Updated: May 5, 2023
Fly fishing in the state of Washington is full of opportunities all year long and May is no exception. With the cold, windy April we've had this year, warmer May days are certainly something most of us are looking forward to and the fish probably are as well. Here is a list of places to consider if you’re looking for good fly fishing trips in and around the state of Washington.
Lakes - Trout
May is one of the best months for fly fishing the many trout lakes throughout the state. Almost all lakes are open in May and important food items like chironomids and damselflies are in full swing. The trout are taking full advantage of these food items and the fishing can be as good as it gets.
Lakes with Selective Gear regulations are the most popular with fly anglers because there is usually less fishing pressure, there are usually higher populations of trout, and there are usually larger trout.
The following list of Selective Gear lakes are all great bets in May:
- Lone Lake (south end of Whidbey Island)
- Dry Falls Lake (north of Ephrata, WA)
- Lenice and Nunnally Lakes (near Beverly, WA)
- Chopaka Lake (near Loomis, WA) Make sure snow/ice isn't an issue.
- Pass Lake (near Deception Pass, WA)
- Some other good ideas on the westside of WA would be Chain Lake (near Monroe, WA), Martha Lake (near Warm Beach, WA), Rattlesnake Lake (near North Bend, WA), Vogler Lake (near Concrete, WA), and lots more.
Lenice and Nunnally require a walk to get into them so be prepared for that. Also, motors are not allowed on most of them and catch and release is either required or recommended. Check the regulations before you go if you are not familiar with them.
Washington also has tons of lakes that are not regulated as Selective Gear lakes. These lakes often open right around the end of April and are great for anglers who wish to keep some trout. These lakes are typically planted for fish prior to the opener and are usually fishing great in May. For a list of trout stocking reports in local lakes, click here.
In May, just a few fishing techniques will usually get you into plenty of fish on these lakes. Take a floating line and a full-sinking line with a sink rate of type 3 to type 5. Use the floating line for fishing chironomid pupa, balanced leeches, and for any dry fly opportunities that might come up. Use the full-sinking line for fishing regular leeches or damsel nymphs.
Rivers - Trout/Bass
May is also an excellent time for fly fishing a couple of our most popular trout rivers in Washington. The Yakima is certainly Washington's big name trout river and May can bring some exciting fishing (although it is way to high to fish at the time of this report). Reports this year from the Yakima have been fantastic and we've never seen so many photos of big trout from the Yak. Watch river levels this time of year and remember that warm weather can raise the river as much as rainy weather. Ideal water levels should be around 2000 cfs to 4000 cfs for May through about August.
The main hatches in May include the Mother's Day caddis hatch, salmonflies, and Blue Wing Olive mayflies. Nymphing and dry fly opportunities are both available and have your streamer rod handy for fishing salmon smolt streamers as well.
May can also be a great time to fish the lower parts of the Yakima for smallmouth bass. For a guided trip or to get the low-down on this fishery, contact our friends at Worley-Bugger fly shop in Ellensburg and checkout their informative write-up on this underutilized fishery.
The other great river trip is Rocky Ford. This spring creek fishes is easy to walk and fish the bank. It fishes well much of the year but May is one of the better months. Fish scuds, damsel nymphs, callibaetis mayflies, midges, and Blue Wing Olives in May. Again, keep the streamer rod on hand and Rocky Ford's giant trout love streamers in white or black. Wading is illegal on Rocky Ford so walking along the edge of the bank is how it's done. It is also a place where a long-handle net is very useful and much nicer on the fish than trying to land them without a net.
Puget Sound Saltwater
Sea-run cutthroat trout are always available in Puget Sound for fly fishing anglers fishing the beaches. May is typically a slower month for this fishing as many fish are up the rivers for spawning. There are, however, still fish available and baitfish patterns fished on an intermediate sinking line with a 5- to 6-weight rod will have you in the game. Try Manchester State Park, Olalla, or Penrose Point State Park for good cutthroat water.
Another saltwater option is on the unique side of things for a fly angler but a lot of fun. Lingcod season is open May 1st thru June 15th and these fish take flies quite well. Anglers will need a heavy rod, preferably in the 10-weight to 12-weight range. Fishing the fastest sinking lines on the market is important because you will need to fish 20- to 40-feet deep and close to the bottom. Flies don't seem to matter too much but they should be big. As big as you can cast comfortably is probably a good rule to have in mind. Also, some kind of boat, kayak, or even a fishing style paddle board will be necessary to get into the action.
Bass & Panfish
May might be the best month for numerous bass and panfish opportunities in Washington. Fly fishing for these warmwater species is underrated and is available all over the state. Just about all small lakes and ponds have bass and panfish in them. Grab your float tube, pontoon boat, or other boat and hit the water this month. Most of the smaller lakes and ponds have mostly largemouth and panfish. Many of the larger lakes have smallmouth as well as largemouth and panfish. Eastern Washington abounds with these opportunities. Western Washington has gobs as well but Western Washington lakes may not have as dense of populations. Either way, take a 7- or 8-weight rod for bass and a 3- or 4-weight for panfish. As a general rule, cover lots of water and look for wood structure in shallow water for largemouth and rocky structure in deeper water for smallmouth.
Fishing docks can be a great approach for both smallmouth and largemouth in the month of May on most lakes that have them. Position your boat and make your casts as close to the dock edges as possible. An intermediate sinking to medium sinking (type 2 or 3) is usually best for fishing around docks. If it is a sunny day, concentrate on the shaded side of the dock.
Steelhead & Salmon
May is the quiet month for steelhead and salmon for fly anglers in our area. Most rivers are closed for outgoing smolt migration or spawning winter steelhead. A few rivers are open, like the Cowlitz or some rivers in Oregon, but most fly anglers take advantage of other opportunities during May. Once we hit late May and into June, the salmon/steelhead game will be back for summer steelhead. Rivers like the Skykomish open the last Saturday of May and most are open by the beginning of June. We've had good returns of Chinook lately and already seeing some indications of good returns for this year. Fresh chinook take flies pretty well with large, flashy flies fished on sink-tips. For steelhead and salmon, and on the Skykomish in particular, make sure to keep an eye on the regulations as they can change quickly.
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!
Pacific Fly Fishers