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The Yakima River
Central Washington's Nervous System

We like to compare the Yakima river to its big sister in Oregon, the Deschutes. They are free flowing for large portions of their length and join up with the Columbia river, connecting them to the Pacific ocean. Sea-run species including salmon and steelhead inhabit both these rivers. They have also been obstructed by dams for irrigation demands or power production, thus limiting the success of sea-run species. In the case of the Deschutes and Lake Billy Chinook, the dam produces power for more than 45,000 homes, while the second reservoir 'allows PGE to control the river flow to maintain favorable biological conditions for aquatic life in the 100-mile stretch of the lower Deschutes'. - from PGE website

In the case of the Yakima, three dams control the upper watershed and collect snow for the growing season. Water is released from the reservoirs as it is needed downstream to grow crops and livestock in Cle Elum, Thorp, Ellensburg, Selah, Yakima and on down to the tri cities (Richland, Pasco and Kenniwick). Most of these uses are below Rosa dam, which means the river above the Rosa is prime for trout fishing. Below Roza is a different story...

'The construction of Roza Dam in the lower canyon was perhaps the most devastating. Built in 1940, engineers recognized the need to provide fish passage. A poorly constructed fish ladder, however, meant that it was typically above the waterline and dewatered once irrigation flows were reduced in fall. Not until spring runoff would the ladder again provide passage for migratory fish into the upper river. The original ladder remained in place until 1989, with devastating effects on populations of both steelhead and coho. Today, with the new ladder, steelhead have begun to return to the upper river. Recent returns however have numbered between 100 and 200 fish, remnants of the former run.' - fore more read this Will Atlas article in Osprey Steelhead Journal Issue Number 63, pg. 12-14.

From June through August the river is regulated for irrigation purposes. By August, the river regularly runs between 4-5000 cfs (cubic feet per second). That is contrasted by flows in the winter that can dip below 400 cfs! For over twenty years the river has been deemed catch-and-release, so despite the erratic flows, the fish are given multiple chances.

How about the fish? The Yakima River boasts some of the best rainbow trout fishing in the state. Average rainbow's are in the 12-15 inch range, with good numbers of fish from 16 to 20 inches. Certain times of year produce some of the larger fish. March through June, and then again in October, the larger fish can be found eating off the surface.

Some of the hatches that bring up the larger fish are the western March Brown's and smaller mayflies, Skwala stoneflies, and even midge (chironomid's) in the spring. In the fall, blue-winged olives (baetis), light cahill, summer stoneflies, October caddis, terrestrials and others burst back onto the scene. These predictable hatches last through October. As the irrigation flows are dropping, a burst of stoneflies are also on the scene. During the flip-flop, as we call it, it can be good fishing. The Yakima rainbows and cutthroat take advantage of this bug activity before winter sets in. Often the river fishes well through November.

The Westslope cutthroat are in good numbers in the Yakima River. These fish are highly colorful and love to chase flies on the surface. The upper river, above the town of Thorp, you will find the largest concentration of "cutties." They are often found in the slower sections of river, holding tight to the bank, or dipping in and out of faster seams for a meal. Contrasted by the rainbows, that favor the faster, much more aerated stretches of the river.

We are trout bums here at Arch Anglers and know the Yakima from Easton to Roza. Our guides have searched for trout all over the world and habits and behaviors of resident trout. Collectively, we have extensively fished Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, California, Wyoming and others. Get a hold of us for a Yakima float trip you will not soon forget. We float the Yakima in drift boats and rafts to access the best water on the river. Tight Lines!
888-543-4665 toll free, or info@archanglers.com