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Fly Fishing Washington’s North Cascades

Updated on December 12, 2013

Off the Beaten Track in the American Alps

The popularity of fly fishing in Washington State had grown tremendously in the last few years, and many of the Evergreen State’s prime fishing spots have taken a beating in the process. Blue-ribbon fisheries such as the Yakima River, Rocky Ford Creek, and the Methow River have all experienced a dramatic rise in fishing pressure. If you are looking to get off the beaten track and fish in solitude, look no further than the North Cascades.

Its All Up Hill

Before you grab your rod and head to the mountains, you need to be aware of one thing: everything in the North Cascades is up hill. Prime fly fishing spots rarely exist right next to the road, so you need to be prepared to hike a few miles, or bushwhack. This is a fairly rugged part of the world, and a sturdy pair of boots is almost mandatory if you want to enjoy it. The region is blessed with numerous streams that are full of rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and brook trout. For those really wanting to earn it, there is a ton of quality alpine lakes whose beauty will take your breath away. Rumor has it a few golden trout exist in some of the high alpine lakes.


The streams of the North Cascades are perhaps the most fun to fish. Walk in just a few hundred yards, and you will catch fish. Go a few miles, and you will most likely be the first person to fish there in a while. Because the fish here rarely see a fly, you can throw pretty much everything at them and they will take it. I suggest beetles and ants, as well as small hoppers depending on the time of year. Royal Coachmen, Humpies, and Caddis are always good to have as well.

Alpine Lakes

For the person willing to grind out some vertical, the lakes of the North Cascades provide some of the most amazing scenery and fishing. Plan on hiking anywhere from 2-6 hours, with upwards of 2,000-3,000 feet of elevation gained. Hiking into a lake is a great way to spend an entire day in the area and fully enjoy the landscape. If you are a real bad-ass, consider packing a raft or small float tube as this will give you unlimited access to the water. Make sure you have plenty of water, and a purification system to make more as needed. The journey into an alpine lake is arduous, but the reward you get makes up for the sore legs.


I prefer to use an 8 foot 2 weight for both the alpine lakes and the streams of the North Cascades. It packs down into a small tube that I can fit in my day pack, so I don’t need to be super careful on the approach in. Floating line with 5-6X tippet is the way to go, and a handful of the flies I mentioned above work great. Less is better, especially if you are hiking up into a lake, or one of the higher elevation streams. I have experimented with Teva sandals when wading some of the streams, and they don’t protect your feet much, so I would suggest taking your wading boots.

Additional Gear and Critters

There are bears in this part of the world, including a small population of grizzlies, so plan on carrying pepper spray or a side arm. There is also a small pack of wolves that were recently introduced as well. The upper reaches of the North Cascades are also home to mountain lions and wolverines. Black flies, mosquitoes, and other annoying critters can be a real pain depending on the weather, so don’t forget the bug spray. Water purifying systems are key as well, and make sure to carry a first aid kit. This is a mountain environment, so plan accordingly.

Where to Go

As a guy who has spent much of his life in the North Cascades, I would get into deep yogurt with the locals if I gave away all of the “secret” spots to fish. I will tell you this: Consult a topo map of the area. Start at the town of Twisp and look west, as well as north, going all the way into the Pasayten Wilderness Area. There are so many streams and lakes out there it is almost overwhelming. Make sure and check the fishing regulation before you go as there are some closures due to salmon and steelhead recovery efforts. Don’t forget to pack out your trash, pinch your barbs, and display required vehicle permits as required.


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