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The annual Yakima River flip flop that begins each and every year, typically during the third week of August, has completed its cycle and fall fishing has commenced. Those high volume river flows that last for more than 120 days on Central Washington's infamous, blue ribbon, desert trout stream, have dissipated and the Yakima is now just a slow, gentle rolling trout stream.


The Yakima River is notoriously noted as this incredible Northwest trout river that flows beautifully through the Alpine terrain of the Cascades Range.  It quickly gains momentum and slices through the semi arid agriculture district of the Kittitas Valley, where the water is used to fertile its fields of world famous, Timothy Hay.  It continues on a southerly flow and over eons of time, has sliced like a razor through a canyon of basalt, as it flows southerly from the small town of Ellensburg.  Here, it changes contour and direction, where it eventually collides with the Columbia River at the town of Richland, Washington, well over 150 miles from its source.

In its 70+ miles of regulated fishing waters, the trout grow naturally in its diverse and amazing river bed. During a year round fishing environment, the trout legally can be hooked, played and then safely and gently returned to the water in which they came, but only on a single barbless hook.  At no time, can fishermen of any degree, cast a live or scented bait into its waters.  Only fur, feathers and sharpened steel are allowed.
During these 120 days of high viscosity water flows, May to the month of August, the river can be intimidating, dangerous and unapproachable on foot.  For the novice fishermen or drift boater, it can also be unruly and require an appropriate amount of time and patience, to unlock its secret trout world.  It's always been noted as a blue ribbon trout stream. However, it is also widely acclaimed for its picky and sophisticated trout.  Here, even the most experienced of fly fishermen can find difficult moments.
As you begin to spend more time approaching and fishing this unique, one of a kind trout stream, you will hear many distinguishing words, like drag free drift, Skwala Stonefly, Hoppers, Yakima Canyon, bobber, water releases, Chubby, Mother's Day Caddis and eventually "Flip-Flop".  Such an unusual word that is not typically associated with fly fishing, however it has been an important portion of the fly fishing season for over 40 years, on this bio-diverse, one of a kind, water way.
Compared to other Northwest Rivers, the Yakima is really an adolescent fly fishing stream. The popularity and discovery of this river didn't take place until the late 1980's, when two prodigal sons of Ellensburg, Tim Irish and Steve Probasco documented its blue ribbon particulars in paperback and VHS Video.  
They both understood and unlocked its secret, formidable trout realm better then anyone and brought that to light during this time period.  Well known friends throughout their youth, one son set out to become and form the first fly fishing outfitting business on the Yakima River, while the other traveled the globe transcribing his fishing experiences in photographs and published paper.

Water diversion has always been a part of the Kittitas Valley history.  The earliest settlers that staked their farming ground here in the 1800's, began by digging ditches and canals to serve hundreds and even thousands of acres of farm ground. Many of those same canals are still in existence today and still widely used to distribute water across the vast, agricultural lands of the Ellensburg Valley.

In the early 20th Century, the Army Corps of Engineers set out to craft and construct the four divisions of what is now the Yakima River water operations water management plan.  Beginning in 1912, with the construction of the Kachess Reservoir, that produced a 7 mile long, man-made water collections facility, where they could constitute quickly melting winter snow pack, in an inside perimeter and distribute the water as it was needed to local farmers.
As the demand for water increased, so did the construction of both the Keechulus Reservoir (1917) and the Easton Reservoir (1929). Eventually the largest storage supply resource of them all, the Cle Elum Reservoir was constructed (1933). Also the Bumping Reservoir (1910) and the Rimrock Reservoir (1925) were added to collect the precious water resource in the Naches River Valley. Upon the completion of this enormous project, the Bureau of Reclamation was now solely in distribution of water operations, controlling the flow of irrigation in 3 separate counties, hundreds of miles from it's original source.
Undoubtedly, an amazing feat of hard work, determination and the will to surpass what Mother Nature, built over ages of time.  With this construction effort and the erection of the Roza Dam in 1939 in the bottom of the Lower Yakima River Canyon, the water resource to control millions of gallons of water each season was now constructed.
During this time period, one has to wonder how much thought was given to the anadromous species that populated the river, long before the first settlers ever arrived.  The Yakima was an amazing, bio-diverse water way that produced some of the largest salmon runs in the entire Evergreen State.  Here, Spring Chinook, Coho, Sockeye and Steelhead were present most of the year. With this now said, thousands, perhaps millions of Anadromous Salmonoids, were land locked, unable to reach their spawning territory in the upper watershed.  These same area's that had been fortifyed as sacred spawning grounds for thousands of years, was now impassable, with a barrier of encased cement and steel, spanning five hundred feet wide and nearly seventy feet high.
For more then half a century, these fish would be denied access to their birth water and of course over time, their numbers diminshed greatly.  Soon they were listed "endangered" and catagorized as to be extinct in the Yakima River watershed.
Looking at the scope of the entire mission, I think it is fair to say the engineers that designed this water project had only the best of intentions. Their dream of bringing water to the desert, feeds a nation and beyond each and every season, with a vast food supply that is distributed globally.  It is hard to believe they set out to destroy an entire colony of fish species. I say this without issue.   
Fish Ladder On The Throp Diversion Dam On The Yakima River
During their construction, Roza and Prosser Dams, along with the diversions at Horns Rapid, Union Gap and Throp, were all constructed with fish bypass latters.  However, inadequate water supply and poor engineering of these fish passage portals in the early 19th Century, didn't allow these incredible fish to circumnavigate freely in between.
Now, with much improved science and engineering, along with a coalition of native Yakama tribal biologists, the movement to recolonize these migrating Pacific salmoniods is underway and as of today is our driving force in crafting one of the best wild, trout fisheries in the entire country.
The reintroduction of salmon to the Yakima is an ongoing project and for the past fifteen years, we have steadily seen these amazing fish reappear in the upper watershed once again.  Their bio-mass is strengthening this stream, as they perform and propagate the ritual of spawning each autumn.  The native tribes of the Pacific Northwest were convinced that salmon were the life blood of our rivers.  It's hard to dispute such a fact, when you see the results in a fishery such as the Yakima. 
Some would prefer to attribute the Yakima's success to our state's fish & game fishing policy of catch & release that was established in the early 1990's.  I have to strongly disagree.  The enforcement of this regulation, most certainly has facilitated in rebuilding the stocks of wild trout in our system. However, it is the salmon stocks that are providing the heavy nutrient content, that enables the trout and aquatic insect populations to populate, prosper and grow to the levels we are now seeing. With over twenty five years of experience and thousands of days on the river, my daily obseravations from season to season can only attribute it to this.
Each and evey winter, snow pack to different degrees, accumulates in the mountains surrounding the Kittitas Valley.  If we are lucky, we experience a lavish winter and the anglur basalt, granite rich, Cascade Range are engulfed with hundreds of inches of snow fall.  In the early spring, much of this low lying snow begins to melt and by design, the reservoirs begin filling, collecting as much water as possiable.
Even with four storage reservoirs deliberately fashioned to collect this supply, much of this precious commodity is lost to natural free flowing tribuataries that feed the Yakima River.  These smaller rivers and streams, burst with spring run-off and a percentage of water is flushed naturally through the system, much like Mother Nature orginally intended.  At no point or time does man have any control of what it does or where it goes.
After this annual spring event occurs, the entire Yakima Basin is controlled strictly by water releases dictated by the reservoirs.  Most of the water that fills the banks of the Yakima during the 120 day summer cycle, orginates from the Cle Elum Reservoir.  Water is released from the Cle Elum pool into the Cle Elum River and the two rivers collide at the confluence of the Yakima, just above the historial coal mining town of Cle Elum. Water is delivered to those in need by diversions and canals that finger across the valley for miles.
As we near the 3rd week of August each year, water flows from the reservoirs begin to slow.  Islands, sturctures and other particulates that have been buried under water for several months begin to appear and a new look and feel begins on this river.
The hurried, fast pace water flows of summer begin to drop, and the "Flip-Flop" is initiated. Water releases are cut substantially that supply the Yakima and reservoirs that were once filled to capacity, are now just a puddle in comparison.
As the Yakima flows continue on a downward decent, the water from Kachess Reservoir is diverted into Lake Easton. In turn, the water is then rerouted from the Easton Dam into the Highline Canal, which runs parallel to Interstate 90 southward.  After flowing several miles in an entombment of cement and steel, some of the water is redirected and abruptly drops off the hillside at Bristol Flats (above picture).  Here, cool reservoir water is injected into the desert stream from this bypass. As you can see from the picture above, buoy's are place above water junction to keep any potential, inexperienced river runners from a dangerous and possibly deadly disaster.
Water diverted from the Highline Canal into the Yakima will continue to drop into the system for several weeks.  Of course, this varies from year to year dependant soley on water storage and usage needs. Now, water flows are increased in the Naches River drainage as releases of water from Rimrock and Bumping Reservoir, feed the needs of the local farmers in Yakima and Benton Counties.  Due to a warmer, drier climate in the lower valley, their water requirments and irragation demand operate on a longer cycle.
So the "flip" of water to the Nachess system and the "flop" of water lowered in the Yakima system, hence the name-"Flip-Flop".
The Yakima River is a three hundred sixty five day fishery and most of the year it produces excellent trout fishing, dependant soley on stream and weather conditions of course.  However, September and October for many moons has been known to be the undisputed "Prime Time" months of the season to fish the "Yak".
The Upper River River-September 2018
With water flows receding, easy access opens up in a wider range of areas for those that prefer to fish on foot. Wading bank to bank in most areas is easily accomplished for most anglers. For those traveling by boat, less energy is needed to control your craft and avoiding natural obstacles, like boulder fields and root wade's becomes more of a concern, rather then slowing the speed of the boat.  During the high water season, most of these impediments are buried under several feet of water. Shortening your drift will be required as the stage and flow are much slower.  Trying to cover big pieces of the river doesn't leave you time to present the fly accordingly, especially to feeding fish.
Trout will also have far less places to seek refuge, unlike the summer months of higher water conditions.  Large trout behave as they do in many other northwest rivers, taking up the prime feeding lies.  The grassy banks of the Yakima no longer hold fish. As water temperatures begin cooling, aquatic feed begins showing up in great numbers.
Autumn undoubtedly produces the best hatches of the season on the "Yak".  Craneflies, a direct descendant of the Chironomid, begin returning to the slow moving water of the river to lay their eggs.  Skating, twitching and swinging a crane pattern appropriately will many times deliver some absolutely amazing fish.
A summer Stonefly hatch will commence with the water drop, and the Shortwing Stone in both nymphs and adults will become an important food opportunity for several weeks of September. 

Kicking over rocks along the waters edge will uncover many of these stonefly species.  Big females will take flight over the water during the warmest portions of the day. Keep in mind in low, clear water conditions, these large insects, project an enormous profile, to foraging fish.

Nymphing in the early portions of the day with your favorite stonefly pattern, sizes 8-10 should produce results in most water types.  Water temperatures at this time will dictate the appropriate water to concentrate your energy and efforts in.
One of the most relished food sources for trout on the Yakima is the Blue Wing Olive Mayfly.  With desending water flows, millions of BWO nymphs begin moving along the sub-straight of the river during the month of September.  Many times throughout the fall, this will be the major food source for many resident trout. 
As the month of October approaches, maturing nymphs will begin their fall emergence and the little bug fishing on the river appears.  This is our most techincal time to fish and will test your skills ability to present the fly cleanly to constantly feeding fish, impal the small hook into hardened cartilage and fight the fish on thin, clear monofliament tippet. 
Casting the ideal fishing tool, with plenty of built in tippet protection is a wise choice during this time.  A fast, stiff, broomstick like action fly rod will do you know good here.  With these lifeless types of flyrods, it is highly likely that you will pull hard setting the hook in bone and with no give in the tip or midsection, the mono line will seperate, snapping in two, detaching you and the fine Yakima River trout forever.  Choose your weapon of choice wisely, when shopping for the perfect presentation stick! 
By the end of September, the largest species of the Caddisflies will be hatching througout the entire Upper Yakima River Basin.  This burnt orange, colored Caddisfly will be convulsing and propelling it body violently on the rivers surface well into the month of November. 

Often referred to as the "Halloween" Caddis, this hatch stirs the adrenline of most accoomplished fly anglers and it is a favorite to fish among many. 
Casting large, orange bodied dry fly imatations can bring the largest of the Yakima trout to the surface.  Do not overlook the importance of the pupa either.  Swinging a wet fly pupa under the surface will produce violent, agressive strikes as well.  For many this time of year, the "tug is the drug" as they like to say.
October Caddis hatches are legendary in the Pacific Northwest on many of our fine rivers.  It's also a preferred food items for Columbia River Summer Steelhead.  In the tribuatairies of the Columbia, swinging and skating October Caddis can be an exciting addition to the day's activities as well as a productive means of catching these ocean-going rainbow trout.
We are Pacific Northwesterners and make our home in what we consider "Gods Country".  This has to be the finest two months of the year to be outdoors.  With that being said, this is the "Prime Time" fly fishing months for us in Central Washington.
However, be forewarned, like I mentioned above in this newsletter, this is the "Yak" and the trout will not tolerate poor, imperfect techinque.  For them to be hooked on fur and feathers, they demand a profreicent caster, a drag-free presentation and the skill set to apply enough pressure to bring them to hand.  Don't venture to the river, expecting to catch the mightiest of trout, without the skill set, knowledge and energy to do so.  Fly fishing is the sport of kings as well as the "thinking man's fishing" and the fare that we chase, demand a formitable adversary.  If it was easy, everyone would do it!
Make sure you take advantage and get out and explore not only Central Washington's, Yakima River, but the many beautiful fisheries right in our own back yard.  I will see you out there.