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Skykomish River

One of Washington true fishing treasures is the Skykomish river located just 45 minutes outside of Seattle. This river systems regularly ranks in the top ten for steelhead fishing with healthy runs of hatchery steelhead and both summer and winter wild steelhead.

The Skykomish also hosts four species of Pacific Salmon, primarily dominated by Fall Coho, Chum, and Pink salmon there are unfortunately but remnants of the once healthy Spring Chinook run which was closed this year. Sea-run Cutthroat also run the Sky in the fall and Dolly Varden / Bull trout as well. Bull trout in Washington are however considered a threatened

species in the state of Washington, but the Skykomish river in one of the few rivers where Dolly Varden / Bull trout retention is still allowed.

Bull Trout

The Skykomish is un-dammed and free-flowing from its headwaters at the South and North Forks to the lower reaches where it meets up with the Snoqualmie to form the Snohomish. Originating in the central Cascade Mountains the Skykomish river runs through the south and north forks to join and form the main stem river at Index. From there the Skykomish runs through the towns of Gold Bar, Startup and Sultan before finally joining the Snoqualmie in Monroe.

The upper Skykomish is known for fast running waters and begins to slow in the lower areas from the Lewis Street bridge in Monroe, down to the mouth. Anglers can expect to experience whitewater rapids, plenty of deep pools and wide gravel bars for excellent bank fishing access.
Some of the most successful methods of fishing the Skykomish are float fishing, drift fishing, throwing hardware, pitching plugs, and flyfishing.

One of the reasons the Skykomish is such an attractive fishery is due to the high number of hatchery fish that make their way into this river every year. The Rieters pond hatchery near Index, Washington is responsible for the majority of the hatchery steelhead that run the Skykomish river but hatcheries on both the Sultin and Wallace rivers feed the Skykomish river system as well.

With 170,000 summer run plants and approximately 200,000 winter run plants, the Skykomish is one of the North Puget Sound regions definite go spots to for anglers looking to retain the delectable meat these hatchery steelhead have to offer.

Although the Skykomish is most renowned for hatchery runs, Wild steelhead still return to the Skykomish river every summer and winter. In recent years wild winter run steelhead numbers have been at or below escapement levels, prompting closures during part of the winter fishery in February until the end of May. You can still get a shot at catch and release wild steelhead in mid to late January but the doors close in February when these bigger fish hit the river in numbers.

Summer Steelhead

Summer Steelhead

The Skykomish is famous among Pacific Northwest steelheaders for its robust run of summer steelhead. June 1st marks the re-opening of the Skykomish for sportfishing. 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 schools of fish moving thru the river every few days the best approach to fishing the river during this first month of the summer is to cover plenty of water. If water levels are high, work the edges of the river around the holes, if the water levels are low try to stay back off the holes and cast farther out drifting your presentation through the slot.

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 are the plugs choices during the summer months and clusters of cured salmon eggs or sand shrimp are the top choices for bait. For steelheaders looking to fish hardware, the summer months are an outstanding time to fish your spinners and spoons, summer steelhead tend to be more aggressive and have been known to chase down hardware and give it the Whammy!

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 snowpack diminishes a noticeable decrease in jet boat traffic will occur and fishing from either a drift boat 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.


Hardcore steelhead fishing spinners by SCB

Spring Chinook

Chinook Salmon

Spring Chinook trickle into the river as early as May peaking in June and July and by the beginning of August, the run is done. Unfortunately, over the last few years the runs have dwindled in numbers causing closures during the spring Chinook season. When open it usually in June or July but you’ll want to be sure to contact the WDFW before heading out to fish the Sky for Chinook to ensure you won’t get fined for retaining fish that are closed to retention.

Fall Coho

Coho Salmon

Once the summer season starts to taper off the fall season begins to pick up and in the middle of August fall coho salmon and pink salmon (in odd years) enter the river. During the month of September the salmon season starts to peak but by October the Pink salmon run is pretty much finished but coho remain in good numbers until the end of November.


Late Fall Chum

Chum Salmon

Late fall signifies the peak of the chum salmon run and the end of the coho run. Chum enter the river in October and remain in good numbers until the end of December.


Winter Steelhead

Skykomish river hatchery steelhead start showing in the end of November and build thru the peak in late December and continue through the month of January. Even with the cold weather the river is very active with anglers during this month.

Winter Steelhead

If you’re looking to bank fish, the Reiter Pond hatchery facility near Index is the clear choice for many Northwest anglers. You should expect to have company though as this is the prime meat gathering location for local bank anglers. Many anglers float eggs in this location or pitch jig or hardware, all can have excellent results.
The most popular stretch of water for drift boating fishing on the Skykomish river is from High Bridge down to Sultan. This is 8 mile stretch offers opportunities for plenty of hatchery steelhead and typically doesn’t get much sled traffic allowing for a more serene fishing experience. Once you hit Wallace flats, boat traffic tends to pick up the fishing usually remains good. The drift from High Bridge to Sultan can be very productive for hatchery steelhead in the summer and winter months.

The next stretch of the Skykomish River is from Sultin to Monroe. Here the river can be dominated by sled traffic and may take a little more work to entice the fish to the bite. Even with the increased boat traffic, this stretch of river can still prove to be very productive, with anglers having significant success even among the more crowded waters.

Floating eggs are among the preferred methods as well as back trolling bait divers or plugs. The Sultan to Monroe section provides big water that’s suitable for both sleds and drift boats.

The lower portion of the Skykomish, from the Lewis St bridge in Monroe down to its confluence with the Snoqualmie is primarily fished by jet boats. With the nearest takeout over a mile up the Snoqualmie River a drift boat 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 back trolling bait divers in the long runs prominent on this stretch of water.

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.


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