Took the pontoon up to Cooper Lake after having been to the lake in late-June on a scouting mission with my wife. She and I had caught a couple fish on that afternoon and knew I needed to comeback with the boat as the lake is a perfect size (130 acres) for exploring under oar-power.
It was a bit windy so I started my day at the top of the lake, anticipating that I’d want to get the hard rowing done early. I anchored at a few spots and caught stocked trout at each one using bait. I’ve been trying to move away from all bait use in all of my fishing but I’ll lean on it occasionally to avoid getting skunked. I trolled and cast spinners all day and never got a hit, but bait consistently got fish in the net. By 3pm in the afternoon I could see good-size brook trout rising to the gnat hatch that came on in full force in shallower waters. Dry flies would have been a great option had I brought my fly rod. It had taken a tumble out the bed of my truck at about 45mph last weekend and I honestly can’t bring myself to even look at in it’s scratched up, wonky-guide state.
Cooper Lake is beautiful and I can’t say the wind was as much of a problem. Bring an anchor (mine’s 8lbs and barely held) and find one of the numerous coves that helps shelter the wind.
A coordinated long weekend among a tight group of fishing buddies can provide a game that extends long before and after the days you take off from work. The looking-forward-to and looking-back-on makes a trip a worthy endeavor, despite having to go through the motions of aligning all of our schedules and communicating to our loved ones that this was a great idea. We earned it or we would pay for it were the foundations of every conversation with wives and girlfriends. The road you took from the get-go dictated your every angle from that point on.
Jameson Lake is about 200 miles from Seattle, north of Ephrata and can be reached from I-90 or Highway 2. It is in the sagebrush flats region of Washington and quite simply a long lake in the middle of the desert. The 500 acre lake is a split-season and opens the fourth Saturday of April and closes on July 4th until October when it opens again. On it’s east side, Jameson Lake Road extends along the shore and to the top of the upper section or “old lake” which was the smaller body of water that existed before the lake doubled in size. A study for the Foster Creek Conservation District said that “since first surveyed in the mid-1880’s, Jameson Lake has doubled in size and water levels have reportedly continued to rise several feet in the past 15 years, possibly as a result of agricultural practices in the surrounding watershed.”
I talked with an old-timer for a while who had fished the lake most years since 1957. We heard stories about when the lake had been half the size and the fish twice as big. He was carrying four fiberglass rods rigged with silver or bronze spoons that he had used for twenty years. Friday’s limit was caught on silver spoons and today, bronze spoons were the ticket. Modern spoons and their fancy split rings didn’t sit well with him, and he was worried that he’d run out of spoons before he died or couldn’t fish any more. The old-timer referenced a plug in his tackle box that had been fished by his grandfather. I asked him about the chances of losing such an heirloom and he said that if you fished the plug and lost it, you went swimming. I truly respected his choice of technique. No bait and only targeting fish that will hit hard near the surface from a long way off the back of a boat.
His fishing partner had been his across-the-street neighbor for thirty years. Her name was Bonnie and I thought back on the morning when we saw them heading out, politely inquiring if we’d stayed dry through the night’s rain. Bonnie and her husband were great friends and neighbors of the old-timer and his wife. Bonnie’s husband passed from Alzheimer’s and then the old-timer’s did the same a couple years after that. With both of their partners gone and a few years of grieving gone by, the old-timer and Bonnie partnered up. They both liked camping, fishing, baseball and most importantly: one another’s company. They could share the stories of their lost partners, embedded with a context only known by someone who was there when it all happened. Bonnie and the old-timer and the lost husband and wife had been great friends and shared many memories together raising their families as neighbors in a small community. Bonnie and the old-timer knew that together they could watch a baseball game on TV and both agree that it was better than seeing it in person, because you got to see more. They knew they could enjoy the outdoors together and camp and fish and start building their own traditions together.
It was a dense interaction with the old-timer in that short amount of time. Our campsite forced pleasantries in the least as we were situated right behind the facilities and resort office/restaurant/general store. We were situated on two of the tent sites available at Jack’s Resort, with the majority of the small property being reserved for RVs. There are multiple boat launches on the lake and Jack’s will rent you a boat without a motor for $30 a day. We brought our own electric motors but if you wanted to use their gas motors it would cost $60. The boats were leaky but tracked well. I wouldn’t suggest anchoring anywhere you couldn’t see the bottom without sonar. The lake runs up to a 130′ deep at points.
Our group fished a variety of methods, with trolling and casting spinners surprisingly being the most productive. Most fisherman were using bait off the bottom and that turned out to work just fine, but was a bit boring and tough to manage from a non-anchored boat on the lake. All weekend there were periodic squalls of sideways rain and with the cloud cover I stuck to bronze spinners, but silver worked as well once the sun came through the clouds. After a day’s fishing we took a break and headed into the surrounding hills to set up a firing range where we could test out our friend’s arsenal of handguns. Jameson Lake is a great, remote lake that provided consistent fishing this late spring. WDFW looks like they stock it again in October and I would love to head back and try it again once the trout population is allowed the chance to get a little bigger.
With new pontoon in tow I headed out to camp at Potholes State Park and fish the Seep Lakes over the weekend of April 9th-11th. I had fished a few of the lakes two years ago around the same time of year. WDFW describes the lakes as “within the ‘channeled scablands’ of Eastern Washington, that were created by ice age floods during the Pleistocene Epoch.” In less poetic but more descriptive text, they are a group of over 50 lakes that were formed when the Potholes Reservoir was formed and the water starting moving through the water table and arising from the desert south-east of the reservoir.
Not a lot has been written in the way of consistent fishing reports from the lakes. What is known that various of the lakes have been stocked a few times over the last ten years, with some holding big trout and some holding none. It is also known that some of the lakes were poisoned at one point or another over the last five years in order to clear out carp that had found their way in via the irrigation channels connected to the Columbia. It was hard for me to get any clear timeline of what had been poisoned and when. This made it hard to be confident in the only two lakes that we chose to fish during our time there. There was barely any surface activity and depths were scratched out for us via Scott’s sonar, which were helpful to know in colored up water.
We fished Corral on Saturday from mid-morning to after lunchtime. It’s a longer lake with pocketed channels and typical rocky points and walls which is where we concentrated our efforts. I fished a spinner that Scott had made with a black snowman body and wide, heavy gold Colorado blade. Scott found me a drop off on the sonar and marked some fish. I was having oar issues and stubbornly left my motor at home so that I could experience the ride of my new watercraft. I dropped anchor and cast into the deep, let the spinner sink for about 10-15 seconds and slowly reeled. My thought was that the spinner would be reeled in at an angle matching the incline of the bottom towards where I was anchored. I was thinking too much. There was a fair amount of snags to be had and the water clarity was a bit rough. Regardless, I hooked a nice fish close to 9am and then nothing the rest of the day.
After a siesta we stacked the pontoons on my truck and headed to Blythe Lake, which is just a hop over the hill from Corral. Blythe is smaller and more manageable in a pontoon or float tube, had some great structure and scenery, but was a soupy mess from aquatic plants coloring up the water. About an hour before sunset there was an intense gnat hatch along with some emerging insects of some sort that brought on our first real surface activity of the day. What I was convinced was the same fish made it’s way from the boat launch south across the lake, periodically coming up for a thrashing gulp. We got zero bites but were somehow satisfied that at least we knew they were there. The lake had not been poisoned.
Below is a map of the area. The first lake is a few minutes away from Potholes. The Clark-Skamania Flyfishers were a great resource and I would encourage taking at least a couple days and buddies to try and hit as many lakes as you can. I’d like to take a trip there in the fall with some time set aside for hiking in to some of the lakes only accessible by foot.
It is that time of year. I am especially privy to select “special events” in local fishing. The Puget Sound pink salmon run is a notoriously popular special event, but besides the obvious I’ve come to look forward to many other public and personal fishing events on the calendar each year. Chum salmon on the Green in November, annual floats down the Upper Yakima in July, October Coho, and various annual/unique trout stockings throughout the region are only a few I can count on and that will be added to over the years. Always on the calendar is the annual November stocking of Beaver Lake by the Issaquah Hatchery. This year for an unknown reason the hatchery stocked the lake a month early on October 14th and so yesterday I went out to try and land a few of the 2,493 trout, averaging 2lbs each, that they planted.
It was supposed to dry out a bit, but it was cold all day with sporadic squalls keeping us wet. Two of us took the rowboat out and started on the northwestern shore of the lake. I knew from experience that you needed to find these fish and they weren’t scattered like a group that was planted in March or later. They were freshly planted and the water was cold. I saw maybe ten fish surface over the course of the day, which told me that there was not a lot of movement happening on their end of things. We fished the first spot for twenty minutes and then moved on farther south. My buddy caught a 14″ trout and I, with my bait in the water, used my other rod to cast a gold Mepps spinner. I caught a tiny bass. Things died down and we trolled back north along the shore with a wedding ring until we anchored at the wooded bend in the very top northwestern corner of the lake. With bait off the bottom about 2 feet we cast towards shore and landed four more in about an hour’s time. The largest was 2lbs plus some change and none were under a pound.
Ken with the first trout caught that day
We launched at 9:30am and were off the water by 4pm. It was a cold day and a bit back-breaking due to the fact that we were two grown men in a tiny rowboat all day, but the fishing was fun and the big trout put up a hell of a fight. One in particular peeled off 30 feet of line and then jumped straight out of the water, far enough way to make my friend think that it was a different fish than the one on the end of my line.
I booked a campsite over 4th of July weekend at Lake Takhlakh back in February. I had visited the lake last year late in the summer and we had a day of monsoon rain and a final clearing of the clouds right when we were packed up and leaving. This time around we camped only the second weekend the site was open for the season and it had been a mild winter with little to no rain over the two weeks leading up to the 4th. As soon as we arrived we set up camp and drove down to the launch to get the pontoon and an inflatable kayak in the water so that we could ferry them across the lake to moor at a spot where we had easier access from our site. As soon as we pulled up to the lake we had a visit from the resident Hoodoo host who cryptically asked us if were camping or day tripping and then, without further inquiry, told us to go look at the lake and that “it’s doubled in size since I first saw it” We had no idea what he was referring too so we went down to the lake and saw a smoke plume rising out of the forest very close to the campsite.
The fire covered 250 acres and caused much of the surrounding area near Lake Taklakh to be restricted forest, closed to public access. We were very lucky to be on the outside edge of this boundary. Here is a view of the fire from the southern face of Mt. Adams.
Below is the map of the restricted area released by the forest service. Lake Takhlakh is just beyond the far northern tip of the restricted area, with the fire located in Horseshoe Meadows in the central portion of the map at the base of Mt. Adams.
The fire was contained and the smoke plume dissipated after only a couple of hours. There were lots of rumors swirling around camp about whether or not we were safe or able to stay. The camp host did not have any communication with any fire teams or the forest service and was telling people that they should probably go. I did my best to ease Katlin’s worries and we waited until officially hearing that the fire was being contained. It was burning between two lakes, we would have at least a couple hours notice if we did need to leave, and most importantly, we could stay.
So with the boats in the water and camp set up we got into what would become our daily routine of cooking quick meals and taking about 3 trips a day out onto the water. The fishing was best mid-morning or evening, with the bite dying with the brightest sun, close to 2pm each day.
The lake had just been stocked the week prior with some 3000+ rainbow trout. Two hundred of these were big, 4lb brood stock fish that I could see rising and porpoising all over the lake. There were also resident Westslope Cutthroat in the lake that I caught a couple times, using small #0 or #1 bronze Mepps spinners with either blue or red dots on the blades. These spinners were my go-to fishing tactic all weekend. Of the many fish that I did catch, most hit the spinners hard and fought well on my ultralight gear.
I did try fly fishing but it was a tough go. There were a few other fly fishermen on the lake who were having luck with the smaller fish (I caught one on a grizzly-hackled black woolly bugger) but no such luck landing the larger brood stockers that seemed to be jumping all around us. I stuck with the spinners for the most part as they seemed to provide the biggest chance of landing a cutthroat.
The fishing was great I would say, given the bite was generally on and I didn’t have to resort to using bait. The view from the water is one of the best in the world as far as I’m concerned. There is a trail that leads around the lake and that has numerous bank access spots as well.
The black flys and bugs were out in full force and a smoky fire, citronella candles, and well-placed DEET applications helped a little. When I return to Takhlakh again this early in the season I’m bringing an upgraded kitchen tent with a netting that can keep the bugs out. There’s no water at Takhlakh and I’m glad that we brought plenty. We were also happy to have a new toy, the Goal Zero Switch 8 and Nomad 7 backpacking solar charger for our devices that worked well in the clear sun up that high.
After a slow trip at Rattlesnake Lake earlier in the week, I decided to check fish stocking reports and go where they had been planted in June. The heat makes any lake trip a gamble, but Lavender’s fish were biting. It took me around two minutes of sitting on my truck bed with a line in the water to hook and land the one in the picture below. Many of the trout were bigger, in the 1-2lb range, with some smaller ones in the mix too. They weren’t biting flies or spinners and only bottom fishing from the middle of the lake produced strikes. The lake is not deep but is full of long grass on the bottom and some pockets of really shallow water in spots where you wouldn’t expect it.
I fished at Rattlesnake twice over this past week. On Sunday I fished from the bank, hooking two on a red spinner and struggling when I tried to fly fish due to wind, minimal room for backcasting, and a generally amateurish level of skill at this part in my fly fishing development. My friend and I then drove up to try the middle fork of the Snoqualmie, only to be greeted by the road closure that has much of the best water off limits to everyone except those prepared to hike in (which I may do here in the next couple weeks). Yesterday I headed back to Rattlesnake with my pontoon ready and had a lot of success in both catching fish and honing my fly fishing skill set. I landed about fourteen trout in the first ninety minutes and then committed to staying until I got to twenty, which took about four more hours as I tried different patterns I’d tied up and took some shore breaks for lunch and for watching the show being put on my a couple ospreys who were diving and catching their own lunches. The fly of the day was a woolly bugger with black maribou, grizzly hackle, olive green dubbing on the body, wine-colored thread, and a brass bead. I posted a picture of it below, slowly unraveling and beaten down by the ten trout who had tried to swallow it. I’ve never had to pluck hooks on artificial presentations that were as deep as these buggers got in the fish. They were all barbless and not that small (size 8), but the bigger fish were nearly swallowing these things. I take it as a good sign as Rattlesnake has been a selective gear, catch and release fishery for most of the past year and these bigger planters are starting to feed voraciously on the natural foods available to them in the lake. I hope that as WDFW continues to regulate this lake with these selective gears rules and continues to periodically stock the lake that we’ll see, if they can sustain it for 3-4 years, really big and colored fish roaming about.
With the weather as nice as it’s been I packed up my pontoon and headed an hour south back to Offut Lake in Tenino, Washington. I just recently purchased my first fly rod and reel and wanted to practice some casting, and perhaps get into one or two of the 900 Eells Springs Hatchery Cutthroat that were stocked in mid-January. While casting the flyrod I had another line in the water fishing from the bottom with bait for some of the rainbow trout that are put in the lake by both WDFW and the stocking program at Offut Lake Resort, who have their own pen at their dock. Thankfully my casting greatly improved over the course of the day as I recalled the large amounts of information gleamed from Youtube videos and got into a rhythm. Biggest challenge is being aware of where both my hands are at all times. I’m hoping that the difficulty added to the learning process by the fact that I was sitting down on the water all day will contribute to marked improvement once I get the chance to practice again while standing. I didn’t get any takes on the fly rod. All I was doing was casting woolly buggers and letting them sink a bit before stripping them back in jerkily and I wasn’t expecting much this first time actually getting my fly line wet. I did however manage to get three rainbows in the net and missed one on an early hook set with my spinning rod/bottom fishing set-up. I have to say I’m pretty happy with the way that my trout fishing has developed since last spring when I really started going at it again. I’m seriously looking forward to moving beyond the bait and wait game and take my developing skills with fly fishing up into the alpine lakes this summer and eastside rivers this spring.
I have a love/hate relationship with fishing in urban settings, although I concede that here in Seattle anglers are lucky to have access to excellent opportunities for catching trout, salmon, and steelhead within a half hour drive of the city or even within the city limits. Green Lake is a typical urban recreation and water sport mecca and was stocked with 40000+ trout in October. The 3 mile path around the lake is busy with joggers, strollers, and rollerbladers. The shores are lined with fishermen in their camp chairs and rod holders, and unfortunately the waters yesterday were filled with rowers competing in a regatta. I headed down yesterday afternoon with my ultra-light trout rod, a backpack full of powerbait, and a camp chair. Using my sliding cannonball set-up, I started with a fairly long leader and some rainbow trout nuggets without much success. I figured that there would be long grass on the bottom of the lake and that I needed to get my bait floating above it. In reeling in I noticed that the grass and milfoil that I was bringing in at times was short and not as abundant I I expected. Normally in adjusting my rig I like to change one variable at a time: first I change the leader length to see if that is the issue, then the bait choice, and then I’ll try casting hardware to see if the fish are hitting spoons and spinners on the surface. I changed two variables yesterday and immediately started getting bites. A shorter, 1-1.5 foot leader and sherbet trout nuggets were the key. I pulled in 3 cookie-cutter planters and lost a couple more. I’ve always used barbed, #6 or #8 red Gamakatsu bait hooks but am starting to crimp the barbs as I struggle with getting the hook out of these small fish without bloodshed. I have no interest in eating a stocker trout (or really any fish taken from fresh water) and a barbed hook makes the release difficult. These fish are nearly always hooked in the throat or tongue as they gulp the bait and a barbed hook is redundant if one plans to release them. I also worry about leaving a hook I can’t remove in a fish. The fish will likely live a shortened life with the metal in it and become dangerous food for water fowl or eagles. This worry was confirmed yesterday as I watched a bald eagle come down a hundred yards from where I was fishing and snatch a trout (one I just released?) off the surface of the water.
There will be days when the fishing is better than one's most optimistic forecast, others when it is far worse. Either is a gain over just staying home.