This past Monday I had a free day to head over to the eastslope of the Cascades in Washington to check out a few of my favorite streams. The only problem was that while the 4th of July weekend had shown Washington some of our nicest weather yet this year, by Monday another marine layer had found its way inland yet again. My friend Zach had been bugging me to show him this spot for a couple of years now, so I finally invited him to join me this year.
By the time that we reached the mountains the weather had broken down bit it was raining in earnest. However as I had hoped when we arrived at the creek the Cascade Mountain rain-shadow effect seemed to be working and while we still had overcast skies it looked like we had left the rain behind us. Upon laying eyes of the stream I was a little surprised to see how low the water was. Last year when I had fished it at this time of the year, it had been a raging torrent that was tough to cross in all but a few select places. This year it was a full foot lower, no doubt a direct effect of an unusually dry June.
While I typically like fishing a dry and dropper combo, I have fished this creek enough to know that when its native westslope cutthroat are feeding, they are looking for food on the surface making the dropper more of a hassle then it is worth. As such I strung up my rod, tied a size 12 royal pmx to the end of the line and hit the water.
The action started out fast and furious and my first cast rewarded me with a nice 8" cutthroat that attacked my royal pmx with reckless abandon. The next few hundred yards of the stream continued to yield good numbers of cutthroat in the 5-9" range which confidently rose to take our dries. After this things slowed down a bit and we had to search for the fish a little harder. Even so most likely looking spots yielded a riser or two.
A typical westslope cutthroat from the stream.
Most year's I have found that the higher upstream that I go the better the fishing gets. However this year that was the case and instead the fishing remained slow while the weather began to deteriorate even more. In fact this was the first time in three years that my favorite run in the upper portion of the creek didn't even yield a single fish. On top of this Zach managed to find a stick that was sharp enough to punch a hole in the leg of his waders, which seemed to increase is enjoyment of he icy cold water slightly. Just above that run though I hooked a truly note-worthy fish that was at least 12" but shook loose shortly after engulfing my dry fly, as tends to happen more often then I like to admit.
After the hook up with the big cuttie Zach and I made the call to head back downstream to the car and try out another stream that was a little further to the east. We did fish a few of the more prime lies on the way back downstream and managed to catch a few more beautiful little westslopes before reaching the car and hitting the road again.
We traveled down the Yakima River Valley for another half hour before turning up the creek valley and searching out a productive stretch to test out. Although it was a bit on the breezy side, the weather was sunny and 70 at the creek and the water looked to be in perfect shape. The last time the I had fished this stream the trout were quite eager to take attractor flies, so I left the royal pmx on but added a gold size 16 lightning bug to it as a dropper. As I was rigging up I started eyeballing a little pool behind a log jam and noticed a decent looking trout finning in the tailout. Definitely a good sign!!
I wanted to plan my attack on this fish so instead of proceeding to the log jam I first check out out small run downstream where I managed to rise, but miss to decent sized trout. After this it was on to the log jam where the fish was still hanging out right underneath some overhanging branches. I made my cast to the fish and line flew perfectly between the branches and the water landing my fly just a few feet upstream of the fish, which confidently rose to meet it. I set the hook and the fish launched itself out of water and made a few small runs before I brought it to hand. Although these fish have been hybridized to a slight degree overall they have retained a good measure of their Columbia Basin redband ancestry, and this fish was a prime example of what these redbands should look like.
I managed to get on more small fish out of this pool on my dropper, before I continued upstream to where Zach was fishing. When I found him he was just releasing a fish, which turned out to be his third one. As we worked our way upstream fishing continued at a fairly fast and furious pace, with just about every pocket and likely looking spot producing one or two redbands. I actually managed to catch five trout out of a single nice pocket behind rock, with one taking my dry and the rest falling for the lightning bug dropper.
Zach working his fly along an espcially fishing looking log jam.
The fishing continued to be consistent for redbands averaging 6" to 8"as we worked our way further upstream, until we came to a pool with a basalt cliff falling into one side of it. Zach took point on this spot and one his first cast a nice fish rose for his dry fly. He missed the riser, but got lucky and another trout had grabbed his copper john dropper at the same time and he got a solid hook up. To his luck, this was also the larger of the two fish and after a few seconds he managed to bring it to the net. Whether this fish was a redband or cut-bow I really could not tell you as it had a vivid cutthroat slash but the colors were distinctly those of a redband. No matter what it was it was a fine trout at just short of 11". After Zach release his fish I got a try at the pool and hooked up with one trout brief before it came loose.
The basalt cliff pool
As we moved past this pool our good fishing finally went bad and for the next solid quarter mile of the stream we only managed to rise and handful of fish. Soon though the reason for this became clear and as well rounded a bend we ran into a crew of WDFW fisheries biologists that had been electroshocking the creek to do a study on the diet of the trout. From what they had to say, coho salmon had been reintroduced back into the creek during the previous year and they were looking into the importance of coho fry in the diet of the redbands and a few cutthroat that call this stretch of stream home. Apparently a handful of the larger redbands had been feeding on coho fry, meaning that they told me a good fly to try out next time!!
After our brief conversation with the crew Zach and I headed back downstream, and I got another shot at the basalt cliff pool and this time managed to catch a 10" redband on my dropper. Zach and I did fish a few of the other prime lies on the way down and did pick up a couple trout but at this point were more keen on getting back to the car to go explore another local stream.
A post release redband
The next stream that we decided to fish was a headwater tributary of the stream that we had just finished up on and we were hoping to find a few more cutthroat up there. This stream took a little bit of hiking to get to, but after about 3/4 of a mile we reach the water and started fishing. This was small water at its finest and the numerous deadfalls and plenty of overhanging bushes just waiting to intercept our flies. However there were a few decent pools a here and there and as we moved upstream I caught a few cutthroat and a redband or two as well.
In a deep slot just before the creek turned a corner Zach caught a fish that he was pretty happy about, but really has no business in Washington at all. A brook trout. This was Zach's first brookie so he was pretty excited, but I myself was I little upset about it. After all brookies have been a bane of native trout across the Western US, as they typically out compete both cutthroat and rainbows in the cooler headwater streams. My worries were put to ease a bit as for the remaining 1/2 of a mile of the stream that we cover, we only ran into the stream's native cutthroat and redbands.
After fishing this stream we headed to another tributary to quickly check things out. However after driving to the end of the road and tromping around some mosquito infested meadows and not seeing the stream anywhere close by we decided that we had done enough fishing for one day.
A view of "mucho mosquito" meadows
After a few more mosquito bites and little more trudging across the meadows, we hoped back in the car and made drive back down the valley and across the mountains to Gig Harbor. For Zach this was an especially successful outing as he managed to catch three species of trout that he had not caught before in a single day. For me it was just nice to be out on the water and back at some of my favorite places in the state.