Washington state offers ample fly fishing opportunities, from the ocean and the coastal rivers to the inland streams, creeks, rivers, and lakes. With such variety and both saltwater and freshwater fly angling, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
You can fly fish for trout, carp, bass, steelhead and more in the state of Washington and there are always amazing fishing locations within reach, wherever you’re based.
Itching to get out and start landing trout, bass, or salmon on some of the best rivers and states in Washington? This guide has all the info you need to get started, from the state licenses and regulations to the top recommended Washington fly fishing spots!
Washington State Fishing License
Regardless of whether you’re a resident or not, you’ll need a license for fly fishing Washington lakes and rivers. The rules are that anyone aged 15 or older must have a valid license.
You have the option of buying an annual or a short-term license, and you can select a freshwater license, a saltwater license, or a combination license which covers both. There are license dealers all over the state of Washington where you can buy your license, or you can buy your license online here if you prefer.
If you buy online or over the phone, there’s a delay of about 10 days to receive your license by post. However, you can still fish in the meantime with a temporary license that is emailed to you when you buy.
You will also need to fill out and return a Catch Record card if you fish for salmon, steelhead, halibut, or sturgeon – even if you don’t catch anything! A Catch Record card is included with every license.
Children and teens need a Catch Record card even if they don’t need a license, so you may need to apply for more cards for any youngsters fishing with you at no further cost. Make sure you take note of the deadline to return these cards to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Fly Fishing Washington: State Fishing Regulations
It’s always best practice to make sure you’re aware of all the fishing regulations before you head out on the water. There are specific rules for freshwater and saltwater fly fishing Washington State waters. You should also check for any emergency rules or special rules for your chosen location.
There are bag limits and minimum fish sizes, plus specifications on which fish you can catch depending on where you are and the time of the year. For example, it’s catch-and-release only for all wild steelhead, and the daily bag limit for trout and largemouth bass is 5 of each species. You can find the full fishing regulations for Washington State here.
You should also download the free, helpful Fish Washington App for the latest fishing regulations right from your phone. It’s available from Google Play Store and the Apple Store and makes it so much easier to stay aware of the regulations, wherever you might be in Washington.
Washington Fishing Reports
It’s a good idea to find out what the fishing conditions are before you set off. Not only will it help you choose the best spot for your next fishing trip, but you can prepare for the conditions too.
You can find the most up-to-date fishing reports from the WDFW, refreshed weekly with the latest information on water conditions, fish behavior, and recommendations for the best places to fish from the experts.
Another good site to check is North West Fishing Reports, which has recent reports and photos all compiled by avid anglers.
Top Flies for Fishing in Washington State
Which flies you should choose for fly fishing in Washington state will largely depend on what you’re hoping to catch and the environment where you’ll be fishing.
For Washington trout fly fishing, you won’t go wrong with a range of top dry flies and bigger streamers. Stock up on tan Parachute Caddis, Chubby Chernobyl, and Keller’s Rocky Mountain dry fly patterns. You’ll also want to have some nymph patterns – we recommend the Pyscho Nymph, yellow Glint nymphs, and a Tungstone Golden or two.
Leech patterns are the best flies to have with you if you’re heading to some of the local lakes, especially during the summer. Olive Damsel Leech and the Drifter’s Crystal Leech tend to work magic with the trout lurking in the depths. Minnow patterns also do well, especially if you master a fast retrieve.
Another option for summer flyfishing in Washington is to have a few terrestrial patterns in your fly box. Ants, hoppers, and beetles can all end up in the water and make a tempting bite to eat for the fish.
If you’re interested in catching bass, make sure you’ve got some big ol’ poppers and streamers with you, like the Goodale’s Popper. Fancy challenging yourself to landing steelheads? Try dark, medium-sized patterns such as the Hoh Bo Spey or the Foxee Dog, both in a black/blue color combination.
You can also check out the flies section on this forum which is entirely devoted to discussing all things fly fishing Washington! You can find the top recommended flies for fishing in Washington state, plus helpful info on a whole range of topics related to fly fishing in WA.
Best Rivers in Washington State
You’re all set now, so let’s leave the paperwork behind and get onto the best bit – choosing the perfect spot for some epic Washington fly fishing!
Grande Ronde River
Much of the Grande Ronde River runs through a picturesque canyon, but you should head to the section that runs through the valleys for the best prospects. Not only is the fly fishing amazing here, but access to the river is easy. You can approach by road or hike in – whichever you prefer.
As to which section of the Grande Ronde to set up for the day, where the fish are to be found really varies from season to season. Try asking local fly anglers or visiting a fishing shop to get some advice from someone in the know, if you can!
The Naches River near the Cascade Mountains is a great spot for some summer fly fishing, especially if you can visit during the months of June and July. Once the spring runoff from the Cascade Mountain range has calmed down, you’ll be in a prime location for epic cutthroat and rainbow trout sport. You’re likely to find Washington trout that measure around 14”, but there are bigger specimens to be had too!
The Spokane River is actually a tributary of the Columbia River which runs over 111 miles from Idaho and through the state of Washington. There are 6 dams located along the Spokane, making it one of the most diverse waters to fish in Washington.
The best thing to do before heading out on for a day on the Spokane is to check the water levels. This can really vary and it will affect which spots you choose from season to season and even from day to day.
The river is closed for spawning from March through June 1. We really recommend the Spokane River from July to September, as the water levels tend to stay stable and the trout are responsive and in good numbers.
You’ll find wild rainbow and brown trout here, supplemented by stocked trout by the WDFW. Choose patterns that resemble caddisflies, mayflies, and stoneflies for the best success, as these bugs are in abundance in the water here.
If you’re looking for a river near Seattle, the Sauk River is easy to reach, just a short drive at 72km away. Another top steelhead fishery, the opportunities here can be excellent, but it does depend on the weather and water conditions. Normally crystal clear and pure, the water can become murky during and after heavy rains. If the conditions are pleasant, you’ll have great steelhead opportunities.
Take your pick from the upper, middle, and lower sections of the Sauk River – they all have a very different character and will provide a wildly different experience. It can be tricky to access the river at the higher sections, where this river is more of a mountain stream.
Choose the middle section and you’ll be faced with rapids, ripples, boulders and more challengers in these deep, fast-flowing waters. The lower section is calmer and wider, offering more sedate fly angling.
Fancy trying your hand at landing some salmon or steelhead? Then, no doubt about it, Skagit River is where you should head! You’ll find Dolly Varden, sea-run cutties, and Pacific salmon all on this river which runs down from Canada. The best times to fly fish for steelhead are during the summer and winter, when they run.
The Hoh River flows through some spectacular scenery, right from the Hoh glacier where it begins, through the Olympic mountains and the lush green valleys beyond, right up to where it meets the Pacific Ocean. This alone makes it well worth the visit, but the fly fishing opportunities are outstanding too.
You’ll find native steelhead of huge sizes on this river all year round, but they run in January. The WDFW also release hatchery steelheads here which run earlier in the year, normally around November.
If you’re after salmon, your best shot will be during the fall months. You can catch both Silver Salmon here as well as an occasional King Salmon, if you’re lucky!
Don’t miss the Yakima River – it’s one of the places you must visit during your trip to WA. If you’re a local, expect to come often for some fly fishing action – you won’t regret it!
Stretching 214 miles from the Stuart Mountain Range and meandering through canyons along the way, the Yakima empties into the Columbia River. Here, you’ll find some of the most spectacular fly angling there is to be had anywhere in WA state.
You’ll find native populations teeming here all year round. They thrive in the pure, flowing waters of the Yakima, aided by careful management by the WDFW. Chiniook salmon spawn here in the fall and you’ll land some whopping trout here if you’re lucky. The cutthroats, browns, and rainbows all thrive here, especially when they can hoover up all the leftover salmon eggs and really grow to immense sizes.
Popular spots include the stretch beyond Lake Easton and the spectacular Yakima Canyon. This iconic canyon will delight you not only with the breathtaking scenery on display, but also with the healthy fish populations that live in this area.
Best Lakes in Washington State
Washington State has a selection of beautiful lakes offering picturesque locations and fish in abundance – the ideal spot to settle down for an enjoyable day of fly fishing!
Before the temperatures really soar, Lone Lake offers excellent fly angling opportunities. Head here if you can during the spring or the fall – the prospects aren’t so good during the warmer summer months.
WDFW manages this lake carefully and as a result, you stand a fair chance of landing some impressive specimens. You’ll get the most bites using a full sinking line here. We recommend trying dragon nymphs, damselfly nymphs, and leech patterns in darker colors for the best success on this lake.
If you fancy giving yourself a challenge, why not head over to Pass Lake, a Catch-and-Release-only lake that is famous for its large, aggressive trout? Located just south of Anacortes, you’ll find both brown and rainbow trout here ranging from 15 inches to an astounding 28 inches.
There’s good access to the shore here or you can choose to take to a boat instead, but no motors are allowed. The prospects for trout fly angling at Pass Lake are good all year round, even as the summer hots up.
Ross Lake Natural Recreation Area
Located in some of the most spectacular, rugged countryside that WA has to offer, Ross Lake is a dream for fly anglers who love truly getting back to nature.
With the Pasayten Wilderness on one side and the North Cascades National Park bordering the lake on the other side, it’s hard to beat the natural beauty of the area. You can camp here if you’re OK with fairly basic conditions – it’s the perfect escape from your busy everyday life.
The fly fishing is also top-notch! The lake is home to Bull Trout, but it’s Catch-and-release only here. There are specific regulations in place, so just double-check these rules before you head out so you’re clear on what you can and can’t do.
Access to Ross Lake can be a bit tricky. Your two options are to either park at the parking area on Highway 20 and hike the Ross Dam Trail for about a mile to get to the lake. If you’re not feeling so energetic, you can jump on the Diablo Dam water ferry instead. Tickets cost $10/person, one way, and it runs twice a day at 8:30 am and 3pm.
If you’re after even more suggestions for hot spots to head to for fly angling in Washington, check out the golden nuggets of info shared by experienced anglers in this thread.
The Wrap Up
Whether you’re a resident or just traveling through, we hope we’ve filled you with an eagerness to get yourself to some of the beautiful, well-stocked lakes and rivers to be found all over Washington state. From the flies you’ll need to the rules and regulations, you’re all set!
As always, we love to hear your opinions, questions, and suggestions! Know any great angling spots in WA that we missed here? Drop them in the comments below!