Fishing Puget Sound Rivers in August
Strategies with recommended fly‚s
August is always a tough month for trout anglers. There are five good reasons for this:
• High water temperature increases a trout's metabolism to the point where it's more wired than an espresso junkie; they'll spook very easily.
• Warm water also holds less oxygen, so fish are stressed.
• Bright, sunny days make fish feel exposed, plus fishing pressure has made them wary.
• Trout have spent May, June, and July gorging on salmonflies, caddis, PMDs, etc.; they're not hungry.
• There are no big, intense hatches.
What do you have? Trout that have no reason to expose or exert themselves in the search for food. They seek deeper, cooler, darker water. Or undercut banks, the shelter of overhanging tree branches, crevices alongside rocks, or other places that make them feel safe.
So seek your fish in the early morning hours and at dusk. Fish any water that doesn't have the sun on it. Midday, take a siesta and rest your casting arm. Or, if you're fishing a river that has a bankside population of hoppers, cast a hopper pattern with a nymph on a 24-30 inch dropper. Above all, resign yourself to the fact that the trout are going to be moody and will play hard-to-get.
The primary hatches in August are caddis and midges. Both will be small: size 16-18 for the former, size 20-22 for the latter. Some waters, such as Rocky Ford, have tricos--a size 22-24 bug.
Later in the month, longer and (we hope) cooler nights may improve fishing. As the water cools, trout will increasingly target large stonefly nymphs in rivers that have them. Evening midge and caddis activity will continue to be important.
This can also be a tough month for steelheaders. Rivers are low and clear. Very low, very clear. You'll probably do best if you're on the river at 4:30 a.m. and leave by 9:00 a.m.. You're not going to catch many August steelhead if you keep banker's hours.
A useful noontime activity is to climb the banks above the river, if the geography permits it. With the advantage of height you can often spot fish; they'll still be there in the evening, but they'll be more likely to bite when the light's off the water. Even if you don't see any fish, you can understand the structure of a run much better because the rocks, slots, and ledges become clear in your mind. You'll gain a better idea of how to fish the run. You might even discover some new, productive run that you didn't know existed.
Many streams are low due to the long dry spell. Whether you quarry is steelhead or trout, you'll need to use caution when approaching fish in low, clear water.
The Hoh has been fishable, mostly, lately. Some cool weather could get the Hoh into good shape for summer steelhead. Both steelhead and salmon are available.
If the river is clear enough for decent fishing, use small, dark flies and thin (8-pound or less tippets). If it is silty but fishable, use larger dark flies and a heavier tippet. If you wade in up to your knees and can't see the tops of your boots, forget it.
The Kalama is a bit low, but very fishable for summer steelhead. Conditions can become more difficult as the water continues to drop and clear.
The lower five miles of the river--from the Red Barn Hole on down to the mouth--is the most popular section, but you can find hatchery fish throughout the river because WDFW is letting fish go up higher. These steelhead were reared in the hatchery but had wild parentage. They are fin-clipped, but you can't kill them. See the note at the end of this report.
Fish during morning and evening hours and focus on runs near fast, aerated water, pools, or places that offer shelter and security, such as near rocks, ledges, logs, high banks. Approach fish with care; steelhead will be spooky when the water is low and clear. If a rainy spell comes along, hit the river a couple of days after the rain stops.
A few early coho salmon may enter the river near the end of the month, but most of the Kalama's coho arrive in two spurts: the first week and a half of September and early October. Note: All hatchery summer steelhead in the Kalama must be released. These fish have a missing adipose or ventral fin. They are part of a WDFW experiment, as follows. "The hatchery summer steelhead that will be passed upstream of the upper hatchery for the next few years are part of a study to measure the ability of hatchery-reared steelhead spawned from wild Kalama stock to successfully spawn and produce viable offspring in the wild. Catch-and-release regulations will ensure the hatchery and wild fish passed upstream have equal opportunity to spawn. Beginning in 2002, hatchery summer steelhead returning from an experimental wild broodstock program were passed upstream of the upper hatchery in numbers equal to those of returning wild summer steelhead, which are all passed upstream. Hatchery returns are expected to exceed wild returns, and those in excess of the wild return numbers will be trucked downstream to re-enter the fishery in the lower 10 miles of the Kalama River, where existing hatchery steelhead harvest regulations remain in effect.
The Klickitat holds a fine run of summer steelhead, but fishing is entirely dependent on the weather: if it's hot, Klickitat Glacier (Mt. Adams) sends a load of silt down the river and fishing becomes impossible. And in case you haven't noticed, it's been hot lately. Cool weather, however, can improve visibility to two or three feet, which is about as good as it gets here in the summer. If we have a cool spell where the temperatures are below 80 for several days, the Klickitat could clear and be good. Get there quick, though, because it won't last.
The Klickitat has a mix of water types. Some runs are well suited to traditional tactics, while others fish well with indicator tactics. Hwy 142 follows the river for about 15 miles, offering plenty of public access and good wading. You can also drift this section, but be sure to take out by the Fisher Mill boat access; the lower three miles is not driftable. The canyon stretch above Wahkiacus requires a boat.
Some dolly varden may be available in the Sauk system near the Suiattle River later this month. Use silver or white streamers in large sizes, such as 2. Sea-run cutthroat may arrive in the lower Skagit later in August, especially if there's some rainy weather.
Some sea-run cutthroat may arrive at the mouth of the river and in tidewater. Expect more if we get a substantial rainfall. Coho will not be far behind. There are rumors of a few pink salmon in the lower reaches; someone should go check out these rumors.
The river keeps getting lower and clearer, and steelhead fishing will be slow until conditions change. Rain is needed to bring in fresh fish and stir up those already in the river.
From Gold Bar to Monroe, you'll find classic riffle/pool/tailout water. The Reiter Ponds area is closed at this time, but even if it re-opens you will probably be a much happier fly fisher if you avoid that stretch of the river.
When the Sky gets low and clear, opt for long leaders and small flies. Small Marabous and Woolly Buggers are good choices for traditional tactics. Stonefly nymphs (Rubber Legs, Kaufmanns Stonefly, etc.) work well if you're using indicator tactics. Low water is going to push steelhead into pockets, slots, and holes, and indicator fishing reaches those spots well.
It's August, and weekends will be busy times. You can expect to run into vacationers who are not serious anglers and have no knowledge of angling etiquette. That's life close to a major metro area. The only solution is to fish very early in the morning or go somewhere else or don't fish on the weekend.
Campgrounds on both forks fill up very quickly, and most spots have already been reserved for weekends. If you're not there first thing Friday morning, you'll be out of luck.
Sea-run cutthroat will be entering the river later this month (they follow the salmon) and can be caught in the lower reaches and the Snohomish.
You might find some steelhead in the stretch near Carnation, below the Tolt River. Also, between Neel Road and the Falls, and the two miles below Tokul Creek. However, with the arrival of summer conditions, most steelhead will stack up in a few deep holes and won't come out until there's some rain.
Some sea-run cutthroat will arrive in the lower river this month. More sea-runs will arrive when (if?) we get some rain; they follow the salmon upriver.
The middle and north fork are are very low and clear. The best fishing is from 7:00 p.m.to dark. When trout fishing here in August, use small attractors, such as Elk Hair Caddis, Parachute Adams, Royal Wulffs, etc. Bring Hares Ear, Pheasant Tail, and Prince nymphs for subsurface probes. A Soft Hackle can be very productive when fished in the riffles of these small streams.
Terrestrial patterns are another good August choice on the forks. Try some of Jeff Morgan's beetle patterns as detailed in Meeting the Late Summer Challenge. A beetle with a size 16 Sparkle Pupa or Brassie on a trailing leader tied to the hook bend can be deadly when cast to slow (but moving) water that is over two feet deep and is overhung with tree branches.
Anglers are doing well when the pound the banks with short-winged stonefly imitations or hopper patterns. Streamers can also be productive, as long as they're moving at a good clip, says Danny at Worley-Bugger Fly Company in Ellensburg.
A few pale morning duns and yellow sallies are still available. Caddis, hoppers, short-winged stoneflies, and streamers are the main games for August, though. Expect caddis in the early morning and late evening. Match them with size 14 Elk Hair Caddis, X Caddis, Parachute Caddis, or Casanova Caddis.
Hoppers will soon become a factor during the midday hours. Cast them anywhere there is shady water near the riverbank. Put your fly tight against the bank. Don't be shy. The difference between success and failure can be a matter of inches. If you're not leaving some flies in the bankside vegetation, you're not doing it right. For a hopper imitation, try a Parachute Hopper or a Turcks Tarantula. Size 10-12 green hoppers, size 6-12 yellow hoppers, and size 6-10 tan hoppers are all reasonable size/color combinations.
Ant and beetle patterns are also good flies to stick in your box and are fished with the same tactics as hoppers. Hoppers and other terrestrial imitations work best on windy days. Early in the month, a size 10-12 hopper can work best Later in the month, a larger fly--size 6 or so--may be a better choice.
Streamers are also a good August fly choice. Use them in riffly areas, drop-offs, deeper pools, and current seams. A streamer with a trailing nymph can be effective, too.
The short-winged stonefly (Classenia subulosa) can be important in the canyon this month. This size 6 tan-bodied bug is on the water in the afternoon and evening. Males have short wings and can't fly, but females have normal wings. A size 6 Stimulator or Clarks Stonefly with a tan body matches it. Cast near the river banks and skate the fly across the surface.
Subsurface, a Rubber Legs, tan Kaufmanns Stonefly, or Matts Fur can be productive this month when fished with trout indicator or tight line tactics. Team the big nymph with a smaller fly, such as a size 18 gold-ribbed Hares Ear, size 16-18 Pheasant Tail, or size 14-16 Czech Nymph. Concentrate on riffles and the deeper, slower water just below riffles.