Fly Fishing Report: May 2023

Fly Fishing Report: May 2023

It has been absolutely lovely around Bellingham over the last several weeks. Sure, we’ve had our bouts with rain and wind here and there but overall it’s been amazing to be outside and on the water. Though the few open sections of the Skagit have been pumping dirty water between the precipitation and snowmelt, both stillwaters and Puget Sound have been fishing awesome lately for a variety of species. The busy fly shop is always a great indicator that folks are out enjoying time on the water (or at least getting ready to) and we’ve certainly taken advantage of the long daylight hours and managed some time afloat ourselves. One of my favorite things about our local area is the sheer variety of fish species one can pursue with a fly rod within little more than an hour’s drive. In the last two weeks I’ve swung steelhead, skated chum fry patterns for sea run bull trout and cutthroat, caught planted rainbows in nearby lakes, along with largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, bluegill and even one yellow perch. There’s something exciting about not knowing what’s going to eat your fly on the next catch that draws me back again and again.

The big event this month, outside of fishing as much as possible is Speyapalooza on Saturday, May 20th. This massively fun annual event originally took place during the month of December, which is almost universally cold and terribly moist. When the opportunity finally arose, we happily decided to move the event to May. Now even May in the Northwest can be many things and we’ve seen it all. Last year I spent much of the event in rain gear and gloved hands. Fast forward to this year and check out the extended forecast for Rockport, WA. At the risk of jinxing things weather-wise, you’re definitely going to want to be there to check out the latest in two-handed rods. If you’re looking to get some free casting instruction you can sign up here. Don’t forget to bring your waders and boots so you can get in the Skagit River and test drive a few rods.

Thanks for coming out of the woodwork after a long cold winter to support your local fly shop. We know we wouldn’t be here without you and appreciate all that you do. Be sure to check out our sale section as we have a number of great opportunities for discounted new gear coming up. See you on the water or in the shop!


Local planted lakes like Cain, Toad and Padden got off to a slow start in April just after the opener, but with a series of warmer days, most of them are fishing really consistently right now. Buggers in olive, black and brown, Olive Willy’s, Carey Specials and Soft Hackles are working well subsurface. Parachute Adams, Adult Midges and Tom Thumbs have been capitalizing on the dry fly bite when the lake is calm and fish are rising. Chironomids continue to be the predominant menu item from Pass and Lone lakes to the eastside and BC interior lakes as well. With warm weather coming up, damsels and dragonfly nymphs will become increasingly important to have in the fly box along with both nymphal and adult stages of callibaetis mayflies. On a side note, the North Cascades Highway is scheduled to open this week, making the trek to your favorite north central Washington lakes far more convenient. Less drive time equals more fishing time.

Bass and panfish fishing has been surprisingly good around Whatcom County in the last couple of weeks. Lake Whatcom is still a tad cold for good smallmouth fishing in the shallows and water temps have been in the low 50’s. Lake Samish typically runs a bit warmer and I caught some nice pre-spawn smallies in Samish earlier this week. On sunny afternoons when the lake’s surface heats up, we’re finding panfish on gurglers and small poppers. If they’re not higher in the water column sunning themselves, olive or black Balanced Leeches or the TB Red-Head Buggers and Bluegill Bullies fished down a few feet will do the trick. The spiny ray fishing will only improve with the coming hot weather.


The Skagit continued to fish well through the end of April when it closed for steelhead. I had mixed feelings about being out there with the river being really the only option in the Puget Sound area for steelhead. It was certainly busy, but with that came the opportunity to run into some folks I hadn’t seen or fished with in a great while along with new encounters with some really cool people. For a crowded river, the fishing etiquette remained generally positive. I spent a number of days fishless and a few that kindly produced a steelhead or two. Swinging flies on a big river in beautiful surroundings has always been its own reward. If you have to catch fish to be happy, then steelheading is probably not for you.

Following the steelhead closure at the end of April, the Skagit opened for spring chinook from the Memorial Hwy Bridge in Mount Vernon up to Gilligan Creek on May 1st. There’s a lot of turbid water pushing through the system right now and with the upcoming heat wave and impending snow melt, it’s likely to stay that way for a while. The state general river and stream opener is the Saturday before Memorial Day towards the end of the month. Typically water will be flowing high and fast, but if you look to non-snowfed streams like Whatcom Creek and the Samish, you’ll tend to find them in better fishing shape.


North Sound is fishing really well for cutthroat and some bull trout in the Skagit Bay area. Be sure to stock up on chum fry patterns, small Clousers, Rio’s Just Keep Swimming and Flash Drive 2.0’s. Chum fry are just starting to get thick up our way so we’d expect this fishery to last at least another month.

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