"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness...." ~Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
We find sometimes ourselves at an utter loss for words as to how to portray our upcoming fall fisheries and the many profound changes faced by anglers in Pugetropolis this season. Borrowing a classic few from Charles Dickens seems to best paint the dichotomous canvas of what we look forward to over the next few months. We're convinced that looking forward is indeed the best approach, for when time closes the last chapter on our 2016 fisheries, we hope that next year's pages hold a little more promise.
As glass half full kind of guys, The Confluence Fly Shop will endeavor to focus on everything to be excited about, choosing not to dwell indefinitely on what's not happening this year. That said, if you're not a glass half full sort of person, we'd encourage you to become one. This outlook will add immeasurable enjoyment to your days on the water. A hint of autumn permeates the air, the nights are cooling, the leaves grow explosively colorful and some days even crackle pleasurably underfoot as a gentle breeze gusts them over the trail to your intended destination. September is the drumroll ushering in some of the finest fishing of the year. This is the season so many anglers look forward to each and every day. Remember the reasons however personal they may be and do your darnedest to make it happen.
Right now the Stillaguamish (main, north and south forks) are closed until November 1st to protect coho that are projected to be in low abundance. The Skagit and Sauk along with tributaries below fish passage barriers will be closed as well from September 15th through December 1st for the same reason. Unfortunately, we are losing some of our better freshwater sea run cutthroat and bull trout fisheries this season in the process. The Nooksack remains open and is seeing good numbers of coho returning to the lower river right now. We don’t see a lot of cutthroat in the Nooksack, but typically do see some larger fish hanging out in the river below Lynden. The main Nooksack is open up to the yellow marker behind the FFA Barn in Deming currently, with the North, South and remainder of the main forks opening October 1st for salmon.
With the widespread gutting of our coho season throughout most of the Puget Sound, we are fortunate to have one of the few in river coho fisheries intact and in our backyard. Fly fishing coho success on the Nooksack is largely a matter of matching your fly to the water conditions. In clear water, as one will typically find on the South Fork in October, small sparse flies like green or blue California Neils, Rolled Muddlers and Coho Buggers in size #6-#8 typically produce best. In the main stem, where visibility seldom exceeds 2-3 feet, larger profiled patterns like Conehead Alaskabou’s in Popsicle, Pixie’s Revenge and Manhattan Beach color schemes, Chrome Magnets and pink or purple Starlight Leeches fair better. Fish floating or intermediate lines and longer leaders with weighted flies to achieve a presentation that allows your fly to jig vertically through the water column as you strip it back to you. Coho really like it when your fly does that.
The upper Nooksack above the falls along with its tributaries continue to fish well into the fall for trout and in some instances char using small attractor dry flies like yellow Royal Humpies, Stimulators, Purple Haze and Elk Hair Caddis. This time of year we begin to see some big October Caddis clumsily fluttering above the water. Having a handful of October Caddis dries or big orange Stimulators is a good call both east and west of the Cascades for the fall season in the Northwest.
The Upper Skagit in BC above Ross Lake is another fantastic trout option for the fall. #16-#18 Adams and Parachute Adams, Purple Haze, #18 Blue Winged Olives and a few #12 Tom Thumbs to match the smattering of Green Drakes that pop after Labor Day are good choices. Fishing subsurface with small Beadhead Pheasant Tails, Zug Bugs, Twenty Incher stones, and soft hackles also work well when the fish are less inclined toward the surface. If you’re a streamer nut as we are, some of the larger resident rainbows and especially the migratory fall bull trout are suckers for a well-presented sculpin or baitfish imitation. Sculpzillas, Kiwi Muddlers, Wounded Sculpins, Squirrel Leeches and Dali Llamas are some of the more effective patterns right now.
Also north of the border, the Fraser tributaries are seeing a few coho moving in, though the salmon fishing typically gets much better toward late September and into October. For coho, #6-#8 California Neils in green, blue or pink, green Sparkle Buggers, Rolled Muddlers, white Coho Buggers and small flash flies are essential.
If you’re heading east of the Cascades, the Yakima has been fishing well with Blue Wing Olives (especially on overcast days), Craneflies, October Caddis, and Bugmeisters with a #18 Lightning Bug dropper. Most of the Methow remains open through the end of September. We are anxiously waiting to see if we’ll have a fall steelhead fishery on the Methow this year but the Upper Columbia steelhead dam counts don’t look stellar so far. We get a lot of questions daily on what’s open or opening and while we’d love to have a mainline to the WDFW and inside scoop, one of your best resources is to sign up for the WDFW’s emergency update alerts. You too can be elated or disappointed in real-time if you own a smartphone.
While we often overlook many of our stillwater fisheries during the late summer and fall in favor of salmon and steelhead fisheries that normally dominate the season, the cooling trend we experience around now often signals some of the better lake fishing of the year. The fish are characteristically plump and feeding with wild abandon with the onset of a cold, metabolically slow winter and the fishing can be really, really good. Fewer bugs hatch in the fall, and staples like scuds, leeches, and forage fish patterns become really prevalent through the next few months.
Many of our lowland put and take lakes like Padden, Silver and Cain will begin fishing again and although will have fewer fish than we found in spring, can produce some nicer rainbows that survived through the late spring and summer. Small black or olive Woolly Buggers, black, green or red Spratleys and peacock Carey Specials work well. Be sure to bring a box of midge patterns as well as we’ll see scattered hatches of chironomids that are notably smaller than those of spring. #20 Griffith’s Gnats, black Paramidges, Parachute Adams, Stillborn Midges and CDC Emergers are catching fish, particularly on Squalicum. Pass and Lone Lakes fish well with a variety of micro leeches like Hale Bopps, Squirrel Leeches and Simi Seal Leeches through the fall. We also like stripping big Zonkers in white, black, olive and natural around the shoreline deadfalls and brush on Pass.
Sometimes you’ll find big browns and the odd rainbow busting bait on a cool calm evening and targeting this activity with a Zonker or Rolled Muddler can account for an exciting few hours of fishing a handful of really nice trout. If you’re an alpine lakes aficionado, the clock is ticking and you have a few more weeks to explore the high country before it begins getting too cold up there. Virtually any fly will work at times, but Renegades, Royal Wulffs, Mosquitos, Black Gnats, Adams, Mickey Finns, Zug Bugs, Peacock Soft Hackles, Woolly Buggers and Beadhead Hare’s Ears have proven really effective in the fall.
September and October are arguably the best months to check out Ross Lake and it’s big wild rainbows. As the water cools, trout move out of the depths and actively work the shorelines in pursuit of abundant redside shiners. A variety of streamers work, from olive or white Zonkers to Olive Beldar Buggers. The white/olive Beadhead Dude Friendly and Thin Mint are two of our consistent favorites on the lake. Fish them on a type 6 full sink around the steep rocky shorelines and points. You can launch a watercraft at Hozomeen or the International Campgrounds via BC or rent one from Ross Lake Resort. Check out the North Cascades chapter in 25 Best National Parks to Fly Fish for more info on this fishery.
Autumn in the hills is an ethereal experience with the landscape ablaze in fiery vine maple and mountain blueberry. Beyond the fine fall fishing in the western foothills of the Cascades, it’s prime time to sample some of the Northwest’s finest bounties: Black huckleberries and chanterelles. Shore-bound anglers often struggle to reach sufficient distance to catch trout feeding closer to the center of the lake. Often back casting room and other obstacles limit our casting abilities to all but the most heroic roll cast. OPST’s new Commando Heads are suited for rods down to 3 and 4 weights and we’re finding they’re an ace in the hole when your back is literally against a wall.
Our second tuna trip planned for early September was once again thwarted due to stormy seas and uncooperative weather. The good news is that we’re already planning for next year and have a staggering arsenal of tuna flies ready to ply the deep blue Pacific. If you’d like to join us on one of next year’s albacore fly trips, let us know and we’ll contact you once we have dates set up in early spring. We’ve learned this is a highly weather dependent gig, but like any fishery, you can’t succeed if you don’t try.