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Artistic view of a Male Pteronarcys californica (Pteronarcyidae) (Giant Salmonfly) Stonefly Adult from the Gallatin River in Montana
Pteronarcys californica

The giant Salmonflies of the Western mountains are legendary for their proclivity to elicit consistent dry-fly action and ferocious strikes.

Lateral view of a Male Baetidae (Blue-Winged Olive) Mayfly Dun from Mystery Creek #308 in Washington
This dun emerged from a mature nymph on my desk. Unfortunately its wings didn't perfectly dry out.
27" brown trout, my largest ever. It was the sub-dominant fish in its pool. After this, I hooked the bigger one, but I couldn't land it.
Troutnut is a project started in 2003 by salmonid ecologist Jason "Troutnut" Neuswanger to help anglers and fly tyers unabashedly embrace the entomological side of the sport. Learn more about Troutnut or support the project for an enhanced experience here.

By Troutnut on September 30th, 2017
I drove out from the gloomy rain of the Seattle area this morning to float the Yakima River in the rain shadow of the Cascades. The weather in the lower Canyon reach (from mile 20 to Red's Fly Shop) was beautiful, although a bit windy for casting.

I floated solo in my packraft, which isn't really a good craft for anchoring and fishing, so the plan was just to use the boat to move between spots to get out and wade. At this water level (1500 CFS at Umtanum, fairly low), there still aren't a lot of great spots for that, at least not compared to the total amount of water fishable from a drift boat. I can see why those are so popular on this river. Still, I found a few decent spots.

Insect activity was quiet. I saw one October Caddis flying around and a handful of other things, but the only numerous insects were Baetids of some sort (I didn't catch any), and they weren't especially thick. They did intersect with one of the better spots I stopped, though, and my first cast with a size 18 parachute BWO hooked a nice rainbow, around 18". I fought it for a few minutes and was beginning to tire it out, just about ready to pull the landing net off my back, when I got a little bit too aggressive against its bulldogging and it bent out the little hook and got away. I fished a cast's length downstream for half an hour or so, then tried that spot again, and to amazement I hooked a fish of the same size, in the same spot, on the same fly. It's possible there was more than one nice fish right there, but I'm more inclined to guess this was the same fish hitting again. I've never had a big trout give me a second chance so quickly. I've done it with naive little grayling in Alaska, but this was a first, if indeed that's what happened.

After that, surface activity really died down for the rest of the day. I spent some time swinging a small olive Sculpzilla, on which I missed too many strikes throughout the day. Some might have been small trout that only nipped the tail, but a couple fish were solidly on the line for a few seconds before dropping it. I think my ten years throwing dry flies to grayling dulled my other technique a bit. Finally I managed a solid hookup in a deep riffle and won a great fight with a 20" rainbow that kept dodging the net, trying to run between my feet, and other crafty tricks.

Mule deer, quail, and other wildlife complemented the golden canyon scenery to make this trip really enjoyable, even though the fishing was slow at times.

Photos by Troutnut from the Yakima River in Washington

The Yakima River in Washington
20" rainbow caught swinging a sculpzilla through a deep riffle
The Yakima River in Washington
The Yakima River in Washington
The Yakima River in Washington
The Yakima River in Washington
The Yakima River in Washington
The Yakima River in Washington
The Yakima River in Washington
The Yakima River in Washington
The Yakima River in Washington
The Yakima River in Washington
Closeup of the 20-incher
The Yakima River in Washington
Mule deer on a hillside above the Yakima

From the Yakima River in Washington
I caught this 18-incher about half an hour after playing for 3-5 minutes and then losing what I'm pretty sure was the same fish. It's the first time a big trout ever gave me a second chance. Both hookings were on a size 18 parachute BWO to match the light Baetid hatch the fish were rising to.
Small rainbow with an exceptionally vivid stripe

Comments / replies

Wbranch's profile picture
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2635
Wbranch on Oct 1, 2017October 1st, 2017, 9:56 pm EDT
Wow Jason! Beautiful water and lovely rainbows. That little 10"/11" rainbow is just gorgeous. Heck if you could find a pod of a dozen of them they would be great fun on a 9' #4 or #5 rod. The riffles look great for nymphing or fishing a Clouser to match the prevalent forage minnows. Did you float solo or fish with a friend? How long a float was it? Great scenery. Do you have any idea of the trout per mile? With such low fishing pressure I might be inclined to go out there during a low water period so I could float/wade.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Troutnut's profile picture
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2758
Troutnut on Oct 2, 2017October 2nd, 2017, 4:57 am EDT
It was a 4.5-mile solo float. There's a fly shop right on the river in the center of this canyon reach, where I took out for my float, and they have a vehicle shuttle service (and boat rentals, though I used my own).

The fishing pressure was less than on the West Branch of the Delaware, but it wasn't really a wilderness experience either. I encountered probably 5 walk-in anglers in various places and 10-15 other boats. One story I found cited 1129 rainbows per mile in the most densely populated reach, during a 2003 study. The river also has westslope cutthroat, though I haven't caught anything except rainbows in there yet.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
Wbranch's profile picture
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2635
Wbranch on Oct 2, 2017October 2nd, 2017, 5:12 am EDT

One story I found cited 1129 rainbows per mile in the most densely populated reach, during a 2003 study.

That is a decent fish per mile count but by no means even close to most Montana rivers. However when you encounter those 4000 - 6000 trout per mile you also encounter huge influxes of fly fishers. There was one day on the Missouri during my late June trip when there were over 120 drift boats, pontoon boats and kayaks all pursuing those poor trout. Luckily I sneak along the banks in my frameless pontoon boat looking for bank feeders. When I find one or two I anchor the boat about 40' away and begin my stalk. My back is facing the main flow and when boats go behind me and want to chat I act like I can't hear them.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.

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