Skykomish River, WA

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Fly Fishing the Skykomish River

Many anglers cut their teeth fly fishing the Pacific Northwest on the Skykomish. A popular river for hatchery steelhead, it’s only about a 45 min. drive outside of Seattle, allowing lots of time to get outside and practice. The north and south forks flow out of the central Cascade Mountains and join to form the main river at Index. The main stem then follows along Highway 2 from Reiter Ponds steelhead hatchery and down to Gold Bar, Startup and Sultan before joining the Snoqualmie at Monroe. There is excellent wade access to ascending sea-run fish along this entire stretch. Major tributaries include the Wallace and Sultan. Getting to know the river allows you to chase steelhead, coho salmon, pink salmon in odd years, chum salmon, sea-run cutthroat, and resident trout in its upper reaches. Our home waters, we love fishing the Skykomish!

When is the Skykomish 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 steelhead from the confluence with the Snoqualmie near Monroe to the Highway 2 crossing known as Big Eddy Access/High Bridge above Gold Bar, the Skykomish is generally open from June 1st until January 31st, and from Big Eddy to the confluence of the North and South Forks from June 1st until February 15th.
  • Targeting salmon from the confluence with the Snoqualmie near Monroe to the Highway 2 crossing known as Big Eddy Access or High Bridge above Gold Bar, the Skykomish is generally open from September 1st until December 31st.
  • The forks get a little complex, but generally if you want to target trout you can fish the South Fork Skykomish from the first Saturday in June until November 30th, and the North Fork Skykomish below Deer Falls from the first Saturday in June until January 31st.

Skykomish River Sections

The Skykomish, or the Sky as it is locally known, has a few distinct sections that keep anglers busy throughout the year. From Sultan downstream to the mouth, the valley stretches out, farmlands predominate and the river widens and slows down a bit compared to upriver. The riffles and runs are generally shallower, wider and longer and are perfect for swinging a fly for sea-run fish, especially in higher water.

Upstream from Sultan and Gold Bar the valley tightens up and the river is faster, deeper and more boulder strewn. This section produces fish throughout the year, but it really comes into its own for the fly angler when the water is lower. Just above the Highway 2 crossing at Big Eddy or High Bridge boat access, you’ll find Reiter Rearing Ponds, the site of acclimation for hatchery river steelhead, and a popular destination for many anglers.

The forks of the Skykomish offer intrepid anglers shots at resident trout and the rare, high-swimming steelhead. Rugged and difficult to access, these stretches are among the most beautiful in Washington state.

Skykomish River Species and Seasons

The Skykomish is one of the great fly-fishing rivers and it is best known for its steelhead fishing. The river opens June 1st to a mixture of late wild winter steelhead and early hatchery summer runs. Summer run steelhead fishing continues throughout the summer and into late fall until heavy rains bring the river back up to wintertime flows. As summer moves into fall, silver salmon and pink salmon (in odd years) crowd the river. If the summer run fishing has been slow, these fish provide a great angling experience before the onset of winter.

With late fall come the first winter fronts which will invariably raise the river to winter heights and generally this heralds the first fishing of the winter season. Chum salmon arrive sometime in November with numbers building to a peak around Thanksgiving. The first hatchery winter steelhead are always caught at this time and these fish peak in December and early January. The first of the year is the time when fly anglers seek the ultimate prize on a fly rod, the native winter steelhead. These fish can return at anytime during the winter, but their numbers increase right up to the time that the rivers closes on January 31st. The Sky is currently closed in February, March, April and May to protect the fragile run of native winter steelhead that spawn during this time.

When are the Best Times to Fly Fish the Skykomish?
  • December and January for Hatchery Steelhead - Good numbers of hatchery winter steelhead with a few wild fish in the mix.
  • June for Hatchery Steelhead - Good numbers of hatchery summer steelhead
  • September and October - Sea-run cutthroat ascend the river in pods of opportunistic feeders
  • September during odd-numbered years - Pink salmon ascend the river in massive numbers

Tips on Fishing the Skykomish
  • When hatchery steelhead enter they system, they tend to rush up to their point of acclimation without stopping. For many fish on the Skykomish, this acclimation point is the Reiter Rearing Ponds above Gold Bar. If you are targeting hatchery fish, the holding water near Reiter is a great place to start. Not all fish hold right at the hatchery, and finding open water to fish can be tough, so don’t hesitate to hike up and down.
  • In contrast to their hatchery counterparts, wild Skykomish fish take their time heading upstream, stopping in holding water along the entire length of the river. Getting to know a few quality runs over the course of the season will increase your odds of hooking into these prize gamefish.
  • Learn to spey cast, and learn to do it well. The majority of the river is best covered with the superior efficiency of a long rod, especially the broad, sweeping runs between Gold Bar and Monroe.

Guiding and Expert Instruction
As our local river, we probably log more days on the Skykomish over the course of the season than any other. A guide can take years off the learning curve. The best way to experience the Skykomish is during a full-day float. We also offer steelhead schools and spey-casting instruction.

Recommended Equipment

Trout in the Upper Forks

  • 3-weight medium- to fast-action for small dry flies
    •   Shop Favorite: CF Burkheimer 389-4 Presentation
  • 4 –weight medium- to fast-action for small dry flies
    and small nymphs
    •   Shop Favorite: R.L. Winston Tom Morgan Favorite 480-2
  • 5- weight fast-action for nymphs and big dry flies
    •   Shop Favorite: Scott 905-4 G-Series
  • 6-weight-fast action for streamers
    •   Shop Favorite: Sage Trout LL 690-4

  • Floating line for dry flies and nymphs
    •   Shop Favorite: Scientific Anglers Amplitude Trout
Sea-Run Cutthroat in Lower River

  • 5- weight fast-action for nymphs and big dry flies
    •   Shop Favorite: Scott 905-4 G-Series
  • 6-weight-fast action for streamers
    •   Shop Favorite: Sage Trout LL 690-4

  • Floating line for dry flies and nymphs
    •   Shop Favorite: Scientific Anglers Amplitude Trout
  • Sink tip line for streamers
    •   Shop Favorite: Scientific Anglers Sonar Titan Sink Tip
  • Intermediate line for streamers
    •   Shop Favorite: Airflo Coldwater Striper Line (7-weight minimum)
Steelhead rods for the Lower River

  • Rods under 12 ft. 6 in. – “Switch” Rods
    •   Shop Favorite: CF Burkheimer 7117-4 Presentation
  • Rods over 12 ft. 6 in. for lower sections
    • Summer   Shop Favorite: CF Burkheimer 7127-4 Presentation
    • Winter   Shop Favorite: CF Burkheimer 8139-4 Presentation
Steelhead lines for the Lower River

  • Skagit-style shooting heads (Winter)
    •   -Airflo Skagit Driver Shooting Head
    •   -Rio Skagit Max Shooting Head
    •   -Rio Switch Chucker Shooting Head (Switch Rods)
  • Scandi-Style shooting heads and mid-length spey lines (Summer)
    •   -Airflo Scandi Long Shooting Head
    •   -Airflo Rage Shooting Head
    •   -Nexcast Fall Favorite 45’
  • Running Line
    •   -Rio Connect Core Metered Shooting Line .032"
    •   -Airflo Miracle Braid
    •   -OPST Lazar Line
  • Sink tips in varying lengths and densities (Winter and Early Summer)
    •   -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

Resident Trout

    • Royal Wulff 12 – 16
    • Humpy 12 – 16
    • Stimulator 8 - 16
    • Elk Hair Caddis 12 – 18
    • Parachute Adams 12 – 16
    • Flying Ants 14 - 18
    • Beetles 14 - 18
    • Grasshoppers 10 - 16
    • BH Hare’s Ear 10 - 16
    • Prince Nymph 10 - 16
    • Lightening Bug 14 – 18
    • San Juan Worm 12 - 16
  • Sculpzilla in Olive or Black
  • Sheila Sculpin
  • Wolly Bugger
Sea-Run Cutthroat

Flashy baitfish streamers
    • Skiddish Smolt
    • Bull baby
    • Pinhead
Attractor streamers
    • Rolled muddler
    • Borden Special
    • Spiders and reverse spiders
      Orange, Yellow and Black
Dry Flies
  • October Caddis
  • Saltwater Deer Hair Popper
Steelhead & Salmon

Winter Steelhead
    • Howell’s Signature Intruder
    • Jumbo Critter
    • Bantam
    • Morrish Trailer Trash
    • Bjorn Stinger Prawn
    • Hickman’s Fish Taco
    • Hobo Spey
    • General practicioner (prawn flies)
    • Marabou flies
Summer Steelhead
    • Coal Car
    • Max Canyon
    • Bennett’s Last Light
    • Bennett’s Halo
    • Spades
    • Freight Train
    • Whaka Blonde
    • Green-butt Skunk
    • Skykomish Sunrise
    • Purple Peril
    • Harwick’s Silent Assasin
Steelhead dries
  • LeMire’s Caddis
  • SkaOpper
  • BC Bomber
Salmon (Coho, Pink, Chum) flies
  • Comets in
    pink, purple, chartreuse
  • Bunny-strip flies
    black, purple and chartreuse
  • Egg-sucking leeches
    purple and black
  • Starlight leech
    purple and black