Skykomish RIver

Don’t let the Sky’s proximity to metropolitan Seattle fool you. The Skykomish regularly ranks in the top ten rivers in Washington for hatchery steelhead harvest and its run of both wild summer and winter steelhead is still worth losing sleep over. The Skykomish remains un-dammed and free flowing and if there were a manual detailing every type and cross sect of steelhead water the publisher would need only mention the Skykomish. From its headwaters in the South and North Forks to the lower reaches where it meets the Snoqualmie to form the Snohomish it offers everything from whitewater and plunge pools to long, wide runs held in check by classic gravel bars. Anglers interested in float fishing, drift fishing, hardware, plugging, and flyfishing will all find plenty of suitable water on the Skykomish River.

The majority of the Sky’s hatchery plants come from the Reiter hatchery facility near Index, but hatchery plants on both the Sultan and Wallace Rivers near the town of Sultan spread hatchery steelhead throughout the river. On most years as many as 170,000 summer run plants and approximately 200,000 winter run plants make the Skykomish one of the North Puget Sound regions top bets for harvesting a hatchery steelhead.

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Reiter Ponds Hatchery produces the majority of the Skykomish’s
winter and summer hatchery steelhead

Wild steelhead still return to the Skykomish in numbers in both the summer and winter, though wild winter run escapement since 2001 has been at or below escapement levels, prompting the closure of the popular spring March/April catch and release fishery on the Skykomish. Excellent fishing for the Sky’s big wild runs can still be had the latter part of January and February, however, and trophy class steelhead haven’t quit coming home to this river. Wild summer runs have fared a bit better than their winter counterparts and fisherman on the upper reaches of the Skykomish tussle with their fare share of these fish during the hot summer months.

Winter Steelhead
Like most rivers in the North Sound region the Sky’s winter hatchery fish start showing sometime around Thanksgiving and continue to build thru the runs peak in late December, with good fishing continuing thru the month of January. Plenty of boat traffic can be found on the Sky on any given day and there is ample access for anglers bound to the bank.

For bank angling the Reiter hatchery facility near Index is an excellent bet any day of the week and its location is generally given away by the many vehicles parked along Hwy 2 across from the hatchery. Large numbers of winter steelhead hold in the pools below the facility and it isn’t uncommon for fishing to be “elbow to elbow” in this area. Jigs under a float are the ticket in the Reiter area, as are small egg clusters and drift gear. On occasion a spoon or spinner presented correctly can also draw strikes from wary steelhead in this area.

The most popular stretch of water for driftboating is from High Bridge down to Sultan, which covers roughly 8 miles of river. Hatchery steelhead can be found throughout this stretch of water and sled traffic doesn’t typically get heavy until the end of the float near the Wallace Flats. Aside from a few swirling eddies immediately below the launch at High Bridge, this float is fairly easy and poses few hazards for driftboaters. Sidedrifting small egg clusters and sand shrimp works extremely well here, as does backtrolling Tadpolly and Hot Shot plugs and bait divers rigged with a Spin’n Glo and shrimp tail. There is also plenty of excellent floatfishing water on this stretch and pink worms, jigs, sandshrimp, and egg clusters presented under a float will all draw strikes from hatchery fish.

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High Bridge to Sultan can be productive for hatchery steelhead
in both the summer and winter months

The stretch of river from Sultan down to Monroe is heavily dominated by sled traffic with most of the hatchery fish taken on tiny clusters of eggs side drifted. Backtrolling plugs can also be effective here and work great as a “change up” technique to draw traffic-weary fish into striking. Though sled traffic can be very heavy at times on this portion of the river driftboats can still score and some of the Sky’s most patient driftboat guides often have excellent days amidst the sled traffic. Like the upper float on the Sky, backtrolled bait divers and plugs will also score fish on the Sultan to Monroe float. For a shorter float a great mid-way take out point between Sultan and Monroe is the Ben Howard launch on the rivers south shore.

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Sultan to Monroe provides big water that’s suitable
for both sleds and driftboats

The lower portion of the Skykomish, from the Lewis St bridge in Monroe down to it’s confluence with the Snoqualmie is primarily fished by jet boats. With the nearest takeout over a mile up the Snoqualmie River a driftboat isn’t the best bet on this stretch. Hatchery fish don’t hold as well in the lower portion of the Sky, but they still have to move thru this area and persistent steelheaders can have great success side drifting bait or backtrolling bait divers in the long runs prominent on this stretch of water.

Summer Steelhead
The Skykomish is famous amongst Pacific Northwest steelheaders for its robust run of summer steelhead. June 1st marks the re-opening of the Skykomish to fishing and excellent numbers of both summer run steelhead and downstream winter steelhead are caught the first week the river opens. As the weeks pass by in June the number of summer runs continues to build thru the end of the month.

With pulses of fish moving thru every few days the best approach to fishing the river during this first month of the summer season is to cover plenty of water and if the river is up to work the edges. Anglers in boats should concentrate on side drifting or plugging prominent stretches and bank bound anglers should consider fishing several runs thoroughly. Steelhead are moving up the river constantly and the soft water over the Sky’s many gravel bars can hold just as many fish as the deeper areas or steelhead “slots” on this river.

Hot Shots, Tadpollys, or Wiggle Warts in various shades of blue, green, silver, or gold will typically rank among the best plug choices during the summer months and a tiny cluster of quality cured eggs or a sand shrimp tail are top choices for bait. For steelheaders looking to fish hardware, the summer months are an outstanding time to fish spinners and spoons, as summer steelhead are known for their aggressiveness and will often run a spinner down to hit it.

The summer run generally peaks on the Skykomish around the first or second week of July and fish will continue to trickle into the river all the way thru August. As the waters recede in July and the runoff from snow pack diminishes a noticeable decrease in jet boat traffic will occur and fishing from either a driftboat or raft is ideal for the remainder of the summer. Silence is the key to fishing the clear water of mid to late summer and any offering that can be presented from a distance like jigs under a slip float, small clusters of eggs, or hardware like spinners or spoons get the job done.

Finesse gear techniques like jigs, bait on long, light leaders, small spinners, or spoons provide most of the action during the latter part of summer on the Skykomish. Mornings and evenings when the sun is low or cloudy days are generally best and tackle should be geared down to tackle slightly heavier than your standard trout gear. Long spinning rods like the Lamiglas Esprit Concept rated for 6 to 10 lb test and spinning reels capable of holding 140 yards of 10 lb line work great, and leaders will generally need to be 6 to 8 lb test and 5 to 6 feet and longer to entice leader shy fish into striking.

Flyfishing on the upper reaches of the Skykomish system can also be excellent under these conditions with both nymphing and swinging wets on a sink tip being productive techniques. Variations of egg patterns nymphed with a strike indicator work great as do many standard, brightly colored summer run patterns, though in areas where steelhead see their share of gear off shades like black, purple, and olive can often produce.

For anglers living in the Metro Seattle area the Skykomish is a great place to learn the ways of the elusive steelhead without having to travel halfway across the state. While the Sky doesn’t offer the solitude that it used to, as long as you’re courteous to your fellow steelheading brethren, fish with optimism, and keep a smile on your face you’ll find that the Skykomish can be as rewarding as you make it.

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