February in Seattle and the state of Washington usually means a slight reduction in rain, spring flowers begin to poke their heads out of the ground, and the infamous February Fake-out... meaning there is almost always a week or two of nice, sunny weather that makes it feel like summer is right around the corner even though it isn't. The fishing, however, does perk up in February and it is a great month for a number of fly fishing excursions. Here are a few to think about for your February fly fishing calendar.
Steelhead & Salmon
Steelhead fishing begins to get very interesting in February in Washington. This year (2019) we experienced a terrible return of hatchery winter steelhead all along the Northwest but some early indicators have shown that the wild fish, which typically begin entering the rivers in February, may possibly be a different story. We'll just have to cross our fingers for the next few weeks but here are some good places to think about if you've got winter steelhead on the brain.
Skagit/Sauk Rivers -- (UPDATED 2/16/2019) -- The Skagit and Sauk Rivers are open to catch-and-release steelhead fishing for February thru April. Like the good ol' days, the Skagit is open from the Concrete Bridge upstream to Marblemount. The Sauk is open from the mouth up to the Sauk Prairie Rd Bridge in Darrington. Hopefully the Skagit and Sauk will see another good return of wild steelhead like it has experienced the last few years. Of the fish we've heard of already landed by anglers, the average size of the fish seems to be quite large. We'll see how the season progresses, but save some time on the calendar for this legendary system as it was quite good last year.
Skykomish River -- It seems weird to write about the Skykomish in February since it has been so long since it has been open past the end of January. As of this writing (Jan 25th), the Skykomish is scheduled to stay open in the section of river from the Wallace River mouth up to the forks of the North/South fork confluence until February 15th. I would certainly keep an eye on the WDFW Emergency Rule Updates before fishing during February, just to make sure you didn't miss a closure announcement. Otherwise, this could be a good chance to look for some wild chrome on a river that probably won't have a lot of pressure because the hatchery return was so lackluster.
Olympic Peninsula Rivers -- February marks the beginning of what will be a flood of anglers heading westward to the famous OP rivers like the Bogacheil, Hoh, Sol Duc, and Queets, among others. There are lots of folks for a reason, however. The OP rivers produce some of the most exciting winter steelhead fishing in the world. A combination of big fish potential, beautiful scenery, and water that seems like it was custom-made for swinging the fly, are all part of the draw that makes any trip to the Olympic Peninsula a special one.
Each river on the Peninsula has its own characteristics, but all of those mentioned are worthy of a trip over. Using two-handed rods with sink-tip lines is the normal approach but single-handed rods will do fine in most water. Fish medium to large steelhead flies like the Dirty Hoh, the Exasperator, Hartwick's Hoser, or the Hoh Bo Spey in colors such as black/blue, pink/orange, and black/purple. Keep your leaders short and stout... like an Umpqua Freshwater Shorty leader in 16lb.
Rivers – The Yakima River will get the most attention in February with fly anglers looking to target trout in a river. February on the Yakima will usually involve nymph fishing, but fishing streamers will almost always get some attention from some fish. It is also the time of year when Skwala stoneflies begin to get active and February will probably have the first Skwala hatches of the year.
Some good flies to take on a February Yakima trip would include Dave's Neo Twenty Incher, the Little Olive Sloan, the Micro-Stone - Dark, the Mini Loop Sculpin, and a few dries like the Rubber Leg Stimulator Skwala, and maybe the Griffith's Gnat in case you encounter some midge sippers. Also, don’t forget to take a few Gummy Worms, especially if you're there during a shot of rain.
Rocky Ford is a great place to fish in February. This unique trout fishery regularly produces giant trout in the 18 to 24 inch range. Fish over 20-inches won't even turn heads on Rocky Ford. Some days the fishing can be really easy. Other days it can be seriously tough. Since Rocky Ford is a spring creek, the water temperatures are fairly stable and the fish will feed all year long. This time of year, plan to fish either streamers or small nymphs and scuds. A good fly box this time of year might include flies like the Coffee's Sparkle Minnow in Pearl, Swede's Rabbit Leech - Black, Jon's Hot Spot Czech Scud - Pink, the Jujubee Midge - Zebra, and the Tungsten Zebra Midge - Red.
Lakes – A number of lakes in Washington are open all year long. Two of the most popular lakes in the Puget Sound portion of the state, Lone Lake and Pass Lake, are open year-round and will start to pick-up in February, especially with the mild winter we've had much of this year.
Pass Lake – Pass Lake will usually fish well in February. A good primary plan for fishing the lake would be to use full-sinking lines with leech patterns like the Hale Bopp Leech – Brown or the Ruby Eyed Leech in Canadian Olive. Fish the fly in deeper water and keep it close to the bottom with small strips. The take can be very subtle this time of year so set the hook with a strip-set on any indication of weight on the end of the line.
In February we will probably see the surface temperature on Pass Lake getting to the 50-degree mark. When that happens, get ready with your chironomid setup because this is when many chironomids begin to hatch and the trout will be ready to intercept them on their way from the bottom of the lake all the way up to the surface where they will hatch. The exact size/color of chironomid hatches is tough to forecast, but some good chironomid flies to have along would be the Yankee Buzzer in Black and Red, Chan's Chironomid Bomber in Black/Red, the Buzzer in Olive and Black, and the Jumbo Juju Chironomid in Zebra. You will probably need to fish these fairly deep so we recommend using Quick Release Chironomid Indicators and fluorocarbon tippet around 5X in size.
Lone Lake – Lone Lake is a great option in the early season and it is quite easy to get to even though most people will probably take a ferry ride from Mukilteo to Clinton. The ferry ride is super short and Lone Lake is only about 10 minutes from the Clinton terminal. Concentrate on fishing full-sinking lines with dark leech patterns like the Ruby Eyed Leech – Black/Red, the Gold Bead Bouface - Black, Drifter’s Crystal Leech. Chironomids will get very important on Lone Lake as the month goes on. On this lake, the same chironomids recommended for Pass Lake would be on the list, but we would also recommend some blood worm patterns like the San Juan Worm - Red. If the fish are on bloodworms, you will know right away. The Olive Willy – Red Bead is always a pattern worthy of consideration on this lake so it might be worth having along, but it will usually fish better a bit later in the season.
Dry Falls, Lenice and Nunally Lakes – These Eastern Washington aren't open in February but put them on your radar for March 1st when they do open. They are exceptional fisheries and many anglers don't realize they open as early as they do.
All of the lakes mentioned here are best fished from a float tube, pontoon boat, or some other kind of small boat. Shore access is limited or non-existent on most of these lakes. Lenice and Nunnally require a walk to get into them so be prepared for that. A wheel system is highly recommended if you are planning to take your pontoon boat into these two lakes.
Puget Sound Saltwater
Sea-run cutthroat trout fly fishing in Puget Sound can be good all year long and February is no exception as long as the wind stays down. Usually in February, the southern portion of the Sound is a better bet. On the central and northern portions of the Sound, cutthroat can still be caught, but the fishing in these areas usually gets better in the summer and fall. To partake in the action, baitfish patterns fished on an intermediate sinking line with a 5- to 6-weight rod will have you in the game. The RIO Coastal Quickshooter fly line was developed for this fishery at the request of PFF’s Ben Zander and is the line to get for Puget Sound beaches.
Resident silver salmon are also often caught while fly fishing from the beach for sea-run cutts. For both fish, remember to pinch your barbs down to aid in releasing the fish unharmed.
Give us a call if we can help with further advice or equipment, flies, etc. Hope you get out and take advantage of Washington's year-round fly fishing season and remember to check back for the March report.
Pacific Fly Fishers