Fly Fishing Eastern Washington's Lakes
Bring on the Wind
Sure, most of us fly fishing folk would prefer to throw dry flies at big rainbow or cutthroat in a gin-clear freestone river in July, but we have to make it through spring first. Spring for a northwest fly fisherman means lake fishing. Eastern Washington’s numerous lakes provide the fly fishing enthusiast with incredible opportunities to catch fish, both big and small.
As a native of Eastern Washington, I grew up fishing the now well-known lakes of the Columbia Basin, like Lenore, Lenice, Dry Falls, and Grimes, to name a few. In all of the years I have spent flogging about on the water, I have learned a few tricks when it comes to fishing these types of lakes. First and foremost, get used to fishing in the wind. I don’t care where you are, or how much protection you think you have, the wind will blow. It could be glass when you pull up at the launch, but the second you pull that 5 weight out of the case, the wind machines will kick on. I swear its God’s way of testing a fly fisherman’s faith. The wind can not only blow, it will shift too, so don’t think you are free and clear if you find a calm spot. The trick to dealing with the wind is to put your back to it and throw downwind. If you can find a jetty or point, get on the leeward side of it, but continue to cast downwind. The spring winds of Eastern Washington can be maddening, so if you think you hear voices cursing in the wind, do not be alarmed. It’s most likely other fisherman.
Another key to successfully fly fishing Eastern Washington’s lakes is to become proficient at fishing chironomids. Most of the lakes in the Columbia Basin open on March 1, and once the ice comes off, the chironomid fishing can be off the charts. Check out this article on chironomid fishing to get all of the details. The most important part about chironomid fishing is that you need to keep the line still, hence the name “still fishing.” The fly needs to sit vertically in the water column, and obtaining this can be difficult, thanks to that darned wind.
Most guys I know fish out of a pontoon boat or a float tube. Either way, make sure you have an industrial-strength anchor, and I don’t mean one of those pansy 5 pounders. If you want to save your legs (and your sanity), having a good anchor will allow you to set up in the wind and remain stable. Without one, you will be constantly rowing or kicking to fight the wind, and that means less fishing. I know of a few hard-core lake fishers who use two anchors to really stabilize their boats.
In terms of rods, reels, and lines, opinions vary. I prefer a 5 or 6 weight with floating line and a 12-15ft leader for fishing chironomids and nymphs in 10-15 feet of water. I see other chaps out there with full sink lines dredging the deep water with leeches. It is up to you. Once the weather warms up, I will many times string up two rods; one with a nymph set up, and the other with a dry fly tied on. That way, when the hatch goes off, I just need to reel in and switch rods, rather than clipping my fly and tying on a new one. Again, it is totally up to you.
In any event, fishing the lakes of Eastern Washington can be a ton of fun. Many lakes have a few 5-8 pound rainbows in them, though most of the waters of the Columbia Basin hold fish that run between 14-18 inches. Make sure and check the regulations before you go, and always display your WDFW vehicle pass. With the rivers not in shape until early to mid July, what else are you going to do?