Hopper vs. Stonefly - Yakima River Fishing Report
July 5, 2015
This has been a great June to work on the water. I can't ever remember having a string of 100+ degree days like we are having right now. The fishing however is hanging in there and has been practically insane in the evenings and mornings. The water source for the Yakima River is primarily fed out of Lake Cle Elum which provides nice cool water. This is keeping the fish nourished with oxygen and the flows higher than what we anticipated, despite a dismal snow pack. Hopefully after this heat wave we'll have a more typical summer with high's around 90 across the board. In a summer with unprecedented heat and low snow pack, we are actually hanging in there for now. Just remember to keep the trout wet and you should NEVER have to revive a trout. Play 'em in very quick, and get them out of the net even faster. The fish bite better next time when you practice this.
This past week Steve Joyce and I got a chance to guide one of the worlds leading experts on behaviors of Pacific Salmon and Trout, Tom Quinn from the University of Washington. We peppered him with dozens of questions and it was fascinating to learn from a man that has spent his career studying fish. He is a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington, but he may be more well known in the angling circles as the author of the book, The Behavior and Ecology of Pacific Salmon and Trout. You can buy this book online, it is really cool. Some of the intel will blow your mind.
We have been fishing dry flies in the low light hours and a few of the days we have had recently are as good of dry fly fishing as I have ever seen on the Yakima River in 15 guide seasons. I credit part of this to many consecutive years of good snow pack, but I really believe that our changes in efficiency of how we fight, land, and release these trout is the biggest contributor. I really believe that every angler out there releasing fish fast is helping make this fishery better by reducing mortality and allowing a caught fish to get back to feeding much faster. Less trauma = more growth = happy fisherman
Both the Summer Stonefly, our best hatch of the year, and the Hoppers are now going full boar on the Yakima. The Lower Canyon is fishing quite well, even mid-day we are catching some fish on dry flies. The Stonefly hatch is going quite well, look for the "shucks" along the bank. They hatch at night and if you see a lot of these you know that a stonefly dry or nymph is a good plan.
This hatch will continue to grow throughout the summer and peaks in mid August! You haven't missed it, so plan your Twilight Highlight trip soon while there is still some space at Canyon River Lodge.
Hopper versus Stonefly
We all love throwing big dry flies. Right? They are like big Teddy Bears all soft and squishy and friendly. This is the best time of year on most rivers for big dry flies. While some patterns bridge the gap between the Yakima River Summer Stonefly and a Grass Hopper, and maybe a few other big nasty bugs, a smart angler will make some conscience decisions on what flies to use.
First off, Terrestrial insects (like Hoppers) might show up near rivers as early as the first week of June. While they are near the water and it seems likely that this would be a staple food source, they aren't usually a factor until later in the summer. It is about this time of year that are water temperature gets over 60 degrees and most "spring hatches" have been triggered. So basically the bulk of the Caddis/Mayflies that are going to hatch for the summer are done. This means less free floating nymphs, emergers, and of course far less surface activity on dry flies related to these hatches. At this time, the dry fly fishing picks up steam AND the fish are forced to begin searching out those Terrestrials. Like a big fat greasy Hopper.
Second tidbit here. What time of day are Hoppers/Terrestrials most active? Do you seem very many hopping around at dawn? What about dusk? What about right during the hottest part of the day? Bingo, Hoppers like HOT. They are most active in the heat. The point of this exercise was simply to explain that your fly selection should vary based on time of day AND that from this point forward the bulk of the "hatch bugs" have hatched. Time to start fishing Hoppers and Stoneflies.
Hoppers in the Heat
You need every edge you can get. The trout are in the water 24/7 for years and you can bet your last Pat's Stone that they know a little about bug behavior. Right now, fish Stonefly patterns in low light and when the sun is on the water try Hopper specific patterns or other terrestrials like Beetles or Flying Ants (this includes a Royal PMX #14 which might be the deadliest flying ant pattern EVER!) I have been using this fly mid-day and rockin' 'em against the banks.
Fly Suggestions for Each
You don't have to follow this formula exactly, but it might help especially on a tough day when getting just a few fish is a victory. Hoppers still taste the same whether they are served hot or cold, and I have never know a hungry trout to pass up a stonefly. Plus there is a lot of overlap on some of these patterns. If you are fishing mid-day however and want to nail some fish on dry flies - here are some suggestions.
Stoneflies (low light/shade)
CFO Ant (a GREAT idea if the trout swirl and refuse Chubby Chernobyl)
And NOW.... Your Reward for Reading All of This and Buying a Few Flies!
I hammered fish a couple of days ago on a #10 J Slam when the trout kept swirling and short striking my other flies (a Chubby Chernobyl it happened to be). I put that little bug on and never looked back. It was mid morning and the trout ate it with conviction. I don't believe I had as many takes, but everyone of the large trout ate it and we got a positive hook-up. This fly also carries a dropper nymph VERY well. My "wisdom of the guides" tip here is to run your droppers super short this time of year. Like 12" or less! I know that doesn't seem like enough to make a difference but it does. All those fish that are seeing and refusing the dry fly may often eat the dropper. Use 5X Fluoroflex Plus and a Tungsten Dropper nymph. The type of dropper frankly isn't that critical. It should be Tungsten though.