A 5 Year fish, so soon?

The Yakima is a finicky river that rarely gives up it’s bounty of fish over 12 inches, at least in my experiences (and those of many I know). Based on that, every 5-10 years or so I will hook into, and  sometimes land, a much nicer fish than the typical 10 inch rainbow. It happens so seldom that, when it does, I simply refer to the fish  as either a “5 Year Yakima Fish” or, if the fish is in the 20″ range, it’ll be referred to as a “10 Year Yakima Fish”, also  known as a not uncommon occurrence  on normal trout streams. Wait—that may be an unfair assessment—because not all rivers give up 16-20″ fish on a regular basis. However, most normal trout streams fish well—you know, if it looks like a trout should be right there, chances are a trout will be right there. Not so much on the Yakima. But I digress, back to the 5 Year Fish.

The last time I caught a 5 Year Fish was in September 2015. If so inclined, you can read about it HERE. The 2015 5 Year Fish wasn’t particularly yuge, but it was the biggest I’d caught in, well, 5 years on the Yakima River. I’d hooked a larger fish (a 10 Year Yakima fish) a year prior, but hadn’t sealed the deal thanks to an inferior net man (who shall remain un-named Marck). Suffice it to say, when I set out on a recent day to fish the Yakima for the first time this year, my expectations were appropriately low. They always are.

The day looked to be a rather nice one for fishing, if not necessarily for catching. In a year when the sun has seldom made its appearance, just the idea of warmth and blue skies was all I needed. If a fish or two were caught, so be it. I would be fishing with Bob, with whom I had fished the last time I had fished, which was October 2016, HERE. Bob seems to be a bit of a good luck charm, which is good enough to offset for his rather uninteresting story telling and otherwise unsavory demeanor. The only downside to the day was that we’d be fishing a rising river. But what are you gonna do when you have the day set aside and Mrs. UA mandated that I either finally get the boat out of the garage and use it, or lose it.

We chose to fish a stretch of the Yakima near Cle Elum, and we knew that we had to avoid the Teanaway River, a tributary of the Yakima that is know to spew its chocolate contents, affecting everything downstream for miles. Therefore we dropped the boat in at one of the worst launch sites on the Yakima River (South Cle Elum) and scheduled our termination point at my least favorite take-out on the Yakima River (East Cle Elum, or simply “State”). However, in between these two points lies some nice water. It’s one of my favorite stretches, actually.


This photo is for Mrs. UA, proof that the boat was actually used.

Bob was quick to land a 10 inch rainbow shortly after launching. Fish size mattered less than just getting the skunk off the boat early so that we could enjoy whatever might come our way after that. Not much did come our way after that, at least not for a few hours. The river was running at a decent clip, and while visibility wasn’t terrible, the water was pretty dirty from either runoff or a controlled release of water from an upstream dam. And the water was still quite cold, which is good and bad. Good for the health of the fish, but not necessarily conducive to abundant insect hatches. And when the water is still really cold, fish tend to be less willing to move to an artificial offering. But the sun shone and the w#nd wasn’t worth complaining about, so we had that going for us. March browns were fluttering about off and on, and despite that no fish were seen rising to them, it seemed reasonable to match the hatch with a nymph setup: A Hare’s Ear with a Pheasant Tail dropper. Bob was on the oars as I watched my pink bobber drift through a seam that looked like it should—and would— hold a fish, if only the Yakima were a normal trout stream. Surprisingly the bobber dipped. With nothing else to do, I set the hook and became instantly connected to a fish that revealed itself to be of better than average size. I criticized the fish for being less than particularly feisty, but it did a fine job of using the heavy current to its advantage and refused to give up easily. I would later apologize to the fish for the harsh criticism after noticing that it had a rather gaping wound in its belly, due to some sort of predator or another. Bob managed the net and we admired what would be an 18″ Westslope cutthroat (a Yakima 20″).  The chance to catch cutthroats is the beauty of fishing the upper Yakima, and this was a beauty of a cutthroat—my biggest to date. Lovely.


A 5 Year Yakima Fish, ahead of its time.

The problem with this fish is that I wasn’t yet due to catch it: It should have been another 2-1/2 years before a fish this size makes a poor decision and accepts the offering of the UA.  So basically, I’m screwed for the next 7-1/2 years.


  1. Mark

    Yes Sir,
    I love your Yakima River rather in theory, have a nice practice up there : )
    May be one day I rustle from you a fish or two without a complain about the fish size and the rate of their growth
    Body keep your line tide 🙂

    • Kirk Werner

      It’s my job to complain about the Yakima River—a river I love to hate 🙂 Thanks for following along and commenting.

      • Mark

        Dear UA,
        let fish have some of their mystery, too scientific approach is like a coroner’s way. I’m not a poacher so don’t be afraid. Sir, I like your pen and the way you look at the world.
        I was really scared, when you pretended to stop your blog : )
        Best Regards

        • Mark

          Dear UA,
          Once my river in her erosion activity met a layer of miocene silt, the water in the river was ink blue. What a panic was among naturalist and anglers, they suspected pollution. After 3 weeks the situation came back to be normal. The silt was washed away by the river with no impact on fish. In deforested catchment muddy (coffee) water can happen, trouts don’t like it when it lasts too long. All the best, Mark

  2. Pete

    I fish the Yakima river around a dozen times per year via drift boat. Nearly every time we go we hook into a 20 incher, although there are a lot of 8-16 inchers…. The biggest fish I’ve caught on the Yak was 26” and very fat. My dad and I hooked into a rainbow that was about 28 inches and at least 8 lbs the last time we went. It was so big we thought it was a steelhead. My only complaint is that it gets really hot/windy in the lower valley and it can take a while to get the right fly on the line. Plus there are a lot of floaters who leave trash in this otherwise great river.

    • Kirk Werner

      I much prefer the upper section above/below Cle Elum. The fish numbers are lower, but it’s a more enjoyable float in my opinion. And there’s always a chance to catch a cutthroat up there. The 28 inch fish you hooked into undoubtedly was a steelhead and a 26 inch fish would, based on size, also be a steelhead from what I’ve been told. It would be cool if the steelhead run ever reached a point where it became a viable fishery but they have a long way to go before that could ever be considered. And if that happened the river would get even more pressure and that would not be good for anyone except guides selling trips on the river. Thanks for the comment, and Go Cougs!

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