May 26-31, 2021
If I only had one place to fly fish in the Pacific NW, it would be Rufus Woods Reservoir on the Columbia River. This 54 mile long reservoir between Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams is incredible streamer and stillwater fly fishing, although the upper 1/4th of the reservoir is my preferred location. It is bordered to the north with the Colville Confederated Tribal Reservation and to the south by WA state.
I was just there for a long holiday weekend and given the size of this reservoir, I had no competition to my usual accustomed places to fish! The trout fishing was excellent to say the least with most daily catches above 50! Yes, that’s right, 50! There is a lot going on here in the way of trout. The very large triploid rainbows have put this place on the map with the state record at almost 30 pounds! However, there are many different forms of rainbows in this river/reservoir. There are wild trout but unfortunately, not very many and hopefully the tribal and state agencies will protect them to all “release”, as the hatchery fish are all clipped. Roosevelt Reservoir above Grand Coulee Dam also contributes hatchery rainbow trout of the normal type, ie, not triploid.
There are also large kokanee, browns and whitefish and on rare occasions, brook trout. Smallmouth bass and walleye are also there and take flies.
Rufus Woods is a river and lake all in one depending on what the dams on doing with the water. If no water is moving, you have a lake environment. When the dams are passing water, it’s obviously a river. You have to know how to you change up your game when things change with dam operations. A nice calm day when the river is slow makes for excellent streamer fishing while you drift along the banks and cast a fast sinking line (250-300 gr) with a something like a big #2 black bugger. The takes are incredible and so is the fight. Then you have areas that are off the main channel that are essentially stillwater zones. Here, the game is with a floating or camo intermediate sinking line casting small buggers in sizes 10-8. Midges are prolific on the Columbia and certainly you can entertain that type of fly fishing if you’re into that. I often see bobber fly fisherman doing very well at Nespelem Bay.
I like to fish between Seaton Grove boat launch and Tim Brothers farm downstream. A motor boat is the best way to fish Rufus Woods. However, one of the best places for stillwater fly fishing is Nespelem Bay and with the proper permits you can even launch float tubes or pontoons from the shore.
My preferred time to fly fish is February-June. I have only fished the fall once in mid-November and it was slower than usual but I did catch a gorgeous, 28” hatchery rainbow that looked just like a steelhead in spawning colors to boot!
The cost of fishing or recreating on the Colville reservation has changed immensely. I’ve been fly fishing the reservation since 1992 and now the cost to play on the reservation for non-tribal members has gone up! For starters, I was told by the Parks and Recreation department that there is a $80 fee that is required BEFORE you can even purchase a fishing, camping, or whatever kind of permit! They have now included a boat launch permit as well, $10/day, or $80/year. If you have a motor boat, you can avoid the tribal fees by staying overnight off the reservation and launching at the Seaton Grove site. This site is owned by the Corp and is not under jurisdiction of the Colville Tribe. A WA fishing license is only required. Just make sure you don’t step foot on the reservation.
This is a wonderful place to explore and has fantastic rainbow trout fly fishing! Furthermore, if you do decide to fish on the reservation, there are many, excellent lakes including another one of my favorites, Omak Lake that has Lahontan Cutthroat trout!
Tight Lines on your fly fishing pursuits,
May 16, 2021
“Ploop”, is the sound of the popper hitting the water. It’s late evening and I’m standing on the bank of a nearby cove looking for some top water action about a 10 minute drive from my house. I love popper fly fishing for Columbia River smallmouth bass. The fun is two V-words; a “vicious” take that is “visual”! No takers on my fly landing on the mirror calm surface. After the rings go flat from the landing, I make a quick tug on the line to make the popper dance with a “SPLOOSH” commotion! It only takes three and all heck breaks lose as an aggressive smallmouth pounces on my popper! I can never become bored with this type of fly fishing!
May is typically the start of the smallmouth season and surprisingly, the water temperature doesn’t necessarily have to be at 60+ degrees F. Even at temperatures above 55 F, you can rouse up smallies to the surface. I really enjoy my fiberglass rod for this and use a 6 or 7 wt. rod. A WF, floating line is the key (with an aggressie taper) to help turnover the poppers. Now there are commercial fly lines specifically for fly fishing for bass. The leader should be around 9 feet long to 10 lb. tippet.
Though bass can be raised on poppers through most of the day, the epic time is the first and last hour and a half of daylight. This is also the perfect time for the trophy class smallmouth bass over 17 inches.
I can’t say enough how crazy the takes are on top and I’d much rather catch the smallies on top over a sinking presentation any time, even if it means less fish!
The popper action should be good from now until around mid-July. So if you haven’t given this a try, you need to do it! If you only have a 5wt trout fly rod, that will work, just keep your popper size on the smaller side, like a size 2 or 4. As seen in the photo above, I was using a mini, Hula Popper, which, has been around for decades! It has to be the most popular popper ever made! I found some of these mini poppers in a close out and they are perfect for casting with a fly rod. The treble hooks are kind of small so you have to take your time on the hook set or you'll end up pulling the popper right out of their mouth.
Big Smallmouth Bass Continue to Show up!
Smallmouth bass fly fishing is on fire on the entire Columbia River! Plenty of reports from friends are coming to me with a big catches. Bob Spotts from Hood River, OR, recently took advantage of a warm calm day on The Dalles Pool and caught numerous 20-inch smallies! In fact he caught 8 like the one in the photo! That’s the Columbia River for ya, big smallmouth at its finest! Bob was using a floating line with a 6’ fast sink tip and his fly of choice was a 2/0 Clouser Minnow in chartreuse and white. Clousers are deadly and an excellent choice that smallies can never resist!
Now is the time to look for rocky shoal areas for pre-spawn and spawning times. You can never go wrong on rip-rap (rocky shoulders built by the Army Corp). Shallows with drop offs, and open pockets in weed beds are good places too.
Tight Lines on your fly fishing pursuits,
April 1-2, 2021
Streamer fly fishing for bull trout continues to produce good results on LBC and as the water warms up (it was 47-48 F), they seem to be more aggressive on the grab! Six inch streamers and sometimes smaller are still the norm. Fishing two days in a row produced very good numbers. On the second day, my buddy hooks and lands his first bull trout at 7:10 am. As the old saying goes, “early bird gets the worm”, and so it is on finding the fish close to shore first thing in the morning before more anglers show up!
But the big bulls were hard to find as I only managed one nice bullie over 7 lbs. and my buddy BG Erlentson took a 4 lb 10 oz-er. Very good trout none the less.
Typically, I'm not much of an evening fly fisher on LBC, but day two taught me otherwise. At mid day the fierce west winds turned the reservoir into white water, YIKES! Fortunately, we found shelter to take a break for a little while. By late afternoon the winds digressed enough to make good casts. A couple of moves and we were into fish again. The day finished off with a nice quiet evening bending the rods on a few more bullies while everyone else had left. So if you're not in a hurry, and can duck out of the wind for a while, I would not discount the evening bite!
Last but not least, please show courtesy towards other anglers by not “low-holing” them, i.e., cutting them off on a stretch of shoreline as they fish down the line! Cutting off another boat is a no-no. It’s a big reservoir, SO SPREAD OUT! By doing this, hopefully you will be given the same respect.
Tight lines on your fly fish pursuit!
March 12, 2021
A double haul cast sends the fish-like streamer within a couple of feet of the shoreline. Strip, strip, hard jerk, strip . . . so the cadence begins in anticipation of the fast grab by the broad shouldered char. Bull trout in Lake Billy Chinook are no secret, but they can be picky and elusive, both of which can make for a long day of fly fishing. Me and George Krumm spend at least 3 hours casting at various places on the Metolius arm before I break the skunk from the boat! Not a big trout but it’s a start. About a half hour later we find what I refer to as a “wolf pack”. The wolf packs tend to be numerous schooling bulls that average decent size, 20-26 inches. On occasion, these schools will have the monsta bullie too! Fortunately it’s a good bite and we land about six or seven nice bull trout.
My preferred flies are streamers tied with synthetic hair in different lengths ranging from 3-6 inches. I like olive and white, olive, light blue and white, olive and yellow, light olive and tan, and blue and white. I only use one hook, generally in a short shank. Don’t worry about short strikes, these predators usually inhale your fly! Please make sure to flatten the barbs! The bull trout tend to take the fly deep and removing a barbless hook is less harmful. Most of the time I fish an Airflo, 300 gr Depth Finder. Once in a blue moon an intermediate sink line is nice to have where there are more shallow areas like on the Miracle mile on the Warms Springs res side. I use rapid strips with radical rod tip snaps. This seems to drive them crazy! Fly fishing from a boat is the best way to catch the bull trout. They can be scattered a long ways from launch sites which makes any motorless vessel a tough challenge to fish.
On the day we were there, it was a sunny windless day with the water temperature at 48F. Don’t be mistaken that bright sunny days are a turn off to these trout, on the contrary! Most of my best days have been in the middle of the day and in calm conditions. The biggest challenge is finding the bull trout, persistence pays off! Sometimes you might catch a very large loner, bull trout or sometimes it can be the wolf packs in one particular area. All I can say is, keep working the small coves, points and gradual sloping shorelines and don’t give up! Make sure you have a Warm Springs angling permit on the Metolius arm!
Tight lines on your fly fish pursuit!
February 11-14, 2021
JACKPOT! Everything that could go right, finally did! After 35 years of fly fishing pursuits for trophy Lahontan cutthroat trout with the hope of breaking the ten-pound mark, I finally succeeded. It was a dream come true for this fly fisherman. Not one, but three beautiful trophy trout over tens pounds were landed, best fish was 11 pounds! The winter conditions at Pyramid Lake were just enough to keep the trout relatively close to shore to find our flies. Saturday was the bomb when rough winds kicked in (fortunately from our back) raising big chop on the lake shoreline, just the way we like it! George Krumm from Estacada, OR and editor of Fish Alaska and Hunt Alaska magazines, joined me for the trip down to Pyramid Lake. He’s no stranger to the big lake as he has fly fished it for the last four years but typically prefers to in December. He’s done quite well catching at least one double-digit trophy trout per trip and his best is 15 pounds! (Check out George's article from STS magazine at the end of the blog! Detailed "how to" fly fishing tips available.)
With very good success, we fly fished all four days at Pelican Beach. My choice of presentation is always casting and stripping flies and I had no problem hooking up. George stripped flies too but also likes the indicator fishing, which, is a nice break from casting and gives the arm a break. And though he did hook up a few times with flies under the indicator, stripping the flies paid higher dividends. The popcorn beetle fly and Pyramid Lake tadpole fly proved successful on many big fish. When there was no light on the water, I fished two white flies. A white and chartreuse bugger on the top and a white and chartreuse tadpole on the end of the leader. Later in the morning when visibility was good I switched to two black and purple flies, a black and purple bugger on the lead and a black and purple tadpole on the end. If the wind kicked up causing cloudy water, I fished larger size flies to give a bigger silhouette. Without a doubt, the worst weather day produced the best fishing, which I find pretty consistent when fishing Pyramid Lake. I’m not a big fan of calm, sunny, BBQ days while fly fishing Pyramid Lake like it was on the last trip in January (of all times); it’s a dead deal!
Catching a trout that weighs 10 lbs or more is truly a trophy and now that I have finally accomplished that, with the Lahontan cutthroat trout, I can’t wait for the next pursuit to hook up even bigger! Twenty pounder, here I come!
If you have never fly fished at Pyramid Lake or been there since COVID struck, you should know that the fishing permit fees have gone up substantially. There is NO seasonal license, a one day is $24 and a three day is $62! With the rage of anglers catching 20+ pound trout, the crowds are abundant. If you want the prim'o spot, it means getting to that spot on the beach about 4:30-5:00 am! The number of guides has grown too and they have people setting up platforms/ladders as early as 4 am! Hopefully the tribe will put an end to this because legal fishing time is only an hour before sunrise and after sunset. Also, platforms and ladders cannot be left unattended for no longer than one hour! On this trip I noticed many ladders being left out way past an hour. Hopefully the tribe will tighten upon the rules. Just keep in mind the trout are constantly on the move near shore which means most places are going to produce catches. There’s only about a month left till the end of March for good fishing, at least for big fish, so plan now if you have an itch to go!
Tight lines on your fly fish pursuit!
January 15-17, 2021
Trying to plan the perfect fly fishing trip to Pyramid Lake in Nevada has its challenges; timing is everything! Recent reports are positive; it’s the winter season when the action is all about the quality over the quantity for trophy trout and you are hoping for at least that one shot of hooking the monsta cutthroat trout! Me and my buddy did the quick road trip to fish three days and hopefully pull off the trophy cutthroat feat over MLK Day weekend. The first day put us on the board with seven fish between us but no double-digit, weight trout. Although, we witnessed several big trout that were caught near us on the shoreline. I’ve been fly fishing Pyramid Lake since 1986 and have yet to catch a double-digit, trophy Lahontan cutthroat trout. But I keep coming back hoping for that glorious day of hitting it big. Long time Pyramid angler and good friend, Doug Oulette, says to me, “it’s like dropping coins into the slot machine, you keep putting em in hoping for that one big win. You just never know when it’s going to happen!”.
Fly casting from sun up till sun down can take its toll on you. As a result, we don’t quite make it out of bed for the dawn attack at the lake on day two. Unfortunately, we totally miss the bite, which according to the lucky guys, ended at 8:30 am. Yes, "the early bird gets the worm"! We beat the water for the rest of the day to no avail. Oh, did I mention it was a sunny day with the lake like glass? Should have brought the BBQ-er! Wish I had brought my boat!
Last day; up and at 'em at 04:30 am to race to the beach! We arrived at Blockhouse and were pleased to see we were the first ones there! Soon as legal fishing time came, we hit the water in full casting force. Wasn’t too long when my buddy stuck the first trout. By 8:30 am, he hooked two and I got three, but the heavy fish eluded us still. And then the weather was a repeat of the day before and the bite pretty much died. Waltzing in for the late morning bite at 10:30, Doug Oulette, managed to catch two cutthroats during the middle of the day while there is a small wind chop. His second fish was a 7-lber caught on his reliable, Popcorn Beetle. The big trout seem to love it! Doug's a good baker too cause he likes serving his humble pie!
You never know what kind of hand you’re dealt when fly fishing at Pyramid Lake. Earlier in the week before we arrived, nice double digit fish were being caught. It’s like the old saying, “shoulda been here yesterday”. As far as the catching was concerned, both stripping and bobber fishing proved successful. It was simply a matter of having your fly in front of a Lahontan’s face at the right moment! If I could have done anything different, I would have had a vessel to fish offshore as the fish were too far out to reach, at least with a fly rod. A return trip is already in the works for the near future and maybe, just maybe, I’ll hit the jackpot!
Tight lines on your fly fish pursuit!