Has anyone else routinely forgotten that it’s not July over the past month? I keep thinking we’re already well into summer and yet spring isn’t even officially over for a few more weeks. The heat is certainly a welcome diversion from the long cold winter we experienced but a little disquieting in the same breadth. Watching the snow slowly disappear from the western slopes of the Cascades and realizing we likely have another 3 months of hot weather to come could paint a challenging season for some of our coldwater fisheries, especially east of the mountains. A lot of lakes around here are already seeing surface temperatures climbing into the mid 60’s and beyond. If the water is getting over 65 it’s best to let those trout seek cooler refuge in the depths so they’re happy and healthy to catch again when the temperatures drop in the fall. The good news is that our bass and panfish lakes in Whatcom and Skagit Counties have been fishing phenomenally well for the most part and we’re already enjoying some epic topwater fishing on a variety of poppers.
Most rivers and streams opened the last Saturday in May and the Skagit/Sauk reopened on June 1st. I don’t typically get terribly hyped up about opening days, but managed to sneak out for few hours on the big river when it opened and it felt great to be back on moving water. The Skagit as a tailwater remains plenty cold throughout the summer and provides a great opportunity throughout the season. It’s typically the only river I’m not wet wading by August. For many, summer welcomes back the trips we’ve dreaming about to help us cope with the damp and dreary days that can be commonplace from November through the end of March. Late evenings around camp with friends and family, 14 hour fishing days, great food, great company and willing fish. Even sometimes fish so tough and wily we can’t wait to get back and try to crack the code when it didn’t all come together on the first try. I love all of it! There’s something to appreciate and look forward to in every season, but as a lifelong resident of western Washington, I sometimes think we merely do our best to tolerate the rest of the year for the 3-4 months of consistent warmth and sunshine we manage to get each year. I can’t think of many places I’d rather be in the summer.
Thanks to everyone who turned out for Speyapalooza in May, along with equal thanks to North Sound Trout Unlimited, our dedicated vendors and to Gian with Smoker’s Chophouse for one of the best riverside lunches we’ve enjoyed. While the Skagit was flowing a wee bit high over that weekend, we had a great time teaching folks to spey cast and trying out the multitude of different demo rods on the grass and in the few remotely wadable patches of river. For the few hearty souls that stuck around and camped, staying up way past bedtime around the campfire, you even got to bear witness to the ill-conceived first ever drunk distance casting Olympics. It was just exciting enough to likely rear its ugly head again in the future as some bitter rivalries have already taken shape.
If you missed Speyapalooza and want some help with your spey cast, we have some Spey Nights coming up this summer and are happy to work with you out on the river. In the meantime, enjoy your time on the water, your upcoming summer adventures and the pleasant weather. And if you’re already looking months ahead and dreading having to wear something other than shorts and sandals on a daily basis, consider joining me for a week on Christmas Island at the end of October. I still have a few spots left…
As mentioned earlier, a lot of lowland lakes are getting a touch warm to fish for trout. Even though trout can retreat below the thermocline and find temperate water within their comfort zone, being played and handled in that upper layer of warm water can be downright tough on them if not lethal. Carry a thermometer with you and when lake surface temperatures start climbing above 65 degrees, it’s time to gather up your bass poppers and start working the weedlines. Higher elevation lakes should still be in the fishable zone and we’ve talked to several people who’ve found good fishing in central BC and North Central Washington. If you’re not already aware, a number of lakes winter killed this year, severely reducing trout populations. While we know of a handful of affected lakes, like Big Twin near Winthrop, a comprehensive list of suspected winter kill lakes for Washington is hard to pin down, you may wish to contact the North Central or Eastern WDFW Regional Offices prior to heading on a planned trip. If you’re venturing north of the border, the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC has a list of BC interior winter kill lakes online. June hatches typically include lots of dragons and damselflies, callibaetis mayflies, sedges along with continued chironomid emergences including the big bombers on certain lakes. Of course, leeches patterns continue to produce well over the summer too.
Close to home, bass and panfish fishing has been fantastic. For Lake Whatcom smallmouth, we’re still seeing bass on beds in the cooler second and third basins, particularly in deeper water. We should also begin seeing the big hexagenia mayflies hatching on the big lake within the next 2-3 weeks as well if not sooner. Fazon and Terrell have both been good for largemouth and with aquatic vegetation in full bloom, the topwater game has been where it’s at for the most part. Big surface poppers for largemouth and little ones for panfish. Panfish also readily eat Chernobyl Ants, Humpies, Madam X’s and just about anything you can twitch and make a small surface commotion with.
Our local moving water is open once again and it’s certainly nice to be back! While many streams most years are typically flowing high and fast with run off in early June, we’re finding a significant number of smaller streams and big rivers alike in very fishable shape. The sad reality is that a substantial amount of mountain snow has already melted off with the unseasonably hot weather we’ve been experiencing. The Methow is already down to wadeable flows this week whereas last year, that didn’t really happen until later July. Given the direction things are moving, it’s probably not a bad idea to get out there now as flows could potentially be on the low and warm side come August or even late July. Early summer bugs to include in your fly box are lots of caddis, PMD and Green Drake mayflies, Golden Stones, Summer Stones and Yellow Sallies. We’ve gotten most of our summer fly orders in as well, so we’re pretty fully stocked on the various patterns you’ll need. On the creeks draining the western slopes of the Cascades, we like to run dry/dropper rigs early on. As the water drops and warms we’ll more often throw dries only. You can certainly find lots of fish subsurface on Hare’s Ears, Copper Johns, Flashback PT’s and Lightening Bugs but in reality, most of us wait the better part of the year for consistent dry fly fishing and are ready to milk it for all it’s worth when the opportunity presents itself.
WDFW announced a hatchery spring chinook season on the Upper Skagit and Cascade Rivers through July 15th.. While we don’t spend a lot of time personally on this fishery, it’s worth plying some of the deeper, faster holding runs with large Intruders and Squidros in the early hours of the day. The bull trout fishing throughout the river has been really good and I’ve already enjoyed a couple of memorable afternoons with the trout spey catching large bulls. Sculpzillas in olive and natural, Kiwi Muddlers, black/white Dali Llamas and olive/white Clousers have been working well. While you’ll pick up some fish with a straight downstream swing, adding some motion to the fly via stripping or twitching the rod tip is even more productive. Cover water and find fish. Where you find them they’ll often be several bulls held up in a particular piece of water. If you’re thinking about getting into trout spey this summer sign up for one of our upcoming spey nights and we’ll put one of our demo set ups in your hands. It’s a pretty fun and effective way to approach some of our larger rivers in the summer.
Wet wading season is fast approaching. Our favorite combo for wet wading is your standard boots that you wear with your waders over a pair of Simms Gravel Guard Socks or Korkers I-Drain Socks. We’ve got a good stock of both in the shop as well as the new Korkers Swift wading sandal if you want to go ultralight this summer.
We’re still finding some nice sea run char off the eastern Whidbey beaches and that will typically last through the end of June and sometimes into early July. The sea run cutthroat fishing has really picked up and we’re starting to find them pretty consistently around Skagit Bay. Oil Slick Imitators, Pinheads and Mini-Ceivers have been productive for cutts. Look for pink salmon to be showing up off the west side of Whidbey by late July. All it really takes is timing, persistence and a handful of small pink/white Clouser Minnows to experience the thrill of these scrappy salmon off the beach.