In January and February you will find me fly fishing for steelhead and dolly varden on the Skykomish and Sultan Rivers. Both of these rivers have healthy runs of hatchery and wild steelhead. Of course, conditions are determined by the weather during these months. Average temperatures below 30° or flows on the Sky above 10,000 cfs will keep me off of the water until the conditions become more favorable. Under winter conditions I use 9 foot 8 weight Orvis TLS Power Matrix and Fetha Styx Predator single handed rods, Sage 9140-4 two handed rods, Rio multi-tip fly lines, primarily using the heaviest sink tips, 6 foot maxima leaders, and large bunny and marabou winter steelhead patterns.
In late February I move over to the Skagit River. I love this time of year because it is like returning to an old friend. The feeble hatchery steelhead run is winding down and the large native steelhead are starting to enter the river. These fish are aggressive and very strong. Unlike the Sky fish, the steelhead in the lower Skagit tend to hold in fast water & side channels away from the heaviest angling pressure & plethora of jet sleds. I continue to use 9 foot 8 weight Orvis TLS Power Matrix and Fetha Styx Predator single handed fly rods, Sage 9140-4 two handed fly rods, Rio multi-tip fly lines, primarily using the heaviest sink tips, 6 foot maxima leaders, and large bunny and marabou winter steelhead patterns.
During this time of year I move to the Sauk River and middle Skagit. I prefer to float and fish the runs in the lower Sauk and Skagit that are accessible only by boat as these runs tend to get less pressure than many walk in runs of the middle section of the Sauk. I continue to use 9 foot 8 weight Orvis TLS Power Matrix and Fetha Styx Predator single handed fly rods, Sage 9140-4 two handed fly rods, Rio multi-tip fly lines, primarily using the heaviest sink tips, 6 foot maxima leaders, and large bunny and marabou winter steelhead patterns.
All of my favorite steelhead rivers are closed in May because this is the time when most of these fish are spawning. May is a great time to switch over to rainbows and browns in Northwest Washington lakes. The water temperature has finally warmed to the mid forties and feeding is in full swing. Damsel nymphs, chironomids, and leaches are a major food source and many patterns representing there trout meals are effective. I have a few clients that love river fishing. Before going on their first lake trip with me they said, I hate trolling a fly around a lake or staring at an indicator. Luckily, I have a cure for them. I have a handful of patterns that you can cast to the bank and strip back to the boat and are very effective. They elicit powerful, and sometimes tippet breaking strikes. After breaking off one of my patterns, my friend called me and said, Hey, you didnt tell me that was going to happen!
In June I am back on the Skykomish River, which is typically in the middle of winter run-off during this time of year. Under these conditions I continue to use the winter techniques and flies of the Skagit River. This includes 9 foot 8 weight Orvis TLS Power Matrix and Fetha Styx Predator single handed fly rods, Sage 9140-4 two handed fly rods, Rio multi-tip fly lines, type 4 and type 6 sink tips, 6 foot maxima leaders, and large bunny and marabou winter steelhead patterns.
During these months I am higher up on the Skykomish River chasing summer steelhead. This is the time of year when dry fly fishing for steelhead is at its best. The water is clear and the shade of the mornings and evenings offer prime dry fly conditions. My preferred technique is fishing skaters and wakers on a tight line. However, you have to remember when skating dry flies for steelhead that you can NOT set the hook. When dry fly fishing for steelhead, I use 9 to 9.5 foot 6 and 7 weight Orvis Trident TLS and Fetha Styx Predator single handed rods, 13.5 ft Sage 7136-4 two handed rods with weight forward floating lines. Grease up the fly, leader, and a few feet of the fly line to keep in on the surface where you want it.
When the brightness of the afternoon sun is on the water, I switch to swinging and stripping bunny leaches and marabou patters on sink tip lines. I use the standard Skagit rods, lines, and flies for sink tip fishing under the mid day sun.
On odd numbered years, the Skykomish River usually opens for pink salmon by mid August. Many steelhead and trout fly anglers look down on pink salmon, however, every client I have taken out to target this species on a fly has had a blast! I float the river in a Clackacraft Drift boat and we fish floating lines and wet flies from the boat. Under sunny skies and clear water conditions, you can actually sight cast to fish and watch a pack of salmon chase your fly down as you strip it away. It is a total blast! I am one of the only fly fishing guides that fly fishes the Skykomish River for pink salmon. I believe there are two reasons for this. First off, the drift boat access to the lower Skykomish River is really poor. The best fishing starts below Monroe, and this is where you find your last decent boat launch. The other reason few guides fly fish the Sky for pink salmon is that the fish are really picky about color. These fish tend to like dark colors in the morning and on over cast days when the sun is off the water and bright color flies when the sun is on the water. However, this changes as the run progresses. If you experiment with flies throughout the day, you will continue to catch salmon.
On low water years, the Methow River which follows Hwy 20 through the Methow Valley, Winthrop, and Twisp can be a great trout river. Large cutthroat and rainbows reside in this river year around. Some of these fish even move down into the Columbia in the spring to feed on out migrating salmon smolts. The Methow Rivers offers traditional dry fly fishing with both dry flies and nymphs. However, you will catch more of the bigger trout if you go deep with a sink tip line, bigger patterns like muddler minnows, leaches, and woolly buggers, and use standard steelhead wet fly swing.
On odd number years you fill find me fly fishing for pink salmon on the Skagit, Skykomish, Stillaguamish Rivers. If there was one species that responds better to a fly than any other fishing technique, pink salmon would be it. You can expect to catch anywhere from a couple fish at the start and end of the run up to fifty fish during the peak of the run. The flies same flies and techniques noted above also work in September. It the fall of 2003 the flooding on the Skagit River washed out the reds of most of the pink salmon run. As a result, the pink salmon return on the Skagit in 2005 was terrible. I did not fish the Skagit for pink in 2005 and we will have to wait and see what happens in 2007. I expect it will take years for that run to return to the numbers of 2001 and 2003.
During even years I fly fish the Skykomish River for steelhead and silver salmon. I target the steelhead in the upper river and the silvers in the lower river. Silver salmon in the Skykomish River can be a bit picky, but we always manage to tie into a few fish and they are a blast. They are silver bullets that take to the air when hooked and tear line off of your reel. In general, the silvers tend to bite better in late September and into October as the water cools and the visibility decreases at the rains increase.
In early October you will find me targeting silver salmon on the Skykomish River. As the month progresses, the chum salmon start to show throughout most of the Skykomish River. I use the same techniques for silver and chum salmon. This includes 9 wt rods, floating lines, long leaders, up to 11 feet, and heavy flies.
Toward the end of October as the rivers rise, I target steelhead on the Stillaguamish and Methow Rivers. Since the water us cold and off color, I switch back to sink tip lines and big, heavy flies.
October is also a great time to fly fish local Northwest Washington lakes. My favorite fall lake is Lone Lake on the South end of Whidbey Island. This lake if full of large rainbow trout that average in size at 16 with a number of fish at 18. It is not uncommon to catch a few fish that measure over 20. These fish are in feeding mode to bulk up for winter and they are very hot. Most fish will pull off line and the bigger ones will take you into your backing.
The chum salmon run is in full swing on the Skykomish and Skagit Rivers. These fish are big and powerful and very picky about technique and color. I tend to use a floating line and a small, heavy fly when targeting chum salmon. I have found that swinging a sink tip through a pod of chum salmon tends to result in foul hooking fish. However, if you find the right combination of color fly and sink tip sink rate, swinging a sink tip can be a very effective technique also, especially for the brighter fish. Hooking into a bright chum salmon can be a blast. A hot fish will do a number of tail walks as it blasts downstream. It takes a lot of pressure on a strong rod and good reel to slow down these fish.
The steelhead fishing can be very good on the Stillaguamish River during the month of November. When the rains come and the rivers rise, a lot of hatchery steelhead start to head up to their hatchery home. There are a few spots on the North Fork Stillaguamish River where intercepting them at high water is actually predictable.
This is when the chum salmon are spawning and the steelhead and dolly varden and never far away. There is a large run on dolly varden in the Skagit River and they can be easily taken on egg patterns, woolly buggers, egg sucking leaches, bunny leaches, and even on skated dry flies. Yes, these fish will come to the surface when the temperature outside is in the mid thirties. If you just love skating dry flies for steelhead and you are bummed that the water is too cold, try fishing the same water and same flies for dolly varden, you may just surprise yourself!