Headed back to Cooper Lake this summer, just for a day after reading about WDFW throwing some 3-4lb trout in early in June. I rowed into the wind, which brought me to the NW section of the lake. This is shallower water and where the Cooper River feeds into the lake. Hooked up with lots of small fish trolling a woolly bugger and even caught my first Kokanee. It was great fun just letting tons of line out and having them hit about a mile off the back of the pontoon.
This post will document my limited fishing endeavors this summer and fall. With a new addition to our family this past spring, I’ve been understandably called upon to spend more time at home. This means no BC trip this year, but more focus on beach fishing and new additions to my rod and tackle collection as I focus on landing salmon closer to home. Luckily its a pink year and I’ve had some friends pass off some knowledge they’ve gained past summers hooking coho from the beach.
Stunner wild coho from Bush Point in late July
Hazy Point No Point
High tide/evening bite makes for a winning combination
First salmon on a Dick Nite spoon, although I’ve caught a coho that had a Dick Nite and some leader hanging out of its mouth. They’re never my first choice because I’ve never felt confident rigging them.
Hooked only two Coho this Fall season on the Skykomish but I’m happy with that considering I only made two trips out. The first was on October 2nd on the Upper Snohomish and the last this past Sunday farther upstream on the Sky, about a mile downstream of Sultan.
The second one got off nearly as quickly as it was on and the river couldn’t have been more different, running at about 6000cfs and only about a foot of visibility. We still were able to scout some promising new runs and get skunked on the old-reliables, Both my fish were hooked on a 50/50 BC Steel Pen-Tac spoon.
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.
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.
Labor Day weekend started Saturday for me with a bi-annual float down the Skykomish River fishing for pink salmon. We put the pontoons in at Sultan and floated down to the Ben Howard take-out. While there were a fair amount of fish in the water, it was nowhere near the abundance we encountered in 2013. I hooked and landed four for the day, one on the centerpin and the others on twitched jigs. The highlight of the day came at the end of the float on the long flat section before the river bend that takes you to Ben Howard. I was casting to some rising fish, long casts from my pontoon with quick twitches on a white 1/4 oz jig when I hooked a fish that immediately jumped out of the water and then took off across the river and behind my pontoon. After a couple of minutes and a couple more runs I landed what must be the first Coho caught this high in the river, this early in the year. It was a beautiful fish and I broke my long-standing rule of never keeping a fish caught in fresh water. The Coho had sea lice and must have just come up the river that day.
On Sunday I went to Kayak Point County Park to have a picnic at a shelter reserved by a friend. Someone had brought a small boat and we used it all afternoon to drop crab pots in the calm bay off the shore where the shelter was. We had great luck crabbing and were treated to a crab boil, prepared by my longtime fishing partner and friend, Scott. Labor Day weekend was a great time this year and a fitting end to summer here in the Pacific Northwest.
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.
I was invited to fish for halibut by a friend and his girlfriend’s dad and dad’s co-worker. I stayed in Anacortes Thursday night and we checked out at 4am to meet Steve and drive to the launch at Washington Park. There we met Rydell, whose boat we would be taking out and who proved to be an incredible guide. He’d live in or very near to Anacortes all his life. His system for fishing halibut was very dialed in and meticulous. From the choice of waters to the anchor system to the chum-on-the-downrigger. We anchored in about 113 feet of water (shallower than I expected) and Rydell got all the gear in the water promptly after a lesson on rigging the herring and the rational behind using both octopus and herring (rigged to look like the octopus is attacking the herring). Our phone service was alternating between towers in Canada and the US. We hooked two big halibut before 11am. I reeled in a 61lb fish and Perry, about an hour later, a 45lb fish. In checking in with the fish checker we learned that these were the two biggest fish caught at least two of the launches in the area. I’d like to think they were the two biggest fish in the state caught that day.
After being on the water for 12 hours, we docked and Perry and I went to Deception Pass where he and I would stay for a night and he left in the morning. I had three more friends coming up to meet me from Seattle and they arrived close to 11am and we tried fishing for searun cutthroat underneath the Deception Pass Bridge and then loaded up the pontoons to try and fish Pass Lake.
Pass is a flyfishing-only lake that we were undergunned for. The fish were deep and our flys were not. I also fished Cranberry Lake and hooked about three fish and landed none. Trout fishing was finicky but the trip was good recon and I’ll be better prepared next time.
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.