Spokane anglers relish living in the best fly fishing town never mentioned in fly-fishing circles.
A lot of serious fly casters live here with no intention of leaving a city with all the amenities – yet no crowds to detour convenient pursuit of fish.
Months ago, after the Federation of Fly Fishers chose Spokane as the 2012 site for its International Fly Fishing Fair, I was asked to write a synopsis of Inland Northwest fly fishing opportunities.
I’ve been writing about area waters for 35 years and had plenty of ideas, but I queried a few hundred fly fishers by email. I asked what they would tell the 600-700 out-of-towners coming here for the big gathering of fly tiers, casters and fisheries experts at the Spokane Convention Center July 12-14.
To be honest, only a few anglers replied. Several flat out said they’d rather not spread word about their fishing hot spots. Fair enough.
A few were generous with their experiences. For example:
Dan Wight of the Spokane Fly Fishers highly recommended float trips on the Kootenai River downstream from Libby Dam. “There are at least half a dozen good day floats on the Kootenai from the dam to the Yaak River,” he said, noting the dam helps maintain good water quality and numerous camping spots are available.
Chet Allison, president of the Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club, noted that Browns Lake northeast of Cusick offers a good stillwater fly-fishing experience even after the summer heat bears down.
“My two favorite flies up there are the Ant in black or red and the Peacock Herl with orange tail and the shell back Stillwater Nymph. Many flies will work if they have red on them, especially when you fish along the old creek bottom that runs from the east side of the lake towards the west.”
Of course, this is just a hint of what’s around, like the first couple of bugs to hit water from a cloud of caddis above.
Local angling options start in the heart of downtown, where the Spokane River’s native redband trout fishery can be tapped near Riverfront Park, site of thundering spring waterfalls and a former World’s Fair.
The hook that distinguishes Spokane is the year-round diversity available to anglers within a 2- or 3-hour drive. The options will make a fly-caster’s head spin – along with his reel.
Fishing licenses for Washington, Idaho and Montana are as common in a Spokane angler’s wallet as photos of the family.
South of Spokane is the Snake River and tributaries with premier steelhead fishing.
Go north to apply dry-fly finesse on the chunky, kick-your-butt wild rainbows of the upper Columbia River.
Drive east on Interstate 90 to wade into more options than you can shake a five-weight rod at, including the native westslope cutthroats in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe rivers, and the cutts, rainbows and browns in Montana’s Clark Fork River.
One angling friend bribed me with promises of dark beer and said “Don’t talk about the Thompson River.” So I won’t.
West of Spokane is an assortment of flowing and stillwater fisheries shaped by the great Ice Age Floods.
About 15,000 years ago, waters that burst from ice dams that backed up glacial Lake Missoula surged southwest several unfathomable torrents. They raced through northern Idaho, past Spokane and into the Columbia Basin at speeds up to 65 mph – nearly 10 times faster than any flood in modern history.
Now get your head around this: The water volume in any one of the several Ice Age floods was roughly equivalent to 10 times the combined flow of all the rivers of the WORLD. We assume the water was a little off color for good fishing at that time.
The landscape scoured by the floods left “scablands” of basalt outcroppings, rich fields, fertile wetlands and lakes that feed fish a bounty of chironomids, scuds, dragonfly nymphs, mayflies and more.
Lakes such as Amber and Coffeepot feature selective gear regulations that foster beefy trout.
Anglers find miles of public access on scabland streams such as Rock, Cow or Crab creeks. Some local anglers refer to these streams collectively as “Rattlesnake Creek” for more than one reason.
The Spokane region caters to eclectic angling persuasions. Within a reasonable drive are standout fly fishing attractions for panfish, bass, several trout species, northern pike and steelhead.
Coming up in the Sunday Outdoors section, I’ll get specific, tapping the insight and expertise of local fishing fanatics who are experts on the best of the best local waters.
But let’s keep the details to ourselves, OK?
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