Washington Rivers


What to Expect in May

Note: This What-To-Expect is from Westfly's Legacy pages and may not accurately reflect the current fishing at this venue.

It's runoff season, so watch the river levels via Westfly. If you see a sudden large increase, you can figure fishing is going to be poor on that river until the flows stabilize or drop significantly. If the flows are only up a little and the river is slightly colored, trout anglers will do best with nymphs, and those nymphs will usually work best when drifted near the bank. When in doubt, call a local fly shop and check with them.

Tributaries and small streams often clear faster than the big rivers that they feed, and you can sometimes find good fishing in a trib when the mainstem is blown-out.

Trout will be taking drifting salmonfly and golden stonefly nymphs on rivers that host populations of these mega-size insects. The key to effective nymph fishing is to get your fly to the bottom. Spilt shot, beadhead, extra weight under the body dubbing--whatever it takes and is still legal. If you aren't losing a few nymphs, you're not doing it right.

Salmonfly nymphs are most active at dawn and dusk, so that's when they are most likely to get knocked loose and drift in the current--and when trout will be waiting for them. But that doesn't mean you can't catch fish all day, either. It just tells you when you'll probably do best. Fish below riffles, among boulder fields, and through drop-offs. Kaufmanns Stoneflies, Rocky Nymphs, Rubber Legs--they all work.

By mid-month, adult salmonflies will start to hatch. The key to the hatch is water temperature. When it gets to around53 degrees, the nymphs begin crawling to shore in earnest. Once out of the water, the adult emerges from the nymph, dries its wings, and flies to streamside vegetation where it utters the insect equivalent of "Hey, Baby, Baby." In their relentless pursuit of the opposite sex, adult stoneflies often fall or are blown out of the trees, land in the water, and are devoured by trout.

So if you cast a MacSalmon, Clarks Stonefly, Low Ball Stonefly, or Stimulator near shore and just downstream or downwind from overhanging vegetation--especially in the afternoon when the bugs and the wind are at their most active--you may catch a fish.

Note that just because the adult salmonflies are out, it doesn't mean trout are taking them yet. Trout are creatures of habit and they can be slow to make the switch from nymphs to adults.

One hint: if you buy your salmonfly flies, buy them early because the fly shops only stock-up once and won't re-order until next year. If you wait too long all you'll find are empty bins or flies that are the wrong size, pattern, etc.

By late May a few rivers will see some green drakes, but this is not a big hatch in the Northwest. Hatches of this large insect usually occur in early afternoon. The bug is big enough to catch the interest of trout, both before and during a hatch. Before the hatch, a Poxyback Green Drake can catch trout when drifted through a run with a slow to moderate current. This fly has a shiny back, based on the fact that top of the thorax of most mayflies gets shiny just as it is ready to emerge. Use this fly before the hatch. During the hatch, use the Green Drake Paradrake or Green Drake Cripple. Wait until a trout rises to a natural insect so you know where it is lying, then cast to that fish. Blind casting will only put the trout down.

Pale evening duns can make an appearance on some rivers. A Light Cahill is a good fly to use during the midday hatches.

You can still find an occasional blue-winged olive on some streams. These late bloomers tend to be big (for a blue-winged olive). A few size16 and 18 Parachute Baetis, olive Sparkle Duns, or Baetis Cripples should be in your fly box.

Caddis continue to be important. Many rivers have populations of green caddis (genus Rhyacophila) and spotted caddis (genus Hydropsyche). Try a Sparkle Larva or Czech Nymph in size14. The larvae often drift in the current and are taken by trout.

Grannoms (genus Brachycentrus), the "Mother's Day Caddis," are important on some rivers. Use a Sparkle Pupa or Deep Sparkle Pupa with a green body and a tan shroud before and during the hatch. Dead drift it near the bottom, then let it swing up to the surface. If you see trout feeding consistently just subsurface or making splashy rises, cast a Sparkle Pupa upstream-and-across and let it drift drag-free just under the surface.

Many caddis species lay eggs by swimming or crawling underwater, and they are often taken by trout. Use a wet fly such as a Soft Hackle or a Diving Caddis in the sizes listed above for adults; caddis get darker when ready to lay eggs.

Trout and steelhead have been spawning in many rivers, so if you're wading over gravelly areas or see small rocky spots that are "cleaner" than their surroundings, you're probably on a redd. Get off it, and don't fish in that area. Spawners need their rest.

Also, this is the time of year that salmon and steelhead smolts migrate to sea. They congregate in backeddies, below riffles, and near shore. They're suckers for a dry fly or anything near the surface. If you're catching a bunch of5-8 inch "trout" that are shiny and silvery and maybe have the adipose fin clipped off, you're into smolts. Move on and fish another area. They are likely to be damaged by your fly, whether it's barbless or not.

iiiSteelhead. gggSteelheaders will find few options as Peninsula rivers remain closed for steelhead and trout fishing this month (open for salmon) and most Puget Sound rivers are closed. That leaves a handful of southwest Washington rivers, such as the Kalama, East Fork Lewis, and Washougal.


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