Winter Fishing - Yakima River Fishing Report

December 27, 2014

The Yakima River is currently a tad high but that didn't stop us yesterday from getting out on the water in an attempt to work off the Christmas dinner food baby I was packing around my mid-section.  A little rowing and fresh air never felt so good after 48 hours of feasting with family and friends.   While being on the river was great, I'll admit I was pretty jealous of all the guys heading out bird hunting and climbing the hills in the Canyon.  That burn in the quads is a great way to keep winter's chill at bay.  Chukar hunting is also a great way to get a killer post holiday leg workout in, and I do have to laugh.  Because by next week every gym in America will be packed to the hilt but the Chukar hills out here....  still empty.  Not a bad way to kick off the new year in the Yakima Canyon.

On to the fishing report.  The flows are dropping today and we should get under 2,000 cfs by tomorrow. By winter standards, this is pretty high water especially when you consider water temperatures are down to 37 degrees.... as the HIGH temp!  That is pretty cold.  It isn't too untypical but when you are dealing with slightly above average flows it can make for a challenge.

Date:  12/26/14

Anglers:  Max and Joe

Sections:  Red's to Slab (a bit on the long side)

Results:  About 10 Trout landed (the catch count makes it sound like better fishing than it was)

The fishing started out at Red's, we swung flies on a switch rod and a 10' 7.0 ips Versileader and got a grab was all in the morning.  The flows were on the high side and I felt like it was pushing the fly out of the run way too fast.  I am just dying to get my hands on an intermediate shooting head or line for this kind of fishing.  Combined with a sink tip it should be deadly.  I want to try the Wullf Ambush Neutralizer to slow my swing down.  If you like to swing streamers in cold water try this line.  I have heard it fishes unbelievably well.

The fishing was pretty tough and the takes were very soft.  Try Yarn Indicators this time of year and experiment with them.  I believe it makes a big difference in your catch count in water this cold.  We switched back and forth between streamers and nymphs A LOT and fished whatever the currents lend itself too.  I strongly recommend to anglers heading this way that are in boats, really try to think about parking the boat and wade fishing from the shore side and casting upstream and out to the seam.  Fishing "inside out" in cold water is the first way to stack the odds in your favor.  Drifting along and fishing "on the go" like we do in high water just doesn't put many fish in the net this time of year.


I'll be honest and try not to sound like a "guide jerk" in the process.  Many anglers would have had a really tough time catching any fish at all yesterday.  Conditions aren't great right now despite us having a good day.  I have fished here long enough and worked the counter at our riverside shop long enough to know when conditions are tricky (I say tricky because it isn't impossible!).  Cold water and above average flows are tough.  You need to have some intel and experience to combat them.  

We put at least 10 trout in the net, hooked another 10 at least.  We only fished in the very best seam-lines, we fished from the inside out, and I have the luxury of anchoring the boat and fishing to bath tub sized zones that I know 2-3 fish are holding in.  It isn't fair I know.  We acknowledge that winter fishing on big rivers can be tough so if you consistently find yourself struggling here are a few tips:

  • If you are snagging bottom a lot stop it!  Either you are in the wrong water, reading water poorly, or fishing too deep, or simply too heavy.  You don't need much weight to get down this time of year because the fish are hold in soft currents.  A nymph rig that is set up deep, but light enough to hover and flutter near the bottom is best.  I rarely use split shot FYI.
  • Water should be walking speed or slower.
  • Fish rarely sit suspended in the back eddies, try to fish ledges and drop offs.
  • Avoid "boily" or "swirly" water.  Trout in cold water like the currents to be very stable.
  • Fish from the inside out, don't float along casting at the banks the entire day.  Try to identify spots to cast from the bank out.
  • Get a good sink tip system.  There are lots of choices, but if you don't have a good sink tip for a single hand rod better get one.  For a 6 weight, I like the WF6 Type 6 RIO DC.  It is a good all around line.
  • Less water is better.  I fished 5 miles yesterday, I probably fished cumulative 1.5 miles of it and skipped a lot.  3-4 miles for an entire day is more than enough.  2-3 miles is probably about right.  It is best to get into spots that you know fish are holding and work patient, quiet drifts over them and deduce what depth, fly, and water speed is working best.
  • Light tippet helps.  The water speed they are in in slow.  Light tippet helps your fly act more natural in soft currents.  5-6X to your #16 nymphs and smaller, 4X to your stone nymphs.
Patrick with a Nice Yakima River Winter Rainbow
Here is a great shot from a few days ago, Patrick is one of our guides and is a long time winter fisherman here on the Yakima.  He would testify that there is a learning curve to fishing in cold water!  This big slab took an Olive WD-40 #18

Right in Front of Red's and Canyon River Ranch!
  1. Very good fishing today. We did very well on both streamers and nymphs, the streamer fishing from 113:30 am to about 1:30 was awesome. We caught a lot of fish after the swing ended and we were stripping a small streamer back in FYI.
  2. I tried everything I knew last weekend, Friday, and Saturday, all the stuff you mentioned above, but caught nothing. I did well in Nov. with a mini Spey, and fantastic in Dec. 13 on a tiny magic nymph, but this is getting frustrating. My excuse is although the flow is coming down, so is the water temperature. Not getting the bite you can get on a winter warm up. I have been discovering that there are streamers that are two big and bulky to throw with a 5 wt. switch very easily. A Dali Lama in particular. I need a 10 lb. tippet to keep from snapping them off as I struggle. However, the switch rod has no problem with a heavy tip. I was using 12 ft. of T 11 out of my steelhead wallet and the casts just flipped out there. So that's how I go deep with big but not so heavy streamers. A five weight switch just doesn't have the backbone of my 8 wt. Spey.
  3. Thanks for the river report and especially the tips. Being new to fly fishing a river, each tip helps, even though I'm here in Spokane. Novice question: How was Patrick fishing the Olive WD-40 #18 for this time of year? What line set up did he use? Thanks!
  4. Rick, he was indicator fishing it on the dreaded 6X tippet. I prefer 5X myself because it tangles less in cold weather (I hate tangles :). You generate more hookups with 6X because of the supple nature of it but 5X keeps your fly in the water. 7X will get even more strikes but makes landing decent sized fish tough!
  5. Thanks Joe! Appreciate the follow-up and added comments about tippet use. Very helpful!