Tenkara Fly Fishing on the Forks of the Snoqualmie River

Words by Steve Settles
Photos by Steve Settles

Some of the fondest childhood memories I have are spending time with my Grandfather. Fly fishing was one of the many things he was into and took the time to share with me. Weekly family visits to my Grandparents’ house oftentimes meant him and I would tie flies before dinner, then walk down to the stream and fish afterwards. Little did I know,  this was his way of teaching me important life lessons like patience, persistence and attention to detail. Every time I go fishing, I can’t help but think about him and those times. Almost 20 years later, I still find myself standing in rivers and trying to fool fish with fake bugs on a line tied to the end of a stick.

South Fork Olallie State Park

Being a sucker for beautiful places and new experiences, I wanted to try a different approach to some of my local rivers. I packed the Tenkara USA Sato rod and hit the road, headed east on I-90, with the goal of fishing all three forks of the Snoqualmie River. Tenakra is a simple Japanese method of fly fishing that uses a rod, line and fly. I found the telescoping rod simple to learn, easy to use and very fun to catch fish on. My first stop was the South Fork Snoqualmie River just before Snoqualmie Pass. The South Fork follows the interstate and has many different exits that provide ample river access. The farther you hike from your parking spot, the better the fishing.

I quickly found a nice run of water that lead to a deep pool. I extended Sato rod, attached the line on the end, tied on a small Elk Hair Caddis fly to the line and was fishing in less than a few minutes. The rod extends longer than rods I’m used to, which was great for casting the fly with great accuracy. With the rod being much longer, I can place the fly on the water where I want it and follow directly above, which gives the fly a drag-free drift. This presents the fly naturally on the water and is irresistible to fish. Fish on! After carefully keeping the fish wet and removing the barbless hook of the fly, the 10” wild Rainbow Trout was back to its home. Onward to the Middle Fork.

Northern Pacific Railroad Bridge, North Bend, WA

After driving back toward North Bend, I found the Middle Fork River within 10 minutes from the South Fork. I was greeted by an “attention anglers” sign which I thought was pretty cool. Just a friendly reminder to properly release these wild fish back into their homes for future generations. I followed the Middle Fork Road just a few miles until I reached a road closed barrier. I parked the car, grabbed the Sato rod and walked a short distance down to the river. I was surrounded by old-growth forest with the bubbling stream at my feet. This was by far my favorite location to fish.

A bigger river than the South Fork, the Middle Fork holds larger fish and offers much more to explore. I made a few short casts behind the big rocks the middle of the stream. A Cutthroat come right up and sipped the dry fly right off the top of the water. I didn’t want to leave this area, but I had to get to the North Fork before it got dark. I telescoped the rod back down and headed back to the car.

Steve – North Fork with a glowing Mt. Si in the background

The drive from the Middle Fork Road brought me right into the center of North Bend. I passed the old Northern Pacific Railroad bridge and quickly decided I had to see what was living underneath. Sure enough, there were willing and eager Cutthroat attacking the dead-drifting Elk Hair Caddis. Back in the car I went and headed for the North Fork Snoqualmie River at Three Forks Park. It was getting dark quick, but I arrived just in time to see the sun reflect off Mt Si, giving it  an amazing red tone. It was the perfect backdrop to end my Tenkara fishing trifecta. I stayed and fished the North Fork until I couldn’t see my fly on the water. What an awesome experience, and so close to home.

If you live in the Seattle area and are looking for a place to go fishing after work and be back home by dinner, the forks of the Snoqualmie River is the place for you. There area is a great place to get introduced into fly fishing, enjoy some beautiful scenery, and take in some solitude, all under an hour away from the big city. Get out, explore more and catch some fish!


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