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5 Best Fly-Fishing Spots Within an Hour’s Drive of Pullman, Wa

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Grande Ronde River, southeastern Washington

Grande Ronde River, southeastern Washington

Pullman's Best Fishing Spots

Pullman is not what you would call a mecca for anglers.

When I first moved to the Palouse, I assumed that my fly rod would be spending more time on the wall than on the water. The Palouse is more widely known for rolling wheat-covered hills than rivers, more football than fishing, more “Lite” beer than water.

But tucked away across the region are plenty of options for anglers with an open mind and a free afternoon. If you’re in town for a Coug game, graduation, or just stopping over on your way to the more famous rivers in Idaho to the east, spend some time getting to know these little-known hotspots, and I promise you’ll start to see Pullman as the next great blue-ribbon, world-class fly-fishing destination!

Okay, probably not. But you’ve got more (and better) options than you think. Below are the top spots for fly fishing if you have time in Pullman. There's too much to say on each of these spots to cram into one article (or even one book), so click on the title to link to a more detailed look at each of these fantastic locations.

1. Snake River Backwaters

Season: March-October

Species: Bass, Panfish, Carp

Difficulty: Easy, great for kids and beginners

Starting spot: Wawawai Park, Washington

The key to success in the Snake (especially if you’re on foot) is to seek out its protected backwaters. These areas warm the fastest in the spring, offer shelter from the main river’s currents, and bring a wide variety of species within easy reach of anglers. These backwaters are a great option for all levels of anglers, as the species diversity allows fly fishers to target the challenge level they want on a given day.

2. Lower Clearwater River

Season: June-October

Species: Bass, Trout

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult

Starting Spot: Between Lewiston and Orofino, Idaho

While the steelhead get all the attention on the Clearwater, few anglers take advantage of the almost completely-ignored trout and bass fishing found here. Through the summer months, there are excellent options here for both, and some true trophy bass, westslope cutthroat and rainbow trout, often on dry flies. Best of all, it’s hiding in plain sight, and the fish don’t see nearly as many flies as you would expect.

3. Illia Dunes

Season: June-September

Species: Carp

Difficulty: Difficult

Starting Spot: Illia Dunes State Park, Washington

Better known as a WSU party spot, the sandy flats of Illia Dunes State Park offer anglers a superb spot for sight fishing for carp. This type of fishing is a lot of fun and is a superb training ground for anyone planning a trip to chase tropical flats species.

An angler can practice spotting fish, sight casting to spooky targets in shallow water, have dozens of “shots” a day, and fighting strong, resilient adversaries, all about an hour from Pullman. Even when the partiers descend, the carp are still here in huge numbers, they just move away to the downstream end of the flat (it’s a bit muddier and rockier here, so less popular with sunbathers).

Southeast Washington smallmouth bass

Southeast Washington smallmouth bass

Hot Spot Map

4. Rock Creek/Rock Lake

Season: Year round

Species: Trout, Bass, Carp

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Starting Spot: Escure Ranch, Washington

The outflow of Rock Lake, Rock Creek is a gorgeous little river that traces through some of the least-disturbed areas left on the Palouse. It has abundant access up and down the river, alternates between the character of a freestone desert creek and a deep, slow irrigation channel, to wide shallow spring creek, and has more surprises lurking in its waters than any other river in the region.

5. Grande Ronde River

Season: March-October

Species: Bass, Trout, Steelhead

Difficulty: Easy to Difficult

Starting Spot: Boggan's Oasis, Washington

In terms of the advertised drive time, I’ll acknowledge that I’m fudging it a little here. But the mighty Grande Ronde River is the crown jewel of the region, and there’s no way I could talk about fly fishing in the Palouse without mentioning it.

The huge desert canyon it carves through Oregon and Washington is filled with wildlife, gorgeous water, and excellent fishing options through much of the year. The three primary species to target are smallmouth bass, resident redband rainbow trout, and the iconic inland steelhead. There are also whitefish, bull trout, and chinook salmon here. Feel free to target the whitefish, but the bull trout and salmon need all the help they can get and should be left alone as much as possible.