Winter fishing doesn’t drop off as dramatically on the Big Spokane from the Sullivan Bridge downstream as it does on Idaho and Montana waters. Most fly fishermen are catching at least a few rainbows, primarily on streamers.
Salmon and steelhead
Catch rates for steelhead have been good on the Snake downriver from the mouth of the Salmon and on the Clearwater from the mouth to Orofino. The keep ratio is miles apart with Snake River anglers keeping one fish for every 11 hours of effort and Clearwater anglers keeping one fish for every 84 hours of effort.
Even if the stretch from Wells Dam to Brewster closes to steelhead fishing, there is the Bridgeport area and fishing below Wells Dam seems to get better later in the winter.
Catch rates for hatchery steelhead have picked up in the Hanford Reach, where bank and boat anglers are working the slots and seams where the steelies hold. Paul Hoffarth, a district fish biologist for the WDFW, said fishing should remain productive through March as steelhead mill around waiting for the spring spawn. “The fish are still out there, but fishing tends to get spotty – good one day, bad the next,” Hoffarth said.
Ringold offers ample shore fishing access, as well as excellent boating opportunities for steelhead. Bank anglers fish the seams close to shore, working progressively deeper throughout the day as the sun climbs higher and as anglers’ casts and boat traffic spook fish deeper and farther from shore. First thing in the morning, steelhead often lie in as little as 5 feet of water, but can be found as deep as 20 feet late in the day.
Anglers signed up for the Fins and Feathers Chinook Derby this weekend anticipate good fishing. Helmeted herring and mini-squids are taking a lot of fish at 80-100 feet.
Trout and kokanee
Rock Lake continues to boot out 13- to 17-inch browns and rainbows for both bank and boat anglers. Rapalas on the surface are working for trollers and marshmallows and nightcrawlers work for those plunking from shore. If the Rapalas quit working, go deep with an Apex.
Popular Lake Roosevelt techniques are to troll a perch-colored Apex on 200 feet of leaded line or a RC-Fly back the same distance on mono. Most fish are now 15-17 inches, and Lincoln, Fort Spokane, Keller and Seven Bays are equally productive. Anglers fishing off the shore near the Spring Canyon Park all the way up to Gifford are also getting limits in an hour or two
Rufus Woods, Banks and Lake Chelan have all been good lately for rainbow trout, with Rufus kicking out a real hog from time to time. Banks rainbow are running to 7 pounds. Although you probably won’t catch as many as fast as at Roosevelt, your total poundage will likely be greater. You’ll find fish in the top 10 feet of water close to shore from one end of the lake to the other. The afternoon bite has been better than that in the morning.
Those trying to fish the winter lakes opener found some open water in the middle of Hog Canyon but not enough ice to venture out. On Wednesday, I found it to be frozen all the way to the end. Ice at the access was about 3 inches thick. My guess is Hog Canyon will be fishable through the ice by the weekend, but be sure to drill test holes as you venture out. You needn’t go far from shore. Trout on Hog Canyon will be a variety of sizes with the likelihood of catching a limit of five before catching two more than 14 inches.
Fourth of July anglers found open water on the opener on the west side from the first narrows south. Plunking Power Bait from shore enticed numerous rainbow to 22 inches with few smaller than 14 inches. On my visit Wednesday, there was no one fishing, but a short walk confirmed open water on the west side where shore fishing would be possible. By Saturday, there may be ice fishing. Again, test the ice frequently.
I also stopped at Eloika and Silver lakes on Wednesday. Eloika has an ice cap, but the ice appeared to be only a couple of inches thick. Eloika is shallow and protected from the wind. It could be ready by the weekend. Silver was iced over on the north and south ends with open water in the middle. The bay in front of the public access had clear ice about 2 1/2 inches thick 10 feet from shore.
There were no reports from either Williams or Hatch lakes, but it must be assumed that considering their small sizes and their more northerly location, they will support ice fishermen. The trout in both lakes are healthy, running from 11-17 inches with a few even larger.
In Idaho, some of the lakes north of Coeur d’Alene may be ready to go by the weekend, next week for sure. Check out Round, Gamble and Avondale. Fernan is probably a week away.
Potholes Reservoir walleye are cooperating and most fish recently have been in the 16- to 20-inch range. Spinners and nightcrawlers on bottom have been working.
The south end of Coeur d’Alene Lake is still producing pike, though nothing big has been reported. Find a weed bed that isn’t lying over and you have a good chance of finding fish. No one lure is doing better than another.
Buoy 5 on the Spokane Arm of Lake Roosevelt was the site of some good burbot fishing this week. Anglers bouncing green jigs as well as Senkos and even blade baits were boating a lot of these freshwater ling cod, and some were landing walleye as well. The burbot can be at any depth more than 30 feet, but they’re usually a little deeper than that.
The alkali lakes south of Spokane along the freeway were practically covered up with geese on Wednesday. When these lakes freeze, the birds usually move to Sprague Lake.
Duck hunting has been poor in the Inland Empire. Any bird coming through will be hard pressed to find open water except on the rivers. Ducks are filtering into Washington’s upper Columbia Basin, said Chris Bonsignore, Ducks Unlimited’s conservation program manager in the Spokane Valley.
“Without a lot of snow, it’s all about big water and grain,” Bonsignore said. “We’ll have plenty of open water with the Snake, Yakima, Columbia, Spokane and other rivers. As long as it doesn’t snow too much, they’ll move to the water and return to feed.”
The big water in the Columbia Basin already has fair numbers of mallards and a lot of geese. The closer you get to the Tri-Cities, the more there are.