Nooksack River Fly Fishing - Steelhead, Salmon and Trout
The Nooksack River is a special treasure located in the far Pacific Northwest by Bellingham, Washington. The Nooksack river presents a fantastic opportunity to chase a variety of our resident and anadromous fish species. The Nooksack River consists of approximately 140 river miles as it winds its way from headwaters to Bellingham Bay. The three forks of the Nooksack River and their tributaries are quite diverse and offer a variety of flyfishing opportunities. You’ll find yourself surrounded by stunning scenery and abundant wildlife.
The Nooksack watershed is unique for a number of reasons. Foremost in my mind, it is one of the few rivers in Washington that has all five species of salmon including King, Chum, Coho, Pink and Sockeye. Rainbow Trout, Hatchery and Wild Steelhead, Sea Run Cutthroat Trout and Dolly Varden/Bull Trout also call this vast ecosystem home.
From big water on the mainstem to small stream-style, steep canyon walls on the forks, flyfishing the Nooksack river is an awesome experience. The Nooksack River drainage is open for fishing about 8 months a year. River closure occurs to protect spawning fish from mid February through the end of May.
Steelhead begin returning to the Nooksack at the beginning of December and we fish here through the closure in mid-February. The river re-opens in June and we turn our attention to a number of species at that time. We see Coho and sea-run cutthroat in the fall and Chum salmon in the winter months. In odd number years, there are typically good runs of Pink salmon as well.
Our native Nooksack winter steelhead are a hot commodity and we float and fish for these phenomenal fish on the mainstem and north and south forks depending on river flows. The challenges posed by cold moving waters and inclement weather combined with beautiful scenery offer a "chance of a lifetime experience” in quest for these amazing, powerful anadromous fish.
Dolly Varden/Bull Trout are protected and cannot be targeted directly; however, we frequently see these wonderful fish as pleasant by-catch. One reason these bull trout are such special fish is that there has never been any hatchery production; so, they are a genetically pure, truly native stock.
A number of tributaries of the Nooksack offer small stream and creek style fly fishing opportunities. These are typically small rainbow, cutthroat and/or brook trout which will usually take a dry fly. Many of these creeks are set deep in the heart of Whatcom County and often not another person is seen.
Nooksack has two primary translations, "fern-eating people” and "mountain people” referring to the earliest settlers in the area, the Nooksacks.
A common misnomer is that the headwaters of the North Fork of the Nooksack originates on Mt. Baker. The North Fork headwaters are at the East Nooksack Glacier on Mt. Shuksan; although, Wells Creek offers substantial contribution from Mt. Baker, especially during snow and glacial melt.
The Middle Fork of the Nooksack River comes directly off Mt. Baker at the Deming Glacier. The Middle Fork houses the steepest gradient on the Nooksack with a loss of elevation of 156 feet per mile. To give that phenomenon some perspective, 3 miles loss of elevation is roughly equivalent of a 45 story building. It is indeed a gorgeous stretch of water which can most certainly be flyfished; however, access can be a bit of a challenge.
The South Fork of the Nooksack River originates in North Skagit County on the East side of Twin Sisters Mountain. The South Fork valley is a pretty neat place. While she does not always give up her secrets easily, there is the opportunity at certain times of year to hook a very special fish.