Fishing the Yakima River: A Guide for Anglers

Map of upper, middle and lower yakima fishing areas

by Brian Walters

The Yakima River is located on the east side of the Cascade mountains in Central Washington. It is the longest river in Washington flowing over 200 miles from the Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Range southeastward until it meets the Columbia River. It is known for supporting one the best Blue Ribbon trout fisheries in the Pacific Northwest.

There are two species of trout that thrive in the Yakima River—the rainbow and Westslope cutthroat. Although Yakima River is best known for its cold water trout fishery, the river offers fishing opportunities for warm water gamefish species in the calmer section at its southern end. Smallmouth bass and channel catfish are among the species you’ll find in the Lower Yakima. Chinook salmon are also abundant.

Yakima River draws angler’s from all over the world to wet their line and try their hand at fly fishing for a trophy trout. Its breathtaking scenery, pristine wilderness, and unparalleled fisheries make the Yakima a must-visit on every anglers bucketlist.

With over 200 miles of freestone water, an angler could fish the Yakima a hundred times and never experience the entire river. To help you make the most of your next fishing trip, we’ll explore the best places to fish the Yakima River and how to fish them.

The Yakima is made up of three sections. The Upper, Middle and Lower Yakima. The Upper Yakima starts at Easton Dam and follows Hwy 90 southeast about 40 miles to Thorp, Washington. The Middle Yakima picks up where Upper Yakima ends in Thorp and runs 30 miles south to Roza Dam. The Lower Yakima runs over 120 miles from below Roza Dam until it joins the Columbia River at Richland.

Even though the Lower Yakima is longer than the combined distances of the Upper and Middle, most fly fishing for trout takes place on the 70 miles or river the flow between the Upper Yakima and Middle Yakima, from Easton Dam to Roza Dam. Downstream of Roza Dam, and really beginning just past Prosser, the Yakima turns into a warm water fishery where anglers will find abundant populations of smallmouth bass and catfish until the Yakima joins the Columbia River at Kennewick.

The Upper Yakima—extending from Easton Diversion Dam to the city of Thorp—provides some of the best fly fishing opportunities along the Yakima. Both species of trout—rainbow and cutthroat—are found on this section of the river. Due to private development, the Upper Yakima from Lake Easton south to the Cle Elum River confluenze provides limited access from shore. However, the stretch of river from Cle Elum River confluenze to the east of city of Cle Elum offers plenty of shore access to fish for trophy rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout. Wade fishing is the most common method to fish this stretch.

Upper Section

If you want to fish the stretch of the Upper Yakima above the Cle Elum River confluence, you’ll need to float it. This 5.5 mile section of the river can be fished in under 5 hours by float. It doesn’t have the concentration of trout you’ll find further downstream, but the fishing is good and the pressure is low.

To float the Upper Yakima above Cle Elum River, you’ll put in at Hundley Road Boat Launch at Ensign Ranch. (Once you get to Ensign Ranch take the gravel road just to the right of the ranch and follow it toward the river.) There is plenty of space for parking when you get there. Watch for hazards as you float this stretch of the river. There used to be a low hanging bridge that blocked the river during higher flows. You’ll take out at Bullfrog where you’ll find a lot of walk and wade fishing opportunity. You can also fish near the Cle Elum River confluence by following the Palouse to Cascades Trail from Bullfrog.

Cle Elum Section

Floating the section of river from Bullfrog down past Cle Elum River confluence isn’t recommended unless you’re really familiar with the current river conditions. Some years this section is blocked by logjams. However, the 6 mile stretch from the confluence on down to Teanaway Junction (East Cle Elum Boat Launch) offers a great half day fishing adventure through often clear waters. Put in at South Cle Elum or the Hanson Ponds access. Both provide ample parking but you’ll need to park off the river and carry your boat down. There is also plenty of walk and wade fishing opportunity at South Cle Elum and Hanson Ponds access. Walk and wade fishing is limited at East Cle Elum Boat Launch where you take out.

Upper Canyon Section

If your target is native Westslope cutthroats, you’ll want to fish the Upper Canyon from the East Cle Elum Boat launch (Teanaway Junction) to the Thorp Bridge (Green Bridge) where Thorp Hwy crosses the river. This 12 miles stretch of the Upper Yakima has the highest concentration of cutthroat on the Yakima River. The Teanaway River, Swauk Creek and Taneum Creek all empty into the Upper Yakima along this stretch and provide a diversity of fly fishing opportunities for anglers. Since this is a full day float trip, angling pressure is not typically high. There is ample walk and wade fishing available at the Thorp Bridge (Thorp Public Access) take out point.

The Middle Yakima flows from Thorp southeasterly until it reaches the Rosa Diversion Dam—five miles upstream from the city of Pomona. This section of the Yakima is the most accessible and most fished. Through the spring and summer the Middle Yakima is ripe with fly hatches and hungry trout. Anglers flock to the Middle Yakima to try their hand at hooking a trophy rainbow or Westslope cutthroat. The downside of this popularity is that fishing pressure can be high during certain times of the year along certain sections of the river. So arrive early to find a spot and stake your claim.

Thorp Section

Float fishing the Middle Yakima is a great way to take in all the scenery and immerse yourself at the heart of the best fishing action on the river. The first section of the Middle Yakima is fairly short and runs 4 miles from Thorp Bridge to the Thorp S Take-out and Boat Launch just before the diversion dam. If you’re floating the river, get out here. This section of the river is easier to navigate than the Upper Yakima, but you still need to be careful. There are some tight corners and you always need to watch for wood hazards.

The Farmlands Section

The really action on the Middle Yakima begins just downstream from the city of Ellensburg, on a stretch of the river known as “The Farmlands.” You’ll find a lot of trout here, and it’s where most of the guided float trips launch. You can fish this section of the Yakima from shore or by wade fishing at few remote access points, but it’s far more accessible by float. If you decide to float The Farmlands, be aware it is more demanding than other sections of the river.

To float fish The Farmlands section you’ll put in at Irene Rinehark Park. There’s a parking lot just off Umptanum Rd on the east side of the river. Trailer parking is limited but I’ve never had a problem finding a parking spot for my vehicle. If you’re not up to float the Yakima, you can shore or wade fish a mile of the shoreline walking just upstream from the parking lot.

From where you put in at Irene Rinehark Park, you’ll float 5.4 miles and take out at Ringer Loop Rd. By float tube, this stretch of the river can be fished in about 4 hours, although you can take as much time as you’d like. Where you take out at Ringer Loop Rd, you’ll find several miles of great walk and wade fishing up and down either side of the river. This is truly one of the best sections of the Yakima for trout fishing, and it can all be done in less than a day.

The Lower Canyons Section

With over a thousand trout per river mile, hatches galore, and gentle bends and long riffles as far as the eye can see, the Lower Canyons section of the Middle Yakima is truly why the Yakima River is considered Washington’s only Blue Ribbon trout fishery. Approximately 18 miles long, the Lower Canyons is the longest section of the Middle Yakima to float. There are several access points managed by the BLM that offers descent walk and wade fishing along this stretch of the river.

If you decide to float the Lower Canyons, you’re looking at a full day fishing excursion. For a shorter fishing trip you can take out at Milepost 20 just 5 miles south of the Ringer Loop Rd put in or at Milepost 10 about 10 miles south of Milepost 20.

To access the Lower Canyons for a float trip you’ll put in at Ringer Loop Rd. If you decide not to float the river, this is a good access point for some great walk and wade fishing along the bank. For the full day float experience, you’ll take out at Milepost 8, just 2 miles below Milepost 10 but still well north of the Roza Dam.

If you don’t feel like floating the Lower Canyons section of the Middle Yakima, the entire section of river parallels Canyon Rd and provides unlimited roadside access for excellent walk and wade fishing opportunities. There are several BLM fee access points along this stretch of the river as well as free WDFW access points. Just hop on Google maps and follow Canyon Rd along this stretch of the river when planning your trip.

As the Yakima River flows past the Roza Diversion Dam toward the city of Yakima, the river’s cold water trout fishery gives way to warmer waters where anglers will find abundant populations of smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and the occassional spring Chinook salmon. Trout are still present, but at much lower concentrations than in the Middle and Upper Yakima. You’ll still find some good trout fishing just below the Roza Dam.

The Lower Yakima moves slowly as it meanders through flat valleys and open expanses. It warms quickly as it moves toward the Columbia River. This section of the Yakima provides good fishing opportunities but doesn’t get much fishing pressure compared to the upper and middle sections. From Granger east to the Columbia River confluence anglers will find robust populations of smallmouth bass and channel cats. However, bass fishing doesn’t really pick until you get past the town of Prosser. As the Lower Yakima approaches the Columbia River, largemouth bass begin to appear on the radar.

There are a few public access points along the Lower Yakima where walk and wade fishing is possible, but most of the Lower Yakima is inaccessible by land. Here the Yakima flows through private farm lands and river banks are lined with thick, heavy vegetation that greatly limit bank access. Most of the good fishing on the Lower Yakima is only accessible by boat. You’ll find boat ramps for putting in and taking out at Granger, Sunnydale Wildlife Area, Horn Rapids Park, Hyde Rd and Bateman Island.

There are various BLM and WDFW public access points along the Yakima River. The most popular walk and wade access points for fishing are along the Upper and Middle Yakima River between Easton and Roza Dam. Walk and wade access along the Lower Yakima is limited. Float fishing is the best way to access all the best fishing waters within the Yakima River system.

The following table provides a list the various access points and stretches for float fishing the Yakima River including difficulty, fish species, Put In’s, Take out’s and intermediate access points—with links to their locations on Google maps.

StretchDifficultyPut InIntermediate
Take OutDistanceFish Species
Upper Upper YakimaAverageHundley Rd Boat LaunchThree BridgesBullfrog5.7 miles (4 hrs)Cutthroat trout, Rainbow trout
Cle ElumAbove averageE. Cle Elum Boat Launch (Teanaway Junction)E. Cle Elum Boat Launch (Teanaway Junction)5.8 miles (4 hrs)Cutthroat trout, Rainbow trout
The Upper CanyonAverageE. Cle Elum Boat Launch (Teanaway Junction)Thorp Bridge12.4 miles (7 hours)Cutthroat trout, Rainbow trout
Thorp SectionAbove averageThorp BridgeBoat Launch (above Thorp Diversion Dam)3.6 miles (2 hours)Cutthroat trout, Rainbow trout
The FarmlandsHighestIrene Rinehart ParkRinger Loop Rd5.4 miles (4 hrs)Cutthroat trout, Rainbow trout
The Lower CanyonsLowestRinger Loop RdMilepost 20
Milepost 10
Milepost 817.8 miles (8 hrs)Cutthroat trout, Rainbow trout
Lower Yakima - Prosser to Benton CityLowestProsser Boat RampBenton City Boat Launch17 miles (8 hrs)Smallmouth bass, Channel catfish, trout
Lower Yakimi - Horn Rapids to Hyde RdLowestSnively Rd Boat LaunchHyde Road2 miles (1-2 hrs)Smallmouth bass, Channel catfish
Lower Yakima - Hyde to I-182 BridgeLowestHyde RoadI-182 Bridge4 miles (3 hrs)Smallmouth bass, Channel catfish, Largemouth bass
Lower Yakima - Hyde to Bateman Isl.LowestHyde RoadBateman Island8 miles (6 hrs)Smallmouth bass, Channel catfish, Largemouth bass

Most of the Upper, Middle and Lower Yakima are fairly safe. However, there are always dangers on any moving water. Take caution rafting any section of the Yakima and scout your route thoroughly before getting on the water. Some sections of the Yakima have tight corners, there are shifting wood hazards, and sometimes there are complete blockages of the river. When rafting, always know exactly where you’re putting in and where you’re taking out.

When floating the Upper Yakima pay close attention for wood debris which will cause obstructions from time to time.

The Yakima River is known for two things… fly fishing and trout. Yakima is one of the best trout fisheries in the Pacific Northwest. That’s what draws anglers in and keeps them coming back year after year. Two species of trout inhabit the Yakima, rainbows and native Westslope cutthroats. The average Yakima rainbow is going to be in the 12 to 14 inch range, with many larger specimens reaching over 20 inches. When hatches are in full bloom during later spring and early summer, and then again in late fall, you can hook trophy rainbows right on the surface.

Everybody loves fishing rainbows, but for many anglers the real draw to the Yakima is the chance at landing a native Westslope cutthroat. Cutthroats on the Yakima are brightly colored and love to chase flies. A good presentation, a well placed cast, and you’ll soon be reeling in one of the most exquisite fish you’ve every laid eyes on. Your average cutthroat is going to be about 8-12 inches long, with a few pushing 16″. While not as big as rainbows, what cuttroats lack in size they make up for in beauty.

Rainbows and cutthroats are abundant throughout the Upper and Middle Yakima, with the highest concentrations of cutthroats inhabiting the river north of Thorp. Rainbows prefer the current in the faster moving sections of the river. Cutthroats tend to hold to the slower moving water along the bank, moving in and out of the faster seams and eddies to take flies.

You’ll also find bass, whitefish, squawfish, pike minnows and a few Chinook salmon in the Yakima. The Lower Yakima—downstream from Prosser—has abundant smallmouth populations, and as you approach the Columbia River confluence, you may hook a Largemouth bass or two. If by odd chance you reel in a steelhead, promptly release it back into the river.

Yakima River fish species
lake trout
Cutthroat Trout
Westslope cutthroat trout are mostly found in Upper Yakima River upstream from the town of Thorpe. They often reside in the slower sections of the river along the banks. They move in and out of current to feed.
lake trout
Rainbow Trout
The Yakima River has one of the highest concentrations of Rainbow trout of any river in Washington. March, June and October are great months for fly fishing Rainbows. Most Rainbows are found upstream from Roza Dam.
lake trout
Smallmouth Bass
The Lower Yakima downstream from Prosser to the confluence with the Columbia River offers excellenting fishing for smallmouth bass. Average smallmouth bass are in the 2-3 lb range. They will take a variety of lures, jigs and plugs.
lake trout
Channel Catfish
Channel catfish are found throughout the Lower Yukima River. Concentrations are highest downstrea of Prosser. Channel cats average between 12 and 24 inches and weigh in at over 30 pounds. Cast from the banks with chicken livers, night crawlers, and stink baits.
lake trout
Largemouth Bass
Largemouth bass fishing in the Yakima is minimal, but largemouths are present. You'll find most largemouth bass in the extreme lower end of the river in the Richland area. Largemouths will take topwater lures, jigs, plugs and crankbaits.
lake trout
Mountain Whitefish
Mountain whitefish are present in the Lower Yakima River. They can be taken with nymphs and egg patterns fished near the bottom. Larger whitefish can be taken with minnow lures.
lake trout
Northern pike minnow are native to the Yakima River. They can be taken using worms, chicken liver and crankbaits. Best fishing for pikeminnow is May through June. On average, the measure between 10 and 20 inches.
lake trout
King Salmon
aka Chinook Salmon
Chinook salmon are present on the Yakima River, but rare. The can be found downstream from Roza Dam. Populations are supported by re-introduction efforts. Drift fish salmon roe, tuna balls or dyed prawns below a bobber over deeper water, soft water.
lake trout
Steelhead are present on the Yakima River but rare. Fishing for steelhead is closed until populations rebound.

Weather permitting, a well-managed fishery like Yakima River can be fished year round. Yet certain times of year on the Yakima are more productive—and accomodating—than others. Fly fishing is best from mid-July through late September when hatches are in full bloom, terrestrials abound and water flow is low and stable.

Even though the Yakima River is a world class fishery, trout populations don’t compare to what you’ll find on other Blue Ribbon rivers in Montana, Idaho and Colorado. Where some streams in these states may have over 2,000 fish per mile, you may see only half that number of trout on the Yakima. Knowing where and what to fish are key to having a productive fly fishing trip on the Yakima.


Spring fishing on the Yakima can be questionable and variable. Several factors, including temperature and water flow, can render the Yakima unfishable in many areas. The best spring fishing occurs toward the end of the season when run offs subside and hatches are getting under way. Warmer temperatures bring March Brown mayflies, Skwala stoneflies, American Grammon caddi and Blue Wing Olive mayflies to the surface, and long with them hungry trout. Your best chance at getting a bite is to match the hatch, and fish the parts of the river where you know trout are feeding.

Fishing a nymph under an indicator is one of the more effective presentations for getting trout to bite during the spring. You’ll want to use a fast-action rod with a decent back bone to provide power for casting and reeling in a double-nymph rig. A dry fly dropper rig is great presentation for fishing the Yakima during early spring. A stonefly pattern with a Pheasant Tail or Hare’s Ear attractor underneath is a good combo. Hold off on your dry fly presentations until the weather warms.

Best patterns for Spring:

  • March: March Brown Flies (dries and nymphs), Skwala stoneflies (dries and nymphs in the afternoon), March Browns (dries and nymphs), Blue Wing Olives (mid day)
  • April: Skwala stoneflies, Blue Wing Olives, March Brown
  • May: Blue Wing Olives, Mahogany Duns, Grannom Caddis, Salmonflies

After spring runoff subsides, summer tends to experience consistent flows. However, as summer progresses, and farmers downstream require additional water for their crops, water is released from reservoirs and for a short time the river runs high again. When water levels run high, the best fishing is by boat.

As late spring turns into early summer, fly and insect hatches swing into full gear. Stretches of the Yakima turn into a veritable smorgasbord of fly hatches and aquatic insect life. Expect Pale Morning Duns (PMDs), small stoneflies, caddis, golden stoneflies and mayflies to dominate the surface.

As mid-summer approaches and the heat kicks in, summer stoneflies and terrestrials (e.g. hoppers) take center stage. During this time, hopper patterns and Chernobyl dry flies trailed by Pheasant tail, Anato May, or Lightning Bug attractors will get more strikes than anything else. Fish your rigs along the banks and you’re bound to get some takers. For some good rainbow trout action, fish streamers across the current and along the banks.

Best patterns for Summer:

  • June: Terrestrials (hoppers), PMDs, Big Yellow Mayflies, Yellow Sallys, Caddis, Golden Stones, Green Drakes
  • July: Summer sStones, Terrestrials (use large dry flies)
  • August: Summer Stones, Caddis, Hoppers

After the variable flows and temperatures of spring and summer dissipate, and before the cold months of winter set in, fall on the Yakima brings a period of low, stable flows and consistent hatches that create an ideal fishing environment. Fall on the Yakima may just be the best fishing season of all.

Surface action through the fall is strong and consistent. BWO and October Caddis hatches, as well as variety of mayflies and terrestrials provide a cornucopia of feeding opportunity for trout—and consistent hookups for anglers. As water levels subside, you’ll find large rainbows feeding just below the surface and pods of fish casually swimming in plain view seemingly unafraid.

Best patterns for Fall:

  • September: Summer Stones, October Caddis, Light Cahills (as water cools)
  • October: October Caddis, BWOs, Light Cahills, Mahogany Duns (best month for dryf fly fishing)
  • November: BWOs, Mahogany Duns, Midges (toward end)

As winter arrives and water temperatures drop, fish slow down and fishing activity subsides. The best time to fish the Yakima during the winter is when there are warm spells. Whenever the temperature rises, hungry trout will readily take a streamer or midge pattern. Fishing the Yakima during the winter is challenging, but it can be quite productive. Best of all, you’ll have an entire section of river to yourself.

Best patterns for Winter:

  • December / January: Midges, Small Nymphs, Streamers
  • February: Midges, Small Nymphs, Stone Flies, Attractors

The following map provides markers for all of the 40 viable access points along the Yakima River from Easton Division Dam to the Columbia River. The majority of the access points have boat ramps, but not all do. Click the direction link within each marker popup to view the locations on Google maps.