A Season on the South Fork

The South Fork with the water I fished this season highlighted

The South Fork with the water I fished this season highlighted

After discovering tenkara at the Seattle Fly Fishing Show in February I had two goals in mind for the upcoming trout season.

  1. Put away my western fly rods for trout fishing and only use tenkara
  2. Explore and fish as much of the 36-mile length of the Snoqualmie South Fork as I could

Both, it turns out, were pretty easy to achieve given that we had a perfect summer with a lot of opportunity to get on the water and the South Fork happens to be a pretty ideal tenkara river.  I ended up spending over two dozen days fishing the South Fork this summer and covered quite a bit of river miles as shown the map above.


I began my season early in April when the South Fork dropped to a surprising 400-300 cfs but was still very cold.  Waders were in order and the fish were still hunkering down deep but still I got a chance to wade the river and get my tenkara casting down before the action started picking up.    The thing that amazed me this early is that the mayflies were already beginning to hatch even though no trout were rising yet – it was a good omen for the year to come when the bugs would be plentiful and the trout more than willing to look up for an easy meal.  Of course then the river rose in May and was unfishable again until early June when I returned.


SFork_CuttI got my first tenkara caught trout on June 10 out of the South Fork.  The fish came out of the Twin Falls stretch of water and took one of the kebari I had tied earlier in the year.   It was a small fish, only about 7-8″ in length but still – a trout on tenkara!  I was hooked and ready for more.   During the month the river dropped from 400 cfs to about 250 and was in perfect shape most of the month at some location.

dennycreekDuring the early summer time I explored the upper stretches of the river from the Denny Creek exit to Alpental.   This upper water was lower and a bit easier to fish in the early season, plus held some beautiful golden colored cutthroat that seemed like a different species than the fish in the lower reaches.   Even in the small water near the Alpental ski area I would find a pool, drift a kebari and catch a fish, before I never knew decent trout inhabited the water above Exit 42 on the river.

ollalieJuly arrived and the weather was still perfect.  Flows had dropped to around 250 cfs and I began spending time on the stretch of water above Twin Falls and below Denny Creek.  Ollalie State Park covers much of the water in the lower portion of this stretch and has some great little runs.   One morning I hit a run that was about 20′ long where mayflies were hatching and trout were rising.  I must have caught 30 fish out of this little stretch of river in an hour.

brookieThe upper stretches of Ollalie held another surprise – brook trout!   I got my first South Fork brookie on July 22 in a small run at the Far Side area of the park.   I managed to get a half dozen or so brook trout out of the river in this general area over the course of the month when this became one of my favorite beats on the river.


cadeThis stretch also became one of my favorite training grounds for new tenkara anglers.  My 8 year olf granddaughter took to tenkara like a duck to water, on her first trip, first cast she had a trout!   I taught several friends how to fish tenkara in this middle river area and saw several first tenkara caught fish come out of the river here.

During July the river continued to drop down to 100 cfs and I began working my way down the river to the stretches below Twin Falls.


sno_railwayI spent August mostly fishing water in the North Bend area, often right in town with cars or the Snoqualmie Valley train passing close by over bridges.   I began hiking up and down the Snoqualmie Valley Trail to find new water that I’d never before fished in the Boxley Creek Natural Area and close to Three Forks Natural Area.    I found a lot of trout, and some pretty nice trout to boot in this stretch of water.   Instead of just 6-9″ fish I was catching a lot of mature cutthroat that went 9-12″.


Around mid-August I was focused on the Cedar River since it was about to close and on the waters in the Methow Valley where we went on our family vacation so when September rolled around it was time to complete my exploration of the South Forks’ very upper and lower reaches.

source-lakeOn Sept 10, Catherine and I drove up to Snoqualmie Pass and started up the Snow Lake trail out of Alpental.  Our destination – Source Lake.  This small lake sitting at 3750′ is, literally, the source of the South Fork.   It all starts here in the shadow of Bryant Peak.  While I carried a tenkara rod along, the trail actually ends above the lake and after viewing the very shallow water from above didn’t feel like scrambling down this talus slope to make a cast or two into what looked like pretty sterile water.   Still, I made it to the starting end of the South Fork and did check out some water just down from Alpental while there.  Now only the other end to go.

south-fork-mouthHot off the hike to the source, on Sept 12 I headed the other way in quest of the mouth.   Driving to Snoqualmie I took Reining Road in back of the Three Forks Natural Area and parked in a pullout overlooking the mouth of the South fork.  Luckily the mainstem of the Snoqualmie was low enough that I could wade across the river and up into the South Fork, fishing the last several hundreds yards of river.

That day I walked the river from Three Rivers up to North Bend Way and had a great day in what turned out to be the last really hot day of the year, temps hitting 93.   I found fish scattered about and did great on one run just up from road with cars passing in sight as I landed one cutthroat after another.

As I write this a few days later the rains have begun again and the trout fishing on the forks will be  coming to an end as the water cools.   I’ll soon trade my tenkara rod for my switch and spey rods to swing flies for steelhead.   In the past twenty years I had fished a few stretches of the South Fork and did well enough but I didn’t really know the river.   This season I got to see the entire river and got to know its trout like never before, a relationship that comes with time spent exploring the river and learning its secrets.   I think I can finally call the South Fork  my home river at this point and I know that its pools and runs will be ready again next spring.