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,