As steelhead fishing continues to fade and blackmouth seasons become more and more restrictive, sport fishermen start looking elsewhere for good winter fisheries. One that’s becoming popular with westside folks — despite a long drive and often under less than ideal weather conditions — involves the two big Columbia River reservoirs on either side of Grand Coulee Dam.
Both Lake Roosevelt, above the dam, and Rufus Woods, between Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dam at Bridgeport, support first-class winter fishing for planted triploid rainbows, from the 16-inch range to 4 or 5 pounds and larger.
A competing fishery in Lake Roosevelt, for big kokanee, is drawing a lot of attention as well, but according to state biologist Aulin Smith, it won’t really turn on until January or February.
Smith said the best action right now is for rainbows in Roosevelt, and both bank and boat anglers can participate. A good source of local information is Coulee Playland Resort (509-633-2671).
Both reservoirs are so large they can be intimidating for a first-timer, but when in doubt, stay on the lower ends, not too far above the two dams. Trolling is the most effective way to fish Roosevelt, working out of Spring Canyon Campground, about three miles above the town of Grand Coulee. The federal campground has a good launch, tent camping, RV camping, a dump station and picnic shelters, but no utilities at the 78 camping sites. It also offers access to good bank fishing.
Troll the shoreline from Spring Canyon down to the dam, staying fairly close to the bank and at a depth of about 20 feet. A lot of lures will work, most behind a blade or small dodger: plugs, apex, flies, wedding Rings and others, in pink, purple or orange. Rapalas and the 2.5 Mag Lips are popular plugs.
Bank anglers plunk from both sides of Roosevelt, just above the dam, using a simple rig of a 3/4-ounce slip sinker above a swivel, and a 3- or 4-foot leader to a size-2 bait hook. Power Bait is always good, but alternatives include shrimp, eggs and/or nightcrawlers, floated off the bottom with a mini-marshmallow, Power Bait, or a small Corky. Long casts are usually not necessary, Smith said, because you want your bait along the drop-off line, and that’s typically not far off the beach.
Toss it out there, sit back in your lawn chair, and wait for a bite.
The equivalent launch and “headquarters” spot on Rufus Woods is Brandt’s Landing, a Corps of Engineers facility on the south bank of the reservoir, six miles upstream from the Corps launch above Chief Joseph Dam. Brandt’s Landing is very popular with bank fishermen, the spot boasts RV pads, toilets and fire pits (a big attraction in the winter, but bring your own firewood).
Popular plunking baits at this location, Smith said, are shrimp/marshmallow and nightcrawler/marshmallow combinations, and there are several fishing spots accessible from the park.
Trolling and working the banks from a boat are as effective on Rufus Woods as they are on Roosevelt. Try a Wedding Ring with a piece of nightcrawler, at 20 feet, trolling off the shoreline, or drifting and casting tight to the bank with Roostertails in dark colors.
COLUMBIA RIVER CHINOOK FORECASTS
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife draft report is out with 2017 actual returns of various Columbia River and tributary chinook runs, and forecasts for 2018:
Cowlitz River: 14,000 chinook returned in 2017; forecast 5,150 for 2018.
Kalama: 2,500 in 2017; forecast 1,450 for 2018.
Lewis: 2,400 in 2017; forecast 3,700 in 2018, one of the few bright spots.
Columbia upriver spring chinook: 115,800 in 2017; forecast 166,700 in 2018, 90 percent of 10-year average.
Upper Columbia Summer Chinook: 68,200 in 2017; forecast 67,300 in 2018, 40-60 percent mark rate.
Sockeye: 88,300 in 2017, lowest since 2007; forecast 99,000 for 2018.
Summer Steelhead: 113,000 in 2017, 36 percent of 10-year average.
Upriver Bright Fall Chinook: trending down.
Smelt: trending down.
LOWER COLUMBIA TRIBUTARY STEELHEAD
The latest creel surveys of lower Columbia tributary winter steelhead:
Grays River, 23 bank anglers and two boat anglers with one hatchery steelhead kept and three native steelhead released.
Elochoman, 82 bank anglers with 13 hatchery steelhead kept and one native steelhead released.
East Fork Lewis, 24 bank anglers with two native steelhead released.
BOAT SHOW SEMINARS
The Seattle Boat Show is scheduled from Jan. 26 to Feb. 3, and here’s a partial list of fishing seminar presenters and topics:
Dave Graybill, noted central Washington writer and radio show host, and now a Department of Fish and Wildlife Commissioner, on fishing Lake Chelan, Potholes Reservoir, Banks Lake, Lake Roosevelt, Moses Lake, Rufus Woods Reservoir, and summer-fall salmon at Hanford Reach, Priest Rapids, Wanapum, Rock Island, Rocky Reach and Wells pools.
Tom Nelson, radio talk show host, on fishing chinook in the San Juan Islands.
Clyde McBrayer, ex-state fish and wildlife commissioner, on crabbing Puget Sound.
Gary Krein and Nick Kester, All Star Charters skippers, on north Sound salmon and ling fishing.
Mike Jamboretz, charter operator, on halibut fishing in the ocean and Strait.
Mark Gavin on fishing Lake Washington and Columbia River kings.
Tommy Donlin with tips for a successful coastal tuna outing.
John Keizer on knowing your electronics and tips to catch salmon.