And now for something far more uplifting (work with us here) than the below post about all the poached and wasted Oregon elk: photos of the drawdown at one of the Columbia Basin’s most popular fisheries.
While there are great bathymetric maps of Banks Lake available, the nine images below are also sure to intrigue its walleye, bass and panfish anglers.
Indeed, even as a lack of water is an anathema to the fish we pursue, we also love to get a look at the structure they’re hiding in when the lake (or river) is at its usual levels.
Since work began Aug. 1, Banks has been dropped over 30 feet — the furthest it has ever been drawn down — as crews perform maintenance at the north and south ends’ dams.
They’re also busy improving recreation areas around the 27-mile-long lake, including repairing and improving boat launch, extending docks and improving the Coulee City marina.
For our July issue of Northwest Sportsman, Leroy Ledeboer of Moses Lake, Wash., interviewed a number of sources about the impacts to angling, including Lou Nevsimal of Coulee Playland’s tackle shop:
“… If it stays that low all the way into spring we’re going to see a major die-off of our aquatic vegetation, which really devastates any fishery. The ’93-94 drawdown eradicated miles of this vegetation and about 10,000 acres still hasn’t come back. Consequently we still haven’t seen the quantity or quality of fish we had before that setback.
“You eliminate underwater vegetation and the first thing that happens is recruitment drops drastically. The spawn is minimal, and without cover any juveniles that do emerge get munched. Then, within a year or so, the predator base gets hit hard when its forage base declines.
“Our perch population, our key prey species, has come back somewhat over seven years, but it’s still only a fraction of what it was. And pre-’93 it took a 4 1?2-pound average to be competitive in our bass tourneys. Now 2 1?2 pounds will do it.
“Basically a prolonged drawdown of this magnitude will knock our habitat and consequently our gamefish populations way down essentially forcing both to start all over again.”
Then too, those extremely successful rainbow rearing netpens, one set at the south end, the other the north, will have to be moved out to deeper water and will be put on a one-year hiatus. Obviously that will put another real crimp on angler success, at least for a couple of seasons.
WILL ANYTHING POSITIVE come out of this drawdown for anglers?
Well, at least in the short-term the bass and walleye guys could see a real spike in their catch-rates of quality fish. That’s what happens any time a prey base really crashes. It happened after ’93-94, and with an additional 6-foot drop, this crash could be more intense. The downside to this spike is that a lot of really big fish, primarily females, could be removed unless most anglers exercise some discretion.
Then too some bass and walleye anglers could use this drawdown to get a better perspective of the kind of habitat that’s out there. When Lake Roosevelt was dropped to historic lows a couple springs back, one top walleye guy, Donny Ghramm of Kettle Falls, told me he used that opportunity to hike some of that newly exposed ground to record obvious walleye habitat on his GPS.
Another potential positive is this drawdown should give the Washington Department of Fish &Wildlife at least a somewhat clearer picture of what a more permanent drawdown – that potential long-term 20-footer that’s among the proposals to refill the Odessa Aquifer – could mean.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get any data from the ’93-’94 drawdown,” notes regional fisheries chief Jeff Korth. “We had no predrawdown studies and didn’t get anything afterward. At least this time we have really good pre-drawdown information, so if we can get adequate funding to put some boots-on-the-ground for a solid after-drawdown study, it will mean a lot.
“That Odessa Aquifer drawdown, if it does happen, wouldn’t be this severe, but still we’d have a better picture of what it could mean. And, if nothing else, we’d have a better handle on what to expect when we have to go through another major repair and maintenance drawdown, hopefully not for at least a couple decades.”
WDFW’s Aulin Smith, who lives in Electric City and is in on most of the reservoir’s studies, agrees.
“In July we’ll do a full-lake survey, primarily using electro-shocking, with some vertical gill nets,” he explains. “Then the following spring or maybe a little later, we’ll do another one.
“Plus, we’ll do creel surveys both during the drawdown and post-drawdown. We want to see what the anglers are finding out there.
All this should help us understand what these major projects do to our fishery.” NS
In the meanwhile, with BOR’s work just about wrapped up, spokesman David Walsh provided Northwest Sportsman with the following aerial images taken just this past Tuesday, Nov. 15, as the lake stood at 1,538 feet, 31 feet below full pool. At that point, it only covered 19,600 acres, one-third less than at full pool when it covers 27,693.7 acres.
Banks will be refilled by early next year, according to BOR.
If you’re interested in full-size versions of the above shots, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
POSTSCRIPT: Reader Eric Braaten sent us several on-the-ground images from Banks:
For more on-the-ground images, see those in the Wenatchee World’s Flickr pages.