Somewhere out there is a stream teeming with trout. It could be closer than you think if you’re in the Seattle metro area. Some of the best fly fishing in Washington is just out your door.
This corner of the Pacific Northwest is home to beautiful rivers, majestic mountains, amazing views of the Sound, and epic fly fishing. The best fly fishing in the greater Seattle/Tacoma/Everett area gives you plenty of access to all of it. And the best part is that it’s just a short drive away.
Wherever your starting point, there’s a river or lake for you. Smooth, glass-like waters meet fast and churning flows in the many rivers throughout the region. Lakes dot the land, and there is a vast saltwater playland right in the center of it all.
The Puget Sound offers anglers a massive treasure trove of saltwater fishing, with salmon, cutthroat trout, and more aggressive gamefish waiting to smash your streamer.
Don’t forget about the western slope of the Cascade Range. Forested rivers, creeks, and lakes hold trout, salmon, and steelhead.
There are enough waters in the region to allow an avid angler to fish a new water every trip, regardless of the time of year!
First, let’s get into the gear and fly patterns you’ll want to bring along. Since rivers have different hatches occurring all the time, it’s best to check in at your local fly shop before heading out.
Gear and Flies
Recommending flies in an area as diverse as this is a daunting task. Take too many, and you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with options, yet too few, and you could miss matching the hatch.
A seasoned angler knows which flies are mainstays and which are water specific. Unfortunately, the rest of us have to either overload and hope we find the right bug in our kit or go out unprepared.
Let’s narrow down a sizeable list for an excellent all-around fly box.
Fly Patterns for the Puget Sound Region
|Royal Wulff||Sizes 12-16|
|Elk Hair Caddis||Sizes 12-18|
|Parachute Adams||Sizes 12-16|
|Chernobyl Ant||Sizes 14-18|
|BH Hare’s Ear||Sizes 10-16|
|Prince Nymph||Sizes 10-16|
|Lightning Bug||Sizes 14-18|
|San Juan Worm||Sizes 12-16|
|Bjorn Stinger Prawn||Chartreuse/White|
|Harwick’s Silent Assasin|
|Ska-Opper 2 – 4||Sizes 2-4|
|Coho Comets||Pink, purple, chartreuse|
|BH Big Bunny Leech||Chartreuse, purple, pink|
|Satellite Leech||Sizes 2-4|
With these flies in your box, you should be ready for a solid day on the water.
Be sure to head out with a rod that can handle your target fish. For example, smaller trout can be taken on a 3wt, while your bigger salmon and steelhead require a 7wt or 8wt rod with the line to match.
A 7wt to 9wt, 12ft double-hand rod will help with a sinking line and heavy flies. Spey casting is an excellent option on many of these waters.
Depending on your approach, you’ll need to pair the proper line. Case in point, a floating line is best for dry flies, while a sinking tip is good for shallower streamers. If you’re targeting deeper fish, a fully sinking line will get the streamer down to the target, but it also requires a little more muscle to work properly.
Now let’s take a look at the best fly fishing spots near Seattle.
The Best Fly Fishing Near Seattle
There’s so much water out there that it’s daunting to choose where to toss a fly. But, whether you call Seattle home or are just visiting, these waters await you!
The Cedar River is a treat for anyone looking to cast a fly. Located just minutes from Sea-Tac, it’s the perfect place to unwind after a day’s work.
The narrow season typically runs on this river on the first Saturday in June until August 31st. The reason for that short window is that biologists want to protect salmon and steelhead spawning in the Cedar in hopes of restoring runs to their glory days.
Special regulations are in place to enhance the fishery, so take note before heading out. Barbless single hooks and a catch-and-release rule have led to some big trout in the net.
Use a floating line with a 5x tippet for dry flies on the Cedar. You almost can’t go wrong tossing caddis flies. Late summer is excellent for terrestrials.
Another excellent method on the Cedar is nymphing. You can use up to three flies on the river, so add a few bead head Hare’s Ears in 12 to 16, and you’ll find the big fish.
There are several spots on the river to gain access. One of the most popular areas is near the golf course in Maple Valley. Park near there and walk upstream or down.
More: Cedar River Fishing
The Green River runs through Seattle and can get great runs of coho in the fall and fair runs of steelhead at other times of the year, not to mention some trout. During odd years, the river can fill with pink salmon in the late summer.
Access is easy, and there are some great spots at Bicentennial Park.
Hit the Green River Trail, and you’ll find several spots with enough room to cast. It would help if you used a heavier rod/line combo here, as salmon and sea-run cutthroat can put up a decent fight.
Toss a streamer or drift a San Juan Worm.
Be sure of your footing if wading here.
A great technique to completely cover your fishing section is to count your steps into the river. Then, when you move, step the same distance. Keep at it and mend your cast to cover from the far shore through the main current.
Since the Green River flows through urban areas, it can get a little crowded when the fish are running. Weekdays are best, but if you can’t make it, try hiking a bit to escape the crowds.
More: Green River Fishing
The Skagit River in northern Washington offers epic steelhead and trout battles. There aren’t too many rivers that provide the range and challenge for fly anglers than the Skagit does. That’s why we’ve also included it among the best fly-fishing rivers in the entire state.
There’s a reason you need to visit this river. The Skagit takes Spey casting to an entirely new level. The Skagit Cast was developed here to get the chunky bugs face-to-face with the steelhead, salmon, and sea-run cutthroat.
Anglers aren’t permitted to target bull trout deliberately in many Washington waters these days, but the Skagit is one of those places where seasonal fishing for bulls (or Dolly Varden, considered a distinct but closely related char species) is permitted.
At this writing, harvest also is allowed for bulls that are at least 20 inches in defined sections of the river. The season run from September through January at the last update.
These big char will utterly destroy your flies, especially a streamer or egg pattern in the late fall to early winter, when the bull trout follow the salmon upriver and feast on their eggs and fry.
Know your regs and your fish, and carefully release any protected fish you might catch.
The Skagit is a massive river with giant flows. It’s historically been the second most extensive run of salmon and steelhead in the state after the Columbia River, although recent runs of several species have been less abundant.
Don’t try to learn the entire river system in a day. Instead, stick to a few runs and get to know them.
A double-handed fly rod is necessary here to get the heavy flies and sinking line out there far enough to be effective. Steelhead and salmon flies can be pretty big.
Again, focus on a few sections and really get to know them. The Skagit River is worth the effort.
The Skykomish River, or Sky, is a quick 45-minute drive from Seattle. It’s also the perfect spot to hone your skills.
There can be good numbers of hatchery steelhead in the river from November through January and again when the summer run arrives in force each June.
Park near Reiter and head out to find a good holding spot for fish running upriver. This area can get crowded, so do a little hiking for some elbow room.
Odd years can have a decent pink salmon run on the Sky, and they are great fun on the fly.
The river from the confluence with the Snoqualmie up to Gold Bar is another excellent place to try for winter steelhead. Bring your Spey rod.
This is another Washington river that provides an opportunity to catch and keep bull trout at last look. Definitely check the current regulations for details including minimum size, legal season, and open sections of the river.
The Snoqualmie River is a quick drive out of Seattle, but it feels like a different world. Head east of Lake Washington, and you’ll find easy access to the river.
It’s best to think of the Snoqualmie River broken into three sections.
Above the falls, the Snoqualmie is prime for native trout. They may be small, but they’re a lot of fun and will take almost any nymph you toss.
From the falls down to Carnation, the middle section can have good to excellent fishing for anadromous species, depending on the year. The falls blocks these fish from going farther upriver.
Dry flies targeting resident rainbows in the middle section are always great fun in the summer, making way for sea-run cutthroat in September and October.
Winter brings hatchery steelhead into the river. Check the current regulations on timing and limits. The river is subject to closures.
The river is open year-round above the falls for trout and cutthroat.
The Stillaguamish River, or Stilly, is an hour north of Seattle. The trip is definitely worth your time.
The Stilly is a smaller, beautiful river that was the first in Washington to be designated for fly fishing only, although sections are open to other types of angling. There are several special regulations on this river, so be aware and check with the WDFW to be safe.
June through September bring a summer run of steelhead, with the vast majority being hatchery. Wild fish are getting rarer and rarer here.
August starts slow but ends with a bang as the sea-run cutthroat make their way upstream. Odd years add pink salmon to the mix. Would you rather battle a pink salmon or a cutthroat? September is the perfect time to find out on the Stillaguamish.
December and January have another steelhead run, though time your trips between big storms because winter flows can be overwhelming.
The Sauk River is about 90-minutes from Seattle. It’s a tributary river of the Skagit and can be incredible. It can also be a bust. Rain affects the flow and can cloud up the water in a hurry.
The upper section from Darrington downstream to the confluence with Suiattle is primarily private and not easily accessed.
From the confluence downstream to Native Hole is fun, fast water filled with boulders. There are plenty of pullouts along the highway to get easy access.
Below the Native Hole area, the river slows and meanders across the valley. Boat fishing is almost necessary here to cover enough runs and holding areas.
A big draw on the Sauk is the winter steelhead. The winter steelhead can average over 10 pounds and are all tough, muscular fighters.
Like the bigger Skagit, the Sauk is also known for its substantial population of bull trout. However, Washington regulations don’t list an exception that allows targeted bull trout fishing or retention.
Therefore, the regs defer to statewide rules, so anglers aren’t allowed to target the bulls. Still, we know the Sauk’s bull trout are an irresistible draw for some, so be sure to release (gently) any bulls you might catch incidentally while fishing for other trout or steelhead.
The river closes on January 31st to help out the native steelhead run going into the spawning months. Fish closest to the cut-off for the best shot at catching and releasing a big, wild steelhead.
Thoroughly explore every run. You’ll be surprised how many you catch at the very end of the pools and riffles.
More: Sauk River Fishing
Puget Sound Fly Fishing
Puget Sound is a massive body of water. It can be overwhelming to find a spot to try for some coho or cutthroat on the fly. In this section, we’ll take a quick look at three areas, Whidbey Island/Kitsap Peninsula, the Seattle area, and the South Sound by Olympia.
Whidbey Island/Kitsap Peninsula
Migrating salmon and cutthroat arrive in this area after cruising through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Salmon can be aggressive in the summer months as they pass through. They’re still actively feeding and will chase a fly with abandon.
Fall sees great cutthroat and salmon fishing, while early spring on the east side of Whidbey may result in some bull trout hookups, so be sure to read the regulations carefully.
It takes time to figure out the tides, but the fish are typically active when the water is moving. Check the regulations before heading out, as each region of the Sound has specific dates and requirements for salmon.
Several parks along the Sound can have you casting within 30 minutes from Seattle.
Golden Gardens, Lincoln Park, Carkeek Park, Picnic Point, and Meadowdale Beach are fishable.
Salmon and trout are available throughout the area. Epic fishing is just down the road here. If you hit a park and aren’t catching, know that someone at a neighboring park might be having an epic day, and let that thought warm you.
Try a beach for 45 minutes or so, then head to another if nothing is happening. There are plenty of options, and fish are out there somewhere.
The South Sound area starts at the Tacoma Narrows and covers several regional channels and bays.
The Tacoma Narrows, Colvos Passage, Henderson Bay, and Case Inlet are great spots to target. Tide movement in these areas is good, and the sea-run cutthroat are here in good numbers. Plenty of fall coho also may appear during the fall.
If you have the time, head to the Hood Canal area on the eastern edge of the Olympic Peninsula. Coho and chum fishing can be insanely good here during the fall months.