Tag Archives: angling

Now Serving Fish ’N Chips

Washington state’s bountiful ocean coast offers a mix of tasty bottomfish in spring.
By Jeff Holmes

Fine fixin’s for fish and chips – saltwater anglers and Capt. Kerry Allen heft a mix of black rockfish and lingcod hooked off the Evergreen State’s rockier northern coast. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

Fine fixin’s for fish and chips – saltwater anglers and Capt. Kerry Allen heft a mix of black rockfish and lingcod hooked off the Evergreen State’s rockier northern coast. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

Next week when a good friend and his lovely, player-hater wife co-celebrate their birthdays with a big dance party in their new shop, I’m frying, grilling and baking 30 pounds of  halibut, lingcod and rockfish left over from an especially productive 2015 season. Without trying, I’ll probably make a lot of friends at the party while clearing freezer room for 2016’s ocean bounty. Like most of you, I love eating white-fleshed ocean fish, and I could make you a long Bubba-Gump list of dishes. For modest prices often cheaper than sled or drift boat seats, bottomfish charters offer safe and fun fishing yielding big bags of snow-white fillets. For us Northwesterners, the Pacific can be a U-pick fish market where the freshest fish and greatest thrills and memories can be had. Charter prices are often eclipsed by the value of fish taken home when considering retail prices. Pike Place Market brings up the distant rear for quality of Northwest seafood experiences, and charter fishing with fish and chips on the brain is easily on the list of quintessential, must-do Northwest outdoor experiences.
April marks the beginning of bottomfishing opportunities in Washington with the opening of deep-water lingcod fishing for the month’s last two weeks. Typically the only limiting factor to catching big lings out of Washington ports during April is weather, and not too many operators bother. But some do, and private boats also get in on the action closer to shore by fishing jetties and nearshore reefs that have repopulated with bottomfish through the winter months. A friend of mine and his buddies and family make an annual trek to Neah Bay in April to fish the protected waters all the way out to Tatoosh Island, and they do very well fishing over reefs that have seen no pressure in six months. April may not be prime-time ocean fishing season yet, but it is a clear wake-up call with some advantages and excellent payoffs in fillets.

The eagerly awaited halibut season won’t open off the coast until next month, but it should yield good catches, as this nice haul from an All Rivers and Saltwater Charters’ express boat exemplifies.(ALLRIVERSGUIDESERVICE.COM)

The eagerly awaited halibut season won’t open off the coast until next month, but it should yield good catches, as this nice haul from an All Rivers and Saltwater Charters’ express boat exemplifies.(ALLRIVERSGUIDESERVICE.COM)

FROM ILWACO AT the mouth of the Columbia River, north to Neah Bay and beautiful Tatoosh Island, Washington’s coastline offers four ocean ports from which to pursue bottomfish. Early-season ocean angling often goes overlooked, what with spring Chinook mania, trout season, and the reawakening of warmwater fish. A sometimes cantankerous ocean also limits popularity, but getting ahead of the game for early bottomfish means scores of clean, firm fillets. Much of my annual bounty every year comes from British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, but a significant portion comes off the coasts of Washington, sometimes Oregon. One could easily collect all the fish he or she might ever want or need without visiting our friends to the north, and this is especially true of black rockfish and lingcod. Stocks of both tasty species are robust in both Northwest states, especially so in Washington. There, fishery managers allow a daily limit of 10 black rockfish and two lingcod. The poundage adds up fast after a few trips, and whacking limits of these tasty fish on light gear is a lot of fun and sometimes results in incidental catches of salmon and halibut, retention opportunities for which typically commence in May.
I make a point to fish the early season every year, even if it means the loss of a spring Chinook or morel mushroom weekend. Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay offer excellent fishing, and I have fished them all and I  recommend them all. My usual choice is Westport because of the ease of getting there and because I really like All Rivers and Saltwater Charters’ guiding program. But when I fish in April, it’s usually for big lingcod, and always with one of the skippers who licks his chops for a chance at big deepwater lings: Mike Jamboretz of Jambo’s Sportfishing. His immaculate 37-foot boat, the Malia Kai, is good in big water, making him a great bet for early in the year when the ocean is still sometimes sporty. The Washington  Department of Fish and Wildlife allows Jamboretz and other early-season enthusiasts the last two weekends of April and a little over a week in May to chase lings in waters deeper than 20 fathoms (120 feet). He is an extremely good lingcod skipper, with high-end specialized tackle and the most advanced bank of electronics I’ve seen in a sport boat. He’s a bottomfishing specialist with a two-year-plus wait to fish halibut during Washington’s short season. Similarly, his deepwater lingcod trips fill quickly, but it’s definitely worth calling him. After almost three years of waiting, I got out for halibut last year with him, followed by a stop at the deepwater ling reefs, which are fair game later in May on halibut days. I went home with a nice halibut and two lings over 20. Every time I’ve booked with him in April for lings, we’ve laid out a very nice class of fish on the deck by day’s end, along  with limits of extra-tasty yellowtail  rockfish, a species that suspends in deep water near the ling haunts. Neah Bay is worth the trip, and  services are available at Big Salmon Resort.

Capt. Mark Coleman calls new sonar that shows bottom composition “a real game changer, because when locating good bottomfishing zones offshore from Westport, your spot is as much about what the bottom is made of as it is finding a significant rocky feature.” For more on that, see Randy Well’s South Coast column elsewhere this issue. (ALLRIVERSGUIDESERCapt. Mark Coleman calls new sonar that shows bottom composition “a real game changer, because when locating good bottomfishing zones offshore from Westport, your spot is as much about what the bottom is made of as it is finding a significant rocky feature.” For more on that, see Randy Well’s South Coast column elsewhere this issue. (ALLRIVERSGUIDESERVICE.COM)ICE.COM)

Capt. Mark Coleman calls new sonar that shows bottom composition “a real game changer, because when locating good bottomfishing zones offshore from Westport, your spot is as much about what the bottom is made of as it is finding a significant rocky feature.” (ALLRIVERSGUIDESERVICE.COM)

Westport, which is the most popular port on Washington coast, has the most operators and the  widest range of services. Westport’s boat basin is home to several excellent operations such as Deep Sea Charters, which has been running trips here for nearly six and a half decades, Westport Charters, which operates a fleet of eight boats from 40 to 55 feet in length, Ocean Sportfishing Charters, home of the Ranger and Capt. Don Davenport, and Capt. Dave McGowan of the Ms. Magoo. Offshore Northwest and Capt. Kerry Allen, and Tailwalker Charters  and Capt. Patrick Walker are here as well for part of the season, and there are many other options, so see charterwestport.com for more. And while you’re there, check out the annual fishing derbies, which began with lingcod in mid-March and pay out thousands of dollars in prizes for big salmon, halibut and tuna.

MY FAVORITE WAY to fish on the ocean is in fast boats with sporty gear. Lots of awesome Westport skippers will take you to the action and show you an amazing day of fishing and service in some badass boats. My personal choice for speed, versatility, kindness and dry sense of humor is All Rivers and Saltwater Charters’ Mark Coleman and his four express tuna boats.
“Our bottomfishing trip is especially cool because of our custom-built Defiance boats and the fact that we handle just six anglers,” says Coleman. “Once aboard we  travel very quickly to the best fishing zones and get right to fishing.”
Coleman and his skippers are able to rocket around, seeking out the best bite possible on the best class of fish, which often results in an extra-large class of black rockfish and very nice lings.
“We keep an eye on the inshore halibut season too,” says Coleman. “It’s open seven days a week until the quota is met, and we do catch a few each spring while targeting lings and rockfish.”
Although contrary to tradition, Coleman takes an ultralight approach with his gear. Because of the versatility of only fishing six anglers and being able to move fast from spot to spot, his clients can take the extra time to land the occasional nearshore halibut or very large lingcod or salmon on sporty gear.
“We recommend using the lightest tackle you can get away with to feel every bite and have the most fun at the rail,” says Coleman. “For us that usually means 7-foot Okuma spinning rods with Okuma RTX reels loaded with 50-pound TUF-Line braid. From the mainline we attach a 5-foot double-dropper-loop leader, loop on a couple shrimp flies, and a little lead. We have clients let out slowly to convince the rockfish to suspend higher and higher off the bottom and eventually under the boat for wide-open action. Clients tend to love this, and so do I.”
I’m a big fan of top-rated Raymarine electronics and learned about them by fishing with Coleman. Sitting in his pilothouse and reading the displays is almost like watching video of the bottom, even running at 30 knots.
“We rely exclusively on FLIR’s Raymarine electronics to guide us below the water line each day. Our team found that the new CHIRP sonar with DownVision by Raymarine not only improved our vision below the water, but now shows us bottom composition as well. That’s been a real game changer, because when locating good bottomfishing zones offshore from Westport, your spot is as much about what the bottom is made of as it is finding a significant rocky feature.”
All of the operators in Westport have excellent electronics and will get you on bottomfish, and there are lots of cool boats of varying designs. No matter what reputable operator you fish with, I highly recommend a trip to Westport – and Neah Bay, La Push and Ilwaco. All ports offer their own charm and advantages. Look to local chambers of commerce (westportgrayland-chamber.orgilwacowashington.com; forkswa.com; neahbaywa.com) for lodging, dining and tourist activities. If you’re an Oregonian reading this and don’t already know, your coastline is also an excellent place to catch bottomfish and take home a fat sack of fillets. Look to Astoria/Warrenton, Garibaldi, Depoe Bay, Newport, and more, and see the pages of this issue for charter choices to include Yaquina Bay Charters, Captain’s Reel Deep Sea Fishing, and Dockside ChartersNS

By midmonth, lingcod will be fair game up and down Washington’s coast. Some pretty big specimens are out there, with a 48-pounder the largest weighed during 2015’s seasonlong derby in Westport. Wyatt Lundquist slammed his hook home on this nice one while fishing aboard the Slammer, skippered by Rhett Webber, last year. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

By midmonth, lingcod will be fair game up and down Washington’s coast. Some pretty big specimens are out there, with a 48-pounder the largest weighed during 2015’s seasonlong derby in Westport. Wyatt Lundquist slammed his hook home on this nice one while fishing aboard the Slammer, skippered by Rhett Webber, last year. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

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)

Road Trip!

A weekend hall pass and I-90 lead to three trophy trout waters for Tacoma anglers.
By Al Schultz

Early in April of last year, I got three days off in a row and I knew just how I wanted to  spend them: fishing my way across Eastern Washington. I didn’t want any wasted time. I wanted the trip to be productive, with plenty of time for fishing, catching quality trout and enjoying time with a friend.
In January at the Western Washington Sportsman’s Show I’d obtained a “show special for two” flyer from the good folks at the Ellensburg Angler Guide Service, so I called them up and asked if the flyer was still good. They said it was, so I booked a trip for two floating the Yakima River. Day one was planned!
I contacted my friend, Leo Pierson, and advised him he was being included in another one of my harebrained outdoor adventure schemes.
“Oh, by the way,” I added, “don’t forget to load up your camper.”
Leo is a retired meat cutter and butcher who worked for over 30 years at the old Hi-Grade Meat Packing Plant that used to exist in Tacoma before it closed down and headed south. At 80 years old he still gets around well and is the best company and my first choice for a partner on any trip. My “plan” called for his camper with my boat towed behind. We would fish for trophy trout on three distinctly different waters open to the public year-round without having to spend more than two and a half hours on I-90 between fishing destinations, except on our way back.
I had to work right up until an hour before we were scheduled to leave, so I told Leo to meet me at 7 a.m. at my house. We’d hitch my boat to his truck and head straight away east to Ellensburg, where we were scheduled to meet our guide at 10 a.m.

ZERO HOUR ARRIVED, and three hours later Leo and I found Stefan Woodruff patiently waiting for us. We parked, grabbed some coffee, our fly rods and vests, and jumped in his rig and headed to the launch where he readied his drift boat. One thing that jumped out in my mind about the guide service is how thorough, organized and, above all, competent they were. In no time at all we were loaded up in Woodruff’s boat and drifting the Yakima.
Our guide had a plan: Due to the cooler temps and overcast sky, he opted for us to fish nymphs beneath a float, which he deftly and expertly rigged up and attached to our fly rods. Then in true guide fashion, he headed right for some holes he knew to be choice lurks for lunker rainbows. Remember how I didn’t want any wasted time on this trip? The folks at Ellensburg Angler, especially Woodruff, got it. We were on the water promptly, drifting and fishing one productive hole after another, no wasted time.

Floating the Yakima, Leo Pierson casts a dry fly  during an afternoon hatch. (AL SCHULTZ)

Floating the Yakima, Leo Pierson casts a dry fly during an afternoon hatch. (AL SCHULTZ)

“Fish on!” I nearly shouted, despite the fact that the only people around were in the same boat as I. I was amazed at the solitude. It was hard to believe a trophy trout stream so close to Puget Sound would be so devoid of people. The fish I’d hooked had shoulders and used the current to its advantage, bowing my 6-weight fly rod nearly double, stripping line off the reel and causing my drag to whir. I had heard of the quality of fish on the Yak, but to actually experience the wildness and tenacity of the trout that inhabit this beautiful river was something else!
While I played the fish, a beautiful, brilliantly colored 16- or 17-inch rainbow, Woodruff landed our drift boat on a gravel bar. And when I brought the fish to hand, he quickly stepped out, expertly netted the fish, then gently and reverently removed the fish so I could take a quick photo prior to releasing it. As I watched him carefully handle the fish I was struck by how truly special this fishery was to him, and it was apparent how much he loved it and felt responsible to be a good steward of it. I have fished a lot of places all over the world and have never seen anyone exemplify stewardship the way Woodruff did throughout the day, beginning with this first fish. As we drifted there were certain shallow gravel-bottomed pools that Woodruff stated he would rather not fish because the trout were spawning and had made redds there. He didn’t want to drag an anchor or anything through those areas and possibly  destroy or disturb the redds.
We continued drifting and catching fish and soon it was lunchtime. The folks at Ellensburg Angler offer hot shoreline lunches and Woodruff turned out to be a grill master! As I cast from shore, Leo settled in to enjoy some fruit and a beverage, while our guide began grilling steaks and preparing a salad. Before long we were all enjoying a delicious shoreline lunch. Afterwards, we helped pack everything back aboard the drifter and resumed our journey downstream in pursuit of more trout. Sometime in the early afternoon the sun broke through the clouds and almost instantly the air seemed to still and warm. Then, one of those magical moments happened: Mayflies began to emerge and in some of the stillwater eddies, trout began to rise. We quickly switched our rigs to dry flies, and while Woodruff worked the oars to keep us in the pocket, Leo and I had a ball catching fish on dries. After a while we resumed our drift and lucked into a few more grand fish before we reached the take-out. We had a terrific time and I learned a lot about the fishery and fishing, and how to be a good steward of the river, all simply by watching and listening to Woodruff, a man half my age. Our Eastside fishing trip was already awesome and it was only day 1!

LEAVING ELLENSBURG, WE headed towards Day 2’s destination: Ephrata for dinner and camping along Rocky Ford Creek. Rocky Ford is a shoreline fishery only– no floating or wading. Bank access was good, but, as ever in the Columbia Basin, the wind and brush can wreak havoc on novice fly anglers’ casts.

Next stop, Rocky Ford, where a young angler brings one of the creek’s rainbows to the net. (AL SCHULTZ)

Next stop, Rocky Ford, where a young angler brings one of the creek’s rainbows to the net. (AL SCHULTZ)

As daylight broke the horizon, we rigged our rods with Czech nymphs (scuds) and plied the spring creek’s warm waters for huge rainbows. Rocky Ford is known far and wide as a trophy catch-and-release fishery, and fish 24 inches or larger are not uncommon. But hear ye, hear ye, lest ye think that it is like shooting fish in a barrel, understand that these trout have been caught and released who knows how many times and they have the scarred noses and lips to prove it. They know every fly by its catalog number and they’ve seen every presentation, good and bad. They are not easily fooled. To catch one of these behemoths is not only a reward but a validation of one’s competency with a switch and string! Leo and I wandered our separate ways in pursuit of our own dreams (and validation!), and later in the afternoon we returned to the camper where we had a late lunch and shared respective stories of monsters lost and minnows landed.
As an update, more water is flowing in Rocky Ford this spring, so places we were able to stand on shore last April may be flooded now. With increased current, anglers are also reporting a need to use more weight, per se, in the form of a beaded fly and dropper setup to get their offerings down to the level of the fish.

WE PACKED UP in late afternoon and motored to our next destination, Four Seasons Campground and Resort along the west end of Sprague Lake. We checked in with our hosts Scott and Jane Haugen and hastily set up camp to get a little fishing in before dark. The resort has wonderful campsites and a good launch, as well  as ample dock space for bank anglers.
Fishing here has benefited from the lawsuit settlement between the Wild Fish Conservancy and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. As it prohibited releasing most of the 2014 crop of early-timed winter steelhead smolts into Puget Sound rivers, 369,000 of the young fish went into Sprague, which has no access to the sea. After just a year in the rich lake, many of those steelhead were over 2 pounds and 16 or 17 inches in length, and they’ll be even bigger this spring. Leo and I fully intended to capitalize. The evening of Day 2 found us trolling Rapala Minnows, and within 30 minutes of launching I had landed a 4½-pound rainbow that I promptly released after taking a quick picture.
That night we had moose steaks for dinner and the conversation was filled with excitement and anticipation about the fishing we would find in the morning. We were both pretty excited after catching such a nice rainbow after trolling for only half an hour. trout trip 4
Day 3 found us on the water after a delicious breakfast of ham and eggs. I frequently marked fish on the Hummingbird Fish Finder and we regularly caught cookie-cutter steelies in the 15- to 17-inch range. Actually, we landed so many that I got a little bored and began pursuing other fish that inhabit the 1,800-acre lake, like largemouth. Running a deep-diving crankbait over a submerged boulder field, I managed to hook a nice 4-pound bucketmouth. After releasing the bass, I took a moment to look around and absorb the sun’s rays. I couldn’t believe there were only four other boats in view on the lake. Amazing!

Sprague Lake anglers like Cye Logsdon and friends not only benefited from the release of nearly 370,000 steelhead smolts into the landlocked Channeled Scablands water, but from the 2007 rotenone and restocking of rainbows and largemouth bass. (AL SCHULTZ)

Sprague Lake anglers like Cye Logsdon and friends not only benefited from the release of nearly 370,000 steelhead smolts into the landlocked Channeled Scablands water, but from the 2007 rotenone and restocking of rainbows and largemouth bass. (AL SCHULTZ)

We resumed fishing, but as it  turned to afternoon, my hall pass was about to expire, so we motored back to the launch. There we met three amigos also wrapping up their day after limiting on nice steelhead and rainbows off Four Seasons’ dock. As I spoke to them, a family arrived to take their kids fishing on the dock. It was wonderful seeing everyone enjoying this remarkable fishery.
When Leo and I got ready to leave, I noticed the wiring harness  pins on my boat trailer were broken and my trailer didn’t have working lights. Haugen went into his shop, found a replacement plug and all the necessary tools to make the fix, and assisted as I spliced the wiring and replaced the plug. He and his wife define hospitality for sure!
Once the repair was made, we thanked our hosts for another tremendous time and made for home. It had been an amazing 72 hours! NS

Between Seattle and Spokane, I-90 provides access to a number of great trout fisheries, and none may be more productive than Sprague Lake, where author Al Schultz caught this nice rainbow on a Rapala. (AL SCHULTZ)

Between Seattle and Spokane, I-90 provides access to a number of great trout fisheries, and none may be more productive than Sprague Lake, where author Al Schultz caught this nice rainbow on a Rapala. (AL SCHULTZ)