The beautiful state of Washington is inundated with fly fishing rivers, streams, and lakes. This place is simply a fly fisherman’s dream world.
On the coast there’s the Pacific Northwest rainforest whose steelhead filled streams we all fantasize over. And as you move East past the Cascades and into the high desert, you find rivers equally as beautiful, but much lesser known.
Every fly fisherman should make a trip to this state at some point. When you do, be sure to fish these 13 iconic Washington fly fishing destinations.
Best Places to Fly Fish in Washington State
1. The Yakima River
Bigger isn’t always better, but for Washington’s longest river, it is. The 214-mile long Yakima River is a gorgeous fishery that’s worth visiting for even non fishermen- for fishermen, it’s worth moving nearby. The Yakima originates high up in the Stuart Mountain Range, cuts through the basalt canyons in the valley, and terminates into the Columbia River.
Along the way, the river passes Mt. Daniel and Mt. Stuart, two nearly 10,000 foot peaks. These mountains and their neighbors are coated every winter with a thick blanket of snow which, in the spring, melts to fill the 4 reservoirs along the Yakima. Since these reservoirs interrupt what would be a torrential springtime flow, the river stays fishable even after the snowiest winters.
Also, since the Yakima is basically a tail water fishery, the Washington Department of Fish and Game can carefully maintain the habitat. And they’ve done a great job. The river supports wild populations of naturally spawning fish that are present in the system throughout the year.
The size of the fish in the river is on the rise, as are the number of fish. Because of this, the Yakima is becoming one of the premier fly fishing destinations in the country. But don’t get too worried about the crowds; with 214 miles of river, there’s enough holes for everyone.
The Yakima supports a population of fall spawning Chiniook Salmon. While these monsters lay their eggs in their beds each year, the trout gorge themselves on the leftovers. This helps the brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout grow to great size.
The Yakima River, though it’s a tailwater fishery, can fluctuate in size. Different levels of power demand during different times of the year can chance the Yakima from a comfortably wadable river, to a river that’s fishable only from a boat from late spring to summertime.
In the fall and winter, the Yakima becomes more easily fished on foot. The lower flows will allow you to get into the river and fish the deep runs and pools.
If you’re going to try to wade the Yakima while the water is high, you’ll mostly be relegated to fishing from the banks. Luckily, the high water pushes many of the fishes to the edges, so fishing from the shore can actually be advantageous. During these times, you’ll find that nymphing with dapping tactics can be very effective.
Where to Fly Fish on The Yakima
Since the Yakima is so long, I couldn’t even begin to tell you all the spots to fish. And along it’s entire distance, you’d be able to find a diversity of fishing opportunities.
The first major area that people fish is below Lake Easton, the Yakima’s first reservoir. You could fish north of the lake, but the water is smaller and less predictable. To fish below Easton, you can either access the river for wade fishing at the state park here:
Or you can find walk in and boat access at Ensign Ranch, here.
The Ranch is owned by the Church of Latter Day Saints, but the actual access is on public land. From this spot downriver for about five miles, the river is bordered by homes and cabins. This area of the river is known for a prolific Green Drake hatch.
Following the river downstream, you will find Bullfrog Road access point here:
The Yakima at this point is littered with logjams, tight corners, and sweepers, making it a difficult drift for inexperienced oarsmen. It’s best to fish this area on foot, or with an experienced guide (which isn’t a bad idea, because there are some huge fish in this section).
There is plenty of easy to find river access downstream from here. Some places to look for are East Cle Elum, KOA, The Beaver Trail, and Big Pines.
But the most famous section of the Yakima isn’t in the upper sections. That is found in the Yakima Canyon. Not only does the Canyon offer the most beautiful scenery on the Yakima, but the fish seem to be attracted to it as well.
The towering walls of the canyon surround the river and force it into a deep, cold flow- perfect for supporting huge populations of trout. The canyon runs from the town of Ellensburg south to the town of Yakima.
You can get to the river here:
But, your best bet to soak in the famous Yakima Canyon will be to contact a professional guide, and fish it from a drift boat. Check the end of this page for links to our favorite guides.
Recommended Flies for The Yakima
- The Yakima has an awesome big summer stonefly hatch that attracts some of the bigger fish to the surface
- Skwala Stoneflies hatch in the late winter
- BWOs start hatching in early spring
- Mother’s Day Caddis around the month of May. Use size 14-16 dries.
- In the fall when the flows slow down, fish the baetis hatch with Red Quill Spinners.
- In the summer, the heavy flows knock ants, beetles, and hoppers into the river where the fat trout lazily inhale them.
- Summer stoneflies hatch throughout the warm months
- The upper river has a strong fall BWO hatch and some Mahongany and Pale Evening Duns may show up as well.
- BIG STREAMERS in the fall.
Read about MY TOP RECOMMENDED Steelhead Streamers and Flies in this article: 17 Best Steelhead Flies
2. The Skagit River
The Skagit River is one of the biggest salmon and steelhead fisheries in the state. It’s flows originate in Canada at Ross Lake before being dammed by Ross and Diablo Dams. It holds all species of Pacific Salmon, sea-run cutties, and Dolly Varden. The steelhead in the Skagit run in summer and winter.
With hatchery raised steelhead entering the river in December and the monster, wild fish waiting until March and April, the Skagit River is notably different from other Pacific Norwest Steelhead fisheries in that the season goes much later. In the catch an release area of the Skagit, the 25 miles between Dalles Bridge to Bacon Creek, the steelhead average 12 pounds, and commonly reach 20.
The river is big, wide, and is covered with long, shallow runs and deep pools that steelhead love to hide in. Around every turn is a boulder, or large rock, that interrupts the flow of the gin clear water.
The Cascade River’s flow infects the Skagit’s with silt and sediment around Marblemount, but the clarity is prime in most of the river. Below this point, the river widens and slows down, until it reaches the confluence of the Sauk River. The Sauk can also affect the Skagit’s crystal clearness, especially after a big rain.
The giant wild steelhead are the main reason people fish the Skagit, but the hatchery steelhead keep the trout fishermen entertained as well. The Pink and silver salmon are the primary targets for salmon fishermen, with the Chinook run being significantly smaller. In the middle of all this, the Dolly Varden and sea-run cutties munch on the salmon and trout eggs, making for excellent targets.
Where to Fish on The Skagit River
Finding bank access on the Skagit can be tough. The river is also big and wide, so fishing it from the shore can be challenging even after you do find access. Because of that, fishing the Skagit from a boat is the most effective method.
But, if you decide to wade instead, you do have options for public access. Moving from the bay upriver, your first option is known as Big Ditch.
From there, there are several public access points within the city of Burlington, but as you may expect, they tend to get a lot of pressure. Outside of town, the pressure gets lighter, but the access gets more limited. Here’s a good place to walk in:
Recommended Flies for The Skagit River
- Metal Detectors, Megal Moal, Morrish’s Trailer Trash (these don’t sound real but ask a local fly shop)
3. The Hoh River
Visiting Washington’s Hoh River would be worth it even if you weren’t fishing. Located on the Olympic Peninsula, the river begins at the Hoh Glacier on the towering Mount Olympus. From there, the flows carve through the Olympic Mountains in the Olympic National Park before entering the valley and foothills below. The Hoh River terminates in the Pacific Ocean in an area owned by the Hoh Indians.
Along the way, the Hoh river is surrounded by gorgeous Pacific Northwest rainforest, snowcapped mountains, and abundant wildlife. In the National Forest section, you’ll float past some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world. If you’re lucky enough to make it out here, be sure to remember your camera- it will be as necessary as your fly rod.
The Hoh is known for its huge native steelhead that make their runs in the winter. These fish are supplemented with hatchery fish provided by Washington’s DFW and the Hoh Indian Tribe. These hatchery fish make their runs starting in November, and the natives mostly run in January.
Though the steelies primarily run in those months, they can actually be found in the Hoh throughout the year. As long as there’s enough water, you’ll have a chance at hooking one whenever you’re fishing.
The Hoh river also has an awesome Silver Salmon run. These fish average about 10 pounds, but twenty pounders are caught regularly. The King Salmon are less plentiful in the Hoh, but can surpass the 50 pound mark. If you want a shot at one of these, fish in the Fall.
Where To Fish on the Hoh River
The Hoh River is divided into three section. The North Fork, which is unsurprisingly the northernmost section, is fed by the Mt. Tom Glacier. The Middle Fork, which is also referred to as Tom and Glacier Creeks, is the next section downstream. Then you have the South Fork, which is supplied with water from the runoff of Humes Glacier. Throughout its flow, the Hoh has multiple small tributaries as well.
On all of these sections, the best way to fish the Hoh is from a drift boat. The Upper Hoh has three boat ramps- one just inside the park, one at Morgan’s crossing, and a third at Oxbow Campground. If you decide to wade the upper section, you’ll have to hunt around for a suitable gravel bar.
The Lower Hoh is bigger and slower than the Upper, and provides anglers the opportunity to fish for the salmon and steelhead before they see other flies. These are the freshest fish on the river, so this area gets crowded. You can launch your drift from either the Conttonwood camp area or Nolan Creek Car.
If drifting is not an option, or if you’re trying to get away from the crowds, you’ll want to head to the South Fork of the Hoh. This small tributary of the main river is near the National Park and it gets considerably less fishing pressure than the other sections. Since its also smaller, the South Fork is also great for wade fishermen looking to catch steelhead in a small stream. You can get to river here:
Recommended Flies for the Hoh River
- Intruders, General Practiroiners, Skagit Minnows, Skunks (as a local shop what these are)
If you need help selecting flies for The Hoh River or anywhere else, checkout this FREE Downloadable Hatch Chart.
4. The Stillaguamish River
The Stilly, as the locals call it, is an hour or so from Seattle. It’s fed by Cascade runoff and is formed by its North and South Forks. The river terminates into Puget Sound and holds winter and summer run steelhead, sea-run cutthroat trout, and four species of salmon.
In the summer, the stilly has a summer run of steelhead and they span in one of the river’s main tributaries, Deer Creek. This makes Deer Creek an awesome fly fishing destination itself.
The North Fork of the Stilly is 45 miles long and is a fly fishing only area- the first of which in the country. This makes it one of the most productive waters in the area.
5. The Sauk River
The Sauk River is a freestone stream that originates in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Though it’s a tributary of the Skagit River, the Sauk is one of the best wild steelhead fisheries in the country by its own right.
The river is usually gin clear, glacier runoff water, but it can turn murky after a big rain. Unfortunately, these big rains happen often in March and April, and that’s when the steelhead make their best runs. So, fishing the Sauk is a battle against not only the impossible to catch Steelhead, but also against the torrential weather of the Pacific Northwest.
Drifting the Sauk can be difficult due to the large boulders and swift rapids, but it can be done. The three launch points are at the South Skagit Highway bridge, the Darrington bridge, and the Suiattle River.
The Sauk is divided into three section: the upper, middle, and lower. And they all fish quite differently. The Upper section is small water and is difficult to (legally) get to. The Middle is a fast flowing torrent littered with giant rocks and rapids. And the lower section is a meandering wide, deep run with a few large sand and gravel bars.
6. The Skykomish River
Another river close to Seattle, the Skykomish is full of steelhead and salmon. The North and South forks of the Skykomish form the Snoqualmie River in Monroe. The Sky has both winter and summer run steelhead, four species of salmon, and a full run of cutties.
The sky isn’t the most consistent river in the area, so be sure to check with local fly shops or guides to see how it’s doing. But when it’s hot, it’s hot.
7. The Bogachiel River
The 50-mile long Bogachiel is one of the longest rivers in the Olympic National Park. With the catchy nicknames of “Bogie” and “Bogey,” it’s no surprise this river is a local favorite. The river is unique in the area because it isn’t fed by a glacier and it doesn’t have a major runoff period. Because of this, the Bogey has a longer fishing season then most Washington rivers
Most steelhead fishermen target the upper section of the Bogie, It’s a steeper incline that the lower, but it holds incredible numbers of hatchery steelhead.
The Bogey is most well known for its winter steelhead run from December into January. But it also holds Chinook Salmon, and a spring run of steelies. These fish, that run in March and April, are much bigger than their winter counterparts- sometimes reaching 20 to 30 pounds.
8. The Grande Ronde River
Besides having a fun name to say, the Grande Ronde River also boasts one of the most unique fly fishing opportunities in Washington. The majority of the river runs through a beautiful, but desolate canyon.
But, the valley flowing portion of the Grande Ronde river is separated from the canyon. The rock bottom river, at this point, is much more accessible, and can even be reached by road at some points.
During different times of the year, different sections of the Grande Ronde fish better than others, so be sure to talk to someone with boots on the ground to find out where you should go.
9. The Spokane River
The Spokane River begins at the Lake Couer d’Alene in Idaho, and terminates into the Columbia River. Along the way, it is hindered by six dams and the Spokane Falls tourist trap. Because of all these impediments, the river has a diverse fishing habitat.
Fishing on the Spokane all depends on water levels and in this area, that means it depends on the snowmelt. Around July until early October, the Spokane typically produces some good decent sized brown and rainbow trout.
A lot of sections of the river are too deep to wade, but if you don’t have a drift boat you can find good success around the Riverside State Park.
10. The Calawah River
The gin clear, fast flowing waters of the 31 mile long Calwah River hold some of the biggest steelhead in the state. It has steep pocket water ideal for nymphing, and big open areas that beg for a swung fly.
But, while it’s full of great fishing opportunities, it also produces challenges. It is a very difficult river to navigate on a drift boat, and will test even the expert rower. If you’re going to drift the Calawah, hire a guide.
If you’re going to wade fish the Calawah, you’ll want to focus on the areas around Bogachiel ponds and the Tall Timbers access points.
11. The Cowlitz River
The Cowlitz River is unique in that it provides migratory fishing opportunities every month of the year. This is the perfect spot if you’re trying to chase after fish of multiple species. It holds Coho and Chinook, summer and winter steelhead, and sea run cutties.
My main reason to fish the Cowlitz isn’t the steelhead or the salmon, it’s the cutties. The river is just full of them and they’re of decent size. But the steelhead and giant salmon are fun too.
12. The Naches River
The Naches River ends its 75-mile long flow by terminating into the Yakima River. It is formed by runoff from the nearby Cascade Mountain range.
Unfortunately, the Naches gets a huge amount of spring runoff, so it isn’t usually fishable until the end of June. But around that time, the fishing gets hot for both rainbow and cutthroat trout. These fish will mostly be in the 14 inch range, but 20 inch fish are possible.
13. The Sol Duc River
The Sol Duc is one of the state’s most productive Steelhead fisheries. Located on the Olympic Peninsula, it provides incredible fishing for the migratory fish in the winter. But, if you plan on fishing the winter run for steelies, be sure you dress for fiercely cold, miserable conditions.
The Sol Duc also holds Coho, Sockeye, and King Salmon.
Recommended Gear for Fly Fishing in Washington
Fly fishing in Washington may require some bigger tackle than you’re used to. Your trust 9-foot 5 weight will get the job done in some places, but if you manage to hook a fish on the bigger water with it, you’ll be in trouble.
So, I recommend fishing with a 7, 8, or 9 weight single handed fly rod at about 10 feet of length for nymphing and throwing streamers. Or, fishing with a 6, 7, or 8 weight spey or switch rod for swinging flies.
Many of the rivers in Washington are best fished from a drift boat, so investing in one of those would pay off as well.
Official References for Fly Fishing in Washington
- Looking for licensing information and regulations? Go to the Washington Department of Fishing and Wildlife – https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations
- If you’re looking for fishing reports the state of Washington also maintains this fishing reports page – https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/reports
- If you’d like to read up on the details of fly fishing in WA check out this book. (Picture links to Amazon for availability and reviews)
Popular Fly Shops in Washington
- Red’s Fly Shop is an INTERNET Powerhouse. This is a shop that is devoted to giving to the fly fishing community – Check them out here – https://www.redsflyshop.com/
- Looking for a little bit of everything fly fishing? The team at Emerald Waters Anglers can guide, teach, sell and travel. Link –
- Gig Harbor Fly Shop has been in the “Biz” since 2004 feel confident in their advice. http://gigharborflyshop.com/