Catfish Lurks, Vancouver Edition
By Terry Otto
This story was featured in the May 2015 edition of Northwest Sportsman Magazine.
Editor’s note: Last issue Terry wrote about catfish and bullhead opportunities on the Portland side of the Columbia; this issue he takes up whiskerfish ops on its north bank.
While catfish may not be a major player on the local fishing scene, the species continues to grow more popular all the time. The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has responded to that interest by increasing the stockings of whiskerfish in local lakes, and promoting the simple and fun activity that is catfishing.
Stacie Kelsey of the agency’s Inland Fish Program at the Vancouver office says that when channel catfish are stocked, people take notice.
“Oh, yeah, it’s huge,” she says of the reaction. “There’s a lot of effort for catfish.”
It’s easy to see why. Catfish are eager biters, terrific fighters and they taste very good. In addition, channels grow quickly, reaching a size of 3 to 5 pounds in just three to four years. And they keep growing throughout their life. Catfish from 20 to 30 pounds are present in the state of Washington, and near Vancouver too.
While cats can be found in many lakes and sloughs around Vancouver, the best fishing takes place in three lakes. A bona fide catfishery has been established at Kress Lake, and Kelsey reports that WDFW regularly stocks the 24-acre water just north of Kalama off I-5’s exit 32. Lots of anglers flock there to catch them.
“There is a lot of easy access there, and there is a really big hole in back of the lake,” she says. “Three years ago I saw a 15-pound channel catfish that was caught there.”
Swofford Pond is another stocked catfishery, and Kelsey says the 216-acre lake produces less catfish than Kress, but it has some sizable ones.
“Swofford kicks out a lot of big, big catfish,” she says.
While camping is not allowed at the wildlife area surrounding most of the lake, which itself lies right alongside Green Mountain Road outside Mossyrock, Kelsey says it is legal to night fish there.
However, as good as these two fisheries are, there is another lesser known catfish hotspot much closer to Southwest Washington’s main city.
“Vancouver Lake is kind of our secret catfish lake,” Kelsey says.
She and the rest of her team are hoping to get the word out on this shallow, but excellent water.
It has a self-sustaining population, and since it is open to the Columbia, migrations into the lake from the river happen naturally. The fish must like what they find, for the numbers and size of catfish in the tidally affected 2,300-acre lake are impressive.
Actually, it’s not that secret. Kelsey reports that anglers fish regularly for channels here.
“People fish for them at the boat ramp, the flushing channel and off the beach at (Vancouver Lake Regional) Park,” she says.
And with a warm winter, those catfish should be friskier earlier.
“They get more active as the water temp rises to about 60 degrees,” says Kelsey.
The lake’s boat launch is at the south end, at the end of La Frambois Road, which is off Fruit Valley Road. The park is off Highway 501. Access to the flushing channel, or Lake River as it is also known, is via two public ramps in Ridgefield, off Division and Mill Streets.
Then there’s the Lacamas Lake system, on the east side of Vancouver. The prehistoric channel of the Columbia is known for having produced some extraordinarily large channel cats – a 28-pounder in 2011 and a 33 in 2005 – but according to local outdoor reporter Allen Thomas, it may have been as much as two decades since the last release. Lacamas also suffers from water-quality issues and these days is said to be “OK” for bullheads, but that’s about all.
NIGHT TIME THE RIGHT TIME
As the days warm into summer, channel cats turn nocturnal. This is especially true of the larger ones. They hole up in the day, and then go on the prowl for food once the sun disappears.
This often means that they move shallow to feed on small fish and crawdads, or anything they can scavenge.
Savvy catfish anglers know this, and local lakes can get pretty busy on warm summer nights. Fishermen line up along the banks with lanterns, throw out cutbaits and wait for Mr. Whiskers to come along.
Remember that catfish are opportunists, and if they aren’t feeding deep, they can often be found shallow. Don’t be afraid to fish near shoreline cover, and sometimes baits suspended under a float will draw catfish.
They will bite on just about any kind of bait, but favorites at the aforementioned lakes include stinky cheeses, cutbaits, shrimp, crawfish and worms. Anything bloody will attract cats too, so give chicken livers or hearts a try. One angler uses dough balls infused with peanut butter. NS