Fly Fishing Washington
Washington is a playground for fly fishing anglers. From saltwater options to freshwater mountain lakes, the state has abundant opportunities for everyone. We have taken quite a few fishing trips to Washington over the years due to its amazing landscape and the different fish species we like to target.
What makes Washington so cool is that it is pretty much split in half when it comes to its geography. Residents call the two parts of the state the “Wet side” and the “Dry side.” The west side of the state has the Cascade Mountains, rainforests, and a Mediterranean climate. The east side has a dry climate with large areas of semiarid steppe and arid deserts. If you go far east or to the northeast part of the state, the rainfall starts up again.
We have fished all around the state and have had plenty of fun everywhere we went. This blog will touch on the different fish species you can target, when to find them, what fly patterns to use, equipment to pack, and the best times of year to head out. A few of us just got back a few weeks ago from a western Washington fly fishing trip, we had a blast!
Let’s dive in!
What fish species are in Washington?
The two main species that anglers target the most are the salmon and trout. For salmon, there is sockeye, kokanee, coho, and chinook. For trout, steelhead, rainbow, brown, bull, cutthroat, brook, and Dolly Varden.
Other fish in Washington are largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, grass carp, yellow perch, black crappie, bluegill, white sturgeon, green sturgeon, catfish, tiger muskie, bullhead, and walleye.
When we fly fish in Washington, we normally head out for the salmon or trout, but we have caught plenty of bass, bluegill, and walleye. Mountain stream and lake fishing for cutties and rainbows are my favorite, but I am also a huge fan of river fly fishing! Regardless of what you want to target, Washington will be sure to deliver.
Best places to fish in Washington
Let’s break the top river picks into 4 different regions due to the size of the state and the different geography.
Looking for some badass steelhead fly fishing? The west is top notch as it has the Olympic Peninsula. I believe the best river is the Hoh River if you are thinking of a winter trip. You will want to target the lower part of the river, as it is the most popular. Steelhead, salmon, and cutthroat are the most common in the Hoh River. If you want to target rainbows and browns, head up to the northern part.
The Hoh River starts out on the famous Mount Olympus. The river winds through snowy mountains and rainforests making it an incredibly gorgeous site to see.
A few other hot spots for fishing in western Washington are the Sauk River, Skagit River, and the Sol Duc River.
The Sol Duc River is a smaller river that is filled with steelhead. Great fishing is in the summer and winter months. Coho and Chinook salmon can be fished out of the Sol Duc as well.
Take a drive Northeast of Seattle to the Skagit River and you will find more beauty steelhead and salmon. If you want to switch it up a little, you can head out to the Sauk River and try your hand at catching some bull trout.
If a high desert setting and landing trout on your fly rod are what you are after, then Eastern Washington is for you. Rocky Ford Creek would be the best. I know what you are thinking, there can’t be that big of trout in a creek. However, the Rocky Ford Creek does have some decent sized trout in it. Keep in mind that wading in the creek is not allowed.
When it comes to other great fly fishing spots in the east, Spokane River is the only other one that comes to mind. Most of the area is full of creeks that are on private land. If you are wanting to head out to the Spokane River, it is most commonly fished by boat due to its size.
Salmon and steelhead are common in the Cowlitz and it is known as one of the best rivers in the state. In the winter and summer, runs of steelhead will be on. Spring and fall you will see Chinook salmon, and in just the fall the Coho will prevail. Trout are also popular in the Cowlitz, but I find that most anglers target the steelhead and salmon. Drift boats are very popular on this river.
Other great rivers in the southwest are the Lewis River and the Kalama River. The upper parts of the Lewis are flush with bulls and rainbows, and the lower parts have steelhead and salmon. When it comes to the Kalama River, steelhead prevail once again.
South Central Washington
The most popular river is the Yakima River that is overflowing with steelhead and different trout. Anglers in search of a solid trout river need to try the Yakima. You will want to fish it by boat, and there are plenty of guides that you can hire. A common part of the river is between Easton and Roza dams. If you don’t have a boat, head out to this area as there is some good bank access. Summer through fall are the best months to fish the Yakima, but it is open year-round.
The Grande Ronde River and the Naches River are both solid choices as well. Steelhead are prevalent in the Grande Ronde River, especially in the fall months. If fishing near a bunch of other anglers isn’t your thing, then head out to the Naches River for some large rainbows from mid-summer to fall.
What fly fishing gear to use in Washington
The gear you need will depend on the size of fish that you are targeting. Your standard 5-6 weight fly rod and reel are perfect for trout fishing in lakes, rivers, and streams. 7-9 weight rods are ideal for salmon and steelhead as they are generally larger fish.
One of the main reasons that you will want a heavier weighted rod for salmon fishing is because you will need to use larger fly patterns. Casting with a fly rod that has a heavier weight will make getting your fly our further much easier than if you try with a 5 or 6 weight rod. The same goes for the fly line.
Most rivers are accessible to fish from shore, so waders will be needed for that. Generally, fishing from a boat does produce more fish because you will be able to hit all the best holes in a single day.
Fly patterns for fly fishing in Washington
Depending on where you plan on fishing, the patterns can change significantly. The same goes for the size of hook that you will need to use. Bass, salmon and steelhead will need larger hooks than that of trout and other smaller fish. The common patterns are always a good place to start, regardless of where you head out fishing.
One of the things we do before heading out on a fishing trip is to call the local fly shop where we are going. We then ask what patterns the fish are currently biting and what fish we should be targeting at that specific time. Anglers like to go into these shops to visit and share their stories and tips. Often the owners and workers of the fly shops are avid anglers as well.
Zinger Fishing offers a wide variety of different fly patterns and there are a few assortment kits with some of the most common patterns in them. The kits are a good place to start for any angler trying to increase their fly arsenal.
The winter months rarely get to freezing temperatures in most parts of the state. But it gets wet, and it is a wet cold. The summers are warm but not too hot. The overall climate of Washington is what makes it so perfect for fishing, not too cold or hot.
You will want to take extra layers with you if you are fishing the winter months. Switching out to dry clothes mid way through the day is always nice!
Fly fishing Washington overall experience
The trout, salmon, and steelhead are spectacular fish to catch and luckily they are abundant in Washington. We take fishing trips to this state every year and there is a reason we keep going back. The scenery of the northwestern states are amazing. Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Montana are breathtaking. I am a huge fan of fishing in places that make you sit there and go wow! The picture above is of a Dolly Varden trout we caught, the colors were amazing on the fish!
If you like reading about fly fishing, our Zinger Fishing blog has a wide variety of different articles. We cover places to fish, what patterns to use, techniques, gear, and everything else to help fellow anglers land more fish in their nets.