Beating the heat is the name of the game. As a fair-skinned dude of Danish descent, I’m not really wired for hot weather. I get sluggish, nauseated and bake in the sun like an overcooked steak. I know we’re not accustomed to real heat here in the Northwest but anything over 75 gets me seeking a cool and comfortable refuge. Since I don’t own an air conditioner or even a well-functioning fan, the water is my place to be whenever I get the chance.
A quiet evening fishing bass as the sun slips behind the hill, an afternoon trek up a shaded mountain stream or an early morning sojourn to the beaches of Whidbey to seek out coho before the morning layer burns off-these are but a few of the ways I survive the August heat and some of the highlights to be enjoyed in our summer fisheries. Salmon are moving in the salt, the creeks are fishing fabulous and the spiny rays are still going nuts on the surface in the last few hours of light and sometimes on into the night. It’s a fun time to be fishing to say the least.
Our Spey Wednesdays are winding down with only a couple left for the season. Thanks to all who’ve turned out over the last couple of months. It’s always enjoyable getting to know new folks and watching people learn and improve their skills with the two-handed rod. Be sure to mark your calendars for the August 14th Spey Night as Erik Johnson with Sage/Redington will be there with a bunch of the brand new Sage Trout Spey HD rods to demo. In the meantime, fish hard, take in some sunshine and savor the remainder of summer. The next one is a ways away.
Mountain creeks continue to fish very well, along with the upper NF Nooksack above the falls. While the trout and char you find up there tend to be plentiful but small, we’ve been surprised by the occasional mega-trout in a handful of places that shall remain nameless. One minute you’re releasing one of scads of 6-8 inchers and then the dark shadow of a megalodon emerges from behind a rock, sucks down your Purple Haze Parachute and turns out to be a 12-15″ cutthroat. How cool is that? Remember that the fishing regulations reverted back to how things used to be where any stream not listed specifically in the book is open through the October 31st general season. This gives us a few extra thin blue lines to go explore if you get creative and adventurous.
Flywise, the usual attractor patterns continue to work their magic. Royal Wulffs, Stimulators, Elk Hair Caddis, Purple Haze, Humpy’s, Parachute Adams and the venerable Para Ant to name a few. Dangle a small nymph as a dropper if you so desire. This is usually what accounts for the larger fish in the system. Pattern is often less important than size. If you’re getting refusals on the #10 PMX, go smaller. If you can’t see the smaller fly, tie it as a dropper off your larger dry and you’ll have a better way of tracking the drift. Swinging Soft Hackles or small Woolly Buggers has been working well too. If you’re fishing your way downstream, you can swing your way down and then fish dead drift tactics on your way back up to the car. Or vice versa. Fun and effective!
The Skagit, Sauk and Cascade are fishing decent for bull trout and larger rainbows using streamer tactics. Our favorite summer set up is a 5 or 6 weight single hander with an OPST Commando Head and sink tip. Fish big bunny flies like Dali Llamas and Double Bunnies, letting them sink and swing with an erratic retrieve mixed in. You’re going to cover lots of water to find fish, but when that portly 24″ inch bull trout is in hot pursuit and nearly jars the rod out of your hand you’ll quickly forget about the miles of river bank you’ve scrambled looking for him. Bull trout are fall spawners, so they’re working their way well upstream on their way to spawn in late October and November. The upper Skagit in BC is fishing well for rainbows and should have some bulls moving upriver from the lake as well. It’s a great option for a weekend or mid-week getaway.
The Skagit opens September 1st for coho and the forecast is for a decent return. Remember, it is a pink year but there is no pink salmon season in the Skagit or Nooksack and they may not be retained due to low abundance. The Stilly will also open September 16th for coho and summer steelhead. Let’s hope we get a little water in it before then. The Skagit and Stilly are also some of the better prospects for sea run cutthroat as more enter the river going into September.
Go high for trout, stay low for bass. Water temps are in the 70’s in most of our lowland lakes, which may be great if you wish to go skinny dipping but pretty uncomfortable for trout. Your better trout fishing will be in the alpine lakes and boy are they hungry. Parachute Adams, Black Gnats, Mosquitos, Griffith’s Gnats and CDC Midge Emergers work fantastic on top, with Hare’s Ears, Soft Hackles, small Woolly Buggers and Zug Bugs taking fish subsurface. We have another few months of snow free high country so get up there while you can. The beauty and serenity of our alpine lakes is tough to beat, as is watching a trout slowly rise through several feet of crystalline water to eat your dry fly.
If you’re not inclined to lace up the hiking boots and break a sweat, there’s plenty of warm fisheries to enjoy closer to town. Terrell is pretty weedy, but Fazon in Whatcom and Clear Lake down south are less weed choked and fishing well. Lake Whatcom is also fishing pretty good for smallmouth. These are all great after work fisheries because the fishing doesn’t really go gangbusters until the light is off the water. Topwater has been where it’s at, with a variety of popping bugs drawing bass and panfish to the surface. I suppose you could toss some subsurface stuff and still get into fish but if they’ll take on top, it’s arguably more fun.
It’s finally time! We’ve got salmon moving along the west Whidbey beaches! Right now it’s mostly pinks but there are some nice coho moving with them and this fishery will typically get better through August and into September. Coho numbers are looking good in the ocean fisheries and the catch reports from the Strait of Juan de Fuca are building as well. Time to dust off the stripping basket, you’re favorite 6-8 weight beach rod and clean your intermediate and floating lines. If you need flies, we just got a bunch more locally tied Craft Fur Clousers in green/white, pink/white and our mixed fishery favorite, the pink/green that seems to really curry favor with both pinks and coho.