Fly Fishing Washington’s Methow River
There are still a few places in the world that nearly bring tears to your eyes, no matter how many times you have been there. For those of us here in the Pacific Northwest, such a place exists right in our own backyard. Originating deep in the heart of the rugged North Cascade Mountains, the Methow River (pronounced “met-how”) flows 80 miles down the Methow Valley to the town of Pateros, where it empties into the mighty Columbia. Arguably one of the most beautiful and challenging fisheries in the Northwest, the Methow is home to cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, cut-bows, whitefish, and steelhead. The river is typically open for trout fishing from early June to late September. Depending on fish return numbers, the river is also open for steelhead in the fall.
Fly fishing on the Methow begins downstream from the Weeman Bridge, which is located about 5 miles downriver from the town of Mazama. This upper section of the river is considered to be a true alpine setting, with amazing views of the North Cascades and gin-clear water. The fish tend to run between 10-16 inches, with more rainbow trout coming to your fly than cutthroat. The upper section ends at the town of Winthrop, where the Chewuch River dumps into the Methow. As the water gets bigger, so do the fish. From Winthrop to Twisp, the size of the water increases, but it still has that alpine feel. This middle section is heavily guided, and has limited put-in and take-out areas, but if you do manage to make the all-day float, the fishing can be as good as it gets. Fish here can run up to 20”, with occasional cutthroat going over that. The 3rd section that runs from Twisp to Carlton is nearly as good, with some of the best fly water on the river. It is a full day float if you put in near Twisp, and you may have to speed-fish to get off the water by dark. This section holds some bigger cutthroat, some as large as 24”. From below Carlton, the river enters a dryer landscape, but the fishing remains very good. This lower section offers numerous put-ins and take-outs, so you can definitely shorten your float time if your schedule requires it. Rumors and the occasional picture tell of monster cutthroat being caught in the lower river, with reports of fish to 26” and 5-7 lbs.
A 9-foot 5-weight rod is the perfect tool for the Methow, and most folks prefer a floating line during trout season. During steelhead season (aka North Cascades Combat Fishing), Spey and switch rods are the way to go. Waders are optional, but you can expect to sweat off a few pounds during July and August if you do wear them. Definitely make sure you have good wading boots, and a wading staff. Floating the river is a great way to cover a ton of water, but there is more than enough river access from the road for wade fishing. To get the inside info on fishing the Methow, contact the crew at North Cascades Fly Fishing. (509-996-4735, www.fishandfloat.com).
Lodging options in the Methow Valley are numerous, ranging from roadside motels where wet waders and dogs are ok (or is it wet dogs and waders?), to posh alpine resorts and everything in between. For a full listing, go to www.methownet.com. There are three overnight options that are definitely at the top of the list. Located near the town of Winthrop, Sun Mountain Lodge (www.sunmountainlodge.com) is the region’s premier resort, and offers breathtaking views of the valley, lakeside cabins, and easy access to both the upper and lower river. Drive another 15 miles west on Hwy 20, and you will find the Freestone Inn (www.freestoneinn.com) near the town of Mazama. Situated in the picturesque upper valley, the Freestone is famous for its quiet and casual atmosphere. For a truly unique Methow Valley experience, check out the North Cascades Base Camp (www.northcascadesbasecamp.com) also located near Mazama in the upper valley.
Know Before You Go
Save yourself the hassle and just pinch all of your barbs, and release all fish while they are in the water. Please do your part and help keep this river the great fishery it truly is. Make sure and consult the regulations and the local fly shops to keep abreast of open and closed sections of the river as things can change based on steelhead return numbers, snowpack, and water volume. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife usually announce the opening of steelhead season a few days in advance, so check their website as well. Good luck on the river, and keep your line tight!
From Spokane, follow Hwy 2 west to Wilbur, then northwest on Hwy 174/17 to the junction with Hwy 97. Head south on Hwy 97 to Pateros. From Pateros, head north up the Methow River on Hwy 153/20 (North Cascades Highway).
OTM’s Picks: Hanging Out in the Methow Valley
Twisp River Pub
Old Schoolhouse Brewery
Mazama Country Store
East 20 Pizza