September is upon us and with it some cooler weather and wetter skies that for us mark a shift in focus back to our cold water salmonids. Salmon are making their way through the Puget Sound and into our rivers, bull trout are continuing their upstream journeys to stage below their spawning tributaries, bugs are popping off the rivers to feed hungry trout and those lake dwelling rainbows and browns we’ve largely left alone over the last few months are beginning to think the AC just got fixed. Ahhh, to be comfortable again!
My one and only complaint about September, and October for that matter, is that they seem to be over in a flash. The days are certainly shorter, but it’s such a pleasant time to be out on the water with so many great fisheries to choose from. The Stilly reopens September 16th and with it we hope to enjoy a first slurry of coho in from the salt, some upriver summer steelhead that haven’t really seen a fly this season and the vanguard of sea run cutthroat hiding in the root wads and waiting to pounce on a well-presented Spider pattern.
While it’s a pink year and there are more than a few fish around, numbers are still way down from the norm and please remember that all rivers in North Puget Sound are closed to retention of pink salmon. Don’t worry, there seem to be more than enough coho filtering into the Sound to make for a stellar salmon season. Our beach fishing along the west side of Whidbey Island has been the best we’ve seen since 2015, with lots of coho showing up and even a few bigger fish.
If you can’t find the time to enjoy the water, we have several other fun fishing related activities coming down the pipeline during the next few months to keep you engaged and reflecting on fishier times. September 19th kicks off our first fall open tying night at Brandywine Kitchen in the mezzanine. You can bring your stuff and tie what you like or just come hang out and watch. We’ll undoubtedly be filling our boxes for a late September Alaska coho trip. In October we have a pint night at Kulshan Brewing at the Roosevelt location and showing of Artifishal! with the Native Fish Society. In November The Confluence welcomes the International Fly Fishing Film Tour to the Lincoln Theatre in Mount Vernon. These are entirely different films than the F3T in April, so you won’t want to miss this fun-filled evening in the heart of fall.
It’s definitely S time in the S rivers of the North Sound. Salmon, steelhead and sea run cutthroat are in the lower rivers and ready to provide some fine fall fishing. The Skagit opened for coho on September 1st and while there are a few in the river now, this fishery should only continue to improve through September and October and even into November. Your coho pattern of choice largely depends on water conditions. If there is a bunch of color coming out of the Sauk, larger patterns with more profile will fish better: Alaskabou’s like Pixies Revenge and Manhattan Beach as well as pink or purple Starlight Leeches and Coho Kryptonites are the way to go. In lower and clearer water, California Neils, BH Rolled Muddlers, Mickey Finns and Flash Flies are a better choice. The latter patterns are also a staple for in-river sea run cutthroat along with Reverse Spiders. Floating or intermediate lines fished in and around the woody debris are the name of the game. I don’t buy into the old steelhead adage that if you’re not losing flies you’re not fishing, but I certainly find this to be true when fishing the stumps, snags and wood piles for coho and cutthroat. You can’t get your fly in there close enough and sometimes close becomes too close. Be sure to carry some extra flies.
If you’re not into the bigger water of the Skagit, the mainstem and NF Stilly are a much more intimate locale for chasing cutts and coho and will open up on September 16th. There ought to be some hatchery steelhead in the river above Hazel as well. Sparse Skunks, Purple Perils, Silver Hiltons and even a skated Muddler are good choices. Don’t overlook stripping an Egg Sucking Leech through deep dead water as well, this tactic has certainly picked up a number of fall steelhead for me over the years in the Stilly.
Bull Trout will be largely moving upriver to prepare to spawn later in the fall. Streamer tactics and big White, Olive or Black Dali Llamas, White Zonkers, Flash Fry and CH Double Bunnies all have their place when chasing bulls. The same is going to be true on the Upper Skagit in BC where lots of bulls are moving up from Ross Lake. Cover water till you find them and if you haven’t already discovered the merits of fishing a short Skagit head and heavy sink tips on your single hand rod, come check out the OPST Commando Heads, Airflo Skagit Scouts, or Scientific Anglers Spey Lite lines this fall. They all make short work of casting bulky and monstrous flies.
The Skagit in BC has been fishing exceptionally well for rainbows this year too. Soft Hackles, small Parachute Adams, Green Drake Emergers and a few big Orange Stimulators are the flies you’ll want up there this fall. Creeks continue to fish pretty well, with the added bonus of ripe black huckleberries to tantalize your taste buds on your next high country adventure this fall.
Brandon and I are both confessed beach fishing addicts and when the fishing is as good as it has been, that’s generally where you’ll find us. The pinks have mostly moved through the North Sound but the coho were hot on their heels and it seems to be improving daily. We’ve been concentrating on the west Whidbey Beaches around mid island. There are a lot of 2-3″ herring around and this appears to be keeping good numbers of saltwater coho in play. If the bait is getting pushed close to the beach, you will find salmon nearby.
It’s exciting to see more and more anglers getting into this fishery and we love hearing the success stories of new beach converts. If you have a sea worthy boat, the extra range is a bonus and you can stay on fish longer, but if not, there’s plenty of salmon off the beach as well. Area 9 remains open through the end of September and should continue to produce well all the way up until the last day. 2-3″ herring patterns are golden. Rio’s new Just Keep Swimming in Whitebait has been a solid fly this season. The standard attractor Craft Fur Clousers in Green/White and Pink/White have been working well too. I like to think of this pattern as the fly rod buzz bomb. You may not be able to chuck it nearly as far but it sure looks swimmy in the water and catches plenty of coho.
If you’re inclined to chase sea runs in Hood Canal, make sure you bring a few tan or golden Chubby Chernobyls along. With all the termites flying around these days, you’re sure to find a few saltwater cutthroat taking advantage on top.
Lakes are cooling off and the fishing should pick up. Trout do their darnedest to pack on a few extra calories before winter, so now’s a good time to venture back out onto stillwater. Leeches, minnow patterns and small midges are your fall staples. The lakes often get overshadowed by the big anadromous fish showing up in the fall, but can fish great and offer a level of solitude seldom found during spring. Late afternoon and evening has been great on Pass Lake for minnow foraging trout.