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Washington: Something delightfully fishy about Yakima

Fly fishing just one attraction in central Washington where abundant sunshine, fertile soil help produce a bounty of apples, pears, hops, grapes and more.

‘Let the fishing rod do the work” is our mantra as my sister and I both cast our “fly” — a light piece of yarn — in the centre of a ring at Canyon River Ranch overlooking Yakima River, Washington.

Our guide Ashtyn Harris, from Reds Fly Shop, says she finds most women catch on quicker than men to fly fishing, and this is just the encouragement we need.

“This is all about momentum. Men like using brute strength but it’s not about that. It’s not like regular fishing, where you are using a huge lure with a weight on the end. This takes less effort because you’re letting the rod do all the work.”

It takes a few tries but we’re soon getting our flies closer and closer to the target before my sister has her Eureka moment. Hitting it dead centre, she turns to me and announces this might just be her sport. Forget golf, neither of us were ever any good at swinging clubs like our siblings, but fly fishing may just become our new outdoor leisure activity. We haven’t even gotten off the lodge’s front lawn, during practice, and to the nearby river before making plans to get some basic equipment and start fly fishing back in B.C.

The sport not only provides a reason to be outdoors but I found it to be calming too, as we later stand on the river shoreline, “reading” the water to understand where the fish might be hiding with our rods at the ready.

“We want to fish where the fish are,” says Harris, who has been fly fishing for the past 11 years after learning from her uncle as a kid. “It’s knowing what the fish like — food, safety and being energy efficient.”

“I like being outside. It’s peaceful and I like being near rivers and streams so I’ll go for a hike and if I’m next to a stream, I’ll start fishing,” she says.

On this morning, we watch about a half a dozen other fly fishing enthusiasts head out with their waders, vests, tackle boxes, rod, reels and flies to try their luck on the Yakima River. Many go with their own guides from Reds Fly Shop who steer fibreglass, flat-bottom boats looking for the best fishing spots on the river.

Harris says the guided fishing tours typically last four to eight hours, on one of these drift boats, but the fishers won’t be returning with any trout. This area is catch-and-release only.

Just down the road from the lodge, we’ll see more fly fishers standing in the river in their waders casting near Umtanum suspension foot bridge. This is also the start of a 14 km. trail into the picturesque canyon, which also provides limited camping sites at the trailhead.

The moderately challenging sandy trail, which passes several aspen groves and takes an average of three hours to complete, is a great spot to see wildflowers and birds this time of year. And if you are lucky, big horn sheep, which can even be seen at times on the cliff wall across from Canyon River Ranch.

While trout fishing, and especially fly fishing, is what brings many people to Yakima Valley, there’s lots of other reasons that make the central Washington region a popular tourist destination.

Located less than three hours by car from Seattle, Yakima Valley enjoys nearly 300 days of sunshine a year. And thanks to being on the eastern side of the Cascades, it only gets eight inches of rain annually compared to Seattle’s 37 inches.

The fertile Yakima Valley also grows the largest variety of fresh produce in the Pacific Northwest, with over 40 commercial crops such as apples (producing 70 per cent of the United States’ apples), pears (42 per cent of the nation’s pears), hops (20 per cent of the world’s supply) and grapes (50 per cent of the Washington state’s wine grapes).

As a result, Yakima Valley restaurant chefs truly enjoy farm fresh produce and wineries here are thriving. And being so close to the Pacific Ocean, fresh seafood is often on the menu here.

“We’re super lucky to have all the farms here and a wide array of seafood,” says WaterFire Restaurant & Bar executive chef Derrin Davis. “Yakima Valley has it all — wine, onions, peppers, beans, tomatoes, all the lettuces. We like to call ourselves the Apple Capital of the World,” he says.

Davis says the majority of the valley’s farmers deliver to local restaurants and he makes a point of always buying in-season produce from local growers. But when the season ends for local crops he’ll partner with growers elsewhere in the region, and in Canada.

Since the region is know for its wines, we visit two wine tasting rooms — one in historic downtown Yakima and the other in the countryside just a short drive away.

At Gilbert Cellars Winery, the tasting room is located at Hackett Ranch, with sweeping views of the apple orchards and rows and rows of French lavender, that makes an attractive backdrop to an outdoor concert area showcasing an eclectic array of musicians each summer.

One of the partners in the fifth-generation-owned winery, Laura Schlect says by the end of June and into early July, the lavender will be at its peak and visitors are free to pick as much as they want for $10.

“We wanted to make a place that people would want to come and hang out with their friends and family,” says Schlect.

“I feel pretty wonderful about all the progress we made out here and what we’ve established,” she says of the winery that initially opened its tasting room in downtown Yakima in 2004, but moved it out to the winery in the West Valley in 2021.

At Adelia Wine Cellars, owner/winemaker Alexis Sells has been making wine for over a decade, working in New Zealand and Napa, California, but returned to her hometown of Yakima to launch her own winery in 2023. Her downtown wine tasting room is in a historic brick building with an inviting atmosphere that includes succulents on the tables and local art on the walls.


Where to stay: The Lodge at Canyon River Ranch on a beautiful 80 acre site, is the only resort on the Yakima River. It has more than 1,000 feet of private river frontage, giving guests easy access to the water and nearby hiking trails. The two-bedroom condos are 880 sq. ft. and feature a full kitchen, a living room with a gas fireplace, washer/dryer, and a private patio or veranda. Five of the condos are pet-friendly.

Red’s Fly Shop and the Canyon River Grill is adjacent to the property. There’s also a pool and hot tub as well as a fire pit to gather around in the evening. The lodge is a fractional ownership property, but many of the suites are available in a rental program.

Where to eat: At WaterFire Restaurant & Bar, we started our meal with Chef Derrin’s signature crab cakes, made with fresh Dungeness crab. They came with a side of corn succotash, spiced tomato jam and garlic aioli and could easily have been a main entrée instead of the appetizer. The special I ordered of fresh halibut served over wood-grilled asparagus with garlic truffle whipped Yukon Gold potatoes was outstanding. Truly, one of the best halibut dishes I’ve ever tasted. For dessert, my sister ordered a classic crème brûlé with whipped cream and blackberries while I chose a dulce de leche cake, a decadent choice that sadly isn’t always on the menu but should be, it’s that good.

Canyon River Grill is the only restaurant in the Canyon River Valley. It’s worth doing the scenic half hour drive from downtown Yakima to get there. While the menu doesn’t have a lot of vegetarian dishes (my dinner menu had only salad as a choice), this is a great place for seafood and meat-eaters. My sister ordered Kusshi Oysters on the half shell from Deep Bay, B.C. while I opted to go for something from the region — the Pike Place Market Cioppino, consisting of mussels, clams, rockfish, shrimp and pasta in a spicy tomato broth - delicious and fresh.

Kim Pemberton was hosted by Yakima Valley Tourism, which did not review or approve this story. Follow her on Instagram at kimstravelogue.