Most days, you’ll find the Spokane River nearly devoid of anglers. Even with its close proximity to the city of Spokane, the river itself doesn’t get as much love as it should.
One reason for the Spokane’s relative emptiness is its location – sandwiched in between the popular Yakima River and Northern Idaho, a region filled with productive rivers, the Spokane often gets overlooked.
The Spokane is, however, one of Washington’s hidden gems. Hidden in plain sight, perhaps.
A productive fishery for rainbow trout, the Spokane River near the city is an excellent spot for fly anglers looking to escape the crowds.
While it’s not perfect, it’s one of the best in Eastern Washington and we’ve included the Spokane River among our picks in Best Fly Fishing Rivers in Washington.
Selective gear rules apply to the river from Nine Mile Dam upstream to the Idaho border, meaning anglers also can use lures with single hooks, but no bait. And all hooks on flies and lures must be barbless.
Also, the only fish you can keep upriver from the dam would be a couple of hatchery-marked trout, and without stocking on the state’s schedule (at last check), most trout here are wild.
So this is largely a catch and release experience for the upper part of the Spokane River, where there has been an issue with toxins. The state has issued guidelines recommending no fish consumption for the free-flowing river sections around Spokane.
There are plenty of other waters around Spokane where the trout are safe to eat, if catching dinner is your goal. You’ll find resources to help your search linked at the bottom of this article.
Fly fishing on the Spokane River, particularly the best trout water around Spokane, is classic and traditional when it comes to techniques and fly patterns. If you’re familiar with fishing rivers like the Deschutes and the Yakima, the tactics aren’t much different on the Spokane.
Nymphs fished deep dominate most of the action on the river when there isn’t a hatch going on, and it’s how you’ll probably be catching the majority of your fish.
A strike indicator set deep and some tungsten beadhead flies are usually all it takes to entice some of the bigger rainbows in the river, and they can grow big – fish over 20 inches are present.
For the most part, though, you’ll be catching rainbows between 12 and 15 inches, and they have plenty of fighting spirit.
Most traditional nymphing patterns work well – a particularly deadly duo is a rubber legs stonefly nymph (a girdle bug, for example) paired with a beadhead pheasant tail. Prince nymphs and caddis pupa patterns also do quite well.
Dry flies aren’t the main show on the Spokane, but you’ll see multiple stonefly patterns throughout the summer.
Terrestrial patterns also produce well during the warmer days in the summer, particularly when temperatures rise past 90 degrees.
Though they’re not seen often, brown trout are considered to be the holy grail on the Spokane River.
They are available in significantly lower numbers than the rainbows, but many browns in the river are at least 18 inches long and can give you a run for your money with their feisty nature.
If all else fails, don’t hesitate to tie on a streamer. Stripping leech patterns or wooly buggers through the deeper pools and swinging them through the shallower runs can sometimes convince the larger browns to bite.
Spin casters might feel outnumbered here many days, but conventional anglers will often turn to spinners and spoons to draw strikes from aggressive trout.
Try some different finishes for trout, as sometimes darker or tarnished colors on the blades and bodies will do the trick.
Rooster Tails and similar lures also can be quite effective for stream trout. Red and brown color patterns can mimic forage such as insects or crayfish, and red and silver colors may also provoke strikes from trout protecting their territory from other trout.
Remember to replace any treble hooks with barbless single-point hooks before fishing.
Again, all wild trout must be released.
When to Fish
The Spokane is typically open for fishing from late May through mid-March, but the summer is, by far, the most popular season on the river.
Hot summer temperatures don’t put a damper on the fishing, but instead encourage stoneflies and grasshoppers to emerge and provide feeding opportunities for the fish.
When nothing’s happening on the surface, nymphing during the summer months is also an extremely effective tactic.
Early summer, from June through mid-July, is often the most productive time of year on the river. Fall on the Spokane can also be good, as fish go into a feeding frenzy as they prepare for winter.
When the colder months roll around, most of the minimal attention the Spokane gets during the summer and fall dies down, and for good reason – the Spokane is not a great river to fish during the winter.
The harsh winter temperatures of Eastern Washington can severely impact the fishing, and the weather conditions are frequently miserable.
If you’re wanting to fish the Spokane in the winter, though, you can be pretty sure that you won’t have much company – a great option for solitude if that’s what you’re looking for.
Location and Access
The Spokane River has the unique feature of being likely the only great fly fishing river in the Pacific Northwest that runs directly through the center of a large town.
This makes access and accommodations easy, as the most productive trout stretch is also the most urban – most fly fishermen choose to fish the river in the downtown stretch below Spokane Falls.
You’ll need a boat or raft to most effectively fish sections of the river, as the river is big and bank access can be fairly limited in the productive stretches.
There are multiple spots to put in within the city limits of Spokane, and the float is generally a pretty easy one.
If you’re heading to the river from Seattle, the Spokane River is nearly a 300-mile drive, and from Portland, it’s about 350. The river also flows through Idaho and is most popular with residents of Spokane and Coeur D’Alene, a neighboring city in Idaho.
It may be located far from the more populated Western Washington, and it often gets overlooked for more famous fishing rivers, but the Spokane River is one of the best-kept secrets in the Pacific Northwest.
If you’re looking for a fun day of catching healthy rainbow and brown trout without the crowds, check out the Spokane River – you won’t regret it.
Lower Spokane River
The Spokane River below Nine Mile Dam is largely impacted by reservoirs, especially Long Lake and the Spokane Arm of Lake Roosevelt on the Columbia River.
Also, almost all of the river below Long Lake down to Lake Roosevelt is on the Spokane Reservation, so you’ll need the appropriate tribal permit to get fishing and camping access.
This highly controlled section of river has a mixture of trout, landlocked salmon, and warmwater fish including bass, panfish and walleye.
In fact, both the Spokane Arm of Lake Roosevelt and Long Lake are among Washington’s top walleye fishing spots.
Little Spokane River
This tributary comes down from the north side and joins the mainstem Spokane River west of the city.
It’s a decent trout stream that offers some opportunity to take home a few rainbow trout on flies or light tackle from Memorial Day weekend through Halloween.
The Little Spokane also has a winter fishery for whitefish only, with the state’s typical whitefish rules in effect during December, January and February.
Find more fishing spots in Spokane County
WDFW Fishing and Stocking Reports
WDFW Fishing Regulations
National Weather Service forecasts
Carter Reschke is a freelance writer based in Oregon. Passionate about the outdoors, Carter is a fly fishing aficionado and spends his days on the river when he’s not writing.