Yakima River Fly Fishing

Text and Photos  by Mary L. Peachin
Vol. 20, No. 9, July/August, 2017

Splicing the foothill ridges of south central and eastern Washington state’s Cascade Range between the cities of Ellensburg and Yakima, a two lane highway follows the meandering Yakima River. Deer, big horn sheep, wild goat, flocks of turkey and coyote make their home in this arid canyon landscape. Canada geese, shore clinging Mergansers, wading Great Bue Heron, and treetop perched Bald Eagles feed from the River. Abundant wildlife is only one attraction to the Yakima. Long time conservation of the river’s trout species now define it as a blue ribbon fishery.

Yakima River Fly Fishing

A tributary of the Columbia River, Yakima River, named for the indigenous Yakima people, is Washington’s longest river. It flows 214 miles from its headwaters to the mouth of the Columbia River.. Its 2,449 feet elevation at Keechelus Lake near Snoqualmie Pass drops as it flows through Easton, skirts Ellensburg, passes the city of Yakima, and continues southeast to Richland before flowing into the Columbia River.

Columbia Plateau was transformed 15,000 years ago by successive Missoula glacial floods. Much of the flood water reach the Columbia River where ponding resulting in a back-flooding of the Columbia’s tributary valleys. Badger Canyon was the entry point for back-flooding of the Yakima Valley, Successive floods left behind thick deposits of sediments in Badger Canyon and the Valley beyond. During the last Ice Age, the Missoula Floods further altered the landscape of the area, creating the Horn Rapids area to the Yakima River. The West Fork of Amon Creek now runs through Badger Canyon.

In 1805, the first western explorers to visit the river were Lewis and Clark who stopped briefly at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia, They did not proceed upriver. The river was then known to local Native Americans as “Tap Teel”, in spite of the area having been inhabited since prehistory.

Years ago, Marlene Robins set up a roadside trailer to shuttle vehicles for anglers drifting the river. After marrying a man named Red, the two opened a fly shop. Craig Hettinger used to stop by to buy her “specials,” a leftover inventory of flies that didn’t sell…sold.cheap.

Yakima River Fly Fishing – David’s Rainbow

Craig Hettinger left a life of retirement after Red showed up while he was fishing his “secret” steelhead river. He went to work handling store and online sales. Anthony Robins and Steve Joyce purchased Red’s and built a new fly shop along with the adjacent Canyon River Lodge. It is the only self-contained commercial property in the Canyon.

Today, internationally known Red’s Fly Shop offers guided trips on the Yakima and other rivers. It has an extensive inventory of merchandise, a coffee or evening time martini bar. Red’s handful of fishing guides know the river well, which fly patterns to use, and whether to fish dry flies, nymphs, or streamers. Sculpzilla Sculpin and small Dalai Lama streamers were lucky for us.

BSNF Railroad along Yakima river

Weekends attract day inner tubers who drift in the current interrupting the tranquility of the canyon. Daily BSNF rail cars chugged riverside hauling oil or coal towards Portland, Oregon.

The River has become a blue ribbon fishing ten miles upstream from Red’s and Canyon River Lodge to Rosa Dam. White stripes of ash lines are traced in lava from Mt. Mosama volcano where Crater Lake was formed. Willows, basalt daisies, line the River’s edge. Jumping off the rock cliff painted and Pac Man (formerly Smiley Face) is a favorite activity for tubers and visitors other than fly fishers who are busy catching and releasing nice size rainbow trout.

A variety of hatches occur during the year and popular summer months focus on water temperature. The heat of the day and water temperature is considered not a good time to float the river. This is a conservation practice used to protect the viability of the trout.

This not well known fishery offers exclusivity based on its lack of infrastructure–not more than a campground and the Lodge. Red’s offers the best in fly equipment as well as guided float trips. If fly fishing for trout in an arid, but beautiful setting is your kind of trips, call well in advance. Word is spreading, and this release River protects its trout.