The rare, respectable fish of the Yakima River.

Depending on whom is queried, the Yakima River is either a diamond or a chunk of coal. Suffice it to say she has never particularly kind to me.

Merry Christmas from the Yakima River

It wasn’t always that way, mind you. In fact she lured me in with false sense of hope several years ago the first time I fished her. On this fateful day I landed a nice 16″ rainbow in a well-known foam line just below the bridge at Umtanum. Within minutes my buddy Jimmy landed a similarly-sized bow in nearly the same spot. We both naively believed that the river would be this easy—this good to us every time. And thus began my love/hate relationship with the Yakima.

I love the Yakima. There are 20+ inch fish in the river. I was witness when my buddy Marck landed a large rainbow a couple of years ago. I was behind the camera, which is where I always am when a big fish is in the picture. As far as I am concerned, that fish of Marck’s was the stuff legends are made of. I myself caught a nice fish about 8 years ago: it wanted desperately to be 20 inches, but I think it fell short of that mark by an inch or so. Our guide on that trip, Johnny Boitano, even got excited when that fish was hooked and landed. But I’ve not come close to a Yakima fish that size since.

Marck’s epic fish.

A long ago and rare angling accomplishment.

Most of the time I catch 10-12 inch fish. Well, that’s not entirely true—most of the time I catch nothing. A 10 inch fish on this river doesn’t excite me, although it’s certainly better than the all-too-common skunk. Not that I’m a big fish snob, mind you. Au contraire. But when there are much bigger fish in a river touted to be a blue ribbon trout stream, a 10 inch trout seems like a yellow participant’s ribbon.

I hate the Yakima. 2 weeks ago, Jimmy and Morris and I fished 15 miles of the Lower Yakima Canyon and I didn’t hook a single fish. Jimmy landed one 12 incher and Morris fared slightly better in the numbers department, catching 3 fish but nothing bigger than 10-12 inches. I’ve been skunked more times on this river than I care to remember. But I keep going back.

I can’t quit the Yakima. A week ago my brother Hal and I fished with Derek Young of Emerging Rivers Guide Services. We floated an upper section of the river from Cle Elum to Bristol. Hal won out as far as quantity, catching 3 respectable fish in the 10-12 inch range as well as a handful of disrespectful fish of considerably less length.

One of Hal’s many disrespectable troutletts.

By late afternoon I had about given up all hope of catching a fish. The day had been tough, what with a plummeting barometer putting the fish down. Even a dropping river couldn’t turn on the bite as our streamers were ignored all morning long. After lunch we opted for some dry fly fishing and even that didn’t rise any fish for me except for a diminutive troutling that even a sculpin would have called an appetizer.  From the Rear Admiral position in the back of the boat I watched a crane fly skitter across the river toward the grassy bank, just a few feet below where my fly was drifting. Suddenly a very large fish (undoubtedly 20+ inches) rolled on the crane fly. Had my synthetic imitation gotten there first I’m sure the fish would have taken my fly balked and waited for the real deal. It’s just how things roll for me. A short while later, about the time the pity party was getting into full swing, the threat of a skunk was eliminated as I landed a nice 16 inch Westslope Cutt. Not a hog by Yakima standards, but it was the best fish I’ve landed on that river in an awful long time. Derek was relieved because he knew his tip was in jeopardy of smelling as bad as a skunk had yours truly come up empty-handed.

A skunk-ending Yakima Westslope.

After the day with Derek and Hal I headed back to the Yakima 3 days later to float with the Brothers Albacore. We opted for the same float that I had fished earlier in the week, and my intent was to catch the crane fly-eating hog and hold bragging rights for years to come. The weather had been stable for 4 days in a row and the river continued to drop. There was cloud cover. It held great promise of a big fish day.  Well, I can tell you that if the 10 inch rainbow taken on a dry and the 11 inch chubby Westslope cutthroat that I pulled out from under some woody debris on a streamer are big fish, then I was accomplished. Everyone caught at least a couple of smallish fish, but at the end of the day if you were to ask the Brothers Albacore their thoughts on the Yakima they’d say, “At least the beer was good.”

Chubby 11 incher.

Depending on who you asked.

The Brothers Albacore: Team PBR



  1. jergens

    Atleast it has a bikini hatch that would rival any western river. And the Tav is nearby. Looks like a fun time with the brothers Albacore, you guys need to do the eastern migration as a group and come visit me in TB!

    • Kirk Werner

      The problem, Joe, as you are well aware, is that the bikini hatch on the Yak is much more about quantity than quality. Kinda like the fish in the river: there may be a few thousand per mile, but they’re all under 10 inches, except for one or two.

  2. Patrick

    The move you write about it, the Yakima River sounds like your personal addiction. Or that high school crush you can’t seem to shake. Either way, your wife is a saint to put up with it.

    • Kirk Werner

      It’s gotten to the point where all my wife does when I return home from a day on the Yakima is ask, “So, were you unaccomplished?” The answer is, more often than not, very predictable.

  3. Chase

    Nailed it man. That river is one cruel mistress who loves to deal out the skunk. But on the rare occasions she feels like playing nice… well it’s enough to make a man endure the next few months of skunky trips.

    • Kirk Werner

      Thanks for the comment, Chase. Misery loves company, especially with regard to the Yakima. By the way, I can’t wait to go next!

  4. Big Tuna

    You need to show the picture of the flotilla led by speedo man. I don’t think even Joe has seen anything on the Yak that rivaled that cru.

    • Kirk Werner

      I’d repressed that memory until you dredged it up. So thanks for that.

  5. Fontinalis Rising

    Sounds like most every river in MI, or at least the mean little northern streams I fish. Some even have a fair bikini hatch as long as you don’t mind body hair.

    • Kirk Werner

      Good to know that piscatorial disrespect isn’t just reserved for Central Washington. Oh, and thanks for that bikini hatch visual.

  6. Chuck Atkins

    Fishing is getting worse on almost every river I fish. Any Steelheader knows this. There are some trout streams in Wisconcin that still pay off but pressure and lack of state funding means more environmental degradation…less stocking ….and more poaching by worm dunkers in restricted areas goes un-thwarted. I noticed there were far fewer fish in my favorite , protected brook trout pond this summer. The warden who checked my license said night time worm dunkers had taken a toll and there was no money to do much about it. Having said that….if you’re gettin spanked on a big river……usually it’s because you aren’t where the fish are or even more common…you’re not fishing deep enough! PUT ON ANOTHER SPLIT SHOT! HA!

  7. River Sage

    “…as long as you don’t mind body hair.” Thanks for the laugh out loud.
    Been flogging myself on this river since sometime around 1979 (farthest back I can find a journal entry) and can count the number of what I’d call decent days on one hand. Gave up on journal entries for this place over ten years ago when I concluded I was recording everything (‘5 bighorn spotted today,’ ‘nice weather’) except fish caught since there were none.
    I would suggest to you that you can fish, you know how to CATCH fish, you just need a river that has fish in it to remind you, shake off the evil spell so to speak.
    This I did for myself this past June, the first June of my retirement when I fished the Missouri for a while. And using what my skill told me should be the right fly in the right spot at the best time landed 4 fish over 18 and broke off 3 others.
    The problem now becomes avoiding bar fights when I overhear someone mention blue ribbon river and the Yakima in the same sentence unless of course it’s in the negative, then they get a PBR on me.

    • Kirk Werner

      No need to preach to the choir, eh River Sage? Congrats on your retirement, BTW. Leaves you more time to figure out what it takes to land good fish, regularly, on the Blue Ribbon Yakima River, hey what?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *