Stillaguamish River, WA

Weather and Flows Links

Fly Fishing the Stillaguamish River

Roughly an hour north of Seattle, the Stillaguamish, or “Stilly” as it is known locally, offers the same angling opportunities as other local rivers but on a smaller, more intimate scale. Storied and celebrated, the North Fork of the Stillaguamish was the first river in Washington State to be designated fly fishing only for a portion of the year.

When is the Stillaguamish 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 Marine Drive near the mouth to the forks, the Stillaguamish is generally open from June 1st until January 31st.
  • Targeting salmon the from Marine Drive near the mouth to the forks, the Stillaguamish is generally open from from September 1st until December 31st.
  • The North Fork Stillaguamish River below Swede Heaven Bridge near Fortson is catch-and-release, fly fishing only from the first Saturday in June until November 30th (you can take two hatchery fish). Fly fishing only means single, barbless hooks with a conventional fly line and no weight attached to your leader or line. You can fish two flies. From Swede Heaven to Cascade Falls, it is a selective gear fishery during that same period.
  • The South Fork Stillaguamish River to 400 ft. below the Granite Falls fishway outlet is generally open to fishing from June 1st until January 30th.

North Fork Stillaguamish River Sections

The Stillaguamish River is approximately one hour from Seattle and flows out of the Cascade mountains near Darrington. The river has both a north and south fork which meet to form the main stem at Arlington.

The Stilly hosts runs of summer and winter steelhead, four species of pacific salmon and sea-run cutthroat and bull trout/dolly varden char. The most well known run of fish are the native summer run steelhead which utilize Deer Creek as the major spawning tributary in the system. Sadly, the North Fork has suffered tremendous damage to due deforestation. Many slides, including the recent Oso slide, have poured a huge amount of silt into the river, especially below Deer Creek.

The North Fork has two major sections and Deer Creek represents the dividing point between the two. Deer Creek will color the river substantially after any significant rainfall rendering the river unfishable. Generally speaking, the river below Deer Creek is only fishable when the area has had extended periods without major precipitation or runoff. This means that the best time to fish this section is during the summer and early fall months or in the winter during and extreme cold and dry spell. The river above Deer Creek runs considerably clearer, however there are several slides that will still color the river during a rain. This section can be reliably fished through the season except during the heaviest flows of water.

Stillaguamish River Species and Seasons

The river opens on June 1st and the potential for an early summer steelhead exists, however, the numbers of native Deer Creek fish have dwindled considerably over the years. The river is not open to fishing for pacific salmon except for pink salmon (odd years) in the mainstem. The best fishing right now on the North Fork is for sea-run cutthroat starting in August and lasting until the fall rains blow the river below Deer Creek out for the winter. Hatchery winter steelhead return to the Stilly in fair numbers, but the river is difficult to fish with fly in high winter flows, so the river is best left to gear anglers who can ply the swift pools much easier. The river closes to all fishing at the end of January and is closed until June to protect native spawners.

When are the Best Times to Fly Fish the Stillaguamish?
  • September and October for Sea-Run Cutthroat - Excellent fishing for cutthroat can happen during the fall, especially in the lower stretches of the river
  • December and January for Hatchery Steelhead - Hatchery fish are available before the closure
  • September during odd-numbered years - Pink salmon ascend the river in massive numbers
  • Summertime for Hatchery and Wild Steelhead - Hatchery fish with a small mix of wild fish available from June to September

Tips on Fishing the Stillaguamish

As mentioned earlier on the page, the Stillaguamish is more of an intimate river than some of our larger west-side rivers. It’s easier to find definite holding water and the foot access along SR 530 is excellent.

  • Chasing sea-run cutthroat on the Stillaguamish is one of the best things to do on our local fisheries. Call the shop when it’s the season for pointers.
  • Smaller spey rods and even single-handers have a place on the waters of the Stilly. We offer free spey casting clinics if you’d like to try out a switch rod.
  • Chasing steelhead on the Stillaguamish is subject to clarity and manageable flows, so watch the hydrograph closely, especially during winter. Any wild fish captured should be managed with the utmost care and released with a minimum of handling.

Guiding and Expert Instruction
A guide can take years off the learning curve. The best way to experience the Stillaguamish is during a full-day float of the Lower Sections, or during a full-day walk-and-wade trip to one of the forks. 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 Sections

  • 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 Sections

  • 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 Sections

  • 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
    • Stillaguamish 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