How To Fish Wind River And Drano Lake

Just ran the PIT tag data for hatchery spring Chinook returns back to Wind River and Drano Lake and, ummmm, holy mother is it gonna be on that the Wind!

Since Saturday, nearly two-thirds of this year’s return of the specially marked salmon have crossed Bonneville Dam, and since managers put passive integrated transponders in only a small portion of each year class, you can bet that there’s a much larger pool of untagged Wind-bound fish out there right now.

They probably helped contribute to very strong fishing on Monday and Tuesday at the Wind when 85 Chinook were brought in by 95 boats.


As for fishing today and Wednesday, Northwest Sportsman writer Rob Phillips checked in from a Stevenson hotel room with this:

“Just completed a two day limit at the Wind.  My gawd there are so many boats.  I guess 30,000 fish in two days will do that! There are a few biters in the bunch but not everyone is knocking them dead.  We just got lucky,” he emailed to say.

A few miles upstream, Drano Lake saw lower catch rates and fewer springers landed on Tuesday (17 for 24), but the PIT data shows that 60 percent of PIT fish have crested Bonneville just since Saturday.

Think your weekend plans need updating?

Yeah, it’ll be a zoo, but you know why you go to the zoo? Because THAT’S where the animals are.

It’s the same deal with banks and bank robbers: Wind and Drano will be where the springers are.

Here’s our April 2012 issue article on the two fisheries:

Southern boundary of fishery moved out; a total of 18,000 are Chinook expected back there and nearby Drano Lake.

By Andy Schneider

CARSON, Wash.—With a forecast of almost 18,000 springers back, 2012 promises to be very productive season at a pair of terminal fisheries in the Bonneville Pool.

The Wind River is predicted to get a return of 8,400 Chinook while the forecast for its sister fishery, Drano Lake, calls for 9,500.

So which do you fish? Both, as they’re separated by just an 8-mile stretch of Washington’s Highway 14. But it might surprise you to know that even though Drano annually sees a higher forecast, Wind River anglers hold their own – and sometimes catch more than the eastern fleet.

For example, in 2010 the Wind below Shipherd Falls – essentially the fishery at the mouth – gave up 3,923 in April and May to Drano’s 4,132. The year before, it was Wind 1,950, Drano 1,654, and in 2008, the score was 1,337 to 1,105.

A new wrinkle at Wind may increase the catch disparity: more space to target Carson Hatchery springers. For 2012, the bubble fishery’s border has been moved 100 yards south.

Fisheries biologist Joe Hymer at the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Vancouver office explains that it’s the latest southerly extension as silt fills in the mouth of the Wind.

“The boundary line has been moved several times in recent years to successfully harvest Carson-origin spring Chinook without impacting outside stocks,” he says. “It’s another experiment to see if the same can be done by moving the boundary further out. And this time dedicated money – endorsement fees which promote additional angling opportunities – are available to monitor the fishery and move the buoys.”


The last few years, the old boundary has been very productive, but has been getting shallower and shallower, making it tough to fish. The extension should provide good fishing, but Hymer says those markers may be moved back in if non-Carson stocks begin to show up in the catch.

That said, he says that out of a total catch of 54,300 springers caught at the Wind between 1992 and 2002, all of 53 were ESA-listed fish.

In recent years, spring Chinook have just trickled over the dam through April with large spikes not happening until late in the month and early May. That’s when PIT, or passive integrated transponder, tagged fish headed for the Wind showed up in good numbers last year. It takes a bit of tinkering on the Columbia DART site to get the numbers, but the first of 2011’s 266 PITtagged Wind springers (code: CARS) went over Bonneville on April 20 with three quarters of the run back by May 12.

For years the fishery was all about flat-lined plugs, with Mag Wart owning center stage for the last decade or so. While plugs still produce, other techniques are catching on, including pulling cut-plug herring and prawn spinners. The exact same Columbia/Willamette River springer setup with a Fish Flash and herring works well at this bubble fishery. Five to 6 ounces of weight will keep your bait in contact with the bottom.

New this year, the Mag Lip 3.5 should provide some competition for the reigning plug champ. Either wiggler in some sort of orange hue should entice a springer to bite.

The trick to catching fish at the Wind is figuring out how to fish in, yes, the wind. The river is rightly named as fishing in 2- to 3-foot white caps and 25-mph winds is more the norm than not. Typically, trolling into the wind keeps your plugs working at optimal speeds: 1.2 to 1.5 mph.

But when trolling with the wind, your boat may act like a sail and your plugs may be swimming too fast to get any action. So bring some sea anchors and deploy them off the bow to help slow down. If your boat has a top, leave it down: It will act like a sail and push you right into the shallows or into other boats. Put on your all-weather gear – you brought that, right? – and tough it out.


Like Wind River springers, a percentage of those returning to Drano are PIT-tagged. The lake’s code on the DART site is LWSH and WILL; 80 percent of last year’s tagged fish came in by May 10.

While lots of boat anglers are again mourning not getting a chance to fish above Beacon Rock, the lack of a Bonneville boat fishery will actually benefit Drano anglers. In years when sleds have been allowed on the water below the dam, it’s seemed like Drano’s returns have suffered, leading one to believe that a lot of fish caught at Bonneville were headed here.

The main lake is the easiest place to start at Drano. There is an east-to-west troll pattern, and if you want to troll north to south, you will be crossing and tangling with many lines and not making too many friends. That said, it’s not like things down in The Toilet Bowl.

Bait-wrapped Mag Lips, cut-plug herring and prawn spinners are top producers for trolling the main lake.

With bait, make sure to stagger your depths to find out which is producing – just try and keep your bait away from the bottom. While Drano’s lakebed may look flat on your finder, it’s any thing but and is filled with lots of snags.

Flatline your Mag Lips 75 feet behind the boat. Replace the sardine wrap every 45 minutes and add scent after each pass. While Mag Lips are the most popular lure at Drano, don’t be afraid to break out your old reliable Mag Warts and other salmonsized wigglers – sometimes a different offering will entice a bite.

The Toilet Bowl is the trickiest place to troll in the entire Northwest. If you’re not 8 feet off the stern of the boat in front of you, you are probably fishing too far back. It’s not uncommon to fit 50-plus boats and 50-plus bank anglers in the western end of Drano Lake. Nerves of steel, patience, a low-idling trolling motor and excellent boat-handling skills are required to fish here. The pay-off for fishing in such challenging – did we mention the wind? – conditions: When springers are pulling into Drano in force, doubles happen with every surge of fish. It’s not uncommon to see just about every other boat or bank angler grinning with a little bit of springer slime still on his or her hands when the bite’s on.

Prawn spinners (see Rig of the Month, p. 40) fished directly below the boat are the rule in the bowl, with cut-plug herring taking a distant second. While bank anglers have excellent success casting Mag Warts, flatlining a plug behind the boat will get some negative feedback in a hurry. No. 4 and 5 blades fished in front of your prawn are a must; bring lots of colors and pay attention to what is working for other anglers.

Red-and-white, rainbow and light bulb – green with a chartreuse dot – are the most popular colors. Running a Fish Flash in front of your prawn may seem like a hindrance and overkill in the clear waters of Drano, but some days you absolutely need one to catch a fish.

Don’t forget your sea socks either.

Not only will hanging them off your bow help slow your troll on a downwind troll, but give the front of your boat some “bite” in the water when trolling in a crosswind, as is often the case in the bowl.

Drano is closed every Wednesday for the Yakama Tribes to net the lake, so make sure to plan your trip around this closure. NS



Good news if your shoulder is still recovering from last season’s casting practice at Drano Lake: Bank anglers have discovered a new tactic that’s far easier on the joints than bombing away all day with a Wart.

Since shorefishing was expanded to the south side of Highway 14 at the lake’s outlet, anglers have begun to use boats to tow their gear further out into the Columbia River, “significantly” increasing their catch.

And what are they using?

“Mostly plunking Spin-N-Glos tipped with bait – eggs, sand shrimp, tuna, that kind of stuff,” says Joe Hymer, a biologist in Vancouver who monitors the big river’s fisheries. On the one hand, it’s a great innovation as the bankies’ favored spot just inside the lake’s mouth has new obstructions this season, courtesy of those Yakama fishing platforms. And it may also lead to expansion of the boat fishery outside the mouth.

On the other hand, managers worry about what stocks the bankies may be intercepting. If they’re Drano- or Wind River-bound hatchery springers, no problem, but if they turn out to be threatened runs from further up the system, not so good. The deal with Drano and the Wind is that we can have these fisheries because there is very little bycatch of stocks other than clipped springers headed for the federal hatcheries on both. –AW

Editor’s note: Watch WDFW’s e-reg notice page for the official go-ahead to bank fishing outside the mouth of Drano again.

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