Critters everywhere you look

While most fly fishers were trying to subdue rainbow trout at Coffeepot Lake two weekends ago, others were entertained by not-so-fishy things going on in and above the water.

Coffeepot, a long, relatively shallow lake about 70 miles west of Spokane, is one of those Eastern Washington lakes where a fisherman, wildlife watcher or wildflower enthusiast can make a complete day simply by sitting back and observing turkey vultures, feasting cormorants, nesting Canada geese and other natural attractions.

But it was fishing that brought me to Coffee Pot at the invitation of Boyd Matson of Spokane, who spends much of his time fly-fishing and knows where to catch big trout.

Matson had tied about a dozen big experimental chironomid pupa patterns before we arrived at Coffeepot and launched his 12-foot boat.

“We’re going to fish in 18 feet of water,” he said. “I’ve got my indicator already set for the depth,” referring to the fly-fisher’s “bobbers” he’d attached on his leader 18 feet up from the hook.

We dropped anchors near a basalt cliff. While Matson started fishing, I fumbled around with my terminal tackle. He caught three big rainbows before I started fishing.

Meanwhile, an adult bald eagle and a juvenile eagle perched on the top of the cliff while watching us and the geese and other birds below.

The trout couldn’t resist Matson’s flies. His indicator nose-dived nearly every time he cast out his line and the pattern had a chance to get down 17 feet. I hooked a few, but not nearly as many as Matson. He suggested we measure the distance between the indicator and the fly.

My leader was several feet too short; consequently my fly wasn’t near the bottom where the trout were taking chironomid pupae that were leaving the muck and starting to swim to the surface. I started hooking more fish after lengthening the leader.

The adult eagle got more than his share of fish that morning as it left its perch, glided down to the water and captured a big rainbow in its talons. The eagle tried to fly off with the lunker, its wings beating the water. Despite its best efforts, it could get the fish no more than a foot above the lake before it would drop to the water and try again.

Finally, its wings and body feathers soaked, the eagle dragged the fish into the tules, where it shook off the water and composed itself before finally launching successfully and hauling the fish to the cliff.

Matson and I continued hooking and releasing rainbows. Most of the fish were 17 to 18 inches long, but we hooked a few 12- to 14-inchers and some that were more than 20 inches.

As the sun moved higher, the water temperature rose gradually from 51 to 58 degrees. The warming apparently motivated other creatures to hit the water, too.

‘’Do you see what I see?” Matson asked. ‘’That’s a rattlesnake swimming out there.”

A snake was swimming slowly, its head out of the water and body just submerged. Matson told other anglers in the area, including one in a float tube, to be wary of the swimming snake.

Indeed, Ray Kranches of Spokane later reported that he had to use his net to push away a rattler that was trying to climb onto this personal pontoon boat.

About an hour later we saw another rattlesnake swimming near Matson’s boat. It was about the same size as the one we had seen earlier and we speculated it was the same snake.

While watching the snake, Matson glanced over and spotted another one — coiled up in a recess in front of his 8-horsepower outboard motor.

Matson evicted the young rattler and we watched it swim toward shore. It was 20 to 25 inches long — the longest thing we’d caught and released all day.

Besides bald eagles, geese and duck species, numerous other bird species nest along the 3-mile-long lake includes prairie falcons, red-tailed hawks and kestrels.

Sometime this month, when perch, sunfish and bass minnows are active in the shallows, scores of white pelicans will show up at the lake and spend several weeks surrounding minnow schools and then gulping as many of the young fish as they can.

More than 900 acres of land along and near the lake are managed by the Bureau of Land Management for wildlife and for recreation. The BLM recently improved the camping area that has become a magnet for fishermen, wildlife watchers and those interested in the variety of plants.

The BLM encourages visitors to the Coffeepot Lake Recreation Area. The agency even has a new brochure about the lake with helpful information that shows that the agency employees know what they’re talking about: “Watch where you walk,” the pamphlet says. “Rattlesnakes have been seen in the area.”

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