Category Archives: Fishing

Whether you’re into fly-fishing to bass fishing, read about tips, tactics and locations here.

Cowlitz Will Shine This Spring

Huge Chinook forecast, plus great steelheading makes the river an April must-fish.
By Jason Brooks 

The Cowlitz is known for putting out good numbers of winter and summer steelhead, and it can be an outstanding fall coho river as well. But come April most Northwest sportsmen are fixated on the spring Chinook making their way up the Columbia to terminal fisheries. Before venturing too far up the big river in pursuit of the year’s first salmon, though, remember that the Cowlitz too has a good run of springers. And this year’s forecast of 25,100 not only follows on a stellar season in 2015, it is one of the largest predicted returns over the last 30 years.
But wait, there’s more! One thing the famed Southwest Washington river offers that most other springer fisheries don’t is the chance to double up on winter steelhead that arrive in February and are caught all the way into June, when the summer steelies show up. The Cowlitz also offers a variety of water conditions and access for all anglers.

WHILE 2016’S FIRST Cowlitz springer was caught out of the lower river in early February, the fishery really doesn’t get going strong until mid-April as the salmon make their way up to the Barrier Dam and Tacoma Power’s salmon hatchery. Thanks to 2010’s rebuild and changing release strategies at that facility, the numbers of smolts being released there has increased 70 percent, rising from around a million to 1.7 million.
Early this month boat anglers have the advantage because they can best fish the bigger water from Toledo down. The I-5 launch (which is underneath the interstate off Mandy Road, which peels off the Jackson Highway) is a starting point. Keep in mind that salmon and steelhead in this section probably won’t be too close to each other, so targeting springers will yield very few steelhead. Plus the techniques in the bigger water are more geared to salmon anyway – back-trolling plugs, such as the Brad’s Killer Fish, Yakima Bait’s Mag Lip 4.5 or even the newer 5.0, and Luhr Jensen’s Kwikfish, all wrapped with either a fillet of herring, sardine or a piece of tuna belly. As the regulations don’t allow the use of a barbed hook until June from Lexington Bridge up, switch out the trebles to a single barbless siwash on a barrel swivel or bead chain  and pinch the barb down. Another  favorite is a plug-cut herring with a Brad’s Diver 48 inches in front, with a four-bead chain swivel halfway down the 25-pound leader.
One of the more popular areas is the mouth of the Toutle River. Here, bank anglers who find their way to the large gravel bar find a place to plunk Spin-N-Glos with a chunk of sardine or a gob of eggs, and some even put both on the hook. A 5- to 8-ounce pyramid weight is needed this time of year as river flows can vary, even with the river being controlled by a series of dams. The Toutle is not controlled and has a lot of sediment, making the water below the confluence very dirty, but plunking is an intercepting technique, so don’t let the offcolored water discourage you too much. Boat anglers will often fish here as well, again pulling big plugs and fishing the off-color and clearwater separation line.

The Cowlitz’s 50 miles below Mayfield Dam are best fished from a boat, but many stretches are productive from the bank too, notably the mouth of the Toutle, Blue Creek and Barrier Dam. (JASON BROOKS)

The Cowlitz’s 50 miles below Mayfield Dam are best fished from a boat, but many stretches are productive from the bank too, notably the mouth of the Toutle, Blue Creek and Barrier Dam. (JASON BROOKS)

UPRIVER IN TOLEDO is a two-lane boat ramp that provides access to slightly  smaller water. Boaters will again back down the deep slots, which are easier to find in this section of the Cowlitz, back-trolling wrapped plugs or diverand-herring combos.
I’ve fished this stretch with guide Bruce Warren of Fishing For Fun Guide Service (253-208-7433) and he knows this part of the river is your real first chance to double up on steelhead and Chinook. He will have a few side-drifting rods rigged up to target current seams or large boulders. He likes to throw the standard boon-dogging rig for steelhead that are holding or traveling upriver but still trying to stay out of the springers’ way. The salmon tend to hold in the deep holes and runs, with the steelhead hugging the bank and seams or resting behind those boulders. By targeting the different waters, you have a good chance of hooking either species.
Next up is the Mission or Massey Bar launch, a bit upriver from Toledo on the north bank off Buckley Road. As the river starts to tighten, this is where you can start to find good numbers of steelhead and springers holding in the same types of water. Though the fish won’t be bunched together, the way you fish for them here on upriver means there is no way to predict what is on the end of your line until you get that first glimpse of the fish. The deep slots are much narrower and the soft edges are travel lanes for both species. With boulders sticking out of the water and the points off of the end of midriver gravel bars holding fish, it can be a guessing game which one you’re fighting to the net.
Side-drifting and boon-dogging (side-drifting while continually floating downriver) are the top-producing tactics for all anglers. However, a technique that is quickly catching on is a variation of boondogging called bobber-dogging. Basically it’s dragging your weight, preferably a slinky as they tend to not grab onto rocks like pencil lead does, while using an adjustable float to help it along as well as watch for the bite instead of feeling for it. Use a leader of 12-or 15-pound clear Izorline Platinum and two size 1 or 1/0 barbless hooks with a Cheater or Corky between them, and a larger cluster of eggs for bait. This time of year I switch up my cured eggs from the standard steelhead orange or natural to the deep-red-stained eggs and add Pro-Cure’s Bloody Tuna bait oil right into the jar to soak. Sand shrimp are still a favorite but to really double up on springers, adding a few other traditional salmon scents like Pro-Cure’s herring or sardine oils can lead to more salmon in the box. Then switch back over to krill or anise for steelhead.

Steelhead add to the allure of the Cowlitz in spring – Bruce Warren holds a nice winter-run. While the lower river is more of a spring Chinook fishery, doubling up on steelhead is most likely from I-5 to Blue Creek (JASON BROOKS)

Steelhead add to the allure of the Cowlitz in spring – Bruce Warren holds a nice winter-run. While the lower river is more of a spring Chinook fishery, doubling up on steelhead is most likely from I-5 to Blue Creek (JASON BROOKS)

BLUE CREEK, THE famed state access and steelhead hatchery, is both a bank angler and boat fisherman’s choke point for doubling up on steelhead and spring Chinook. With plenty of bank access from just below the hatchery outlet at the boat ramp all the way down to the Clay Banks area, shore fishermen can wade out as far as they can, depending on river flows, and drift fish the edge of the main current seam. You will also find anglers fishing eggs under a float here. Above the boat ramp there are a few spots to wade out, but be very aware of the ledges and runs that are right at the bank edge. However, there is ample bank access, and this water is primarily a bobber-and-egg fishery. If you do find a stretch where you won’t interfere with other fishermen, try throwing Blue Fox Vibrax spinners in size 3 and 4 and let them swing across the wide flats.
Boat anglers in this stretch work the opposite side of the river, right along the rock retaining wall across from the launch. There is about a mile of water where you can motor up to the first set of rapids and then slowly  back your way to the tailout just above the natural chute that leads down to the corner below. If you decide to run downriver, be aware that this chute can become a hazard. Boaters coming up can’t see around the corner, and once committed to coming upriver, they need to stay on plane or else risk hitting a boulder that is right in the middle of the rapids.
Four big bends upstream of Blue Creek is Barrier Dam and its boat launch. Those who fish it do well out in the middle of the river, but be aware of the fishing deadline – don’t cross it or you will get a ticket. Bank anglers here do even better and this is your best spot to catch a springer from shore. Steelhead do venture up this way, but this is really a salmon show, and the favorite technique is float fishing eggs. Even with good access, it’s very competitive to get a spot. Standing on rocks and casting out in sequence with other anglers that are within a rod length of you is the name of the game, so don’t expect solitude or try other techniques that will interrupt the flow of bobbers drifting by.
The Cowlitz is one fishy river, producing summer steelhead, fall kings and coho and winter steelies, but don’t overlook the opportunity to double up in spring on Chinook and metalheads. Loads of returning fish and a river basically designed for sport anglers make it a top choice this April. NS

Thanks to a big jump in smolt releases, spring Chinook fishing on the Cowlitz looks bright. Last year saw a return of 23,000, and this year’s is forecast to top that. George Schroeder caught this nice one on the lower river in mid April a few seasons ago, fishing herring behind a diver in soft water near shore due to higher flows. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

Thanks to a big jump in smolt releases, spring Chinook fishing on the Cowlitz looks bright. Last year saw a return of 23,000, and this year’s is forecast to top that. George Schroeder caught this nice one on the lower river in mid April a few seasons ago, fishing herring behind a diver in soft water near shore due to higher flows. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

Smallie Ops Follow Springers

May sees the hungry bass move onto spawning grounds in the Columbia Gorge.

By Jason Brooks

The following story was originally published in the May 2015 issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine.
THE DALLES—Later this month, the prized spring Chinook run will dwindle in the Columbia River Gorge. But don’t put away the rods just yet: The warming water temperatures that speed the kings upstream spark other fishing opportunities.
Smallmouth bass get ready to spawn in early May, and later this month and into June the fish move into the shallows looking for food and places to make their beds. The prespawn also sees them become increasingly aggressive and hungry. This timeframe will see the sloughs, coves, bays and current points found in the backwaters of The Dalles Dam to the base of John Day Dam warm up and bass go on the bite.

WHEN NOT WORKING in the fishing department at Sportco in Fife, Wash., Curtis Blunck can be found bass fishing various American Bass Association and Northwest Bass Circuit tournaments throughout the Northwest, including the Lower Columbia region. Blunck has two top 10 finishes in recent years, and is always willing to talk bass fishing and give some tips on how to find and catch smallmouth.
“A great way to locate fish is to throw out a crankbait and drop the trolling motor, slowly cruising likely areas until you catch a fish,” he says.
Blunck’s favorite crank is a Rat-L-Trap in shad pattern, as it looks like a typical baitfish or smolt that the bass in the Columbia feed on. Another great lure is a crawfish Wiggle Wart.
“Keep in mind this is a river with  current, so you need to think a little like a steelhead fisherman,” Blunck points out. “Look for seams and boulders or points that create a break in the flows, where the fish can sit and rest while food comes at them.”
As water temperatures rise, smallies move up and into the shallow waters in preparation to spawn once the river hits 55 to 60 degrees. But during this period, the fish have more on their mind than nesting.
“They really put on the feedbag once the prespawn starts,” Blunck says.
He switches to tube baits with a ?-ounce jig head, and says he likes white or chartreuse, depending on water clarity.
A pro-staffer for Trokar, Blunck stresses that sharp hooks are a must, as well as changing up to a weedless hook in shallow water, where weeds can become a problem. He also runs braided mainline on his Okuma reels so he can fight the aggressive fish to the boat as quickly as possible, take a quick photo and then send them back to feeding.

If the Columbia Gorge’s notoriously strong spring winds blow you off the water, its banks still provide a good platform to cast for bass, as Chris Spencer of Longview found a few Mays ago. His smallie bit a gold 3/8-ounce spinnerbait at Horsethief Lake. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

If the Columbia Gorge’s notoriously strong spring winds blow you off the water, its banks still provide a good platform to cast for bass, as Chris Spencer of Longview found a few Mays ago. His smallie bit a gold 3/8-ounce spinnerbait at Horsethief Lake. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

I USED BLUNCK’S advice last year while out fishing for bass with my son, Ryan, and my stepfather, Willie Ross, better known as Walleye Willie, a fulltime guide out of The Dalles. We trolled along the edge of an island and a weedbed where smallmouth were waiting for smolts and other small fish. After only going about a hundred yards, the rod bent over and a big bass was jumping and thrashing around. These fish fight hard and are really fun to catch. We lost that one, but a few minutes later it was fish-on again.
We continued to fish until the sun was too hot and we called it a day. This is probably one of the best things about bass angling on this part of the Columbia: the mornings are brisk and calm and the scenery is incredible. By midday, the famed winds kick up and it’s time to motor back to the launch and enjoy other parts of the gorge.
A great base camp for bass is Maryhill State Park, on the Washington side of the river. It offers camping, a small swim area for those hot days and an excellent boat launch. You can even fish from the park’s shores and catch smallmouth. It is also just down the hill from Maryhill Museum and Washington’s Stonehenge, a replica of the one in the United Kingdom.
There are several small rock islands within a few miles upriver of the state park. They create current breaks and often have shallow coves on one side or the other that hold fish. Smallmouth like waters in 5 to 20 feet this time of year.
Just downstream of Maryhill is the large Miller Island, a former cattle ranch that is now a wildlife sanctuary. It has a shallow shelf on the Oregon side and a large cove on the Washington side with weedbeds. It is also large enough to create a wind break so you can avoid being blown around. But keep an eye on the main part of the river, as you will need to navigate it safely to get back to local boat ramps. If the waters get rough, it is time to head in.

JUST BELOW MILLER Island is the mouth of the Deschutes River, on the Oregon side. The calm waters at the mouth are great for bass fishing, but if you’re a Washington-licensed angler and enter the river’s mouth, under the I-84 bridge, be aware that you are now in Oregon waters and need an Oregon fishing license. Also be sure to check the regulations, as the Deschutes is heavily regulated.
When fishing the main Columbia, a fishing license from either state is valid, but you must follow the state laws that you hold the license for and make sure to check the regulations for size and slot limits if you want to keep any. Most of those who fish for smallmouth like the challenge and fight of these aggressive fish and release them to catch another day.
In addition to another camping option, Deschutes State Park, there is also a rough launch just inside the river’s mouth for smaller boats.
Another option is to stay downstream at Columbia Hills State Park, which has a rough launch with no dock on the Columbia. It also contains Horsethief Lake, a great place to swim and relax or do a little bass fishing. NS

Crankbaits in salmon-smolt-imitating shad patterns or crawfish are great options for spring smallies in the Columbia Gorge, where the author landed this one. (JASON BROOKS)

Crankbaits in salmon-smolt-imitating shad patterns or crawfish are great options for spring smallies in the Columbia Gorge, where the author landed this one. (JASON BROOKS)

Stumptown Part II of II

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.

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

Channel catfish are a long-lived species and can grow large in Southwest Washington’s fertile lakes. This 30-pounder was caught in Round Lake, a part of Lacamas Lake, in 2005, more than 10 years after the last known release of the species there. After a pause in stocking, WDFW has begun putting channels into local lakes, including Kress Lake and Swofford Pond. (WDFW)

Channel catfish are a long-lived species and can grow large in Southwest Washington’s fertile lakes. This 30-pounder was caught in Round Lake, a part of Lacamas Lake, in 2005, more than 10 years after the last known release of the species there. After a pause in stocking, WDFW has begun putting channels into local lakes, including Kress Lake and Swofford Pond. (WDFW)

Basaltland’s Backwater Bonanzas

This story was originally published in the May 2015 edition of Northwest Sportsman Magazine.

The sloughs and drowned river mouths of the mid-Columbia and Lower Snake are great places for small-boat anglers to hit for bass, catfish, more.

By Jeff Holmes 

[su_dropcap]K[/su_dropcap]ayak angling continues to blow up in popularity across the entire United States, including here in the Northwest. Kayaks are especially prevalent on the Westside, and it’s almost becoming uncommon to not see some being paddled and pedaled around the outskirts of popular salmon and steelhead fisheries on the Lower Columbia and Willamette Rivers, among others. The economy, mobility and stability of kayaks makes them the clear consensus craft amongst the nonmotorized crowd these days, including yours truly. I’ve owned several float tubes, a pontoon, a canoe and a small cartopper over the years, but none of them approach a good fishing kayak for versatility. I watched friends and fellow anglers fish from kayaks with jealousy for a couple years until we bought our NuCanoe Frontiers in Bellingham last late spring. Now even my big bank- and boat-loving butt can be seen regularly paddling around my local Tri-Cities-area fisheries, often with my wife. (FYI, fellas: Most women love to paddle, and love it when men take the initiative to do something new and active with them.) You won’t catch me trying to slip in with the sleds at Drano Lake and other combat fisheries, nor likely anywhere a large boat makes more sense for safety, comfort and good company, but I use my kayak where it makes sense to me and where my wife wants to paddle. There are fish waiting to be caught everywhere in the Northwest, and they’re all susceptible to a kayak.

I’m looking ahead to a season of fishing around the edges, and not the edges of big-boat fisheries like many, but rather on the edges of most of the kayak fishing world’s consciousness. In other words, I’ll seek out the vast opportunities all over the Northwest where you’ll scarcely see someone in a kayak. I like solitude and exploration of all kinds of bodies of water, big and small, and May offers a wide range of possibilities to fish before the season’s jet- and waterskiier hatch occurs. Here are a few Eastern Washington options worthy of mention for kayakers and those with small boats.
I opened up kayak season 2015 just downstream from Clarkston on a big Snake River backwater at Chief Timothy Park near the mouth of Alpowa Creek. I towed my Thunder Jet over to Clarkston on a beautiful late March day to have a radar arch welded on my boat and thought to toss my kayak on top of the truck in case the urge struck me to fish on the way home.

Duh, it struck.

I enjoyed 80-degree weather and almost complete solitude as I looked for early smallmouth concentrations moving out of the main Snake into the backwaters to feed and spawn. I was early and visibility was only a foot, and I got blanked, but I had a great time and confirmed that it wasn’t my fault when I talked to two anglers in a bass boat who were also getting blanked. Suntan lotion, warming sunshine, and a little exercise made the skunking more than worth it.
But the potential to catch something here increases rapidly as water temperatures rise throughout April and into May. Smallmouth, largemouth, catfish, crappie and perch are all present in the many backwaters and marinas along the Snake. Check out the marinas in Lewiston and Clarkston, Chief Timothy and Wawawai Parks, and various small backwaters along the river that allow entry under small railroad bridges. The Snake itself here is impounded and kayakable too, and the main river often yields even better fishing than backwaters.

The rocky shores of the Snake provide good habitat for bass. While smolt imitations are a good bet in spring, this one bit a crawdad imitation for Jamison Meeks, who was fishing at Lewiston. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

The rocky shores of the Snake provide good habitat for bass. While smolt imitations are a good bet in spring, this one bit a crawdad imitation for Jamison Meeks, who was fishing at Lewiston. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

Further down the Snake at Central Ferry, Lyons Ferry and backwaters all the way to the Columbia add lots of nice walleye to the potential bag.

Catfish are everywhere in the Snake, but the Palouse River across from Lyons Ferry is the best bet. Lots
of large cats stack up here to spawn, and May is the best time to find them concentrated and snappy.
Many thousands of mature smallmouth enter this Central Washington tributary in spring to spawn, and most of them are still in the river throughout May. As summer moves along, most large fish retreat back to the depths of the Columbia to gorge, so May is a great time for numbers and size.

It’s important to note that moving waters and stillwaters are different beasts for beginner kayakers. There are many places on the lower Yakima that would be irresponsible to send beginners, due to swift currents, sharp corners and some rocks to dodge. That said, the river is a treat to fish from the I-182 bridge in Richland all the way to the mouth at Bateman Island on the Columbia. There are occasional power boats here, but avoiding them is relatively easy since it’s best to fish along the edges anyway.

May will find channel catfish in the heat of the spawn, and the lower ends of tributaries such as the Walla Walla, Yakima and Palouse – where Sam Stuart of Moses Lake landed this nice one a few Mays ago – should provide good action for boat-in anglers. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

May will find channel catfish in the heat of the spawn, and the lower ends of tributaries such as the Walla Walla, Yakima and Palouse – where Sam Stuart of Moses Lake landed this nice one a few Mays ago – should provide good action for boat-in anglers. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

Treat the lower Yak like a trout stream: pull over or anchor up in soft shallow side water and fish seams, eddies and slots like you’re looking for rainbows or cutts. Also make sure to bring a variety of crayfish and minnow imitations in different colors. Crayfish are usually the main meal ticket in May. Along with smallmouth, channel catfish and walleye are also common, and a tight-lipped cadre of walleye anglers won’t like that I mentioned this.
The first time I floated this western Blue Mountains river, I watched my friend and “guide” dump his kayak 200 yards into our trip, but that was upriver, in the tiny Touchet River a few hundred yards upstream of the Walla Walla. That was 100 percent operator error, but the river does require maneuvering and is best tackled only by intermediate kayakers with a sense for mild adventure. There are some corners and swift, rocky portions that could easily dump a newbie or an inattentive paddler. Take a pontoon or a raft if you don’t have the kayaking chops, or access the river from Wallula Junction and paddle the lower river and the edges of the delta.

Like other Columbia tribs, lots of smallmouth and channel cats move into the river in spring and offer sometimes-spectacular angling. I wrote about floating the Walla Walla last spring in my pontoon, and I’ll be back on it this month in my NuCanoe. The wildlife viewing is right up there with the fishing, which can be frenetically paced. I caught two smallmouth on one cast on my last trip, one of which was over 20 inches.
This large backwater of the midColumbia near the Washington town of the same name houses giant numbers of spawning smallmouth bass in spring. With a warm, lowwater year, much of that spawning probably occurred in April. But those bass – as well as great numbers of walleye – remain in the protected slough until waters get too warm, when they return to the depths of the big river for summer.

Bass and walleye are often concentrated in big numbers around rocky patches of bottom. Use electronics or a long section of 1-inch PVC to probe the bottom in search of rocks, and use marker buoys when you find structure or, better yet, fish. A variety of jigs, cranks, dropshot rigs and other plastic-bait set-ups will take plenty of fish here.

Small numbers of very large largemouth live here, tucked deep into the maze of backwaters. Look for deep pockets in the shallow slough with heavy cover, including beaver lodges. Some large crappie have historically come out of Paterson and other sloughs, but carp, as elsewhere, have degraded habitat for panfish. Still, there are some large perch and crappie, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better place to catch carp, both on rod and reel and with a bow. Erika caught two last time we fished the slough together, one topping 20 pounds!

Access is through the refuge and off Paterson Road. NS

Two people hold one large rainbow trout apiece

8 Great Inland Trout Waters

Lakes and rivers in far Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Western Montana produce nice fish in March.

By Jeff Holmes

March is a lovely month in the Inland Northwest to be a trout angler. While much of the Westside angling army is rotting on the hook drowning bait-wrapped plugs for spring Chinook or trolling herring through travel lanes for these fish that mostly won’t show up until April, dedicated swarms of anglers from all over the Northwest – even the world – show up here to fish trout. Why? We grow ‘em big, and trophy trout wake up in March ready to gobble more and more frequently throughout the day. We see excellent growth rates at many lakes that Westside biologists and other biologists throughout the West would love. But when one thinks about the best stillwater trout fishing in the Lower 48, the Inland Northwest probably doesn’t come up as often as it deserves. The region is dotted with small and midsized bodies of water, as well as huge lakes holding some of the world’s largest trout.
Luckily, not every excellent March trout fishery in Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Western Montana draws well-heeled anglers from afar, nor do many of them draw much of a crowd at all. And none of the fisheries resemble the madhouses of springer season or Washington’s soon-to-follow opening of trout season on the fourth Saturday in April. Except when certain guides blow up fisheries on social media, as was done to an epic Lake Roosevelt kokanee bite this winter, crowds of 30 or 40 boats are uncommon. Most days, expect to never pass within shouting distance of another angler or boat – if you want to. A prime example of that can be found at North America’s third deepest lake, the Panhandle’s Pend Oreille. It, along with several others, should be on your radar this March or in the near future. All lakes that follow are in top form right now.

This giant trout heaven fell on hard times after several habitat and management crises led to severely depressed kokanee populations, an overabundance of newly introduced lake trout and a subsequent bounty on the heads of the lake’s precious Gerrard-strain rainbows to help balance the predator-prey relationship and allow kokanee to rebound. Well, the kokanee are back – really back – and trout of several species are getting huge. I’ll present in depth in the May issue on how the lake’s historic and current habitat and management challenges and successes have led Pend Oreille back into the conversation as America’s best trout lake. Period.

Two people hold one large rainbow trout apiece

Lake Pend Oreille is again in the running for the title of America’s best trout lake. Kokanee have rebounded, and so have their predators, including Gerard-strain rainbow trout, which are once again numerous and often topping 20 pounds – the one Cashmere, Washington’s Ace Campbell (right) holds was estimated at 22 pounds. Specimens much larger than this exist, and in the May issue author Jeff Holmes will go in depth on the Idaho lake’s fantastic fisheries. (JIM CUMMINS)

Let’s look at some basic numbers in terms of fish size. The lake holds bull trout to over 20 pounds, rainbows to over 30, brown trout to the high teens and maybe larger and some large westslope cutthroat trout as well. Despite extensive deepwater netting efforts to eliminate lake trout, they remain in smaller numbers and fatter and larger sizes, topping 20 pounds and possibly larger. Pend Oreille is a big-water fishery that can be as rough as the ocean, and only experienced big-water fishermen in substantial boats should tackle it, except on bluebird days. Probably the best way to experience the 148-square-mile lake is with a guide or hitching a ride with a fellow recreational angler.
The most common approaches for trolling the lake are surface-planer boards and downriggers, usually deployed simultaneously to cover more of the water column. Big bucktail flies are trolled fast behind planer boards spaced far to the sides of boats to cover a large swath for surface-feeding, spooky rainbows, the top target for most anglers. Downrigger offerings are often Rapalas, Lyman plugs, spoons and an assortment of other trophy trout trolling lures including flasher and bait combos for lakers.
March is a great time for big fish on the lake as they begin to move toward an end to winter patterns. Many rainbows leave the lake to spawn, but most remain since they don’t spawn every year. Browns, lakers and bulls are all fall spawners and are in full effect. Several charter operators make a living at the north end of the lake. They and their reviews are available online.

girl with trout

Lake Roosevelt is one of the Northwest’s flagship trout and kokanee lakes. Home to football-shaped rainbows and landlocked sockeye averaging almost 20 inches right now, March is an excellent time to troll the big waters behind Grand Coulee dam all the way to Fort Spokane. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

March should be a fantastic time to fish Roosevelt as the water managers draw down the reservoir in anticipation of a substantial runoff this season. When Roosevelt is low, it concentrates fish, which tend to school up in elbows in the lake where plankton gets washed by the prevailing winds. In these food-rich areas – which are many along the lengths of the 144-mile-long reservoir – fishing can be fantastic for hatchery rainbows reaching 24 inches and averaging 15 to 19, as well as beautiful wild rainbows that occasionally approach 10 pounds. These football-shaped fish should be abundant and concentrated come March, along with 2016’s excellent crop of kokanee averaging 18 inches and reaching 24. The lake’s net-pen program is often chronicled, including by me, because of its scope and level of success. Some 750,000 rainbow trout are released from pens stretching its length. These 8-inch fish grow a whopping 6 inches and change completely in body shape and flesh coloration by the time winter rolls around. In March, last year’s stockers average 15 inches, with many substantially longer.
Rainbows and big kokanee are on the regular docket for March and all the way into summer, and other fish make occasional appearances as they wash through the system. Nice brown trout are occasionally caught here, as are washed down landlocked Chinook from Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. I caught a nice little 22-inch Chinook trolling flies at the big reservoir. That fish came between Hawk Creek and Lincoln, on the lake’s lower section. The areas from the mouth of the Spokane Arm down to Spring Canyon and Grand Coulee Dam are most densely populated with trout, especially true for kokanee. Consider fishing out of Fort Spokane if you catch word of a bite, but I’d focus even further downstream at Seven Bays or even much lower. Think about Lincoln, Hanson Harbor, Keller Ferry and Spring Canyon as your best bets. This is big water and the wind can come up, but I have many times safely fished Roosevelt in a 14-foot boat. March days can be blustery, but they can also be beautiful and sunburny.
Trout and kokanee here tend to be spooky, and most anglers fan out a wide selection of trolled patterns, including Muddlers and other trolling flies, Apexes, Floating Rapalas, various spinners and other proven trout and kokanee lures. In March fish are still almost always in the top 20 feet of the water column, often coming to the surface to feed. Some rely on downriggers, others planer boards, still others leaded line with long monofilament leaders and light trolling weights. Others simply fish mono rigs with trolling weights and lures. Most Roosevelt veterans believe strongly in tipping every hook – even Rapalas – with maggots, worm, corn, etc. The trout and kokanee here will often favor one direction of troll over another, which I experienced fishing with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Chris Donley in late January. Kokanee wouldn’t touch us going upstream and smacked it repeatedly going down. Later in the day, the reverse pattern developed. I’ll feature Roosevelt, along with trout and kokanee guru Donley, in the April issue.

I caught my first Rock Lake trout as an almost-tween and immediately fell in love with the lake’s wildness and geography, as well as the legends about its huge browns. I later taught 25 miles from Rock at Eastern Washington University in Cheney for over a decade and went to school there for way too long before that. During that time I developed an obsession with the lake, even its history, as I’ve written about here before and probably will again. But for now let me tell you this: It’s rad. Also, it’s rad in March. Provided major precipitation or runoff events don’t cloud the lake and throw it off-color, fishing should be amazing for hatchery winter steelhead, released here as a result of the Wild Fish Conservancy lawsuit settlement with WDFW. It should similarly be excellent for some of the season’s biggest rainbows and browns. I can verify browns here to 14 pounds and have personally seen a few topping 10. Most of my time at Rock has been spent fishing flies, and I have caught some giant trout, but to get the real monsters, lures or bait shine. Along with a small-but-strong population of large browns of multiple age classes, the lake has good numbers of 15- to 19-inch browns, as well as skinny, silvery juveniles that are best avoided and left to grow. They tend to bunch up in schools at this size. Browns may be what Rock is best known for – certainly not steelhead smolts – but its rainbows are remarkable. Averaging 15 to 18 inches, with lots of fish topping 20, they reach lengths of 24 inches with substantial girth and growl. A limit of Rock Lake fish can be a real haul. Four limits is hard to carry.
Rock is over 7 miles long and is ringed by steep cliffs and sharp drop-offs. It’s called Rock Lake for a reason, both for the beautiful above-ground volcanic landscape and the prop-shedding, transom-ripping architecture under the water. As a rule, run on plane only up the middle of the lake unless you know it well. I have launched a boat at the lake approaching 200 times in my life and I’m still always wary. Not long ago I found an outjutting shelf I did not know about, almost 100 yards from shore. As I’ve written about, the one boat wreck I’ve enjoyed in my life that wasn’t a whitewater raft or a canoe was at Rock, at high speed, in June. If this happens in March, you’re likely going to die. Of course a rock didn’t wreck me; I reached for a chew and lost the tiller.
I quit chewing.
You don’t want to go close to shorelines at high speed, but you definitely want to troll them or cast to them. Almost the entire lake features steep drop-offs, and food and predators are most abundant close to the rocks. I like to troll flies here like olive and black and brown Woolly Buggers, Bunny Leeches and other unweighted flies on fast-sinking fly lines, or you can even fish them with leaded line or with mono and weight. I also like to troll plugs like MagLip 3.0s and 3.5s, Rapala Shad Raps, and FlatFish and Kwikfish. I’ve caught trout here trolling most of my steelhead plugs, but guys who experiment with hard baits from the world of bass angling do especially well. These fish see a fair number of Rapalas. I like to use large-profile fish imitations from a variety of manufacturers to show them something different, including hard and soft swimbaits. Casting big stuff to ambush cover results in big follows and grabs from browns and rainbows, and March is sometimes the best big-fish month. I choose to release almost all of my fish, but when I want trout to eat, I like to get them out of 360-foot-deep Rock.

Fourth of July grows fish bigger and faster than its winter-only counterparts, and when there aren’t undesirable species like fathead minnows to contend with, rainbows have free reign of the lake, growing fat on scuds (freshwater shrimp), chironomids, leeches and a variety of aquatic invertebrates that also thrive in the lake’s alkaline waters. The lake is a little over a mile long and mostly devoid of trees except for the end opposite the public launch, where ponderosas sit above the narrow lake that fills a coulee in the channeled scablands 3 miles south of Sprague. Its fish are piggish in size and appetite. The lake has historically churned out lots of big rainbows, with anglers biggest gripe being the overabundance of trout over 14 inches. The daily limit here only allows two trout over 14; the other three must be smaller, which isn’t always possible. For guys who like to catch and release lots of trout during a day, this is great news, however. The lake doesn’t get fished out as quickly, and there are big trout galore to be had. Trout as long as 26 inches have been landed here, and specimens stretching at least 2 feet are in the lake now.
The lake’s size regulation makes sense to me, and I’ve seen the benefits of it in excellent late winter and early spring fishing. Keeping five of those plus-sized rainbows would likely result in a declining fishery throughout the season, as was the case prior to the regulation. A fry-planted 18- to 21-inch fish at Fourth of July has more usable meat on it than five of the typical, catchable-sized stocked rainbows. And there are plenty of fish in the high teens and low 20s if taking home some dinners is a high priority. For this angler, however, and for a reliable contingent of other fishermen who value catch and release in order to encounter more fish, the greatest benefit of trout that big is the superior fight and appearance of strong, acclimated fry-planted rainbows. I think these particular fish fight better than they taste; there’s no real conservation objective involved.
On my first morning of fly fishing with sinking line from a float tube during a snowstorm in the mid-1990s, I landed eight fish between 16 and 20 inches at Fourth of July, mostly by accident. As I untied knots in the borrowed sinking fly line, my leech patterns would consistently sit still for long periods, slowly slithering along the bottom only as I shifted my rod tip by accident or as I drifted. On future trips, I made sure to get my leeches and chironomids as close to the bottom as possible, often in very shallow water, and I caught lots. Over the years I’ve learned that rainbows use all depths of the lake, from the shallow end nearest the launch to the far end and its deeper water. One thing is for sure: They are often gorging just out of sight really close to shore and in shallow water.

Person holding a trout

Fourth of July Lake is tucked into the Channeled Scablands a few miles south of Sprague and its namesake lake. Rainbow trout grow very fast here and get very fat – state biologist Randall Osborne landed this one while test-fishing the lake for the winter fishery a few seasons back. It’s tough if not impossible to launch a trailered boat, but very easy to haul a cartopper or a pontoon or float tube to the water. (WDFW)

To generalize, Fourth of July’s big fish spend most of their time quite low in the water column, something I began learning on that day although I might have reasoned it out earlier. When I bait fished the lake in earlier years, I was far more successful plunking than fishing with a fixed bobber, and so were those around me. Whether plunkers use Power Bait, marshmallows, or other means to suspend bait above the bottom, successful anglers are careful to keep baits out of the weeds, and to vary depths throughout the day if not getting bites. The fish are often very shallow and close to shore. Make sure you’re not casting right over the big bruisers that fight their way into the prime spots on the shoreline chironomid-and-leech buffet.

Sorry, Montana, I’m gonna go ahead and be “that” guy and unleash magazine readers on you and your not-so-secret March trophy trout fishery. I’ve seen enough Montanans nymphing the spey runs and speying the gear stretches of steelhead streams lately to not bat an eyelash. Point of fact, the biggest browns, rainbows, and cutthroats of the year begin to feed again for the first time in several months. They all look “up” in earnest for adult bugs, especially skwala stoneflies. These meaty, late-winter/early-spring bugs are part of a rich seasonal diet enjoyed by trout from the local rivers: Clark Fork, Bitterroot, Blackfoot and Rock Creek. All four fish well in March during the prerunoff pattern, which typically continues well into April. Definitely the Bitterroot and Clark Fork see the most traffic, partly because they run through Missoula and other population hubs in Western Montana, partly because they offer the best floating access and strong numbers of skwalas and other bugs, mostly midges, blue-winged olive mayflies and March brown mayflies. Both rivers are well-suited for drift boats or rafts and rowers of all skill levels.
Skwala nymphs become active when the water reaches the high 30s. The nymphs emerge from under rocks and immediately become targets of opportunity for feeding trout well before they make their way to the shore, where they crawl into willows and other vegetation and also rocks to shuck out of their nymph stage into adulthood. Swkalas then unloose, dry and test their wings until they can fly. They then become food as adults when they are driven into the water by high winds, when they die and when the females lay eggs. Trout eat them at all of these stages but eat far more nymphs than anything else. Still, when the adults are present in good numbers, early-season trout can’t help but look up and rise to dry patterns, which are big, fun to fish and intoxicating to watch get eaten. One must wait a count before setting on a trout picking off a big stonefly, long enough for them to turn their head and allow a positive hookset. This is challenging after a winter without dry flies, especially if one is conditioned to watch bobbers drown and to set the hook immediately. It’s fun, and the trout get drunk and dumb on the bounty. The year’s biggest trout are caught every year during the prerunoff. Even wise old browns will rise like greedy westslope cutthroats for skwalas, and the swkalas seem to make big fish eager to rise to other bugs when hatches occur. There are fish present in all four streams of all age classes, but to generalize mightily, all four streams offer lots of “teens” and much larger fish of a mixed bag: cutts, rainbows, cutt-bows, browns and even bulls.

Author holds a trout

All four of the Missoula-area prerunoff trout streams are awesome, including the Blackfoot, Clark Fork, and Bitterroot rivers, but me and my brother Zac’s favorites is more intimate and wild Rock Creek. The little river is home to lots of browns, including specimens larger than this as well as cutthroat, rainbow, brook and bull trout. (ZAC HOLMES)

It’s wise to book a day with a guide out of the better-reviewed of several area fly shops, but after one weekend with a friend in his boat in Missoula, I found it easy to take my own boat, set up shuttles with shops and get on fish immediately on all four rivers. I have never floated Rock Creek, nor would I in a hard-sided boat. It’s more of a small river than a creek, but it is a small river. It may offer the coolest and certainly wildest experience of any of the four major streams. It features healthy bull trout, browns, rainbows, cutts, cutt-bows and brookies. It’s a great trout stream and worth the half-hour drive from downtown Missoula. Expect possible bighorn, moose, elk and deer sightings especially on Rock Creek, but also on the other streams, even in Missoula. This famous trout destination has grown mightily in the last two decades, yet trophy opportunities exist in and around a big, cool town with lots of well-reviewed restaurants and great lodging, shopping, and bars. A trip here is an easy sell for almost everyone.

5 Best April Springer Fisheries

Fishing hits high gear this month – here are the top spots and tactics.

Story by Andy Schneider

As spring Chinook fever grips Northwest anglerdom, it becomes extremely difficult to have productive workweeks in April, what with buddies sending picture after picture of purple-backed, chrome-bright kings. But when the weekend finally does arrive, you are faced with an even bigger dilemma than you anticipated – where to go? You got so caught up in the idea of just going fishing that you didn’t stop to think about the where. Argh!

You scroll back through some of your buddies’ pictures: That’s the Abernathy Bridge, so he’s fishing the Willamette at Oregon City. Those power lines look familiar, so they’re definitely at the head of the Multnomah Channel. Gilbert boat ramp in the distance there, so that’s Santosh on the channel. Is that I-84 and a train in the background? Must be the Wind River. Parade of boats in a tight circle – too easy, that can only be Drano Lake. On the blogs, there are good reports from the Cowlitz, water conditions are supposed to be ideal on the Kalama … And, oh wait, what’s this?!

There’s enough fish for the Columbia to reopen this weekend too? Great, just what you need, another viable and possibly productive option! What to do, what to do … Sometimes there are just too many options when trying to make a decision on where to fish for spring Chinook in April. By midmonth the salmon are pretty evenly spaced throughout most of the Northwest’s popular fisheries. In reality any choice you make should produce results, but pulling the trigger and sending the crew to rendezvous at a distant boat ramp still takes a leap of faith that you are making a good decision to yield the best results.

The last thing you want to hear when you arrive at a fishery is “You shoulda been here yesterday!” Some days you can gather all available information and there is a blaring choice where to go. Bonneville fish counts climbing dramatically? Head to the Wind or Drano. Turbidity levels dropping on the Willamette? Hit Oregon City. Columbia flows high? Troll the lower channel. But there just as many times that all of these options can look appealing, making it difficult to narrow down your choices. Sometimes it’s best just to trust your instincts and make a choice on where to fish and stick with it and have confidence that you made the right decision.

Here are five top April springer fisheries:

THE OREGON CITY stretch of the Willamette can be very productive for spring Chinook anglers, but being successful here doesn’t come easy and the learning curve frustrates more anglers than any other fishery. It’s not uncommon to see certain guides and anglers consistently out fishing others two to one or even three to one. What are they doing that makes them so much more successful? It comes down to the little things: Egg cures, rigging, boat speed, boat handling and the correct tactics used in the right locations all make these anglers more successful than others. So how does a weekend warrior stand a chance against these seasoned professionals? Simple: Dial in one tactic and stick with it.

The most popular way to target spring salmon here is with bait, either diver and eggs or back-bounced eggs. To properly fish bait in Oregon City, you need good current. Last year’s water levels in the Lower Columbia created good flows and good fishing for OC anglers. With good snowpack this winter, we can almost guarantee higher Columbia flows this spring, which could hamper fishing this season, but only time will tell. One of the most effective ways to get your bait in the bite zone and keep it there is with a Jumbo Jet diver. Clip one onto a plastic weight slider with an 8- to 12-inch dropper. Run a 6-foot leader with either a Spin-N-Glo or double Corkies (pinned halfway down the leader) to a 3/0 hook. Adding a sand shrimp above your eggs doesn’t hurt and will keep your eggs “milking” longer than just running bare eggs. Bring multiple egg cures and vary your offerings throughout the day to see if there is one the fish prefer. OC is known for having flurries of activity after long stretches of slow fishing. Pay attention and keep in contact with other anglers on the water to make sure you’re amongst the action once it starts.



IF SPRINGERS ARE being caught anywhere in the Willamette, then there are fish moving through the Multnomah Channel. No one really knows why spring Chinook take the short cut through the channel or why they seem to hold in different areas as it snakes along the west side of Sauvie Island, but no one is complaining either. From Fred’s Marina at the top end to Scappoose Bay at the bottom, the channel provides excellent sheltered, productive and easy waters to troll herring. The Head of the Channel, Rocky Point, Coon Island, Santosh and Sand Island are some of the most popular trolls. While trolling herring downstream is the most popular technique in the channel, if tides are soft, slowly trolling the bait upstream can offer a different view and entice a bite from a spring Chinook. Oftentimes you will see a bite move its way up the channel – good one day at Santosh, the following at Coon Island, the next at Rocky Point.

If the bite starts to slow in one location after it was consistent the day before, move upriver, as the fish have more than
likely done the same. When trolling the channel, keep your baits in contact with the bottom when fishing in less than 30 feet of water. In deeper water, stagger your depths, running baits at 18 to 36 feet on the linecounter reels. The channel is famous for its first-light bite, and it can occur at The Head of the Channel, Coon Island or Santosh. There is almost always another flurry of activity at tide changes, but if there is a large push of fish moving upriver, count on fishing to be consistent all day.

springers 2

THE WIND RIVER is always a consistent producer for boat anglers willing to brave Columbia Gorge winds and unpredictable weather. Usually by the third week of April, the terminal fishery off the mouth of the Washington tributary is in full swing, but pay attention to Bonneville fish counts and see if there is a reason to start your season early. Once there is seven consecutive days of at least 1,000 spring Chinook over the dam, fishing really turns on here. Pay special attention to spikes in the count too. When an especially large push of fish moves through, expect fishing to pick up 11 miles upstream at the Wind a day or two later.

The Wind used to be primarily a plug fishery. Anglers used to troll and cast orange Magnum Wiggle Warts with inconsistent results; some days were great, some were not. When the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife moved the southern boundary of the fishery further into the Columbia due to silting at the mouth of the Wind, anglers trolling herring or prawns started out fishing those still dragging plugs. While there are still plenty of fish caught on plugs, many more are caught on bait.
As you might expect, the biggest challenge fishing the Wind is boat control and handling. It’s not uncommon to have 25-mph sustained winds creating 2- to 3-foot whitecaps. Deploying sea socks and staying vigilant on the trolling motor can usually keep the boat trolling at the proper speed and right direction.

Plug-cut green-label herring trolled behind a triangular flasher, just like anglers use below the dam, is probably the
number one producer of Wind River springers. Running a slightly longer lead dropper at 24 inches will ensure that your herring stays above the plentiful woody debris that covers the bottom near the fishery’s southern boundary buoy markers. The second most productive bait has to be a prawn spinner. Swap out the herring for a whole prawn with a No. 3-, 4- or 5-sized Cascade blade. Chartreuse blades with red highlights are usually top producers, followed by rainbow patterns and bronze/brass blades.

springers 3

DRANO LAKE IS known for seeing some of the first springers above Bonneville, and not having a boat fishery above Beacon Rock the last few seasons has improved catch rates inside the drowned mouth of the Little White Salmon River. But just when Drano boaters thought they had everything dialed in last year, fishing slowed dramatically in the early and peak season. While the run came in above forecast, the spring Chinook were either being intercepted before the lake or the fish were not responding to familiar baits.

The lake can be broken down into two completely different fisheries: the main-lake troll and that merrygo-round in The Toilet Bowl. The former has been a consistent producer for anglers running Mag Lips, cutplug herring, prawn spinners, and Pro-Troll flashers with Super Baits. When trolling bait, make sure to stagger your depths to find biting Chinook. With plugs, flatline them 75 feet behind the boat, making sure to add a fresh sardine or tuna wrap every 45 minutes.

While The Toilet Bowl may be one of the trickiest places to fish in the Northwest, it can be very entertaining and productive. Nerves of steel, patience, a low-idling trolling motor, excellent boat-handling skills and a good disposition are needed for fishing this unique area. When spring Chinook are pushing into the lake in force, it’s not uncommon to see multiple doubles on every pass. But when they’re not, anglers can get a little frustrated and grumpy.

Prawn spinners fished directly below the boat are the most common bait, with plug-cut herring a distant second. No. 4
and 5 Cascade or Bear Valley blades are the most productive blades, since they will still rotate at slow speeds. Be aware that, new this year, launch permits for Wind and Drano are no longer available at the ramps. You can pick them up at Bridgemart west of Bingen and the 76 station in Stevenson, both of which are open 24/7, the Home Valley Store or Wind River Market, which open daily around daybreak, and Skamania County’s Hegewald Center and annex buildings Monday through Thursday.

THIS ONE’S IFFIERsomewhat because there’s a quota on how many upriver-bound springers we can catch before the run update, but at press time in March, the Lower Columbia was slated to be open through April 9. More
often than not in recent years, extra days of fishing have been granted in the year’s fourth month, so assuming that scenario plays out this spring, what should you do? Take some vacation or sick days and capitalize on some of the best springer fishing of the year, that’s what!

By mid-April, water conditions have usually stabilized, weather can be pretty darn pleasant and the peak of the run is usually pushing right through the heart of our favorite waters. It’s tough to beat the success of trolled herring for
Columbia springers, no matter whether you’re fishing the 1st, 9th or 19th of April. The later season runs this month,
the higher your success will be, which should make trolling your first choice. On the flip side, fellow anglers will be increasingly dialing in the fishery, so while the tactics don’t change, you will need to bring your A game to the river.

Baits will need to be swapped more frequently, lead will need to be ticking bottom consistently and your herring better have a good roll. While most anglers head to waters they know best, spring Chinook fishing should be equally good from
Bonneville to Cathlamet. Finding water that’s a little less crowded may give you an advantage in securing your share of Omega-3. Just downstream of the Beacon Rock deadline to Dalton Point, anglers have found a spot to spread out and fish some productive trolling water. Be wary of strong east winds, and very cautious of westerlies above 20 mph – combined with strong current, west winds create tall swells and wind waves here. Plug-cut herring and prawn spinners were very productive in this
stretch last year.

Moving just downriver a couple miles is another popular troll fishery centering around Rooster Rock. The run starts close to the Washington shore at Lawton Creek and along the wide sand flats along Reed Island. Halfway down the island, most anglers jump to the Oregon side of the channel and start the second part of the troll at the Corbett offramp. This multi-mile run will give you lots of water to spread out and is close to boat ramps at Rooster Rock State Park and Washougal.

As the Columbia warms with spring weather, plugs get more and more effective. By the time an extension rolls around, hoglines have become pretty established in productive areas. Look for pile dikes, wing dams and bottom contours that funnel fish to your wiggling plugs. Pay special attention to Sandy Island off Kalama to Government Island by Troutdale. Bank fishing doesn’t get the love boat fishing does, but some of the best springer real estate can only be accessed by shore anglers. One of the best spots is on the Washington shore, the famous Oak Tree Hole.

It starts at the top of Ives Island and stretches down the inside channel. Warrendale, on the Oregon shore, comes in second for Bonneville productivity. It’s the long rocky beach just upriver from The Fishery. Either bank can produce obscene numbers
just before dam counts spike, so be prepared for crowds and match your tackle and weight with those you’re sharing the bank with to avoid tangles and conflicts. Well downriver, Warrior Rock and Sand Island both support boat-in plunking fisheries. The sandy beach directly below the Warrior Rock Lighthouse is a very productive location to plunk out of a boat.

springers 4

NO MATTER WHICH spot you hit, fish it whole-heartedly and without regrets. Don’t get discouraged by fishing buddies sending text after text of fish caught from locales you decided not to fish. Instead, breathe in that fresh spring air and take a moment to ponder the difference between the water of an April shower running up your
sleeves and the bitter-cold winter rain that snuck down your back. Put the last of your seasonal affective disorder to rest,
welcome allergy season and longer, warmer, fishier days. No matter where you chase springers this month, you’ll find more rewards than just fish when spending a weekend on the water. NS

Person on a boat in inclimate weather

Tried-and-true Springer Tactics

With a midsized run forecast, it will pay to stick with techniques that work for Columbia spring salmon.

By Andy Schneider

No matter how tight he pulled his drawstrings, the cold rain seeped past his collar and down the neck of the shivering spring Chinook angler. The rain didn’t fall straight down that cold March morning; no, it was driven sideways by a relentless 20-mile-an-hour east wind. Every time he lifted his head slightly to reassure himself that there were still other fishermen enduring the same punishment, a new trickle of frigid water found its way through his rain gear and down his back. After a quick crank of the reel handle to bring his lead cannonball just off the bottom, the rain transitioned from liquid form to a hard, but still somehow still wet, solid; could the weather get much worse?

Person on a boat in inclimate weather

Mother Nature doesn’t yield her tastiest salmon easily – she’ll throw some of her nastiest weather at spring Chinook anglers as they work the Columbia this month and in early April. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

As the bottom of the boat turned from gray diamond plate to a uniform white, an almost imperceptible twitch of the fisherman’s rod caught his eye. Adrenaline soared through his veins, bringing tingling warmth to his nearly frozen fingers. Scooting to the edge of his damp chair, trying to keep the boat on the same exact path, making only the smallest of adjustments to the trolling motor’s RPMs and silently chanting for the “twitch” of the rod to return, the angler finally let out his breath. Had it just been his imagination? Was it a trick of the bottom? Just when the doubts started becoming reality, the fisherman’s silent prayers were answered: The rod tip plunged into the water and he battled his first spring Chinook of the season.

THIS SEASON PROMISES to deliver just that kind of action for Northwest sportsmen pursuing Columbia springers. Snowpacks are good, the forecasts are decent and fishermen should be able to transition from a fantastic steelhead season right into good angling on the big river. After the long, wet winter, many of us are chomping at the bit to get out and pursue something just a little bigger than winter-runs. Yes, spring Chinook will be caught throughout March, but waiting just a little later in the month may produce better results. Dam counts, flow amounts, water temperatures, turbidity levels and weather forecasts should all be taken into consideration before making your maiden voyage.

Once the count at Bonneville reaches a count of 1,000 and water temperatures climb above 40 degrees, start pinching barbs and brining bait. Normal water flows out of the dam, a steady barometer and low turbidity levels should make angling a little easier and more productive. But if you wait for all these cards to align, you may miss out on the entire season. So when your weekend nears and fishing conditions look to be even remotely tolerable, sometimes it’s best to just take what you can get and hope for the best.

Man with a large herring

Many anglers will troll herring for their springers, but pinch points such as below pile dikes are good places to set up an ambuscade, as evidenced by this one hefted by the author’s dad Ron Schneider. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

LAST FALL’S CHINOOK fishing on the Columbia was epic and definitely reset the standard for “The Good Old Days.” Following on such good fishing, this year’s spring Chinook season will certainly leave many anglers wanting more. To make sure you get the most opportunities possible this season, stick with techniques that have proven themselves in past years.

Herring is going to be one of the most effective baits day in and day out to catch springers. It doesn’t need to be fancy either – a whole herring straight from the package is going to catch fish. But putting a little more care into your presentation is going to make it slightly more effective and should yield more consistent results throughout the season. Plug cutting and brining your herring are easy ways to ensure your baits are fishing properly and will hold up to heavy river flows. There are multiple herring brines and dyes available on the market today, and all work well. Finding one that works for you is as simple as knowing how much effort you want to put into bait preparation. If you find yourself short on preparation time, an “all in one” brine will probably work best. If you like to add your own secret ingredients, or construct your own brine, then you will have even more choices. Brines can be as simple as adding one cup of rock salt to a quart of distilled water in a gallon-sized zipper-lock bag to cure overnight. Some anglers like to tinker with their brines, adding anything from MSG to sodium sulfates, but be wary of adding too many specialized ingredients. Not only is it difficult to remember exactly what and how much of it you put in, you may be end up “burning” your bait and creating a bait that might be more offensive to spring Chinook than attractive.

As for plug-cutting your herring, utilizing a miter box and a sharp knife ensures you get a consistent roll every time.

Most salmon anglers will also agree that a rotating flasher in front of your herring increases your odds. With so many different colors of reflective Mylar on the market today, trying to find the color combination that will catch a fish, seams more daunting than finding a February springer. But take a step back from all those brightly colored reflective triangles and look at the common denominator: Besides the shape, most revolve around silver and shades of green.

Having a good supply of green and chartreuse flashers with their matching chrome side will ensure that you have a fish-catching combination. The second most common color combination that has proven itself for salmon anglers is bronze and orange. There are theories for coordinating flasher colors to weather conditions, water clarity and even bait dyes. While there may be some direct cause and effect, there are just too many variables in our Northwest waters to draw a conclusive relation. Best to just have multiple flashers with different colors and try experimenting when the fish become elusive.

Rigging starts with two 4/0 barbless hooks, fix tied 3 inches apart on 48 to 60 inches of 25-pound fluorocarbon or monofilament leader tied to your flasher. Above your flasher, tie 16 inches of 40-pound-test mono to a bead-chain swivel. Above that, slide two 8mm beads down your mainline to help protect your knot from your plastic weight slider. For a weight dropper, use 15- to 20-pound mono with a duolock snap for quick lead changes. Fifty- or 65-pound braided mainline is the most popular, followed by 25-pound mono.



WHILE SOME ANGLERS take the bait to the fish, others play the odds and wait for the fish to come to their plugs. True, trollers usually fare better at the end of the day, but a well-planned and anchored boat can outfish even the savviest of trollers. Spring Chinook don’t flood into the Columbia in wave after wave on every tide. Instead they trickle in inconsistently, and move upriver in unpredictable surges, frustrating anglers not prepared for the long game. That means finding choke points, pile dikes, wing dams and bottom contours that concentrate and focus the fish will provide better results.

During high-water years, tying or anchoring directly behind pile dikes can be very productive, as fish will seek the slower waters created by the pilings. When tying directly to them, make sure to fish your gear close to the boat, as fish oftentimes will move just behind the pilings. Because in many cases the water can be as shallow as 4 feet directly behind pilings, paying attention to your dropper length is more important than ever, as you don’t want your offering too close to the surface of the water, nor dragging the bottom. The current behind pile dikes can be very turbulent, so utilizing spinner blades made for slower waters or plugs will ensure your gear will keep working properly as flows surge and ebb.

WHERE YOU FISH for spring Chinook on the Columbia should be based more on boat ramp locations close to your home than fishing reports. Since salmon movement upriver is such an unpredictable factor, chasing reports is often a losing proposition from the start as the fish have moved upriver by the time you launch the following day. And while spring Chinook are consistently inconsistent, there are certain locations that produce fish from February till the end of the season. Targeting these popular locations usually gives anglers the best odds, day in and day out.

Author and little girl, each holding a large fish.

As winter’s grip fades and spring blooms comes the best springer fishing. Catches build in March, but take off at the end of this month and early next. John and Leah Lecarno enjoyed a successful outing with the author last April. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

Davis Bar downriver to Caterpillar Island annually is one of the most popular and productive locations. Trolling is by far the most popular technique at both, since water depth and sandy bottom is mostly snag-free. That makes dragging herring close to the bottom easy, allowing for long, trouble-free trolls.

Venturing across the channel to Sauvie Island, bank anglers have a mile’s worth of access to some of the great plunking water at Willow Bar, while downriver from there, Social Security and Collins Beaches offer the shorebound even more plunking water. Boaters wanting to pitch the hook can find locations along Caterpillar Island and along Sauvie Island to intercept fish moving upriver.

Trolling between the interstate bridges has been consistent producer since spring Chinook fishing was allowed above I-5. Most anglers start their troll near Wintler Park, which is just below the Marine Park ramp, and troll the Washington shore all the way to the railroad bridge on the Oregon side just below I-5. Trollers also work the waters from the James Gleason launch off NE Marine Drive down along Hayden Island and down to the railroad bridge. Most of the Columbia below I-205 averages less than 25 feet deep, on normal water years, making for perfect water for trollers.

The last few seasons, the waters directly below The Fishery and down to Dalton Point has produced consistent results for those willing to battle the Columbia Gorge’s east wind and faster currents. However, with fuller snowpacks this winter, we may have higher spring flows, which may negatively effect this fishery. As challenging as this fishery can be, creel counts don’t lie – skippers willing to subject themselves and crew to these conditions may be in for another good season.

NO MATTER WHAT techniques you employ and where you go, spring Chinook fishing is a rite of passage for Northwest anglers. Spring brings green leaves, colorful flowers and chrome salmon, and as the short days of winter slowly transition to longer and slightly warmer days of spring, spending time on the water pursuing one of the tastiest of fish is a great way to shake off any lingering seasonal depression. Start thawing some bait and get out and enjoy salmon fishing as Mother Nature hits the reset button and turns the upper lefthand corner of this country into one of the most beautiful places to live in the world.

Jack Glass holding a large fish

The Gurus: Jack Glass

Our series on some of the best all-around Northwest salmon and steelhead anglers continues with guide from the Sandy.

By Andy Schneider

“When I first started guiding, I was almost always the youngest person in the boat,” remembers Jack Glass. “But now, I’m routinely the oldest person onboard – not always mind you, not always …”

His name is among the most recognizable in the Northwest fishing world, among those so frequently associated with our waters that they become part of the angling environment and experience. You begin to look for these anglers when you are on certain rivers and find reassurance when you encounter them. While success rates may differ dramatically, just knowing they’re sharing the same water as you gives you the confidence that you made the right decision on where to fish.

Jack Glass holding a large fish

Few anglers know the Sandy River better than Jack Glass, who began fishing the Oregon tributary in 1964 with his father, from whom he inherited an old sled and the idea of going into guiding. (HOOKUPGUIDESERVICE.COM)

Glass has been a recognizable figure on the Sandy River almost since he first started fishing it 52 years ago. But his recognition isn’t limited to just this small Oregon tributary of the Columbia River. With his trademark mustache and often wearing a black cowboy hat, he’s known from Astoria to the Siletz and many waters in-between. But Glass didn’t become a figurehead of good river etiquette, stewardship and providing quality fishing experiences overnight. His constant presence on the river, involvement with resource managers and willingness to share his knowledge has earned him status among the elite. It began when he caught his first steelhead.

“I WAS FISHING the Sandy at Gordon Creek back in 1964 with my father. I remember my father telling me how the channel had changed after the big Christmas flood and we were fishing in a completely new channel. I was using an Okie Drifter and a double-hook rig with a nightcrawler. Back then, it was either nightcrawlers or eggs, but as the water warmed up in March, those fish ate those nightcrawlers really well. That was all my Dad used back then, either nightcrawlers or eggs, and I just so happened to be using a nightcrawler that day. I’ll never forget this fish, it was 14 to 15 pounds, just a big beautiful fish. While they had hatchery fish back then, they didn’t clip them like they do now. But you could tell that by the size of this fish, it was a native, just a perfect specimen.”

Growing up, Glass went to Reynolds High School in Troutdale, played sports and was just like most kids. But unlike a lot of his classmates, Glass got a lot more opportunities to go fishing. His dad took him on trips to the Deschutes, Clackamas and Sandy just about every weekend.

“We were primarily shore fishermen, even though we had a drift boat. In 1967, when I was 10, my Dad built a sled. We would launch it at Lewis and Clark Park on the Sandy, when there wasn’t much of a boat ramp there at all. But rarely would we fish out of the boat; we would just use the boat for transportation. We would anchor the boat and fish from shore or fish standing in the boat. It was all casting and drift fishing back then.”

“One time my Dad and I were fishing on the Clackamas River. We were standing on shore, like we usually did, and looked downriver and saw this boat out in the middle of the river. And he’s catching fish, one right after the other. We were wondering what the heck he was doing. My Dad said that he thought it was Jim Conway in one of those fancy new aluminum sleds. It looked like he was running some sort of plug out in the middle of the river. My dad and I had never seen that technique before. My dad went down there and talked to Jim and he showed us these Hot Shots he was using. That night, we went to Fosters Sporting Goods and bought a bunch of new Hot Shots. We fished them a couple of times, but we didn’t catch anything on them, so Dad lost confidence in them and we just decided to keep drift fishing like always. Then one day, we were anchored up in shallow water eating lunch and I decided to hang one out the back of the boat and I catch one! And I realize they actually did work!”

“ONE DAY DAD and I were thinking how cool it would be to live on the water and be a fishing guide. So my father got his guide’s license in ’67 and he maintained it through 1975, when he moved to back to Texas where he was born and raised. But I stayed here because I was so passionate about fishing and continued fishing just as much. I got a job and worked for the next eight years, then I decided to quit and became a fishing guide. With Dad’s old sled, an aluminum drift boat and a wife who thought I was nuts, I was going to try and make a living doing this. But my wife (Shelley) still wasn’t onboard with the plan, so we had to do some marriage counseling classes. Our counselor liked to fish and told her to let me try it for one year. If it doesn’t work, then we could go back to what we were doing. Next thing I know, it’s five years later and I’m as busy as I could be. Add two kids to the mix and I felt I was pretty fortunate.”

Jack Glass and a young man with a fish

Glass isn’t content just helping clients harvest the resource – he’s also active in river stewardship and represents sportfishing interests too. (HOOKUPGUIDESERVICE.COM)

“I made the Sandy as my home river and made my reputation on it. I saw Bob Toman do it on the Clackamas; he was highly visible and well known, running four people in the morning and four people in the afternoon. So I tried to match his success over here on the Sandy. Soon I realized that a lot of my clients were making more money than I was. Anyone who gets into this business thinking they are going to make a ton of money, think again. It takes a passion to stay with it. But you have got to admit that it’s a pretty low stress occupation, if you let it be. You see some folks take it a little too seriously out on the water, getting into conflicts with other anglers. But there is no need for that; there is room for everybody to enjoy the resource. And that has always been my message, I want everyone to enjoy the waterways as much as I do.”

To this day, Glass’s enthusiasm is still strong. Even after spending a long day on the water with clients, his passion for showing anglers the bounty that these Northwest waters can provide is evident. It’s not very frequently when someone is lucky enough to make a living doing what they love and keep loving it so many years later. It’s hard to imagine Glass doing anything else in life, as he seems so at ease on the water.

As steelhead season transitioned to spring Chinook, Glass remembers some of his first springer seasons on the Sandy.

“In 1982 and ’83, the Sandy had a really good spring Chinook run. I was on the water a lot, back-trolling, back-bouncing and running plugs. They were releasing almost 500,000 spring Chinook smolts at that time, creating a real robust run, which only seemed to get better and better, with our peak year around 2004. I think that year we had a return of around 14,000, which was a huge return. That year, I remember seeing schools of spring Chinook moving upriver. It was those years of good runs that really built my reputation on the Sandy. It didn’t hurt that when I first started guiding on the Sandy for spring Chinook that we had a lot of summer steelhead at the time. So no matter if salmon fishing was slow that day, we would always be able to catch a summer-run or two.”

MAKING A CAREER as a fishing guide takes a lot of work throughout your career. It’s not something that comes easy. It takes being able to manage money, a good personality, marketing strategy and – of course – good angling skills. Then it takes lots of work and perseverance to keep successful as a entrepreneur for over 30 years.

While Glass has all of these attributes, his passion and enthusiasm for the sport is often his most memorable trademarks. And as he looks to the future, he is still enthused about the direction angling is going.

“I’m still exited about the fisheries. Just like this year’s winter steelhead run, it’s been amazing. I don’t remember anything special three years ago about the spring run-off – pretty average. But this year’s run has been anything but average. Why did all the stars line up for this great season? Whatever happened, it should lead to another great season next year. I’m pretty optimistic the Columbia is going to maintain good fishing. Management practices have improved and restoration efforts have made a difference. I’m really optimistic about the future, as long as we don’t have any sort of catastrophic events, I think we are going to see good runs and good fisheries around for some time.”

Jack Glass speaking at a trade show

In addition to salmon and steelhead, Glass is one of those rare guides who also targets walleye and bass, and he often speaks at meetings and seminars, including the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show last month in Portland. (O’LOUGHLIN TRADE SHOWS)

Glass looks at he and son Brandon’s guide service, Team Hook Up, not only as a business and but as a way to create future stewards of the rivers. If you’ve ever talked to the Glasses on the river, at a Steelheader’s meeting or at a Sportsman Show, where they’re regular seminar speakers, you know how approachable and willing to share information they are.

“Anyone can get out and enjoy the resource. If Brandon and I can help improve techniques and tactics for anglers so they can be more successful, well, we have done what we set out to do. We are real advocates for getting the younger generations out; they are the future of our resources. It’s important to get them involved, be patient with them and get them excited for our resources.”

Spending time on the water with friends and family is something pretty special. Many of us are out there so often that we forget how much of a novelty it can be for the majority of Northwest residents and how much they appreciate someone taking the time to take them into the outdoors. As our lives get busy, school activities become overwhelming and work drama gets consuming, we lose track of how important it is to take a step back and take the next generation of anglers to the rivers and show them what healing powers they can provide. Taking the time and being patient enough to teach them is not only is rewarding, but a way to ensure that the sport will survive for generations to come.

“I’ve had a lot of great moments over the year guiding, so many in fact it’s impossible to single out any one day or time on the river,” says Glass. “But I’ve fished with so many great folks over the years, and now some of them are gone. I’ve been to several funerals where there were pictures of me and that individual in the service or at the wake. It took me a while to realize that I was providing one of the greatest moments and a true highlight of this person’s life. I don’t ever want to forget that, that I made such a memorable impact in someone’s life.”

A man and a woman, each holding a fish

Basin’s Best Walleye

How to fish Banks Lake, Potholes Reservoir for early-season walleye.

By Keith Jensen

With the shotguns, bird dogs and decoys having wrapped up another successful Columbia Basin waterfowl and upland bird season, it’s now time to get the fishing gear ready for one of the best times to fish for walleye in Washington. Yeah, you bet it’s still on the chilly side here east of the mountains, but the bite will be red hot.

Walleye, as with all of the state’s spinyrays, winter in deeper water where conditions remain more stable and where they are not subject to harsh winter storms. Once the ice clears on Potholes Reservoir and Banks Lake, the walleye remain deep but are more than ready to do some serious eating.

A man and a woman, each holding a fish

Clients of author Keith Jensen show off nice Banks Lake walleye, caught at Barker Flats. Banks and Potholes Reservoir are among the best spots in the Columbia Basin for the tasty fish this time of year. (BIGWALLYSGUIDESERVICE.COM)

AT THAT WALLEYE FACTORY known far and wide simply as the Potholes, as the weather warms and the reservoir becomes ice-free, the fish will be grouped up in heavy numbers around the many humps in front of the sand dunes between Crab Creek and Winchester Wasteway. The closest ramps are at MarDon Resort ( and Potholes State Park, and as you get within several hundred yards of the outer dunes, start paying close attention to your electronics. You will begin to go over humps that rise from 50 feet quickly up to 25 or 30 feet.

Once you have located the humps, two key lures for targeting walleye staging on them are blade baits or lipless crankbaits. With the former, I prefer Bass Pro Shops XPS Laser Blades, and I like 5/8-ounce models in either gold or silver finishes. For the latter, I use the Rapala Rippin’ Rap, which was designed for the type of fishing I’m describing. The ¾-ounce red craw-patterned plug has treated me very well.

When using blade baits and Rippin’ Raps you will want to utilize two key presentations: vertical jigging or cast-and-retrieve. For jigging, drop your blade or plug on top of or on the side of one of Potholes’ humps. A quick lift of the rod to about the 10 o’clock position will raise and vibrate your lure off the bottom. It is vital that you feel the vibrations of the bait. If you don’t feel any, most likely the bait has become fouled on the line. Now, most importantly is the drop. After raising your rod to 10 o’clock, you want to quickly lower it back down to allow the blade bait or Rippin’ Rap to flutter back to the bottom on slack line. It is that slack-line flutter fall that gets the majority of the bites. When you go to lift the rod back up, you will feel the extra weight of a walleye – quickly reel down and set the hook.

As for casting and retrieving either lure, give it a good heave and, again, allow the bait to reach bottom. Then begin a series of rods sweeps. Quickly raise your rod to 10 o’clock to activate the vibration, then quickly lower your rod just as you would if fishing vertically. Allow the lure to make contact with the bottom on the drop. Continue with this series of rod sweeps and drops all the way back to the boat.

I rig my blade baits on a 7-foot medium action Bass Pro Shops Walleye Angler Spinning Rod coupled with either 6- or 8-pound CXX P-Line. For the Rippin’ Rap I use a 7-foot-6 Bass Pro Shops Walleye Angler Casting Rod, again, with 6- or 8-pound test. Weighing ¾ ounce, the Rippin’ Rap is much better suited to the casting rod due to its heavier size. I am firm believer in using light line for all my presentations as I believe it results in many more bites.

XPS Laser Blades and Rapala Rippin' Raps

Among the author’s favorite lures are Bass Pro Shops XPS Laser Blades, Rapala Rippin’ Rap and Mack’s Lure Spindrift Floating Walleye Rig. (BIGWALLYSGUIDESERVICE.COM)

EQUALLY AS EFFECTIVE as those blades and plugs are bottom bouncer-spinner rigs. On Potholes through early March, I will motor directly in front of the mouth of Winchester Wasteway and find 35 to 40 feet of water. I will then proceed with the trolling motor across the face of the dunes toward Crab Creek with the setup. With water temperatures still cold, a slow presentation is vital to trigger a bite from the equally cold walleye. I will troll .5 to .8 mph up and over the dozens of underwater humps at Potholes. When I hit a walleye, I immediately hit a waypoint on the GPS. By continuing this pattern down this stretch I end up locating the key humps that are holding walleye on that particular day.Mack's Lure Smile Blade Spindrift and Super Slow Death Rigs
When it comes to spinner-crawler rigs for walleye, Mack’s Lure Smile Blades dominate the competition. One of the greatest attributes of the Smile Blade is its ability to spin at the slowest of speeds. The Smile Blade-Slow Death Hook combination and the new Spindrift Floating Walleye Rig are the two Mack’s Lure baits that do the damage on walleye in my boat. Baited with a nightcrawler, it’s just too much for the walleye to resist. Many anglers will pinch their worms in half when using these hooks, but I prefer to use the whole ’crawler. Big baits equal big bites, right?

Smile Blades come in many colors, from motor oil to pink, but there is one that produces more bites and more walleye for myself and my clients than any other: No. 65211, gold with black scales in the .8- and 1.1-inch sizes. Whether I am at Potholes, Banks, Moses or Rufus Woods, this particular color consistently produces quantity and quality walleye. Walleye are opportunistic feeders and will prey on smaller walleye when given the chance. Hold this color Smile Blade up to a walleye and you will see a very close match.

For bottom bouncing I use the Bass Pro Shops Walleye Angler Casting Rod. Geared for the tactic, the 7-foot-6 model has a soft tip to detect the softest of bites. With the walleye being in 30 to 50 feet of water this time of year, I stick with 2-ounce bottom bouncers to maintain bottom contact. At times I will bump up to 3-ounce bouncers if I have wind to deal with.

AT BANKS LAKE, the exact same tactics and techniques work, and once the ice is off, it is game on for walleye. The key – as always – is location, location, location, and there are several spots on the 42-square-mile reservoir for early-season walleye.

The first is on the north end, Barker Flats. Located straight across the lake from Steamboat Rock, the flats hold enormous numbers of walleye in late winter and early spring. I catch many of the largest fish of the year here this time of year. Walleye in the 5- to 10-pound range are a real possibility every trip.

To reach Barker Flats, launch at the Northrup ramp just off Highway 155 near Steamboat Rock. Go around the north face of the rock and then go straight across the lake. Barker Flats gets its name from the vast shallow flat that extends out from the west side of the lake opposite Steamboat Rock. From shore, the flats stay shallow, 6 to 20 feet deep, for several hundred yards. This time of year, however, you want to be right outside the flats in water 35 to 50 feet deep. Now, unlike Potholes with all of its underwater humps, Barker Flats is just as it sounds, flat. It consists of a sandy/muddy bottom with very little rock, but it holds great numbers of perch this time of year – and where there are perch, there are walleye.

When fishing the flats, I always troll parallel to them. Rather than going from deep to shallow or shallow to deep, I start at a given depth, say, 40 feet, and maintain that. If I don’t find fish at 40 feet, my next pass will be at 45 feet. I will continue to adjust my depth until I locate the depth the fish are holding in.

If I am running four bottom-bouncer rods I will have two rods with Smile Blade-Slow Death Hook combos and the other two with Mack’s Spindrift Rigs. All four will start out with the gold-with-black-scales pattern. But if I’m marking a ton of fish but not getting bit, I will start experimenting with different colors.

Another extremely productive area on Banks lies at the far north end, at Electric City. Directly across from Coulee Playland Resort is a stretch of 35- to 50-foot-deep water that extends back downlake for more than a mile. From February through March, large numbers of walleye ranging in size from 16 to 22 inches, with many over the 22, gather here. Again, pick a starting depth and then proceed to bottom bounce this entire stretch. If I locate a large school of walleye, I switch over to the aforementioned blade bait and jigging plug, and try to stay right on top of the school. Many anglers are aware of and fish Barkers Flats but do not run further north to the area across from Coulee Playland. Some of my best fishing days early in the year are in this area.

The daily limit for walleye on both Banks and Potholes is eight (12-inch minimum size), with only one over 22 inches allowed.

I’D BE REMISS in not mentioning the “bonus” catches walleye anglers get early in the year at Potholes and Banks. In all the areas I’ve described, yellow perch can be found in great numbers, and this is the time of year the jumbos can be caught. If there is one fish that rivals the taste of a walleye fillet, it is the yellow perch. Anglers will pick up great numbers of perch on Banks and Potholes on blade baits, Rippin’ Raps and bottom bouncer-spinner rigs.

Man holding a lean, spotted yellow fish

Burbot may turn up as a bonus at Banks and Potholes, but you can count on catching yellow perch. BIGWALLYSGUIDESERVICE.COM)

Burbot also make an appearance now. Their numbers appear to be rising, and last February and March saw 27 hauled aboard my boat while targeting walleye. This may seem like not many, but my previous record was nine for an entire season.

Please feel free to contact me (509-770-8318; at any time for current fishing reports, productive techniques, or if you want to further expand on the early-season options at Potholes and Banks.

Beautiful sun-break over the mountain.

Where The Fishin’s Fine

Vancouver Island’s five major west coast sounds are quick onramps to Pacific’s ‘Salmon Highway,’ great bottomfishing grounds.

By Jeff Holmes

This month, most of our Willamette and Columbia River spring Chinook are binge eating herring along the coast of Vancouver Island before finishing their trek south. Soon the bulk of the run will brave the gauntlet of sea lions from Desdemona Sands to The Dalles Dam, but first they’ll tuck into the five protected sounds on the British Columbia island’s vaunted west coast to gorge on the herring spawn, adding to the layers of fat for which they’re famous. The open ocean is too rough to fish until late spring, so the only pressure our springers see in Canada is from island locals and the very rare off-season tourist specifically targeting saltwater springers. The arrival of our kings also marks the very beginning of migratory salmon season along “The Salmon Highway,” the funnel-like migration corridor created by close proximity to the continental shelf.

Beautiful sun-break over the mountain.

Most mornings on the island’s west coast looks something like this as the sun breaks over mountains, signaling brilliant beginnings to potentially epic fishing and wildlife viewing to come. (RUGGEDPOINTLODGE.COM)

In late May comes the first push of big kings – which Canadians call springs – along with increasing plankton and baitfish, followed by waves of all five northeast Pacific salmon species from early summer through early fall. Salmon from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia’s Fraser River system all fin past the island’s ocean ports situate din protected sounds.
If Vancouver Island is indeed a Salmon Highway, then by midsummer it is a 12-lane Los Angeles freeway at rush hour, and Chinook, coho, sockeye and more are the cars. Fishing boats are the outgunned highway patrol, but every cop makes his quota as more speeders streak past, gobbling baitfish as they go. There is no better place to fish for ocean salmon within a day of the Northwest than the island’s west coast, nor is there any place featuring excellent halibut angling all year summer. Halibut limits are the rule, and I have had 50-salmon days out on the ocean. Amazing salmon and halibut fishing – along with great lingcod and rockfishing – are reason enough to visit Vancouver Island, but the wildness, wildlife, and cool travel experience combine to make a visit one of the Cadillac outdoor trips for Northwest sportsmen. The drive alone features a beautiful ferry ride and the island’s gorgeous mountains, rivers, and lakes, as well as an opportunity to visit another country full of mostly very happy and nice people. With few exceptions, I love Canadians and Canada and look forward to a couple trips a year.

RIGHT NOW, SUMMER of 2016 will be the best time in many years to make the trip north, and now not later is the time to plan. The exchange rate has swung back mightily in our favor, making trips very affordable. Today a Canadian dollar is worth 70 cents US. This means very good things for us when we travel north and presents a not-so-good scenario for our friends from the north coming south; just two years ago the situation was reversed. Along with a great exchange rate, a barrel of oil is under $30 right now, a mind-boggling figure driving gas to prices of decades ago. Cheaper petroleum makes everything cheaper, even in Canada where gas always costs more. When the exchange tilts in our favor, Canadian fishing operators want American dollars even more due to the downturn in the Canadian economy. This makes private fishing charters even more affordable, as well as lodge stays. In both cases, the Canadian charter model is not so much like America’s. Almost all boats are privately chartered, making for a more intimate and enjoyable experience in most cases.
When you compare the costs of an Alaska or Queen Charlottes trip with a Vancouver Island fishing vacation, there is no comparison, yet there certainly is between the fishing experiences. Many Vancouver Island trips result in bigger trophies and bigger bags of ocean fish for the freezer than more expensive trips to the north. That isn’t to say there aren’t unmatched opportunities in Alaska and further north in Canada, but for convenience, cost and extremely high quality combined, nothing beats the west coast of this 300-mile-long island. For those like me who like to drive and stay somewhat in control of their own travel, all of the island can be reached in a long day’s travel from just about anywhere in the Northwest.

man holding fish

FROM NORTH TO SOUTH, remote to popular, Vancouver Island’s protected sounds are as follows: Quatsino, Kyuquot, Nootka/Esperanza Inlet, Clayoquot and Barkley. Each offers amazing fishing and wildlife viewing, but the further north you go, the higher the cost and quality of experience. That said, the best day of salmon fishing I’ve ever enjoyed occurred in the furthest south port of Ucluelet on the northern tip of Barkley Sound. Along with halibut limits, we released 50 salmon for two rods and kept limits of Chinook and coho. Literally the whole west coast is excellent. Here’s a brief overview of the five protected sounds of Vancouver Island’s west coast and Port Hardy, the furthest north post on the Island and another good option.

woman holding large Ling fish

With its proximity to the so-called Salmon Highway, every trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island has resulted in a “Tyee spring” for author Jeff Holmes. Canadians call mature Chinook “springs,” and a legitimate 30-pound or larger fish is a “Tyee.” At least five different protected sounds along the Pacific provide quick onramps to salmon-filled waters. This whopper came out of Kyuquot’s Rugged Point Lodge. (JEFF HOLMES; RUGGEDPOINTLODGE.COM)

Port Hardy
· Biggest North Coast outpost (5,500 residents);
· Route to Quatsino Sound;
· Marina and full range of services;
· Excellent salmon fishing;
· Good halibut, lingcod, and rockfish;
· Starfish Charters’ kooky captain who worked in film industry and is a bottomfish and salmon expert.
Quatsino Sound
· Home to famed Winter Harbour (20 residents);
· Very remote yet reachable in a day;
· Amazingly close proximity to the ocean and excellent reefs with productive protected water for rough days;
· Halibut, salmon, lingcod and yelloweye rockfish abound in large sizes;
· Spectacular wildlife spectacles of bears, eagles, otters, marine mammals, more.
· Qualicum Rivers Winter Harbour Fishing Lodge: This is the premier Quatsino Sound lodge. Scarcely 15 minutes from the open ocean, it’s an amazing experience

Orcas in the water

Along with a very visible black bear population and lots of coastal wolves and cougars, bald eagles patrol the skies here and are EVERYWHERE. I’ve seen them whack mergansers and catch lots of fish, like this swarm of needlefish on the island’s north tip out of “Hardy,” as locals simply call their port town. But the true rulers of the marine environment are orcas. Residents root for them to slash into sounds to eat rafts of overpopulated sea otters and seals, which they do, often. On my last trip I saw perhaps 10 orcas spaced out in a line hunting a mile-wide swath of ocean. Later I’d see ravaged, bloody sea lions. (JEFF HOLMES; RUGGEDPOINTLODGE.COM)

Kyuquot Sound
· Very remote and much less pressured than sounds to the south;
· Operators here fish some of the same water that those out of Quatsino fish;
· Still easy to get to and very close to Continental Shelf – at 17 miles, it doesn’t get closer;
· Prime salmon, lingcod, halibut, rockfish and tuna fishing, with lots of trophy specimens;
· Super-abundant wildlife including common orca sightings;
· Rugged Point Lodge: Amazing lodge in protected waters, five minutes from the open ocean fishing grounds with a proven tuna fishing program and top-end Okuma tuna tackle.

Eagle in the water
Nootka Sound and Esperanza Inlet
· Tahsis (316 residents) provides services and a marina;
· Protected water close to open ocean is popular with Americans bringing their own boats;
· Along with Kyuquot, closest Pacific port to the continental shelf;
· Prime salmon, halibut; good ling, rockfish & tuna;
· Westview Marina in Tahsis is a hub;
· Many lodges – check reviews.
Clayoquot Sound
· Tofino (1,876 residents) is an artsy ocean port on the south end of the sound;
· Excellent salmon and halibut fishing, and decent ling and rockfish options;
· Most upscale and trendy port on west coast, with good restaurants;
· Some camping/pricey lodging;
· Lots of charter options.
Barkley Sound
· Ucluelet (1,627 residents) is the closest west coast port, located at north end of Barkley Sound;
· Long Beach and Big Bank are amazing and famous fishing areas;
· Excellent salmon and halibut angling, and good lingcod and rockfish;
· Nice working-class port with good lodging and food options;
· Excellent camping options;
· Kerry Reed of Reel Adventures Fishing, a trusted friend from the West Kootenays with 11 years experience guides the ocean. He’s excellent and fun.

Man holding Albacore tuna.

Albacore in Canada? You bet, and lots of them, close to shore. The continental shelf is fewer than 20 miles from Esperanza Inlet and Nootka and Kyuquot sounds. I’ll be fishing tuna in Canada this August for my first-ever north of the border albacore slaughter. (RUGGEDPOINTLODGE.COM)

If you decide to make the trip, you should be able to count on your guide or lodge for information about the fishing trip and the local area you’ll be visiting, but for even more info about your destination and about the trek to get there, abundant online resources are available. While you can take the Black Ball Ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria to access the island, I greatly prefer BC Ferries and leaving from Horseshoe Bay in North Vancouver. That 11/2-hour sail lands you in Nanaimo, the jumping-off point for visiting all five of these protected sounds and ocean ports. As soon as you get to Canada and can find an open bank, be sure to exchange American money for Canadian. I’m sure my eyes light up when I fork over $1,000 and receive $1,300 in return, even if Canadian money looks like it belongs in a board game. For a while it made sense to use your credit and debit card in Canada, but the companies have caught up and fees greatly outweigh the advantages. The old model of exchanging cash is the way to go. Whether in Vancouver or Nanaimo, grabbing some groceries and additional fuel for vehicles is smart, as prices increase the further away from large towns one strays. And before you leave home, for God’s sake don’t forget your US Passport or your Enhanced Driver’s License to drive over the border. If you fly, the law has changed and a passport is now required. If you plan to take fish home whole, gilled and gutted, bring several large coolers. That’s my preference in order to keep fish as fish as fresh as possible. Even if you plan to forego the work and have fish processed and packaged in Canada, bring at least a few large coolers. And be prepared, perhaps, for a US Customs agent at the border to ask you why your truck is tilted backwards and leaking fluid, as happened to me a couple years ago as I struggled home with seven coolers containing four halibut, 12 lingcod, eight yelloweye rockfish, eight big kings and eight coho.
Top that, Alaska 🙂

Two men with numerous coolers

Qualicum Rivers Winter Harbor Fishing Lodge and Resort’s Rob Knutsen and his wharf monger look incredulously at my stupidity in thinking seven coolers of big Chinook, coho, halibut, lingcod and rockfish would fit easily in a Toyota Tacoma. But with their help I got it all in and only had to leave one tote of belongings in Canada to get home. These days I bring enough coolers and a bigger rig to haul home hundreds of pounds of the best the ocean has to offer. (JEFF HOLMES)