If you are into classic Pacific Northwest steelheading, the Klickitat is one of those places you need to be. Steelhead enter the river beginning in June and by July its hatchery fish are joined by hard-fighting natives that range to 15 pounds and sometimes more. Because the river is influenced by glacial melt, it can run cloudy during the heat of summer. However, even when the river is off-color there are windows during the day—mornings after cool nighttime temperatures—when water clarity improves and the fish take flies. Steelhead are joined by Chinook or king salmon in August. The chinook average about 15 pounds—although a big one might weigh 25 pounds or more—and they also take swung flies. Prime time arrives in September as cooling temperatures decrease glacial melt and water clarity improves. The bulk of the steelhead run is in the river at this time and the fish are active. The Klickitat’s steelhead take a variety of flies including the classics like General Practitioners and Muddler Minnows. Modern flies, like Bantams, Extractors, Fish Tacos, and Intruders, get grabs, too. Single-handers catch fish on a variety of nymphs, plus drowned hopper and egg imitations.
The Klickitat is not a giant river. Anglers can adequately cover water with a single-hand rod using nymph or swing techniques. But, the Klickitat also offers some of the sweetest swing water you can find. Your guide will float you down prime stretches of water in a raft or driftboat, stopping to let you swing the runs and tailouts. Truly, the Steelhead Ranch and the Klickitat River offer one of the best steelhead experiences on the planet and it’s all located within a relatively short drive from Portland or Seattle.
Depending on the time of year and water and weather conditions, anglers may be on the water at the crack of dawn or they may begin later in the morning. Regardless, eight- to nine-hour days are standard here, with lunch most often served on the water.
Boats and Equipment
The Steelhead Ranch uses Hyde and Clackacraft driftboats on most outings. However, when going “commando-style” on the upper reaches of the river, guides run high-quality rafts.