Christmas in July? Yup. My wife and I just finished a couple of days on the Upper Columbia River fly fishing at Black Bear Lodge which is located about 10 miles from the US/Canadian border.

We had heard about catching BIG rainbow trout on the Upper Columbia River using dry flies…and the fishing gods were smiling upon us.

Upper Columbia River Rainbow Closeup |

Why Christmas you ask? Well, last December we both looked at each other and the conversation went something like this…”you have almost everything you need and I’m struggling trying to come up with a unique Christmas present for you. I know we’ve talked about fly fishing the Upper Columbia. Let’s book a trip and give it to each other for Christmas”. It didn’t take long for us to decide that was the best Christmas gift we could give each other…so we did.

I contacted Jack Mitchell of The Evening Hatch in Ellensburg, WA who owns Black Bear Lodge right on the Columbia River.

Black Bear Lodge |

There are three “seasons” to fish the Upper Columbia River. Late winter/early spring you’ll be fishing single or spey rod tactics. In June and July, tremendous caddis hatches can be found along with great hatches of Green/Brown Drakes, and Yellow Mayflies. The last season is late summer/fall where October Caddis, Baetis, Yellow Mayflies, and terrestrials will be seen.

We chose to fish in July, hoping to time hatches of the Green/Brown Drakes. The Green Drakes were mostly finished on the Metolius and we were hoping to extend our drake hatch fishing.

We had seen videos of the fishing on the Upper Columbia from YouTube videos Todd Moen of Catch Magazine has produced. They are spectacular to say the least. Here is one you can see from YouTube:

I got your attention, didn’t I?

The opportunity to catch fish with Green Drake dry flies was something we couldn’t pass up.

Have you ever heard about fishing the Upper Columbia River? This is BIG water, as in 150,000 cubic feet/second (cfs) when we arrived to fish the first day.

Upper Columbia River from Boat |

I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact we would be fly fishing in 150,000 cfs with dry flies.

That’s right…dry flies. The Upper Columbia River is purported to have a great Green Drake hatch and we hoped to time our arrival to find bugs hatching.

Guided fly fishing trips on the Upper Columbia River are a little different than you might expect. We heard the fishing was good from about 8:30 till dark. A normal day of fishing began somewhere between 1 and 4 pm and ending at dark.


Upper Columbia River at Dusk |

Our guide Rial told us we could go earlier, but his experience told him it would be difficult to bring fish up to the surface with dry flies until later in the afternoon.

We wanted to see the river, so we headed out around 3:30 and he tied on some terrestrials to see if the fish would cooperate. They didn’t.

So up the river we went to get a view of spots we’d be fishing at dark. Ten miles later we were at the US/Canadian border.

Upper Columbia River Water |

It’s still big water, isn’t it?

Lunch was about 6 pm, with dinner served after returning to the lodge around 11 pm. They called it “Argentine hours”.

So we fished when the sun slowly left the water, drifting along eddies at times 1/2 mile or more in length. It took us a little while to discern the edges Rial wanted us to cast our flies to, but we were able to bring fish up on big attractor flies. The fish began rising to Green Drakes around 8:30 pm and didn’t stop when we left the water around 10:30 pm. Our casts became shorter and shorter as we tried to see our flies. At the end, we were hooking fish a few feet from the boat and could only tell when our lines went tight.

Holding Upper Columbia River Rainbow |
Upper Columbia River Rainbow |

We were lucky enough to land some beautiful fish, most between 18 – 23 inches long. 

And fat! These fish were strong and bent our 5 wt and 6 wt rods with ease. I had more than one fish break off from my 3x tippet. And a big one straightened the hook!

Upper Columbia Rainbow |
Upper Columbia River Rainbow |
Upper Columbia River Rainbow |

Thinking about fishing this water in your own boat? Perhaps, but keep in mind how we fished. Our guide Rial would motor us from spot to spot, kill the motor and use oars to position us along the many seams near eddies and edges of currents in the river. I’m not sure how one would accomplish the same tactic using only a motor.

Typical Upper Columbia River Boat |
Upper Columbia River Guide Rial |
John and Karen on Upper Columbia River |

Photo credit: Marc Janes – one of the other lodge guests

That was the fishing. Here is the lodge.

Black Bear Lodge from River |
Black Bear Lodge from Shore |
Inside Black Bear Lodge |

Our hosts Jeff and Jan Cottrel made sure everything in the lodge ran smoothly and did a wonderful job cooking breakfast, making riverside lunches, and a late dinner.

Jack and Jan Cottrell |

Here is one last Upper Columbia River rainbow. We had a GREAT trip! Perhaps we’ll return someday.

Upper Columbia River Rainbow in Water |

If you are interested in experiencing some great dry fly fishing, contact The Evening Hatch for your own Upper Columbia River fly fishing adventure.

Enjoy…go fish!

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