Washington Fly Fishing

Washington is bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Oregon to the south (the Columbia River forming most of this border), Idaho to the east and British Columbia, Canada to the north. It is famous for scenery of breathtaking beauty and sharp contrasts. High mountains rise above evergreen forests and sparkling coastal waters. Washington provides some of the best salmon and steelhead fishing in the country. Coho salmon and sea-run cutthroat leave the waters of the Pacific Coastline and travel up the rivers of Washington state on a seasonal basis. Some of the best steelhead fly fishing techniques have been pioneered in the rivers and streams of Pacific Northwest states such as Washington.

Skagit River

The Skagit River is the crown jewel of Washington’s Puget Sound region. Some 276 glaciers feed the Skagit River system and ninety percent of the fresh water that enters the Puget Sound comes fromLooking upstream at the Fly Bar and the North Cascades the Skagit River. Only two rivers on the west coast of the continental United States exceed it in discharge, the Columbia and the Sacramento. It’s no wonder the Skagit and its main tributary, the Sauk, have gained such a reputation for their steelhead.

The Skagit is world renowned for its steelhead and is the birthplace of many of the techniques we still use today. For decades the Skagit was the heavyweight champion of steelhead rivers and would routinely kick out as many as 30,000 steelhead per winter. While the days of huge steelhead harvests are long gone, the Skagit to this day is perhaps one of Washington’s finest steelhead rivers and provides northwest anglers with a golden opportunity at a trophy steelhead over 20 pounds.

Two hatcheries, one at Barnoughly Slough just above Rockport, and the other on the Cascade River in Marblemount, produce the bulk of the winter hatchery steelhead released into the Skagit. With no summer run steelhead plants and very few steelhead in the Trophy Skagit River Wild Steelheadsystem in the summer, the Skagits best steelhead fishing occurs between December and April when hatchery and wild steelhead enter the river.

Hatchery Steelhead

skagit steelhead

Anglers begin to see the first glimpse of the winter hatchery steelhead sometime between Thanksgiving and the first week of December as the larger, three-salt steelhead enter the river. Two-salt fish follow shortly after and the peak of the run generally occurs around the Christmas holiday, though hatchery fish will continue to enter the system thru January.

With two hatcheries located on the upper stretch of the Skagit the best fishing usually occurs in the Rockport area and it isn’t uncommon for the parking lot at the Howard Miller Steelhead Park to be full of rigs on any given day in December and January. Jet boats dominate the hatchery run and the majority of the hatchery fish are taken “boon-dogging” or side-drifting egg clusters or sand shrimp.

While a jet boat has its advantages on the large waters of the Skagit, drift boaters can also score hatchery steelhead and the stretch of river from Marblemount to Rockport can be extremely productive for driftboaters. Backtrolling plugs and bait divers andSteelhead enthusiast Jim Visbeek netting a hot one! driftfishing the soft edges of the large runs on the upper river can produce well as fish make their way back to the Cascade River and Barnoughby Slough hatcheries.

With Highway 20 running alongside the river between Rockport and Marblemount there are several great places for bank anglers to test their wits against the Skagit’s finest. In addition to access along the main river, both the Cascade River and the mouth of Barnoughby Slough near Rockport provide a great opportunity for bank anglers to catch hatchery winter steelhead at the end of their journey.

Skagit Map from Marblemount (click to enlarge)

Steelheaders fishing these locations draw strikes with a variety of presentations, but floatfishing jigs and driftfishing small egg clusters are usually the top producers. When the Cascade becomes low and clear and the fish get skittish a small corky, puff ball, or yarn ball fished on a light leader can draw strikes from weary hatchery fish.

Wild Steelhead

Talk about wild steelhead in any circle of savvy anglers and someone will invariably mention the Skagit system. Long famed for its broad shouldered and aggressive wild steelhead, the river has held its reputation over the years as one of the northwest’s great trophy steelhead destinations.

Rob and Craig Olsen with a 23 lb spring steelheadThe Skagit sees the first of its wild steelhead around January 20th, as it seems like every year about this time rumors begin to fly from the plunking communities on the lower river of huge steelhead having their way with wing-bobbers, hoochies, and other plunking fare. By the first week of February wild fish make their way into the upper reaches of the river from Hamilton all the way to Rockport and good fishing can be had until the river closes at the end of April.

During the month of February the Skagit fishes well from Hamilton all the way to it’s confluence with the Sauk. With both the Sauk River and the Baker River entering the Skagit between Hamilton and Rockport, however, flows and clarity can fluctuate wildly. Regular releases from the Baker River can raise flows considerably below Concrete and rains in the upper valley can quickly cloud the waters of the Sauk, rapidly dropping visibility in the Skagit. Steelheaders who fish the Skagit on a regular basis know to watch the USGS streamflow site and time their trips accordingly.

February is just a primer for the Skagit, however, as its wild run continues to build in both March and April. Bait is prohibited on the Skagit after March 15 when the river goes to selective fishery regulations, meaning no bait and single, barbless hooks. Though the rules toughen, this is by far the best time to be here for a shot at one of the Skagit’s magnificent steelhead.

skagit map rockport
Skagit Map to Rockport (click to enlarge)

Plugs, drift gear, pink worms, jigs, spoons, flyfishing, and just about any other steelhead technique imaginable produce during the spring months. With its broad, sweeping runs the Skagit lends itself well to “sweeping” presentations like spoons, drift gear, and flyfishing. On the large runs of the Skagit steelhead can hold anywhere from the middle of the run to within feet of the gravel bar, so techniques that swing across the run tend to more adequately cover the holding water and improve an anglers chances of hooking up.

Bruce Grays perfect steelheadPulling plugs in the deep, boulder filled runs and in current seams over the deeper bars also produces strikes in the spring. One thing that can be said about Skagit steelhead is that they are aggressive and take-downs while plugging can be about as viscous as they get. Remembering that the Skagit kicks out 30-plus pound steelhead on a yearly basis is enough to melt the nerves of most steelheaders as they grab that heaving plug rod from the grip of the holder.

Fishing from a boat under power is illegal on the Skagit after March 15 and from there out the driftboat typically becomes the main mode of transportation on the river. The river is open from the Dalles Bridge at Concrete clear up to it’s confluence at Bacon Creek, giving steelheaders roughly 25 miles of prime steelhead water during the spring catch and release season.

With its sheer size and volume the Skagit can be nothing less than intimidating to someone visiting it for the first time. Learn the many nuances of the Skagit, however, and you can be greatly rewarded with a hook up on one of the Northwest’s finest strains of steelhead.

Skykomish River

Don’t let the Sky’s proximity to metropolitan Seattle fool you. The Skykomish regularly ranks in the top ten rivers in Washington for hatchery steelhead harvest and its run of both wild summer and winter steelhead is still worth losing sleep over. The Skykomish remains un-dammed and free flowing and if there were a manual detailing every type and cross sect of steelhead water the publisher would need only mention the Skykomish. From its headwaters in the South and North Forks to the lower reaches where it meets the Snoqualmie to form the Snohomish it offers everything from whitewater and plunge pools to long, wide runs held in check by classic gravel bars. Anglers interested in float fishing, drift fishing, hardware, plugging, and flyfishing will all find plenty of suitable water on the Skykomish River.

The majority of the Sky’s hatchery plants come from the Reiter hatchery facility near Index, but hatchery plants on both the Sultan and Wallace Rivers near the town of Sultan spread hatchery steelhead throughout the river. On most years as many as 170,000 summer run plants and approximately 200,000 winter run plants make the Skykomish one of the North Puget Sound regions top bets for harvesting a hatchery steelhead.

Wild steelhead still return to the Skykomish in numbers in both the summer and winter, though wild winter run escapement since 2001 has been at or below escapement levels, prompting the closure of the popular spring March/April catch and release fishery on the Skykomish. Excellent fishing for the Sky’s big wild runs can still be had the latter part of January and February, however, and trophy class steelhead haven’t quit coming home to this river. Wild summer runs have fared a bit better than their winter counterparts and fisherman on the upper reaches of the Skykomish tussle with their fare share of these fish during the hot summer months.

Winter Steelhead

Like most rivers in the North Sound region the Sky’s winter hatchery fish start showing sometime around Thanksgiving and continue to build thru the runs peak in late December, with good fishing continuing thru the month of January. Plenty of boat traffic can be found on the Sky on any given day and there is ample access for anglers bound to the bank.

For bank angling the Reiter hatchery facility near Index is an excellent bet any day of the week and its location is generally given away by the many vehicles parked along Hwy 2 across from the hatchery. Large numbers of winter steelhead hold in the pools below the facility and it isn’t uncommon for fishing to be “elbow to elbow” in this area. Jigs under a float are the ticket in the Reiter area, as are small egg clusters and drift gear. On occasion a spoon or spinner presented correctly can also draw strikes from wary steelhead in this area.

The most popular stretch of water for driftboating is from High Bridge down to Sultan, which covers roughly 8 miles of river. Hatchery steelhead can be found throughout this stretch of water and sled traffic doesn’t typically get heavy until the end of the float near the Wallace Flats. Aside from a few swirling eddies immediately below the launch at High Bridge, this float is fairly easy and poses few hazards for driftboaters. Sidedrifting small egg clusters and sand shrimp works extremely well here, as does backtrolling Tadpolly and Hot Shot plugs and bait divers rigged with a Spin’n Glo and shrimp tail. There is also plenty of excellent floatfishing water on this stretch and pink worms, jigs, sandshrimp, and egg clusters presented under a float will all draw strikes from hatchery fish.

The stretch of river from Sultan down to Monroe is heavily dominated by sled traffic with most of the hatchery fish taken on tiny clusters of eggs side drifted. Backtrolling plugs can also be effective here and work great as a “change up” technique to draw traffic-weary fish into striking. Though sled traffic can be very heavy at times on this portion of the river driftboats can still score and some of the Sky’s most patient driftboat guides often have excellent days amidst the sled traffic. Like the upper float on the Sky, backtrolled bait divers and plugs will also score fish on the Sultan to Monroe float. For a shorter float a great mid-way take out point between Sultan and Monroe is the Ben Howard launch on the rivers south shore.

The lower portion of the Skykomish, from the Lewis St bridge in Monroe down to it’s confluence with the Snoqualmie is primarily fished by jet boats. With the nearest takeout over a mile up the Snoqualmie River a driftboat isn’t the best bet on this stretch. Hatchery fish don’t hold as well in the lower portion of the Sky, but they still have to move thru this area and persistent steelheaders can have great success side drifting bait or backtrolling bait divers in the long runs prominent on this stretch of water.

Summer Steelhead

The Skykomish is famous amongst Pacific Northwest steelheaders for its robust run of summer steelhead. June 1st marks the re-opening of the Skykomish to fishing and excellent numbers of both summer run steelhead and downstream winter steelhead are caught the first week the river opens. As the weeks pass by in June the number of summer runs continues to build thru the end of the month.

With pulses of fish moving thru every few days the best approach to fishing the river during this first month of the summer season is to cover plenty of water and if the river is up to work the edges. Anglers in boats should concentrate on side drifting or plugging prominent stretches and bank bound anglers should consider fishing several runs thoroughly. Steelhead are moving up the river constantly and the soft water over the Sky’s many gravel bars can hold just as many fish as the deeper areas or steelhead “slots” on this river.

Hot Shots, Tadpollys, or Wiggle Warts in various shades of blue, green, silver, orA wild Skykomish summer run that fells for a backtrolled Hot Shot gold will typically rank among the best plug choices during the summer months and a tiny cluster of quality cured eggs or a sand shrimp tail are top choices for bait. For steelheaders looking to fish hardware, the summer months are an outstanding time to fish spinners and spoons, as summer steelhead are known for their aggressiveness and will often run a spinner down to hit it.

The summer run generally peaks on the Skykomish around the first or second week of July and fish will continue to trickle into the river all the way thru August. As the waters recede in July and the runoff from snow pack diminishes a noticeable decrease in jet boat traffic will occur and fishing from either a driftboat or raft is ideal for the remainder of the summer. Silence is the key to fishing the clear water of mid to late summer and any offering that can be presented from a distance like jigs under a slip float, small clusters of eggs, or hardware like spinners or spoons get the job done.

Finesse gear techniques like jigs, bait on long, light leaders, small spinners, orThe author with a pair of summer run steelhead taken side drifting small egg clusters spoons provide most of the action during the latter part of summer on the Skykomish. Mornings and evenings when the sun is low or cloudy days are generally best and tackle should be geared down to tackle slightly heavier than your standard trout gear. Long spinning rods like the Lamiglas Esprit Concept rated for 6 to 10 lb test and spinning reels capable of holding 140 yards of 10 lb line work great, and leaders will generally need to be 6 to 8 lb test and 5 to 6 feet and longer to entice leader shy fish into striking.

Flyfishing on the upper reaches of the Skykomish system can also be excellent under these conditions with both nymphing and swinging wets on a sink tip being productive techniques. Variations of egg patterns nymphed with a strike indicator work great as do many standard, brightly colored summer run patterns, though in areas where steelhead see their share of gear off shades like black, purple, and olive can often produce.

For anglers living in the Metro Seattle area the Skykomish is a great place to learn the ways of the elusive steelhead without having to travel halfway across the state. While the Sky doesn’t offer the solitude that it used to, as long as you’re courteous to your fellow steelheading brethren, fish with optimism, and keep a smile on your face you’ll find that the Skykomish can be as rewarding as you make it.

Snake River, Washington

Few river systems in the Pacific Northwest can boast the consistency of the Snake River’s hatchery steelhead run. In addition to the Snake itself, the Grande Ronde, Imnaha, and Salmon Rivers, all tributaries to the Snake, see healthy plants of hatchery steelhead each and every year.

The Heller Bar area south of Clarkston, WA is the epicenter of much of the steelhead angling that occurs on the Snake. From the latter part of September to as late as February as many as 150,000 steelhead, sometimes even more, will make their up the mighty Snake, migrating thru the Heller Bar area as they do so. You read that right, 150,000 steelhead!

As runs on the Southwest Washington rivers began to plummet in the mid-90’s the Snake was only getting better.

Spots to Fish on the Snake

Fishing the Heller Bar Area

Rogersburg is the row of houses just upstream from the mouth of the Grande Ronde. Backtroll plugs in the deep slot on the Washington side or side drift the long bar across from the houses on the Idaho side.

Heller Bar

Self sufficient campers will find plenty of room in the public access above Heller Bar off the Snake River Rd. There are no hookups, however, so it takes a trip back to Clarkston to fill up on water and dump the hold. Bank anglers will line the length of Heller Bar and will score fish on drift fished row, prawns, and orange or red corkys. Swinging spoons across the broad run also account for plenty of hookups. Space permitting, fly fisherman also do very well just below the mouth of the Grande Ronde intercepting fish holding in the main river before they make their way up the tributary.

Side drifters in sleds will generally start at the seam between the Snake and Grande Ronde and drift all the way downstream to the fast water in the tail out. The bar across the river on the Idaho side also holds fish. Pluggers do best back trolling the seam formed by the Grande Ronde and Snake.

Mikes Bar

This is the small bar right across from the Heller Bar Boat Launch. Don’t let the fast water fool you, as fish will hold from the edge of the bar all the way to the center of the river. Strap on extra lead to side drift this one and crank up the throttle on the kicker motor a notch or two.


Beamers stretches from just off the end of the Snake River Resort dock to well below Beamers Resort on the Washington side. Plug fisherman do excellent here backtrolling deep diving plugs like the Luhr Jensen Hot Lips in pink, cerise, flame orange, and red. Side drifters will start at the big rock on the Idaho side and drift the bar all the way down around the corner. Side drifters also bang plenty of fish on the Washington side above and below Beamers Resort.

The Gauge

You’ll see the gauge on the Washington side right next to the Snake River Rd. The rock points above and below the gauge hold plenty of fish, as do the boulders in the center of the river. Pluggers and float fisherman do well fishing the deep water below the rock points on the Washington side. Side drifting is also great here, but plan on losing some leaders in the grabby boulders.

Captain Lewis Rapid

Get into a good bite at the Gauge and you’ll likely have at least one fish blast down into Capt. Lewis Rapid. Drift the bar on the Idaho side to keep out of the 6 ft. plus standing waves in the center of the river. A ride thru the center of Capt. Lewis Rapid in just about any boat would be a big mistake! Fly anglers do very well just above the rapid on the Washington side, as fish will pull into the soft water near shore to rest after running the rapids. Wading is somewhat tricky here and most flyfisherman working this stretch will wear float coats or belts with CO2 inflating life vests.

Back Rack

This is the first deep corner just below the rapids. Fish will hold here in numbers, especially in the cold winter months. Drift this one from the upper part of the seam all the way down into the Willows, which is just below it. Plug fisherman also do well from here down into the Willows with deep diving Hot Lips.

The Willows

It seems strange, but fish really will hold in this super deep hole. In the 30 plus foot deep water you’re baits will go every-which-way-but-loose. Ride the drift out and you may be pleasantly surprised, however. This one really produces well during the lethargic, cold winter months when fish get kegged up in the deep, slow water.

Watch the Dam Counts

Lower Granite Dam is the last concrete barrier these fish pass over before entering the Snake, thus it’s the one you want to watch on the internet. The Snake’s steelhead will begin to trickle over this dam in late July/early August and will usually began the full upstream assault sometime in the middle of September. When dam counts broach 4,000 fish per day it’s time to start seriously thinking about a trip to the Snake.

Things really get rolling on the Snake the first week of October, which also happens to coincide with some darned nice weather in the Clarkston/Lewiston area, so it’s no wonder that the river can get a little crowded at times. This is a big river system, however, and there always seems to be plenty of water for everyone.

Holding water on the Snake isn’t as obvious as one would think. It’s big water with more flow than any other northwest steelhead river, making reading water difficult at times.

Tricks for fishing the Snake

-Timing is everything. Keep an eye on the dam counts at Lower Granite and head for the Snake after counts pass the 4,000 fish per day mark.
-Double your bait size on the Snake. That’s right, larger baits seem to out fish the dinky, dime-sized stuff we use on the west side.
-Keep your bait fresh, especially on hot fall days when the afternoon sun has a tendency to bake baits in the bait box.
-Plug fisherman do well by adding scents to their plugs like anise, crawdad, and shrimp. This covers any scents fish don’t like and leaves a scent trail that can draw fish in.
-It takes roughly 45 minutes to an hour to reach Heller Bar from Clarkston, Washington, so plan on fueling up before you head up river and plan your day accordingly.
-The Snake is big water with more flow than you’ll find on most northwest rivers. Trouble can happen quickly here and it’s important to pay attention and be safe.

Bogachiel River

Spot to Fish on the Bogachiel

Hatchery Drift

The Hatchery Drift gets crowds for one reason, because fish hold here! Fish hold in the fast water in the upper portion of this drift, especially in low water. The tailout and the rocks below it hold fish in all but the lowest of flows. Generally drift fishing and floatfishing are the only two means of fishing this run, as crowds usually make plugging impossible.

Calawah Confluence

Best if fished from the south bank. Fish hold in the heavy flows all the way across this drift. Drift fishing is typically the best way to approach this run.

Tall Timbers

Located just below the Calawah confluence. Travelling fish will hold along the entire stretch of gravel bar on the north side of the river and in the deeper water along the cut bank on the south side. Bank anglers working the gravel bar score by driftfishing eggs or shrimp with either a Corky, puff ball, or rag if the water is up. Backtrolling plugs and bait divers and floatfishing will take fish on the south side of the drift. Once again, if the fish are in expect some traffic in this run.

Crescent Hole

Pulling plugs and floatfishing the upper portion of this run will draw strikes and from the point on down is excellent driftfishing water. The tailout of the Crescent Hole on the north side is great plugging water, as well.

Ice Box

Located at the cutbank on the corner below the Crescent Hole. The upper portion of this run holds fish in low to medium flows and fish will hold on the cut bank from the creek into the tailout in any flow. Driftfishing works great in the upper portion of this run and backtrolling plugs and baitdivers takes fish along the cut bank.

Hundley Flats

A small rapid separates this from the Icebox. Fish hold throughout this entire run. In medium to high flows both the north and south shores will hold fish and the tailout on the south side is excellent in all but the lowest of flows. Cover this run best by driftfishing.

Mary Lou

The river plunges into a rock wall on the north side, forming this deep pool. In low flows fish will hold in the heavy current along the wall at the top of the run. Backtrolling plugs along the rock wall and into the tailout takes fish, as does driftfishing the broad, deep tailout.

Goodman Mainline

In high flows plunkers score big on the gravel bar on the north side of the river. As waters recede fish will hold under the bridge on the south side and along the entire south bank to the tailout.

Lewis River

Chinook Salmon are the largest fish caught from the Lewis River. Every year chinook over 30 pounds are caught. The spring run starts in March and reaches it’s peak in May. Some chinook are still available in June. The runs are starting to build up again after reaching a low period. Fall chinook begin entering the river in September and usually finish before the end of October.

Large runs of Coho Salmon enter the river in September, October and into November. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists found a wild coho salmon carcass that may have exceeded 30 pounds. Joe Hymer of the Department of Fish and Wildlife said the coho was so large it looked like a chinook. The coho had a 38-inch total length. Washington’s freshwater record coho, taken from the Quinault River in 2001, weighed 25.27 pounds and was 32.28 inches total length.

Steelhead are in the river every month of the year. July is probably the best summer month and January is probably the best winter month. Reservoirs above the three Dams hold Kokanee and Rainbow Trout. Some years there is a strong Smelt run. Just a few smelt entered the North Fork in 2004 and they went right back out.Fishing regulations fluctuate based on how many fish are forecast and how many actually arrive. Some fishing is always available.

Sauk River

Flowing from its source on the slopes of the North Cascade range, the Sauk river joins forces with the White Chuck, Suiattle, and finally the Skagit River before heading out to Puget Sound. Hidden from lowland views, Glacier Peak’s volcanic activity now sleeps. But 11,000 years ago an eruption caused a massive mudflow to sweep down its slopes. Oozing to a halt in the town of Darrington, the 80-foot high wall of mud and rock diverted the old Sauk from its entrance with the Stillaguamish, causing it to flow northward towards the Skagit.

The Sauk is young by river standards and is ever-changing. The Sauk is host to many types of fish including Dolly Varden Trout, Sea-run Cutthroat, Chinook Salmon (Jun-Aug), Coho Salmon (Sept-Nov), Chum Salmon (Oct-Dec), and Pink Salmon (Aug-Sept of odd years). The Sauk River is best known for its great run of Wild Steelhead that return in the months February through April. It is also planted with hatchery Steelhead from the nearby hatcheries that return in summer and winter. However, this river is not open for the keeping of any Salmon species.

The river may be reached by driving Highway 530 from Darrington to Rockport. The upper river is dangerous at times and should be well respected by boaters. The main floats consist of the Summit Mill to the Suiattle drift, Suiattle to the Government bridge, and the Government bridge to Faber’s Landing on the Skagit.

A Story about Dolly Varden on the Sauk River

A yell, barely audible over the rushing water of the Sauk River broke my mid-winter’s daydream. Looking downstream, I saw Skid’s flyrod bowed deeply and his bright orange fly line pulsing from the far side of the river and back to the faster water in the middle. He took two quick steps downstream and his rod suddenly unbowed, the line pinging back with the sudden release. The universal body language of a fish coming unbuttoned.

The fish in question on this February day is a Dolly Varden, which many folks think is a trout, but is actually a member of the Char family.

Dollies, as they are affectionately known, are sea-run fish similar to steelhead and salmon, as they ascend the rivers of their birth in the fall and winter. They can get quite big, with fish as big as four and five pounds not terribly uncommon although average size is more like 16 inches or so.

When they are in their spawning colors, Dollies are spectacularly colored and beautiful fish. Orange and Pink spots adorn a blushing pale skin, not unlike that of a Brook trout. And the other thing that makes them attractive to the fly angler, are their numbers. If you’ve found one Dolly, you’ve probably found a school of ’em. They provide a fine excuse to get out of the house and actually have a chance of catching something on a winter’s day.

Again, I heard the almost imperceptible yell over the river, and again, I saw Skid fighting a fish as he moved downstream.

This time, he had the fish hooked solidly, and I scrambled through the thigh deep water to get down to him and get a picture. Alas, this fish wasn’ t nearly as big as the one he had lost, but it was a fine little guy all the same. A male without the brilliant colors of it’s spawning color-adorned mates, but what the heck; I would have taken it.

Okay, what’s the deal? On this day, my fishing partner Skid had hooked three dollies, and landed one. I had received nary a bite, not to mention losing a dozen flies during the course of the day to to the river bottoms of the Skagit and Sauk Rivers. I fumed as we stumbled on our frozen feet up the snow covered trail and through the woods back to my truck. I swore revenge and redemption and to return to this spot armed with the correct flies.

Of course, that was over a month ago, the business of life has once again interfered with my fishing. Impending trout season, and the early months of spring offer fine fishing for native steelhead, so I’m not sure I’ll be out again this year targeting the mighty Dolly.

Dolly Varden inhabit most of our easily accessible West-side rivers such as the Sauk, Skykomish and Skagit rivers. They prefer the slower, “tail-out” sections of rivers, and will willingly take spoons, bait or flies. The best time to fish for them is late fall through spring, although you may hook up with one any month of the year.


Born in the Olympic snows, fed by the Pacific rains, the Hoh hurries down to the sea. In its high-mountain headwaters, the river is a precocious infant, skirting the base of glaciers, then growing as it absorbs the product of a hundred springs and tributaries, the rainforest runoff and the amber-stained water of the cedar swamps.

Hardly more than a brook at first, it grows quickly in size and strength and rumbles out of the mountains a full-fledged river with great sound and vigor and passes into the canyons of the Hoh Rain Forest. The Year of the AnglerFrom the forest it flows on to the brief coastal plain, dropping more gently now, restless in its passage, sprawling out and drawing in, seeking new channels as it passes through land scarred from logging. A short river as rivers go, it moves quickly from its source to where it meets the tide and is lost suddenly in the Pacific breakers.

The Hoh is a very sensitive river throughout the year, quickly turning to latte brown at even the slightest hint of rain–in the summer, a hot day will do the river in by melting the glacier a bit too fast. In the winter, the Hoh is always the first river to blow out and the last to drop back in. When it is fishable, it can be one of the most productive rivers in the state. There is a good run of fish in this famous river nearly year round. In the winter you can count on good numbers of steelhead. In the late spring, the summer kings start arriving and are soon followed by good numbers of summer run steelhead. Then in the fall some of the biggest salmon in the state are making their way upstream under the usual cover of muddy water and floodlike conditions. Check the regs as the seasons can be fickle and it have been known to close if escapement numbers do not materialize for any of its noted anadromous runs.

Rivers by Region

Olympic Peninsula

From the Quinalt to Hood Canal:

  • Bogachiel
  • Calawah
  • Dungeness
  • Elwha
  • Hoh
  • Queets
  • Sol Duc

Northwest Region

From the B.C. Border to the Stillaguamish:

  • Nooksack
  • Samish
  • Sauk
  • Skagit
  • Stillaguamish

Seattle Region

From the Snohomish to the Puyallup:

  • Green
  • Pilchuck
  • Puyallup
  • Skykomish
  • Snohomish
  • Snoqualmie

SW and Eastside

The entire rest of the state:

  • Carbon
  • Columbia
  • Cowlitz
  • Elochoman
  • Grande Ronde
  • Humptulips
  • Kalama
  • Lewis
  • Methow
  • Naselle
  • Nisqually
  • Satsop
  • Skookumchuck
  • Washougal
  • Wynoochee

Other Resources

Washington Fly Fishing Club (WFFC)
The Washington Fly Fishing Club. Here you find information on conservation, fly fishing, fly tying and fly casting instruction, youth programs, fishing reports and much more.

Creekside Angling Company
1308 4th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101, 206-405-fish

Pacific Fly Fishers
1018 – 164th Street SE, Mill Creek, WA 98012, 425.742.2402

Red’s Fly Shop
P.O. Box 186 Ellensburg, WA 98926, (509) 929-1802

River Run Anglers
3946 Tolt Avenue, Carnation, WA 98014, 425-333-4446

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To top