Rainbow Trout and Mountain Whitefish
Eaton downstream to Yakima. The Yakima River is a tributary of the Columbia River in south central and eastern Washington state, The length of the river from headwaters to mouth is 214 miles, with an average drop of 9.85 feet per mile. The river rises in the Cascade Range at an elevation of 2,449 feet at Keechelus Dam on Keechelus Lake near Snoqualmie Pass, near Easton. The river flows through that town, skirts Ellensburg, passes the city of Yakima, and continues southeast to Richland, where it flows into the Columbia River at an elevation of 340 feet.
To reach the stretch of river between Cle Elum and Ellensburg from the west, take Interstate 90 to Cle Elum and exit onto Highway 907 as though you where heading to Blewett Pass. But instead of going left at the Y a few miles off the freeway, go right onto Highway 10, which parallels the river for several miles. Anglers headed west should follow the Interstate 90 to a few miles out of Ellensburg, exit north onto U.S.97, and then turn left (west) onto Highway 10 to go downstream along the river. To reach the “Canyon” portion part of the river, drive south from Ellensburg on Highway 821 or drive north from Yakima on Interstate 82 and exit onto Highway 821 about five miles out of town.
Several access sites and boat-launching spots are located along Highway 10 and Highway 821, most of them visible from the road. As for food, gas, tackle, and lodging you will find everything you need in Easton, Cle Elum, Ellensburg and Yakima.
Fishing the Upper Yakima River:
The Yakima is Washington’s best example of what can happen when a decision is made to manage a river for wild fish production and quality angling opportunities. The trend on the upper and middle portions of the Yakima since the early 1980’s has been toward quality fishing, and it has paid off in a big way, the Yakima River is now considered a top elite stream throughout the fly-fishermen world. Even though you can’t kill a trout between Easton Dam and Roza Dam, you can certainly catch them, and some anglers experience days when they hook and release of upwards of 50 wild rainbows or more. This part of the river is open year-round, and you may find excellent fishing during all but the coldest part of winter. Although the majority of people that do fish the Yakima do so by way of fly-fishing, spinning tackle and hardware are also used. In fact, small spinners such as a Panther Martin or a small rooster-tail type of lure are very effective. Just remember that in selective fisheries, all lure are to be single, barbless hooks. Bait is prohibited from this portion of the river.
Whether you fish flies or lures, casting precision is often a must on the Yakima. Much of the river is lined with grassy banks and overhanging brush and trees, and Yakima rainbows are notorious for hugging the river’s edge and refusing to move more than a few inches into open water for a meal. Sounds like a mouse pattern on the fly?. That means of course that your fly or spinner must reach inches from the shoreline or it will be ignored. Sloppy casting will lead to fast frustration.
The Yakima is popular to both bank and boat anglers, and there are many places to reach the water along this the stretch of the river. Several of those are along Interstate 90 between Easton and Cle Elum, but some of the most popular are off Highway 10 from Cle Elum downstream to Ellensburg and along Highway 821 also known as the Yakima Canyon Road from Ellensburg downstream to Yakima.
The only time of the year you can use bait for fishing the Upper Yakima is during the winter, and then only for whitefish. Unlike many Northwest rivers, the Yakima is the scene of some fairly serious interest in whitefish among local fishermen. Maggots, small grubs, and various aquatic larvae are productive baits, but a few locals stick with their fly-rods and small nymph patterns to take whitefish throughout the winter. Any of the deeper, slower water upstream of Yakima is likely to produce good to excellent whitefish action for the serious anglers.
Here is a picture of a typical Upper Yakima Rainbow trout.
Yakima River Hatch Chart Link:
Here is an overview picture of the “Yakima Canyon” between Ellensburg and Yakima. Many fishermen feel that the section of river that flows through the Yakima Canyon is best. For roughly 20 miles the Yakima winds through the canyon, paralleled the entire distance by Highway 821. Access for bank and wading anglers is good and the entire section is a float fisherman’s paradise. Nearly every foot of the river screams TROUT!