How peaceful and restful is a week at Northeast Washington’s Curlew Lake?
Well, if you’re a guard dog that is tuckered out from all the swimming, trail running, fetching sticks and more you’ve done, you’ll sleep so soundly you won’t even hear the deer sneaking up on you.
But Amy, River, Kiran and I also came back to the Westside happily tired out too after seven days spent exploring beautiful northern Ferry County and northeastern Okanogan County.
Along with fishing we enjoyed horseback and bicycle rides, sight-seeing and wildlife viewing, kayaking and inner-tubing, searching for fossils and swinging from a big ol’ rope into another nearby lake.
I really can’t pick out one highlight over any other, as it was all really fun, the weather was mostly good, and we all had a great time. I daresay it was an instant top-five in the pantheon of Walgamott Northwest Campouts.
I brought mostly trout and bass gear and used them to little effect — meaning, maybe a bite or two from the former species and just tiny specimens of the latter — but fortunately I had a backup plan.
This spring reader Jerry Han cued me into the excellent perch fishing at Curlew. Perch were illegally introduced several years ago and were an initial cause of concern because of how popular and productive the rainbow fishery is and how the nonnative species competes with young trout.
As potentially harmful as it could yet prove, I will grudgingly admit that turning to yellowbellies probably saved our fishing, at least for Kiran and given the shallower, warmer south-end waters we stuck to.
Jerry and his family like to fish in winter and spring for perch, and he sent me some tips and equipment to try out during our trip, specifically a bait pump and Crappie Nibbles to load into it and squirt into tube jigs.
A boatload of anglers who made an emergency run to shore by our campsite so one could use the facilities also clued me in to another tactic, a little nub of nightcrawler behind an orange curltail.
Combining the two methods we got some bites, but the winds and lack of an anchor for my 12-foot sit-inside kayak also made it tough to stay on top of the schools at Curlew’s south end.
Still, it was interesting to see Kiran come up with his own fishing theories. One afternoon it was a bit stormy, so we were stuck on shore and took some casts off a fallen tree then moved over to the aviation dock at the state park.
He caught a bass at both places and the next day wanted to ditch the jig and use just a worm because he felt that that was what the fish actually wanted.
So we headed out in the kayak to our hot spot just south of Beaver Island and I rigged up his rod with just a weight, baitholder hook and a worm and handed it to him while I looped a worm behind a chartreuse curltail on a 1/32-ounce jighead and fished it myself.
As luck would have it my set-up caught the first perch, so I handed it with a fresh worm chunk to Kiran and took his no-frills rod and of course caught one on that.
But it soon became apparent that the combo of a curltail and worm was what the fish really wanted, and using it Kiran quickly outfished me, reeling up a nice mix of perch with it and learning that fishing doesn’t always make sense but a little extra sparkle and size can help increase the bite.
One perch I caught that didn’t make it drew the instant attention of the lake’s bald eagles and osprey, and soon the rush of wind through an adult bald’s feathers whooshed right over me as the raptor reached down with its talons, grabbed the fish and flew off to a nearby tree to dine.
The biggest fish we saw was a tiger musky lurking in the weeds of the swimming area. Some other camping kids spotted it nestled in the milfoil and whatnot and the boys and I waded in to inspect it as well. It’s hard to judge how long it was, but at least 3-plus feet, and it was not afraid of people.
I had two big swimbaits that might have gotten a go from it, but that would have been followed immediately by the splintering of my rod and reel into 39 pieces, as all the combos I brought along were pretty lightweight.
Besides all the fishing we also enjoyed two nice bike rides on different parts of the Ferry County Rail Trail, one along the west side of the lake and the other from the town of Curlew north through the tunnel.
You can’t hunt along the abandoned railway, but there is one big bear in the area, if the numerous large piles on the trail by the tunnel are any indication. Biking along the Kettle River I cursed myself for not bringing my fly rod and hopper imitations.
In Republic we stopped by the Stonerose Fossil Site and gingerly whacked apart shale laid down in a shallow lake during the Eocene some 50 million years ago, finding imprints of dawn redwood needles, deciduous leaves and a March fly. Under a magnifier at the interpretive center a staffer pointed out how the bug’s wings had come off its body.
Not far south of town is the K Diamond K Guest Ranch which had space for us one morning to join a nice long trail ride. River and Kiran assisted in gathering and herding the 50 horses and 20 longhorns from a field on one side of Highway 21 to pastures and a corral on the other before we all mounted up.
In the evenings deer wandered through our camp, followed by bats flitting through the pines, and as the larch logs coaled we gazed at the stars as the Milky Way came out. Late at night coyotes serenaded us.
We also took a drive to Chesaw and the Okanogan Highlands, where I camped in 2003 and 2004, and which was where Amy’s and my camera got quite a workout capturing the stunning scenery. Along the way we made a stop at an awesome rope swing at Beaver Lake, then returned a couple days later for some more water fun and in hopes the loons there would call.
They didn’t, but I can tell you that I’d love to call on this corner of the Northwest more often than once every decade and a half.
And next time it’ll be with even more fishing gear and rods.