The fisherman has a harmless, preoccupied look; he is a kind of vagrant, that nothing fears. He blends himself with the trees and the shadows. All of his approaches are gentle and indirect. He times himself to the meandering, soliloquizing stream; he addresses himself to it as a lover to his mistress; he woos it and stays with it till he knows its hidden secrets. Where it deepens, his purpose deepens; where it is shallow he is indifferent. He knows how to interpret its every glance and dimple; its beauty haunts him for days.  John Burroughs, 1886
For years, special regulations have been in place on the waters of the Upper Yakima River located directly in the middle portion of Washington State to protect the natural spawning wild rainbows and cutthroat trout that inhabit the river. 
Misconceptions about the spring, summer and fall seasons being the only rewarding months to fly fish this beautiful Pacific Northwest River for these resident trout has been reinvented and contemplated by a select group of guiding individuals here at the Worley Bugger.
Fly anglers are discovering the rewards of fishing Central Washington's desert river, the Yakima during the months of November, December, January and February.
Many outdoor enthusiasts participate in a wide variety of activities during the months of winter.  A few examples may be; hunting big game and water fowl, skiing or snowmobiling the slippery slopes of your favorite mountain side.  Kicking back in your favorite easy chair, cheering on your favorite football team to victory isn't a bad way to spend a day either. 
These are all great activities in their own right.  However, many fly fishermen stow their gear in late October, squandering the opportunity to experience, what we think can be some of the best fishing the river has to offer.  Crazy you say?  Read on and let me elaborate more on the subject of winter fly fishing below.
Yakima Winter Tour Information-Seasonal

Cost:

 Two Person:$325.00 per boat

 One Person: $275.00 per boat

 Multi-Day Discount Available

 November 15th to February 28th

  All Flies Are Provided

  Hot Drinks-Snacks Provided

  5 Hours Of Guided Fly Fishing

When we refer to the months of winter, we are generally categorizing the latter days of November, the months of December, January and February.  These are the months that are typically the coldest in the Yakima River Valley.  Snow fall is occurring at some elevation on a daily basis and daylight savings time has taken effect. 

 

Yakima River Winter Food Forms

 

Midges Blue Wing Olive Skwalla Stonefly Winter Stonefly Eggs Sculpin
What does this mean in fishing terms?  There is less of that warm Central Washington sunshine during the day to heat the water and air temperature.  So, we as fly fishermen target the warmest portions of these wintry days, which typically is 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Ample time and opportunity, six full hours to be exact to wet a line in the waters of the Yakima.

NOVEMBER

 
In November, Autumn has fully immersed itself across the Yakima River Valley.  Colder temperatures have arrived and the once lush, green foliage that grew so plentiful under the warm Central Washington sunshine has begun to wither and fall.  The Cottonwood trees, that tower along the banks of the river, graciously secreted an array of vibrant Fall colors, are now nearly barren of their once thick flora.
The river this time of year takes on a whole new shape, a whole new attitude, and a whole new feel. Its pre-winter conditions throughout the Yakima River Valley and fish of all species begin to

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shift.  They make their move to more appropriate water conditions, where it is ideal for them to feed indiscriminately throughout the day.  River flows are typically low and clear this time of year.  Insect hatches become limited, especially as the month progresses.  The initial portions of the month will still produce an afternoon emergence of Blue Wing Olive Mayflies.  In some areas of the Yakima, where they are predominate in larger numbers, the big Fall Caddis will also occur at some point during the day.  As the month progress these important Fall aquatics will diminish and in most circumstances will not make a reappearance until the new year. 
Chinook Salmon have breached the mighty electrical dams of the Columbia River as well as a half dozen barriers that cross the Yakima.  The salmons' tireless journey from the salt water of the Pacific to the fresh waters of the Yakima occur throughout the season.  King Salmon, the fall persuasion, are present during this time of year in specific areas of the river.  Their sole purpose and intent;  proliferate their species and complete the circle of life.  With their massive bodies, they ravage bone and sinew, scouring the rocky stream bed of any unsightly debris.  Here, they deposit their eggs and the cycle of one life ends and the rebirth of another in the approaching spring.  That of course is another story.
  Yakima River  November Rainbows  
November November November
The Yakima is home to a host of bait fish, which include the Sculpin, Dace, Stickelback and Shiners.  The Sculpin is a small river bottom dweller and an important food source throughout the year.  They are also a winter spawning fish and their procreations become very active during the latter parts of November.  The Sculpin, like many other aquatic critters, are vulnerable this time of year.  An increase in their activity and the lower water conditions make them a prime winter target for trout.  The Sculpin just happen to be one of the Yakima Rainbow's favorite food sources.  They hunt them when they can and make a meal of them whenever possible.
A large population of resident Rocky Mountain Whitefish also reside in the Yakima River.  This adipose intact descendant of the trout, are also a winter spawning fish and begin their spawning ceremony over the gravely bottoms of the Yakima in late November.  Like many Pacific Northwest Rivers, a catch and kill season is offered on Whitefish beginning the first day of December to the last day of February.  Many of our respected, elder generation of fishermen will converge along the banks of the Yakima during this time of year, catching this boney, oil filled game fish to line their smokers.  Each fishermen is allowed 15 fish per creel, per day during the length of the season.
We do inexplicatively catch a few Whitefish during the day, when targeting trout this time of year, mainly due to their increased activity as well as lower water conditions.
DECEMBER  
By December, the winter mode of fishing is in high gear.  The average daily temperature now has dropped about ten degrees.  Snow accumulations are building in the high elevations of the Cascade Mountain Range, a massive, rugged partition of stone, which divides the city of Seattle and the Yakima River Valley.  The banks along the Yakima this time of year are sheeted with a insulating foot of snow or more.  The day time temperatures are reaching the low 40 degree mark.   Cool, but far from uncomfortable.
This time of year, aquatic insect activity is limited.  An afternoon hatch of Midges and Winter Stoneflies will occur, however there is never a guarantee or a consistent pattern in either insect

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from day to day.  Most afternoons, some sort of Chironomid activity is happening.  If there is a populous of them forming along the waters edge, you can find some fish harvesting small adults or clusters in the shallow water.
A more consistent form of fly fishing during the month of December will be a nymph tactic or a streamer style approach.  The same aquatic events that were happening in late November will continue throughout the winter month of December.  Both Whitefish and Sculpin will continue on their spawning ritual, increasing the procreation activity as the air and water temperatures cool.  This activity occurs most often during the warmest part of the afternoon.
  Yakima River December Rainbows  
Yakima River Wild Rainbow
December December December
A nymphing strategy is in order here.  A dry-line approach with an indicator attached to line and leader will be the effective.  A nine foot, 5 or 6 weight fly rod is ideal.  For many, nymph fishing with indicators or in some terms 'bobbers" is not a favorite form of fly fishing.  Perhaps, a lack in the basic understanding or the principles behind the art of nymph or wet fly fishing has never been fully explained.  Once the ideology and theory behind the indicator is clarified, most fishermen take to it quickly and find a new arsenal in their fishing.  These are great months to hone your nymph fishing skills with a professional instructor.
Streamer tactics can vary this time of year.  A short, quick sinking tip line can aid in delivering the Sculpin imitation to the required depth. Especially as the fly swings across the current.  Gravity, as well as the power of the water pulls the fly upward as it comes across the current.  The sinking tip line helps keep the fly deep during this period
Its the holiday season and the hustle and bustle of December speeds quickly.  If weather and water conditions remain consistent and our daily temperatures stay within the seasonal average, the month of December can be provide some fun and exciting fishing.  The resident rainbows are now schooled in big pods in specific water types throughout the Yakima and figuring out their diet isn't rocket science.  It's a matter of knowing the river, the behavior of fish and what it takes to find them.  The water volume is generally low and it's the time of year when your chances of hooking a big, burly Yakima River Rainbow are in the fly fishermen's favor.  Merry Christmas!
JANUARY  
It's the start of a new year and the beginning of yet another season on the Yakima River.  Happy New Year!  If I had to say, January is probably the most inconsistent month for fishing, period .  This is mainly due to the inconsistency in Central Washington's weather.  This is the coldest month of the year in the river valley and at times recording mercury levels well below zero isn't uncommon.  Big, thick fog banks form from the Columbia River Basin and sock the picturesque Ellensburg Valley in dense cover, sometimes for days.  When this occurs, air temperatures are restricted and that warm portion of the day that we need for productive fishing becomes even more limited.
If these cold temperatures do occur, slush ice will form in the river creating difficult conditions for any type of fishing.  Slow moving, standing water portions of the Yakima will completely freeze over or create huge ice caps and snow shelves leaving only a few feet of moving water to flow.
However, with temperature inconsistencies there are also patterns of weather that will provide  fruitful fishing days in the month of January. Some afternoons, the warm Kittitas Valley sunshine

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will be beaming brightly across the Columbia Basin, burning away the low lying fog banks and providing adequate warm air for comfortable fishing conditions.  These are the days to target trout in January.  Watching the extended weather forecast and predication for the upcoming days high temperatures can be helpful.
  Yakima River January Rainbows  
January January January
Aquatic insect activity stays primarily the same in the month of January, expect for one significant change.  Skwalla Stonefly nymphs begin migrating throughout the winter months, forming in considerable numbers along the shorelines of the Yakima.  In January, this stonefly exodus will intensify and thousands of these stoneflies will make their journey to the banks of the river.  Resident fish of all species will gluttonously fill their already bulging bellies on these large aquatic nymphs before the Skwalla's miraculous metamorphosis to adult hood in February.
This is the golden age of technology, the 21st century.  We've put Neil Armstrong on the moon and set down a lunar rocket on Mars, surely there is gear warm and comfortable enough for January fly fishing conditions on the Yakima.  High tech gear is available to all outdoor enthusiasts and for the fly fishermen there is no exception.  Breathable waders, reinforced with multi -layers of Gore-Tex are available as well as a variety of warm, insulating layering pieces to wear appropriately underneath.  It's easy and in most cases it's a one time shot on your pocket book.  The good stuff can be expensive, but it will last you for years and if you use it, you get more than your monie's worth.
If I haven't persuaded you thus far about fly fishing the Yakima in late November, December or January get ready, because February is on the horizon and things are about to get really interesting in the coming month.
FEBRUARY  
February has arrived and the landscape in the Yakima River Valley is beginning to look much different now.  The cold, foggy days of January are shades of the past and a much warmer climate is on the horizon.  The low lying snow, especially accumulations that have collected in the Rodeo City over the winter are quickly dissolving under the warm afternoon sunshine.  Even the low lying snow around the hillsides of the river is beginning to disappear.  This month, the average daily temperature will skyrocket almost fifteen degrees from what had occurred in January.  Fifteen degrees may not seem like much, but for this time of year it is mammoth.
The Adult Female Skawla
With the warming temperatures, many interesting events are beginning to happen on Central Washington's Yakima River.  Monitoring water temperatures very closely, we begin to see adult stonefly activity when the water temperature reaches a modest 42 degrees. 
This is the beginning stages of our post winter stonefly hatch, the Skwalla (pictured left)., the first large aquatic insect hatch of the new season.  As water temperatures become warmer, we see more of these large pre-spring plecoptera insects along the waters edge of the Yakima.
Many fly fishermen are just beginning to learn about the wonders of this post winter stonefly and its emergence in our great Pacific Northwest Rivers. 
For years, fly fishermen in Southwest Montana have been breaking up their cabin fever and heading to several area rivers for this early stonefly hatch.  The Bitterroot, Rock Creek and the Clark Fork Rivers just to name a few.  Its just been in recent years that Yakima River fly fishermen have acquainted themselves with our terrific hatch of Skwalla Stoneflies on the Yakima.
The first initial appearance of Skwalla Stones on the Yakima, generally occurs a couple of

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weeks ahead of the hatch on Montana rivers as well. Once again, mainly due to weather and water conditions. The warmer weather in the Kittitas Valley sparks this emergence of stoneflies, a couple of weeks prior to the one that occurs in Montana's, Bitterroot Valley.  Tracing back over the years of my Yakima River Fly Fishing Journal, it's typical to find our first encounter with these stoneflies in the first week to ten days of February.   Skwalla fishing is underway on the Yakima and casting big dry flies for Yakima River Rainbows has begun.
I have to agree with most fly fishermen.  Casting dry flies can be some of the most exciting fishing we experience.  The only problem is, dry fly fishing isn't always the most productive method of catching fish.  It's a proven fact that 90 % of the trout's diet consists of sub aquatic invertebrates.  However, when big stoneflies make their appearance this proven fact could easily be disputed.  During the peak period of this or any stonefly activity for that matter, trout are aware of their presence and routinely hunt these big spring stoneflies, eagerly anticipating a mouthful of these big belly filling meals.
In order to understand the feeding behavior of trout during this period, I believe you must first understand the nature of this post winter stonefly.  Like most stoneflies, the Skwalla is a migrating insect, crawling along the river bottom to shallow water, usually around the shoreline of the river where they can conceal themselves below small to medium size river rock boulders.  Once in shallow water, they wait for the ideal water temperature to crawl out from the skinny water to the brushy banks and begin their metamorphoses from stonefly nymph to stonefly adult.
  Yakima River February Rainbows  
February February February
The maturing nymph splits open across the top of its body and leaves its pre-adult cocoon or exoskeleton behind.  It transforms into a long, thin, elongated winged flying insect.  It is now ready to find an ideal suitor.  Once procreation has taken place and the female is ripe with a tailing egg sack, she will return to the water to deposit her eggs to insure the next generation of stoneflies.   This is a continuing cycle that occurs each year on the Yakima, generally for a 3 to 4 week period, with the peak of the action being toward the end of February or the first few days of March.
Since the Skwalla is a post winter, pre spring insect its movements both on and off the water are what you may expect for February.  Some females fly, others don't.  Sometimes dropping just off the bank and floating along the stream's edge is adequate for them.  The weather is cooler than  what it will be in May, when the Pteronarcys Stonefly, the Salmonfly is emerging on the Yakima.  Because of this fact, the Skwalla is not an aggressive mover on the water.  It doesn't flip and flail its wings like our late spring and summer stoneflies. Most of the time they free float, drag free on the surface and usually along the bank's edges.  Here, trout lie and wait anticipating at anytime a spring stonefly to come helplessly floating along.  Gulp!
Don't make the mistake either of not throwing a big dry fly pattern around this time of the year.  You don't need to see them on the water or haplessly flying through the air for the imitations to be productive.  Once the trout begin eating them, they're looking for them.  Pick patterns that are suited to this time of year's water conditions as well.  If you do, you can experience some of the finest early fishing the Yakima has to offer.
CONCLUSION  
As you can see there is no shortage of food during the colder months of the year for the Yakima River Rainbows.  Hibernation occurs within the animal kingdom among the larger mammals and reptiles.  Fish continue on their relentless consumption of aquatics, slowing down only when necessary or when their metabolism requires it.  There is always something to eat flowing in the water columns of the Yakima and something always looking to eat it..
If you experience cabin fever, boredom or are just plain restlessness during the winter months, break out your fly fishing gear and head to the Yakima River in Central Washington.  You may be surprised and find out just what you have been missing all this time. 
If you are unsure about current conditions, check out the Worley Bugger website and the Yakima River Fly Fishing Journal.  It's an up to date, honest report of river and fishing conditions.  You can also sign up for our weekly email river journal. sign up 
Each week delivered to your email inbox, you will receive an up to date and accurate account of what is happening on the Yakima River.  It includes current hatches, fishing and river conditions along with a host of other vital information you will find useful.  You can also visit our pro shop in Ellensburg.  A member of our staff will be happy to assist you with any information you may need to make your winter fly fishing excursion a success.
You may also want to consider hiring one of our full- time professional fly fishing guides for the day.  If you have never fished the Yakima this time of year, or for that matter anytime of the year, employing one of our professional instructors will be a fun and rewarding experience for you.  Fly fish from a warm, comfortable drift boat and enjoy the winter wonderland as you float the Yakima River.  We have seasonal guided rates throughout the months of November, December, January and February.

Warm, Comfortable Drift Boat Fly Fishing

If you do schedule a winter fly fishing trip with us, we would also like to note that should circumstances become severe due to unforeseen weather, road or river conditions, Worley Bugger Fly Co. will reschedule your guided tour for a later date when conditions have improved.
Our professional guiding team and pro shop staff members constantly monitor stream and fishing conditions on the Yakima River.  If you have any questions about our professional services or the many fly fishing adventures we offer, please feel free to contact us toll free-(888)-950-FISH (3474).   We will be happy to answer any questions that you may have. 
We look forward to hearing from you and showing you the splendor of Central Washington's, Yakima River.

A Professional Fly Fishing Outfitter Service

306 South Main Street #3
Ellensburg, WA 98926
888-950-FISH
www.worleybuggerflyco.com

 

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A Professional Fly Fishing Outfitter Service
306 South Main #3
Ellensburg, WA 98926
888-950-FISH
www.worleybuggerflyco.com worleybugger@elltel.net

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