Skagit River, WA
Water level & flows
The Skagit River, which is 2 hours outside Seattle, is one of Washington's largest rivers and historically has hosted the largest runs of steelhead and salmon in the state except for the Columbia/Snake system to the south. The Skagit originates in Canada and is impounded in Ross Lake which was created when Ross and Diablo dams were constructed for power generation. The Skagit hosts runs of both summer and winter steelhead, all five species of pacific salmon as well as runs of sea-run cutthroat trout and dolly varden char. It's major tributaties include the Cascade, the Sauk and the Baker.
The Skagit above the Sauk is generally very clear as a majority of the river flows from Ross Lake behind two dams. The Cascade will occassionally color the river during a winter high water, but otherwise it is gin clear. The water below the Cascade is broad and relatively flat with long even riffles and runs. In other words, perfect fly water. The river below the Sauk is of a different character. The Sauk is very tempermental and can change the Skagit's clarity and height quickly as it is a very swift river as well as being glacier fed. Winter rains can produce unfishable conditions in the Sauk that continue into the Skagit. The river continues to broaden below the Sauk and longer stretches of flat water are common between excellent pieces of holding water for all of the anadromous fish that call the Skagit their home.
The Skagit is a storied river and has a history of producing larger and numerous native steelhead. The season begins quietly on June 1 st with a marginal run of summer steelhead. Spring chinook are a remnant run and fishing for salmon doesn't really pick up until late summer when pink salmon (in odd years) and silver salmon return to the river. Dolly varden and sea-run cutthroat can be found on the tails of these fish feeding on the rich eggs and flesh left by the spawning salmon. Late fall brings the first of the chum salmon and hatchery winter steelhead. Chum salmon peak around Thanksgiving and the hatchery steelhead are most available in December and early January. The dolly varden fishing continues to be good at this time as well. As the days move into the new year, the prize fish of the system, the native winter steelhead, become a distinct possiblity and anglers pursue these fish religiously through the end of the season at the end of April. There are only a few places in the world where you can pursue native steelhead as winter turns to spring and the Skagit is one of the best places to do it. The river is closed during May to protect the native spawners.