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Wednesday, December 11, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Rain 34° Rain
Sports >  Outdoors

Thaw reveals big options

Wind sucks. Or at least that was my perspective Monday as I fly-fished for trout on Sprague Lake.

While Scott Haugen at Four Seasons Campground was clocking gusts up to 29 mph on his weather station, I was scaring the hell out of my fishing partner, Dick Rivers, who seemed to be a bit queasy at the prospect of having his ears pierced by a Woolly Bugger.

But I wasn’t threatening too many of the lake’s lunker rainbows.

“There must be a good reason why we’re the only boat out here,” he said.

As miserable as it was that day, that wind was delivering the antidote for the entire region of anglers suffering from cabin fever.

It’s ice-out time in much of the Inland Northwest.

Pick the right water and you’ll be in fishing nirvana, or at least a chilly facsimile.

Coffee Pot Lake’s ice came off Wednesday morning followed immediately by an angler prowling the waters with his boat and fishing rod.

As the ice came off Liberty Lake, early anglers were finding the brown trout near the surface along the shoreline.

“That may not last more than another few days, but the fishing for browns can be excellent right after ice off,” said Chris Donley, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department district fisheries biologist.

Indeed, even anglers at Rock Lake, which stays ice-free, were catching browns close to shore last week.

It’s almost time to be monitoring for browns along the opening shoreline around Medical Lake, another lake that was available only to ice anglers when the season opened for selected waters on March 1.

Amber Lake anglers have been champing at the bit, said Al Peterson of Swede’s Fly Shop. “A couple of customers said they were out there this week when it finally started opening up around he edges,” he said. “They cast chironomids from shore and caught a bunch of fish.”

Of course, serious anglers weren’t letting the local ice postpone scratching their casting itch. Several March 1-opening lakes in the Columbia Basin have been producing great open-water fishing, including Quincy Lake and Beda Lake west of Potholes Reservoir.

Peterson said he’s had reports from fly fishers who did well for huge Lahontan cutthroats on Lake Lenore by using a size-8 chironomid pattern, which is roughly the equivalent of offering trout a large pizza in one piece.

But when the wind is on better behavior, an angler would be nuts to waste precious fishing time by cruising on I-90 past the Sprague exit.

Rehabilitated in the fall of 2007 to restart a fishery that was terribly out of balance with carp, stunted panfish and uncooperative walleyes, Sprague Lake is blooming into a heart-stopping fishery.

Channel catfish, largemouth bass, bluegills and black crappie were stocked in various sizes last spring, Donley said. The oldest among them should be pulling off their first spawn this spring. Premium panfishing is just a few years off.

Meantime, since last spring the lake has been stocked with more than 500,000 trout that are growing like feeder pigs on the lake’s annual bumper crop of aquatic insects.

Even in the relentless wind, tree swallows were swarming over the lake on Monday to feast on midges hatching in profusion from water that had been capped under ice just a week earlier.

By early summer, the midge hatches can force truckers off I-90 to clean their windshields.

The trout have been stocked in various sizes, including the initial jump-start of 3,000 triploid rainbows that averaged 1.5 pounds when released.

Subsequent plants included roughly 80,000 fish running 6-11 inches and 250,000 fry.

Last fall, the Fish and Wildlife Department seasoned the lake with 55,000 “fall fry” in the 5-inch range. Most of the trout are rainbows, but the fall plant also included 80,000 Lahontan cutthroat.

The most recent plant of about 35,000 catchable-size rainbows occurred just last week as the ice was coming off shore enough for the hatchery truck to reach the water.

“We’ve filled in all the gaps for size and now it’s just a matter of watching these fish take off,” Donley said.

Boat access is open on the south side of the lake at the public launch (WDFW parking permit required) and a private launching area that charges a self-serve $3 parking fee.

Sprague Lake Resort opened last week at the east end of the lake.

Four Seasons Campground at the northwest end of the lake is not officially open, but Haugen has been letting some anglers in to launch if they call in advance as he works to get the campground ready for its April opening.

The trout are ready now.

While the fishing should get better every week through fall as the various age classes of fish gain weight, the largest of Sprague’s trout already are in the 20-inch range with shoulders that are attracting the attention of NFL scouts.

The stomach of a hefty 18-inch rainbow Rivers sacrificed on Monday in the interest of angler research was stuffed with chironomids and nothing but chironomids.

“Funny a trout can grow so big on those little bugs,” he said. “I expected it to be full of Rapalas.”

Contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508, or e-mail to

Wordcount: 886
Tags: fishing, outdoors

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