Properly Using a Personal Watercraft in the Yakima Canyon

June 29, 2018

For the last couple of years I've been trying to figure why in the world more DIY anglers are not properly using personal watercrafts out here on the Yakima River, and likely many other rivers too.  For the number of folks that own these handy little boats, they aren't being utilized enough.  What kills me too is that we have a GREAT rental system for these little guys.  It's a DEAL and they go almost totally under utilized.  I think its because people don't get enough guidance on how to use them.  When I do see folks using either the rentals or their own boat, they attempt to fish "on the move" like they are in a guided boat!  It doesn't work like that.
watermaster grizzly boat
Watermaster Boats are the #1 choice for serious anglers in one person crafts.


Just this year, I have begun to really appreciate the few guys that do it right, in fact I've been seeing a couple of fellas in the Yakima River Farmlands doing a great job with their 1-person boats. Wading the right spots, using the boats for transportation, and catching fish. It prompted me to get out for a bit and reinforce that you can be extremely effective using a one person boat for transportation, and then wade fishing little spots with the boat around your waist.

The fact is, most anglers have a pretty tough time fishing the Yakima Canyon. It's a big intimidating river that is tough to wade and fish DIY. It's trout can be picky, the flows swift, wind fierce, and it's often a challenge.  Most anglers do great with our guides, but struggle to find success without us.  While that's great for our guide crew, it's no way to run a fly shop on the river. We want everyone to catch fish!  This is one area that is under utilized and we want to help you be more successful.

An Hour of Fishing With My 9 Year Old Son

Jacob Rotter netting a fish from a watermaster boat

I owed my little 9 year-old-guy a fishing trip with dad, since my older boy gets most of the action.  We piled into a Watermaster type boat and did some fishin'.  He fished while we floated and I fished 2 spots on foot.  I used my Czech nymphing setup.

Tips for Getting Started Fishing in a One Person Boat

Keep it simple and be realistic.  Your first go around with a one person boat is probably not going to be whack-fest.  Treat your first couple of trips as "scouting runs" getting a feel for the river, spots that look good, and finding a strategy that you feel is effective.  You really need to examine your day from an efficiency standpoint. If you float too short, too far, are tangled up too much, snagged the bottom too much, etc. you'll need to make adjustments for your next trip. After a couple of good outings you'll start to really get dialed in.
  • Don't fish while moving.  Start out using the boat for transportation stopping at likely little spots fishing while on foot.
  • Again.  Don't fish while moving.  Keep your head up and your eyes peeled for fishy spots and danger spots.
  • Pack light, keep your gear handy.  Get a good vest, sling pack, or lanyard to keep tools and resources handy.  
  • Fish simple. Single nymph setups, dry flies, light line, etc.  Many DIY anglers tend to spend a lot of time "re-rigging".  K.I.S.S. is a good strategy on your first few runs.
  • Time your float. Pick a recognizable landmark 2/3 of the way through your float.  Pick ONE good landmark. Most anglers that don't float often wind up with poor float timing and waste part of their day either skipping too much water in the afternoon to hurry, or getting to the takeout too soon.
  • After a few safe and effective floats, try some fins and work the banks with hoppers or dry flies in the evening while wade fishing with nymphs during the heat of the day.
  • I personally never bring an anchor, they can be dangerous and its easier for me to simply beach my boat, or more commonly wade fishing with it hanging around my legs.

River Flows and Considerations

The Yakima River tends to run very high during late June - August which can make wade fishing from the bank tough.  Using a small boat can make this easier but you still need to have a good plan.
Once the river flows get to 4,000 cfs the current gets very swift and can be hard to stop for wade fishing.  You'll need to look for little soft spots along the shore just below a few rocks or a riffle making some white caps.  Be very careful pulling in upstream from heavy brush and fast water.  Be sure to get very comfortable rowing, stopping, and wear a lifejacket.
You also may find success pulling your boat up on shore and "dry wading" those little buckets.  You'll fish very close to your feet standing up on a high bank.  


Optimal River Flows

With some experience, you can have success with flows around 4,000 cfs however flows under 3,000 cfs will be most ideal.  Don't dismiss floating with flows between 4,000 - 4,500 cfs and treating them as recon missions. You'll need to begin getting familiar with the river and comfortable rowing your boat.  In the evening, try throwing dry flies along shore using fins. (only after you get comfortable handling your boat!)  
River Flows at Umtanum (just upstream from Red's Fly Shop)