Skagit River, WA

Weather and Flows Links

Fly Fishing the Skagit River

About 2 hrs. to the north of Seattle, the Skagit offers local anglers the chance to hook into steelhead fresh from the salt, feisty bull trout, sea-run cutthroat and a variety of pacific salmon. Distinguished among west-side steelhead rivers for its special fish, a unique and powerful breed of native steelhead which tenaciously cling to their home waters, the Skagit is steeped in local lore. It has served as the testing grounds of fly fishing luminaries, and it lends its name to the popular style of double-handed casting pioneered on its waters. Expansive, mysterious and powerful, you can fish it over an over again and still learn something new each time you go. These characteristics make the Skagit an essential day trip for any local fly fisher.

When is the Skagit River Open to Fishing?
  • Fishing regulations are subject to emergency closures and they change from year to year, so before you go, know what you are fishing for and always check the regs: Feel free to give us a ring with questions. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
  • Targeting Salmon from Concrete to Marblemount is generally permitted from September 1st until December 31st.
  • Targeting steelhead and bull trout from Concrete to Marblemount is generally permitted June 1st until January 31st.

Skagit River Sections

The Skagit above the Sauk generally runs clear as a majority of the river flows from Ross Lake behind 2 dams. The Cascade will occasionally color the river during a winter high-water event, but otherwise it’s 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 temperamental and can change the Skagit's clarity and height quickly during a warming trend. Winter rains can produce unfishable conditions in the Sauk that continue into the Skagit virtually overnight. Check the gauges listed above before you decide to fish below the confluence.

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 anadramous fish that call the Skagit their home.

Skagit River Species and Seasons

The Skagit hosts runs of both summer and winter steelhead, all 5 species of pacific salmon as well as runs of sea-run cutthroat trout and bull trout, a char which is also known as dolly varden.

The Skagit is a storied river and has a history of producing large and numerous native steelhead. The season begins quietly on June 1st 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. Bull trout 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 bull trout fishing continues to be good at this time of year as well.

As the days move into the new year, the prize fish of the system, the native winter steelhead, become a distinct possibility and anglers pursue these fish religiously through the end of the season on January 31st. The river then closes until the following June to protect the native run.

When are the Best Times to Fly Fish the Skagit?
  • December and January for Steelhead - Winter steelhead start to make their ascent of the river during this time period
  • October to January for Bull Trout - Bull trout/dolly varden char swim up behind the fall-spawning salmon, and will readily eat streamers
  • September during odd-numbered years - Pink salmon ascend the river in massive numbers
  • November for Chum - Chasing powerful chum on the Skagit is super fun! These tackle-busting bruisers can top 15 lbs.!

A Note About Conservation

Historically, the Skagit hosted the largest runs of steelhead and salmon in the state except for the Columbia 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. As such, the Skagit has incredible potential to support future runs of restored wild fish. Please consider taking the time to learn about the issues affecting our local wild steelhead with the support of the Wild Steelhead Coalition (

Tips on Fishing the Skagit

The Skagit is huge! Winter flows around Rockport can average between 7,000 and 8,000 C.F.S. (cubic feet per second), and wet weather can cause the river to spike at much higher levels. Where do you fish in such a huge expanse of water?

  • We love to spey cast, and there is no better river than the Skagit to use the double-handed rod to cover runs. Work on your casting, it will pay off in the long run. We offer free spey casting clinics and one-on-one instruction from experienced instructors.
  • Pick a few runs and get to know them throughout the season and at different water levels. Don’t go chasing fish up and down the system, just stick to the runs you know and learn when they hold fish.
  • Pay attention to the hydrograph, and learn to read its nuances. The Skagit is dam-controlled, and thus fluctuates up and down. Don’t let this fluctuation worry you – instead, focus on the overall trends. Also, watch the Baker, as high water from the Baker can really influence the clarity downstream.
    Water Levels for the Baker River in Concrete

  • Guiding and Expert Instruction
    A guide can take years off the learning curve. The best way to experience the Sauk is during a full-day float of the lower river, or during a full-day walk-and-wade trip. We also offer steelhead schools and spey-casting instruction.

    Recommended Equipment

    Double-Handed Rods in 7 – 9 Weight
    • Rods under 12 ft. 6 in. – “Switch” Rods
      •   Shop Favorite: CF Burkheimer 7117-4 Presentation
    • Rods over 12 ft. 6 in. for lower sections
      •   Shop Favorite: CF Burkheimer 8139-4 Presentation
    Single Handed Rods for bull Trout 6 - 8 Weight
    • 6 weight Fast Action Fly rod
      •   Shop Favorite: Sage Igniter 697-4
    • 8 weight deep loading rod suited for One hand spey
      •   Shop Favorite: CF Burkheimer Single Hand Spey 8104-4
    Single hand lines
    • Integrated sink tip line
      •   Shop Favorite: Scientific Anglers Titan Sink Tip - Type VI
    • Micro Skagit Line for variable sink tips
      •   Shop Favorite: Scientific Anglers Spey Lite Integrated Skagit
    Spey lines for the Lower River
    • Skagit-style shooting heads
      •   -Airflo Skagit Driver Shooting Head
      •   -Airflo Skagit Scout Shooting Head
      •   -Nextcast Winter Authority
    • Scandi-Style shooting heads and mid-length spey lines
      •   -Airflo Scandi Long Shooting Head
      •   -Airflo Rage Compact Shooting Head
      •   -Nexcast Fall Favorite
    • Running Line
      •   -Rio Connect Core Metered Shooting Line .032"
      •   -Airflo Miracle Braid
      •   -OPST Lazar Line
    • Sink tips in varying lengths and densities (Fall and Winter)
      •   -10ft Rio MOW tips in t-8, t-11 and t-14.
      •   -12ft OPST tips 132 gn riffle, run, and bucket.
      •   -15ft Rio replacement tips Type III, Type VI and Type VIII.

    Recommended Flies

    Winter Steelhead
    Intruder-style flies

      • Bantam
      • Howell’s Signature Intruder
      • Jumbo Critter
    Large-profile flies

      • Morrish Trailer Trash
      • Bjorn Stinger Prawn
    Small-profile flies

    • Hickman’s Fish Taco
    • Hobo Spey
    • General practitioner
    • Marabou Flies
      • Comets
        pink, purple, chartreuse
      • Bunny-strip flies
        black, purple and chartreuse
      • Egg-sucking leeches
        purple and black
      • Starlight leech
        purple and black
      • Skiddish Smolt
      • Bull Baby
      • Pinhead
      • Bunny-strip flies
        black, purple and chartreuse
      • Egg Flies
      • Flesh Flies