Fly Fishing in Washington, Seattle and the Puget Sound (Part 1)

Q&A with Washington Fly Fishing Guide Ryan Smith of Arch Anglers

Ryan Smith, fly fishing guide with
Ryan Smith, fly fishing guide with

Washington state has always been known for its stellar fly fishing opportunities.

But when Peter Harrison caught a 29-plus-pound steelhead, one that is now up for an IGFA world record, Washington got all sorts of recognition from the national fly fishing community.

To try to get a feel for what fly fishing is really like in Washington, more specifically, Seattle ’s Puget Sound area, we caught up with one of the area’s top guides, Ryan Smith, of Arch Anglers in Seattle (, and asked him a few questions.

This is Part I of our Q&A. Check back for Part II next weekend.

Q: Salmon and steelhead numbers have been down on much of the West Coast, how has the fishing been in Seattle's Puget Sound for those two species the past couple of years?

A:The Puget Sound is unique. It still has runs of fish that some areas have lost, or never had. Namely our pink and chum salmon runs. Most every creek, even the one's you can jump across, have a chum run. The sound is dotted with streams that salmon still spawn. These fish seem to bring good fishing for a host of other fly caught species, including the sea-run cutthroat and anadromous bull trout.

The pink salmon return in droves on odd numbered years. This year will be no exception. These fly friendly fish are available July through September. Low water can restrict the numbers of fish in the rivers until August, but every river is different. Off the beaches in Puget Sound, these small salmon (3- to 6-plus pounds) can be lots of fun.

Generally we are fishing six-weight fly rods in the saltwater. For the larger migratory coho and king salmon, a seven- or eight-weight is helpful.

Steelhead should be first on any list, as they top the list of coldwater game fish. Days can go by before you see one of these giants firsthand. And one fish is always a good day.

We are eternal optimists, and often go crazy for steelhead. But I think anyone that wants something really bad doesn't concern themselves with the odds. Crazy... definition of insanity... maybe... but oh so sweet when you get that grab. We prefer to fish for steelhead with a traditional wet fly swing. The important pause to let the fish turn with the fly before setting the hook will take some trial and error. Hard work, knowledge of the river, and a good guide can put you on fish. But nothing can really prepare you for what you'll do when you get that pull.

Q: Some of the pioneers of steelhead and double-handing casting in the Northwest come from the Puget Sound area. How big of a part does that play in the fly fishing culture there and how have the locals tried to continue that tradition?

Fishing for steelhead on the swing is the Northwest tradition we are trying to preserve. From the old guard to the young bucks, everyone is looking for their first, or next, fish on the swing. The dissension between steelheaders that like to swing flies, and those that nymph will continue for as long as these fish return. Our Puget Sound rivers are huge and scream for long casts and the swung fly.

When fishing in our area, leave the bobbers at home and learn from these pioneers on how to move a fish to a swimming fly. Steelheading is not about catching numbers of fish, but more about the appreciation of their journey and a sense of camaraderie that we are all doing what we can to enhance these fisheries. Join in on the process and get involved in your local conservation groups. In our area the Wild Steelhead Coalition, Coastal Conservation Association and Federation of Fly Fishers, to name a few, are working hard to re-write policy and educate on what we are trying to preserve.

All it takes is hooking one fish on the swing. Now your considering growing a beard, scouring eBay for a vintage Hardy and spending your two weeks vacation in April chasing that elusive 20-pounder. On any given day you might finds us waiting for that UPS man to show with new Airflo Scandi Compact, or discussing the difference between dye batches of ostrich feathers.

Moving a sea-run fish toward your fly and feeling every grab, pull, tickle or screaming take is worth the waiting game of steelheading.

These days, swinging for steelhead is a culture and a way of thinking. When you start losing sleep over a lost fish, questioning your backing strength, or find yourself tying flies until 2 a.m., you have a problem. Luckily there is a cure ... get back out there!

Continue on to part two of our Q&A on fly fishing in Seattle.

And don't forget to visit if you plan on fishing Seattle and the Puget Sound area.

Read more about Harrison's possible record steelhead.

Also, check out the IGFA’s list of rainbow trout records, the largest rainbow trout ever caught, fly fishing for steelhead tips, and how to properly release a trout when you catch your own record fish.