It was worth the wait. After a rainy kick off, cool temps and lots of water cascading down our rivers through much of July, we’ve finally gotten a hearty dose of summer here in the Pacific Northwest and it looks like it may be here to stay for a while. While the pandemic continues to completely change scope of daily life for many of us, the outdoors appears to be the great escape for a lot of folks. We’ve never seen it busier out there. The North Cascades Hwy. looks like one vast and snaky trailhead parking lot on weekends, Diablo Lake a giant soup of kayaks and paddle boards, campgrounds are bustling, everyone wants a taste of the outdoors. The good news for us fly fishers is that a ton of waters are open and you can find solace easily enough if you’re flexible about when and where you go, are willing to put some miles on the boots to get away or spend a bit of time poring over Google Earth to find the little county seeps and ponds that might be full of bass or the thin blue lines trickling out of the hills that may be brimming with willing wild trout. The hardest part about fishing this time of year is choosing from the myriad of options. Although we may not tell you which rock to stand on, we’re pretty good about pointing you in the right direction to catch a few fish and get your time in on the water.
Thanks to your support, we’ve continued to experience the busiest summer ever at the Confluence. It is obvious people are getting out and spending a fair amount of time on the water. Despite the traffic at the store, everything’s pretty orderly and we appreciate everyone staying diligent about wearing masks, sanitizing and even calling ahead or emailing so that we can get your new toys rigged up and ready to go for you in advance of your visit. As you’re probably aware, production slowed down or fully stopped for a lot of manufacturers during all the pandemic craziness, so some products have been really hard to come by. Fortunately we were really well stocked going into this, so we continue to be in really good shape as far as having products on the shelves. We have large orders in for more fish themed face coverings from Simms and Rep Your Water. As you would imagine these items are pretty hard to come by but we’re working on getting another round. If you gotta wear them, might as well be comfortable and look good in the process. Plus you can wear them as a sun shield when you decide to go somewhere awesome on the other side of all of this.
Both of our July Spey Nights filled up pretty fast. We have a couple more on the calendar for August so let us know ASAP if you want a spot. We are also doing a lot of one on one fly fishing and casting classes these days, so reach out if you want some help boosting your repertoire of skills. With beach coho fishing near on the horizon, it’s a fabulous time to scrape the rust off your double haul and add a few feet to your longest cast. Be well and we will see you on the water!
With the heat of summer, many of our lower elevation trout lakes become too unbearably hot to fish and are best left until to fall when the water temps drop. Right now, moving water is our groove and it’s been fantastic out there. Westside Cascade Creeks are finally dropping to fishable flows. Nooksack tributaries like Clearwater and Canyon are fishable as are Skagit feeder streams like Bacon and Diobsud. There’s still snow in the hills, but many are looking more brown than white and the frothy torrents of early July have given way to glassy slicks and gently bubbling pocket water begging to float a dry fly over.
There are as many ways to fish the creeks as there are to skin a cat, so to speak. One of our favorites is simply fishing a dry fly and dead drifting it on the surface. The visual takes are exciting and it’s a very effective way to fish when the water isn’t too high. In August, we still fish a lot of attractor dries in faster broken water: PMX’s, Royal Wulffs, Humpies, Stimulators and Trudes. On the flat water, Purple Hazes, Parachute Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, Para Ants and Foam Beetles are some of our favorites. Little Lightning Bugs, Prince Nymphs, Hare’s Ears and Pheasant Tail Nymphs work well as droppers too if you wish to fish two flies and explore the top and mid water column.
Fishing a couple of nymphs under an indicator in the deeper pools will often surprise you with a bigger trout than the ones you’re hitting on top. Euro nymphing is just plain deadly and a fun technique to learn. I’ve been euro crazy this summer and am experiencing first-hand just how well it works once you pick up on some of the nuances. A final technique we really like is simply swinging a small streamer like a Woolly Bugger or Bunny Buster through deeper pools or a small soft hackle. This approach is great when the light is low and you can’t see your dry fly too well any longer. It’s also a nice change up on the way back to the car. Fish a dry or nymph your way upstream, swing a streamer on the way back down. In this sense, you’re truly going with the flow, which I advocate for strongly in most facets of life.
On the east side of the hills, the Methow has fished really well this summer. Nymphing still steals the show mid-day, but mornings and evenings definitely have the fish looking up much of the time. Who doesn’t love the sight of a big, golden-hued cutthroat coming up in a slo-mo rise to slurp a Chubby Chernobyl or Sandwich Hopper? Yep, that’s happening right now. On the surface, Foamulators, Chubbys, Amy’s Ants, Gypsy Kings, Hoppers and Stimulators are crushing it, doubling your odds if you hang a Rainbow Warrior, Flashback Pheasant Tail or Copper John a couple of feet below it. Euro nymphing is also a really proven way to catch fish throughout the day. Jig Princes and CDC Pheasant Tails have been working well and the standard Frenchie has been catching fish like wildfire. If you’re euro curious and want to learn more about this increasingly popular technique, we can fill you in and have the equipment available at the shop to get set up.
Closer to home, the Skagit and Sauk are producing some bull trout. It’s the usual hunting game of covering lots of water to find a few fish, but when you do find them, they’re often pretty big and make the effort well worth it. Dali Llamas in black/white, olive/white and all white remain our favorites, with Sculpzillas, Kiwi Muddlers, Sheila Sculpins and Mini-Intruders performing well in really clear water when you get above the glacially influenced flows of the lower Sauk. Late August often sees the first wave of sea run cutthroat filtering into the lower Skagit and Stilly too, so we’ve got that to look forward to as well.
Lowland trout lakes reach their boiling point in August, so as Bruce Dickinson once sang, “Run to the hills!”. Most alpine lakes are snow free and fishing well this month. The stalwart hiker can saddle up like a pack mule and head out for days in search of rarely fished jewels or you can hit up the stuff near the Mount Baker Ski Area or Washington and Rainy Passes that you can almost drive to. In either case, a handful of bugs will get you into fish. The good old Mosquito works like a charm, and it’s no small wonder why as your hands swell with a rash of fresh bites. Para Ants, Foam Beetles, Royal Wulffs, Parachute Adams, Micro Leeches, Zug Bugs and Soft Hackles round out the selection. It’s not a bad idea to have a few Griffith’s Gnats in #20 in the box as well for when trout are on the super tiny stuff.
We’re still running into plenty of bass and panfish in the warm lowland lakes and ponds, which make for a great way to cool off near the water after work. Largemouth are pretty active on the topwater poppers right now and you can pick up the pace with your retrieve. Bluegill have been much the same, though some days small Woolly Buggers and Slight Leeches in the lily pads have been more productive. The hexagenia hatch on Lake Whatcom is still going strong and probably has a few more weeks in it. While there were plenty of bugs coming off in early July, we haven’t been seeing the bass really eating them until more recently. It’s not a bad idea to carry a few Zonkers and Clousers with you in case the smallies are reluctant to come to the surface.
We’re right on the cusp of prime time for beach coho. Folks have been doing pretty well at the south end of Whidbey for resident coho and cutthroat, as well as north Kitsap Peninsula across the water. With the daily coho catches improving at Sekiu and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, it’s only a matter of time before the fish begin showing in numbers along the west side of Whidbey. Start circling your good tides (decent tidal movement, ideally coinciding with morning or evening) and make a plan to get out there. Clousers, Psycho Herring, Pinheads and Shock & Awe’s are in order for your salty beach fly box.