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
Season: Year-round
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.


said on Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Weather is definitely a factor on the Yakima, to the extremes at times. In the summertime the air temp's hover around 90 degrees and as high as the low 100's. Wintertime brings frigid temperatures with a large section of the lower river between Umtanum and Roza freezing over. However, it's the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall where the weather really shines and so does the fishing. As early as mid-February, the Yakima's skwala hatch is one of the earliest on the West Coast and gets the attention of both anglers and fish. As the weather and fishing improves, water clarity can be an issue when the tributaries start to course with snowmelt - the Teanaway can often stain the river down from it's confluence near East Cle Elum, but there's still great fishing between Easton and the confluence. March Browns and BWO patterns are in every Yakima anglers fly box along with the skwalas.

When irrigration flows increase (typically late May to early June) it takes a while for the fish to get used to the higher and colder water, but once they do it's lights-out fishing with stonefly patterns, caddis, and Green Drake's in some sections. Summertime means on the water before the sun, off in the heat of the day, and evening floats until dark - often as late as 10 PM. During recent years, water temperatures have increased to the high 60'sf and anglers are advised to limit their angling or impact on the Yakima's wild Westslope and Rainbow Trout by quicky playing fish, keeping them in the water, and reviving before releasing. You'll have plenty of company from recreational floaters using the river for a break from the heat, so be prepared for crowds of people in every craft imaginable floating the river. Avoid anchoring up in places where uncontrolled floaters can run into you.

Yakima flows stay at summertime irrigation levels until the first week of September in general, and once that "flop" occurs, it signals some of the most productive fishing of the year all the way through October in most years. Terrestrials are very effective, and the biggest caddis of the year start to emerge - the October Caddis. If it's big, orange, and clumsy on the surface you'll get fish to rise and slash at it. My favorite time of the year by far!


said on Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Thanks for the comments and tips Derek, I love fishing in the fall too. I also enjoyed the images on your website www.emergingrivers.com. This area is definitely on my list.


Add Content