100 Best: Yakima River
Location: Central Washington
Type of stream: Top-draw tailwater
Angling methods: Fly, spin
Species: Rainbows, Cutthroat, Chinooks, Cohos
Access: Easy to moderate
Supporting Services: Yakima, Ellensberg
Short take: Best bet for spring and fall
Handicapped Access: No
Closest TU Chapter: Yakima
The Yakima, maybe more than other western rivers, wrestles with the vagaries of patterns of weather. Cool moist Pacific air moving to the southwest passes over Seattle and other coastal cities and is forced upward by the western flanks of the Cascade Mountains. In spring this can produce anywhere from 60 to 250 inches of rain per year.
The top draw tailwaters from Keechelus, Kachess, Easton, and Cle Elum dams can generally be counted on to be clear enough to fish during most years. But according to Alex Conely, executive director of the Yakima Basin Fish and Wildlife Recovery Board, “In the last few years we’ve had high dirty water from late April through July—enough to really limit fishing.” Irrigation needs keep the Yak’s flows at about 4,000 cfs into August, then it drops to between 1000 to 500 cfs as dams at the river’s head end close their gates to gather water for the next season.
From Keechelus Dam down to Thrall, the Yak first resembles a small forest stream and, at the town of Cle Elum, begins to meander through more and more farmland. This small water holds nice populations of cutthroats, rainbows, and brookies. Much of the land in this reach is privately owned and access is spotty. Where you can get in, the river is easily waded.
At Thrall, the Yak enters a reach called the “Lower Canyon.” Dry ridges of basalt and sparse stands of cottonwood begin to frame the river. Its course, though is fairly gentle as it winds through a narrow open valley. No cataracts, plunge pools, or boulder fields here. You’ll find rainbows and cutthroats in pockets, riffles, and runs. Prominent hatches included baetis, March browns, crane flies, caddis, salmon flies, and pale morning duns. Terrestrials are super as well.