As it so often does, our Northwest summer seems to be trickling by all too quickly and we’re already into the dog days of August. It’s refreshing to find a few cooler cloudy days intermittently breaking the cycle of palpable scorchers. Besides, those are arguably the best ones to fish. We’d normally be ramping up for our favorite few months roaming the Puget Sound beaches after bright coho feeding with wild abandon before spilling into the rivers as the fall rains commence. Things have been a little off with so many of our fisheries this year to put it mildly and it’s disheartening to lose those opportunities we relish most.
As fishermen and women, part of the drill is learning to make the best of a bad situation. If you’ve yet to discover that element of the sport, stick with it long enough and you either will or relegate your soul to unending depression. We’ve had our fill of disappointments, from a thwarted albacore fly fishing trip due to unexpectedly angry seas, emergency closures or shortened seasons. We’ve also had some memorable days catching more fish than we deserved, bonus evenings on the water with inseparable friends and a hearty taste of the incredible variety of fisheries our special region has to offer. Fishing is often making lemonade out of the lemons you’re served up. There’s still a lot to enjoy out there if you know where to look and have the willingness to explore.
Moving water is really the place to be right now and we’ve done our darnedest to sample a little bit of everything over the last month, from summer steelhead to little brook trout in tumbling mountain streams. We’re blessed with a little more water than last year and many of the rivers continue to fish, though remain low and often very clear. The Sky and Stilly have been fishing decent for summer steelhead on the swing. I picked up a nice wild fish on the NF Stilly early in July and fish have continued to trickle into both systems.
Gray days are notably your best options or painfully early and well into the evening. Think small stuff for fly patterns. The classic Skunks and Purple Perils still have their place in the fly box, but you’ll want them small and sparse. We don’t tend to think of #14 Hare’s Ear Soft Hackles as steelhead flies but they can be surprisingly effective on dry lines and long, light leaders when the flows are at their lowest. Skating dries like Muddlers and Steelhead Caddis also work well this time of year. Many fish grow dour by this point in the summer until the fall freshets wake them up. In my experience, steelhead will either move to a skated fly or they won’t, but they’ll typically not spook unless you flub a cast. A big black leech on the other hand either inspires primal aggression or sends them scurrying downriver to the next run. Take your pick.
The Skagit and Sauk have been fishing decent for bull trout and pretty much the entire system is fishing. The Sauk can get a little milky below the Suiattle on the hottest of days, but it’s remained remarkably clear through much of the summer. Bulls are fall spawners and tend to spawn very high in the system. They also prefer colder water where available. Focus around creek mouths and deeper runs where fish will stage before making the arduous climb into tributaries so remote you can’t fish for them. This time of year, we like light or short sink tips and Dali Llamas, Kiwi Muddlers, Zonkers and Sculpin patterns. While swinging the fly certainly produces its share of fish, don’t hesitate to strip a streamer back across the pool at a lively pace. Bulls are chasers this time of year and pack a punch when they grab a fleeing baitfish pattern. Cover a lot of water quickly. You will fish a lot of fishless runs before you stumble on the motherload. We find some surprisingly nice rainbows fishing the same tactics on our local streams.
The Upper Skagit above Ross Lake in BC is fishing well this year with a mix of bulls and rainbows. Rainbows like #16-18 Adams and Parachute Adams, ant or beetle patterns, #16 tan, yellow or peacock Caddis, #20 Griffiths Gnats, #16-18 PMD Sparkle Duns and it’s never a bad idea to keep a few Green Drake Emergers and Green Paradrakes in your box. The Drake hatch usually peters out in August but kicks back in after Labor Day. Subsurface, #16 Soft Hackles, #18-20 Pheasant Tails, #14-16 BH Prince Nymphs and #10 Twenty Incher Stones do the trick. For big bulls, Wounded Sculpins, Conehead Double Bunnies and Dali Llamas are gold on a sink tip or poly leader.
We’ve been getting more and more into using the OPST Commando heads with our streamer fishing. They’re back in stock and truly out of this world for single hand spey casting on your lighter trout rods. The Methow and Chewuch continue to fish well and are in pretty good shape right now. Think Hoppers, Chubby Chernobyls and big Stimulators with a small BH Lightning Bug dropper or employing the same streamer tactics we use for bull trout to seek out some of the bigger rainbows and cutthroat in the system.
Lastly we continue to have more fun than we ever should exploring the countless small creeks draining the Cascades. Depending on the watershed, we find rainbow, cutthroat, brook trout or dolly varden, typically smaller in size, but you’ll find the occasional 10-12 inch fish out there. It’s an active, adventuresome pursuit fishing pocket water with each spot seldom requiring more than a cast or two. Fish are rarely selective and will take a variety of high floating, visible flies. We like just about anything in the Wulff family. You’ll want a tiny rod to really make this fun and Echo and Redington offer some amazing 2 and 3 weights at remarkably affordable prices in the $100-$200 range. Come check out our selection and then go explore some of the faintest blue lines in the Gazetteer.
We fished the Hexagenia hatch on Whatcom throughout July and had an amazing time with a fair number of bass and trout coming to the top. Some nights had more activity than others. You have to imagine that when wolfing down big bugs like Hexagenia, the fish just get full sometimes. We still continue to see a few big mayflies coming off at dusk, but the hatch is winding down. Continue fishing Clousers, Zonkers and Zoo Cougars for bass around the rocky edges. We are seeing some nice fish out there.
Alpine Lakes throughout the Cascades are fishing very well and should continue into the late summer until the snow begins to fall. #16 Mosquitos, #16 Parachute Adams, Ant Patterns, #20 Griffiths Gnats, #18 CDC Chironomid Emergers and Para-Midges are where it’s at, along with Zug Bugs and Soft Hackles subsurface.
Ross Lake fished very well from the July opener and Tom up at the Ross Lake Resort shared with us that he was finding better fishing than usual on Dude Friendly’s, Twin Lake Specials and large BH Woolly Buggers. In the heat of August, expect fish to suspend a little deeper in the water column and focus your fishing to early and late in the day. As we move into September and October, expect some of the best fishing of the season for impressively large, wild rainbow trout and char. If you own a small craft, fishing the north end of the lake around Hozomeen is pretty easy. It’s a great jumping off point with a larger craft or kayak to explore the entirety of the 24-mile long lake. If you’re boat-less, call the Ross Lake Resort to arrange a boat rental. You’ll be glad you did.
As alluded to earlier, our inaugural Albacore Tuna trip out of Hammond, Oregon got weathered out last weekend due to tumultuous seas. The tuna were ranging 40-50 miles offshore and we simply couldn’t move fast enough with the big swell and wind chop to make it out and back with enough time to fish. We’re back on the horse and working on an early September trip to catch the hardest pulling fish you can lick with a 12 weight (or at least try to).
With the lack of salmon fishing in the Sound we’ve been remiss in hitting the beaches lately. The Area 9 chinook fishery ended early once the small quota was met and we didn’t have an opportunity to get our to our usual haunts. Our good friend Colin at Flanagan Fly Fishing is reporting great sea run cutthroat fishing around Hood Canal on small juvenile sand lance patterns.