Dave Graybill - 4/2/2012
Once again, steelhead fishing is in the news. This time it is the announcement that the season has closed, prior to the hoped March 31 extension. Anglers had put their gear away last Sunday evening. It was great to get a few more days, though. Now on to spring fishing!
My fishing buddy Rollie Schmitten and I had a great trip last week. We traveled north on the Columbia River, practically to the Canadian Border to Northport. This small town, about 30 miles north of Kettle Falls is right on the Columbia, where it still runs wild and free. I wanted to go since I heard of the great trout fishing in the early spring.
At the Pasco Sports Show I met Art Grobben. He and his wife Nina own and operate Lazy Daze Retreats (lazy-daze-retreats.com), and Art arranged two days of fishing with a couple of local guides. Rollie and I were going to try for rainbow and walleye, too. The Grobbens hosted us in their main lodge which was way beyond my expectations and beats anything I have ever experienced. We were greeted each morning by a flock of wild turkeys off the patio and the comforts, décor, and views at the lodge were amazing.
On the first morning Brian Day, of Day Fishing, met us at the Lazy Days Retreats dock. We ran up the river to a nice bay that was within sight of the border, that he called the Boundary. We rigged up with spinning rods and jigs, tipped with crawlers and went to work. It was snowing at the time and the hole only produced one burbot so we moved on to a huge bay that is known as Deadman’s. This eddy is just off the main flow of the Columbia and offers some smooth water for jigging. We landed a few walleye missed a bunch of hits and released two small sturgeon.
We dropped Art Grobben off at the lodge and ran further down stream to and through a cut Day called The Dalles. This is the narrowest part of the Columbia I have ever seen. Rock bluffs pinch the river into a gap that is only a couple of hundred yards wide. When the spring runoff hits, this spot rages with current. Standing waves and huge whirlpools prevent boats from attempting to navigate the river. It also prevents the passage of walleye, so incredible numbers are caught here then.
Day ran us well below the narrow cut and into a deep bay. We were fishing our jigs as deep as 80 feet and there were walleye around. We all got our baits picked a few times and ended up with seven small walleye in the live well when the wind made it difficult to keep our ½ ounce jigs on the bottom. This was my first introduction to the very upper Columbia and it was spectacular. In addition to the very impressive, big water we fished and ran through, we also saw lots of deer and eagles. Brian Day has been on this part of the river for years, and really knows his stuff. It was a real pleasure being out on the water with him.
The next morning we were met by Justin Hotchkiss, of Far North Charters. His specialty was fishing for the big trout that inhabited this stretch of the Columbia. Trout fishing in this area is good year-round, but the best chance of getting a really big rainbow, up to 10 pounds, is best in March. He also gets some large cutthroat then, too.
Hotchkiss motored down stream a ways and set the boat’s nose up river, and used a bow-mount electric to control our drift and keep us near the seams that he wanted us to cast to. To the end of our leaders he attached large, brown bullet head streamers. The current lines off points or bars in eight to ten feet of water was what Hotchkiss liked. This is where the big rainbow would be staging for the spawn. He had already spotted some reds.
On our second drift Schmitten hooked a good fish. It turned out to be a bright rainbow of about 3 pounds! This was what we were looking for and we were anxious for more.
Rollie hooked another fish that really put a bend in his rod and when he got it up next to the boat we were surprised to see that it was a whitefish—a large one. Not long after I hooked a fish which was another whitefish, only bigger!
We landed one more whitefish in this part of the river and then headed across to a very large bar on the opposite bank. This was a perfect drift for these big rainbow, and they were there. I was switching between a Stone Fly and the streamer and was now using a 22-foot, 300-grain sink tip. This was really getting down and I hooked two fish and Schmitten three on this bar. Nothing to the net though. We tried one more great looking spot, but the wind began to blow a good 30 mph plus and we headed in.
I can’t say enough about our experience in Northport. We met some great people and saw some impressive water. You can contact Brian Day via e-mail at email@example.com, and Justin Hotchkiss by logging onto farnorthcharters.com.
April has got to be one of the busiest fishing months of the year. It kicks off with the “April Fools” opener on April 1st and ends with the general lowland lakes trout fishing opener the last weekend of the month. There are some great events for kids in between, and fishing picks up on our lakes that are open year-round. It is the month that folks dig out their gear in preparation for fishing in their favorite time of year.
I hope everyone that participated in the April 1st opener remembered to renew their fishing licenses. The 2011 licenses expire at the end of March and before you throw your old one, remember to mail your salmon, steelhead and other catch record cards to Olympia. They are to be returned to the Department of Fish and Wildlife by April 30th. You can stuff them in an envelope and mail them to: WDFW/CRC Office, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. I addressed an envelope as soon as I typed this so I wouldn’t forget. I also want to remind anglers to add the Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement Stamp when they purchase their new license. The funds raised by the Endorsement Stamp go to a dedicated fund, and has averaged $1.5 million dollars each year for the pilot program. These funds have made possible the opening of a large number of selective fisheries and other related projects on the Columbia River and its tributaries. Without the Endorsement Stamp revenues many salmon and steelhead seasons wouldn’t have been open to sport fishing.
More than two dozen lakes open to fishing on April 1st, and are a mix of trout and spiny ray lakes. This year, according to Chad Jackson district Fish Biologist, North and South Teal lakes should be particularly good this year. The lakes were rehabilitated in 2010 and were restocked in 2011 with fry. This will be the first season to see good fishing at these two lakes that had been fishing very poorly in the past. He mentions that Para-Juvenile Lake, which is seven miles northwest of Othello, opened to fishing for anglers up to 14 years of age. This lake offers very good fishing for bass and sunfish for young anglers. Upper and Lower Hampton lakes, which traditionally offer excellent trout fishing won’t be as productive this year. Both lakes are in need of rehabilitation.
Also opening on April 1st is Dry Falls Lake, which is accessed via the road through the State Park at Sun Lakes. This is a selective fishery lake, single barbless hooks and no bait, and is very popular with fly fishers. It has been an excellent lake the past couple of years, for rainbow from 12 to 14 inches, with a few to 20 inches. The lake also produces brown and tiger trout, too. It is a very scenic lake surrounded by high basalt cliffs.
To the north in Okanogan County, Spectacle Lake and Washburn Island Pond both open to fishing on April 1st. Spectacle, which is north of Tonasket, was a favorite of my grandparents and still attracts anglers to fish for its rainbow trout. Washburn Pond, located east of Brewster, is known for good bluegill and largemouth bass fishing. Several lakes in Okanogan County shift to catch-and-release fishing on April 1st. They include Campbell, Cougar, and Davis, Green and Lower Green and Rat lakes.
With the opening of many of the lakes in the Columbia Basin, families will be starting to spend weekends at our State Parks, and that will require the purchase of a Discovery Pass, which was created by the 2011 State Legislature and took effect last July. This year the legislature approved a measure to allow the pass to be used on either of two motor vehicles. The Discovery Pass costs $30.00 per year, and can be found at state vehicle-licensing outlets, at state parks and some retail businesses. They can also be purchased on-line.
There are two annual kids fishing events coming up this month, and both of them take place on the third Saturday in April. The City of Rock Island has hosted a Kids Fishing Day at the Pit Pond for over a decade, and thanks to the Wenatchee Sportsmen’s Association, Pepsi and Hooked on Toys it continues. There are volunteers from Rock Island that help out, too, by serving free hot dogs and snacks and Pepsi provides soft drinks for everyone. The event takes place from 9 a.m. till noon. The other kids fishing day is put on by the Ephrata Rotary Club, and has been for many years. It is held at Oasis Park on Highway 28.
Weinstein Beverage Pepsi Cola is sponsoring a Family Fun Calendar on my web site. It lists events that would interest families throughout Central Washington. There are many events listed there now and can be seen by logging onto FishingMagician.com and clicking on the Pepsi logo on my Home Page. If your club or community holds events that families would send me a note.
I also want to mention that the annual Central Washington Bass Club Yard Sale is coming up on Sunday, April 15th. This year it will be held in the parking lot at Hooked on Toys, from 9 a.m. till 3 p.m. This is a great opportunity to pick up a wide range of fishing gear and bass baits at bargain prices. I will be there again this year.
I am really looking forward to the Kids Fishing Day at Rock Island, it’s one of my favorite events, and I hope to see many of you when I make my tour of opening weekend lakes at the end of the month!
By Dave Graybill