Tenkara on the Yak

Yakima in Ellensburg

Yakima in Ellensburg

The Yakima River is the premiere blue-ribbon trout river in Washington State and has been one of my favorite places to fish for the last 20 years.   This season I focused so much on the small Cascade and foothill rivers on the west side that I never did the drive over Snoqualmie Pass to fish the Yakima except very early in the season when I was over for a snowshoe race.   The Yakima is a big river,  you can rarely wade across it and it is primarily fished from drift boats.  In the fall the water levels drop and wading is at least not a life threatening experience.  After a season using nothing but tenkara for trout though I just had to see how fishing a big river with tenkara would be so I packed my Amago and Yamame, headed over I-90 and pulled into Ellensburg at 10 a.m. under sunny skies and temps finally climbing into the 40s.   After a quick stop at Worley Bugger Fly Co. I decided to start right in town at Rinehart Park where the water is a bit smaller and less crowded than the fabled canyon waters below town.

First tenkara caught Yak bow

First tenkara caught Yak bow

I started fishing about ten yards from my car, hitting a spot where a riffle deepens out to an undercut bank.   I rigged my Amago with a 13′ level 4.5 line and a GRHE Sakasa Kebari and began swinging the fly across the current.  Within two casts I had a grab and the next cast I connected to my first tenkara Yakima rainbow.   Granted, it was a 9″ fish but still, it was a trout on tenkara on the Yak.   Over the next 30 minutes working this short piece of water back to my car I landed six more rainbows ranging from 6-12″.

I spent the whole day working up through the park water, never leaving since the fishing kept improving the further I walked.   Above Reecer Creek near the ponds the river was in better condition as the creek (irrigation channel) was pumping in quite a bit of water with some color.   At the first spot I stopped to fish a drift boat was working above me when a very nice 15-16″ rainbow grabbed my kebari.  I pulled the fly right out of the trout’s mouth, cursed out loud and was told the guys in the boat had several “Oh shit” moments too already.   They gave me a very funny look and said “You don’t have a reel” but were downstream before I could really explain. Another boat going by was casting towards me on shore and the angler apologized for casting over me but then looked again and asked what I was fishing, I just yelled “Tenkara!” and they were downstream.

I worked down a rock bank with a deep slot and got quite a few fish in the 9-13″ range along it.   At the lower end of this bank there was a small deep pool that then went around some fallen debris into a nice run that was flowing under overhanging trees.  At the pool I got several dinks and a few decent fish.  I then hiked through the woods and put in below the run and began working my way up into it from below.

Best fish of the day

Best fish of the day

This last run proved to be very productive.  I got several 10″ rainbows as I approached the overhangs.   Once within casting range of the overhang I did a side-arm cast under the trees and was almost immediately into a nice fish that, unfortunately came off.   Next cast I had another grab and was into the best fish of the day.  The fish headed into the faster water and started going downstream so I followed and managed to turn the fish into the slower water.   Luckily I had just read a great article on playing fish from the Discover Tenkara and pulled the fish so its flank hit the current and then was able to pull it into the slower water below me.   After a bit more struggle I had the 14-15″ rainbow in the net.

As always with wade fishing the Yakima, or any big river, one simply needs to break the big river apart into little rivers and work them the same as a little river.  Most of the spots I decided to fish were little runs that were 25-30′ wide at most and could be easily fished with tenkara.   Side channels, slots next to banks, small eddies, undercut banks, riffle edges can all easily be found and fished effectively.    Over the years I’ve actually found I like fishing the Yakima on foot better than drifting since I can take my time to really pick apart these small river segments instead of just banging casts to the bank all day long from a moving boat.

It was late afternoon by now and I still had a 2 hour drive back home.  I walked out of the park pretty happy with the day.  I caught somewhere around 24-30 trout which is a pretty good day on the Yakima regardless and I did it all on tenkara using one fly all day.   Since the Yakima is usually productive until Thanksgiving I’ll be back again this month.

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