The month of February signals the awakening of the Yakima River from its winter slumber – ice and snow covered banks, cold winter air, and only the heartiest of fly fisherman on the water. It’s a good time of the year to get your fly fishing gear out of its winter sleep too, or perhaps ready the new rod, reel, or flies you got over the holidays. For me, as a professional guide, this is the time of the year when thoughts about long, hot summer days melt into the excitement of another season of fly fishing on Washington’s only “blue ribbon” trout stream. We’re fortunate to have a resource like the Yakima in our backyard to enjoy all year round, so this month’s article will feature tips and tricks on how to enjoy fly-fishing between Easton and Roza Dam, deep in the Yakima Canyon.
Blue Ribbon Water
The designation “blue ribbon” means that the wild rainbow and cutthroat trout are protected by special catch and release rules – single-hook flies and lures only. At this time of year, the river’s water flow is quite low – anywhere between 500 and 1300 cfs (cubic feet/second). Compared to mid-summer when the water is primarily used to irrigate farmlands in the Kittitas Valley and beyond – flows then are measured in the thousands, as high as 8000 last summer. The river is generally considered unsuitable for fly fishing during periods of high flows.
Choosing Flies & Equipment
Fly-fishing is unique in that the flies used to catch fish are created to closely mimic what is naturally occurring in the environment. There are five main types of food sources that are replicated in fly-fishing – mayflies, caddis flies, stoneflies, terrestrials (ants, grasshoppers), and other water inhabitants like sculpin, crayfish, or other smaller species. Certain flies are used during specific types of events, or “hatches.” The term “match the hatch” is used to describe when fly anglers are casting man-made flies that are very close in color, size, shape, and behavior to what is naturally occurring in the river.
In February, we see the first major event in the Skwala stonefly emergence – this is due to warming water temperatures. Like mayflies or caddis flies, these stoneflies move from rocky, cold-water streams and rivers towards the surface, but Skwala’s do so as a nymph – then mature into winged adults out of the water. Mayflies and caddis do so while in the water and in different stages. Try casting both adult and nymph Skwala patterns (another word for artificial flies) into slower moving water near the river’s banks to effectively mimic the natural behavior of the stonefly. A five-weight rod between eight and nine feet in length and a reel with an equal weight forward line, with a seven to nine foot leader tapered to 3x works just fine. Use a “dead-drift” to present nymphs in a realistic behavior to sub-surface feeding fish, or cast the adult dry flies into moving water and give a quick “skitch” to mimic the bug moving on the water.
Water temperatures, nicer weather, and longer days mean that spring is coming, but don’t wait until then to fish the Yakima River for wild trout. Hiring a professional guide who can teach you the intricacies of timing, location, and entomology (bugs!) is a good step in beginning or enriching your fly-fishing skills.