for that this season and the river is telling me it’s gonna happen. Already seeing mass amounts of nymphs along the banks and already adults flying around. It’s early. Which means it’s probably gonna be big.
Salmonflies are just amazing to see let alone fish. They are massive! The size of a hummingbird. You can have some of the most explosive and violent dry fly takes during this hatch. But the nymphing can also be fantastic when they are on those migrating bugs under water prior to that hatch. It’s been 3 years since we’ve had a massive hatch of salmonflies and all us river peeps are patiently waiting for it turn on over the next 10 days.
Fishing has been pretty stellar in terms of spring fishing. I’ve had my hard days but as water temps get closer to 50 it only gets more consistent and that’s what really makes trout fishing good. Consistency.
May hits and flows, temps, and bugs all settle into a normal rhythm. Sure the flows get high but fish are accustomed to the flows and water here. They will play the game if you will.
May is just starting to fill up. The river gets busy the closer we get to Memorial Day. Weekends fill up quick amd weekdays are sought after. Those anglers that want a shot at big stonefly dry eats take note. After Mother’s Day shit gets real. Those that missed the skwallas can find redemption in salmonflies.
I head to Colorado until the 5th. When I get back, we are hitting it hard. With 40 guide days already in the books we are chasing 200 guide days this season. Help this trout bummy guide hit that goal and come out for a trip this season. It’s good, you’ll learn something, and get to be face to face with some of the best and baddest wild trout around.
The Yakima River is one of the last true gem fisheries of Washington State. Most of our riverside fisheries are in turmoil due to commercial use, nets, bad management, lack of listening to science, the list is long. And while Kittitas County has its own slew of issues that pertain to the Yakima River, it is still on the right course for fisheries management. Yes we have access problems, and county officials that have thier head in the same about conservation amd usage issues, but our fishery isn’t on the decline like just about every other waterway. People coming out to experience and enjoy the river is still the best and most effective way to make sure it lasts and gets better.
Having epic slamonfly hatches is a testament to how good things are here. These bugs need a pristine ecosystem to hatch. We have that. All the work that’s been done on conservation and water management, salmon recovery, it’s all paying off by keeping the Yakima River as one of the best fisheries in the whole state, if not the best.
Come out for a trip anglers. See what it’s all about, and maybe stick a nice one on a big salmon fly dry this May.
See ya riverside anglers,