Stehekin & Fishing


Stehekin Landing

Let me tell you a bit about Stehekin. It’s in the heart of the North Cascades Mountains in Washington State at the head of Lake Chelan. Lake Chelan is 55 miles long and averages about a mile wide; it is 1,486’ deep in the middle. The third deepest lake in North America, it is one of the cleanest bodies of water anywhere. Stehekin is a remote community of about 60-80 year-round residents that jumps to around 120 in the summer months. Stehekin is in the recreational area of the North Cascades National Park. North Cascades Park is located 12 miles up the Stehekin valley. Stehekin is an Indian word that means “The Way Through”.

Stehekin is the east side entrance to North Cascades Park that starts 12 miles up our one lane road. The road currently ends just a mile and half in to the Park (For more on the road see Stehekin is unique for many reasons including its unsurpassed beauty, mountain peaks, wildlife, people, and unique historic community. There are no roads in or out. The only way to get to Stehekin is by boat, plane or a long hike.

John Wilsey

I grew up in Stehekin and learned to fish in the many small streams, alpine lakes, river and Lake Chelan. I built my first fly rod when I was 15 years old and have been hooked on fly-fishing ever since.

Fishing in Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan has a wide variety of fish to catch. Fresh water lingcod (burbot), rainbow trout, western slopes cutthroat trout, mackinaw (lake trout), kokanee salmon (silvers), and a few king salmon. The southeast end of the lake has some small mouth bass as well. The silvers, and king salmon run in to the Stehekin River and spawn starting around the end of August. The silvers usually don’t bite but you can catch a few king salmon in the river when they first head up.

Fishing in the Stehekin River.

Stehekin RiverThe Stehekin River has rainbow trout, western slopes cutthroat trout, and a few brook trout. The river is a very unique fishery that holds some really big fish; we catch fish in the 20” range with a few up to about 24”. Washington State has been reintroducing western slope cutthroat for over 10 years now and we are catching some great cuts, some that weigh over 5 lb.

I mostly guide in the Stehekin River out of my Dave Scadden pontoon boat. This gives me access past private land and to hard to reach stretches of river. We fish a lot of water that can only be fished out of a boat, and then get out and fish all the best spots, some that few people ever fish.

This last season was one of the best I have ever seen on the Stehekin River. Our average fish on a guide trip was about 18” with a lot of 20” fish. While we cannot guarantee you will catch fish, we only had two trips last season where someone did not catch a fish. The Stehekin River can be very challenging, but every trip I take down the river I learn something new that helps us catch fish.


fishing pictures and bugs 2012 102

This past season I was invited by a team of researchers who are monitoring the cutthroat recovery. We spent about a half-day snorkeling in the river and it was fascinating. You get a whole different perspective about the entire ecology of the river. While our native rainbows (been here a very long time) are some of the hardest fighting fish anywhere, the monster cutthroats that we are catching are equally as fun.

The Stehekin River is a glacially fed river and the season flows and water temperature changes a lot. So depending on the flow and clarity of the water we may not be able to start to fish the river until mid-June.

Alpine Lake Fishing

Alpine lake raftHowever we have a great alpine lake that is just a short hike away and we take guided float tube trips there in May and June. The lake has brook trout in it and while its steep banks and trees make it very hard to fish from shore we have great success in the float tubes on the lake. The most common comment I get on this trip is that it would be worth it to just sit in the tube and take in the majesty of it all. There are several other great alpine lakes to fish, but you will need good hiking boots and a backpack.

This will be our forth season guiding clients in Stehekin and I am looking forward to what I predict to be one of the best fishing seasons yet. I hope to see you on the river.