Columbia Basin Lakes of Central Washington - A Springtime Tradition

Another yearly tradition has come and gone for me.  Over 30 years since my first trip to the infamous Lake Jameson and I am still making a trek to the "Basin Lakes" in Central Washington every spring.  This huge area encompasses hundreds (maybe thousands) of lakes scattered across a basalt-laden plateau that is surrounded by the Columbia River.

These lakes are often called "potholes" or "seeps lakes".  It's very unique geology that I am not smart enough to explain to anyone, but there are basically big holes in the basalt that have water in them, lots of holes and lots of water... What I do know is that these lakes grow big trout.  The trick is figuring out which lake to go to. My strategy is to pick a different area every year and hit as many lakes in the area that I can and move on to another set of lakes the next time.

Unexpectedly awesome camp site
This year, Ryan and I picked a series of 3-4 lakes in the Southwest part of the basin to start.  Our debate was that the camping at these lakes is not ideal, but the fishing is generally good.  Another set of lakes that we have been wanting to get to don't have any camping near them, and a third set of lakes has great camping, but we have found that the fishing has not been great; not because of a lack of fish, but because the state of Washington generally overstocks them and the catch is nearly all ten inch "stockers".  Our mission involved looking for bigguns, so we aimed towards what we thought was mediocre camping and better fishing.

Upon arrival and exploring the area, we found the unexpected surprise of dispersed camping (not in a gravel parking lot as we had prepared for).  Now we were nowhere near any lake, and we were within 20 feet of a dirt road, but hey, it was a good spot to set up a tent, a cooler and a grill.

That afternoon and evening of fishing was.... very windy.  Fishing was fantastic, but the 30-40 mph winds were brutal in a float tube.  Water hitting the back of the tube was constantly spraying up, soaking us as we fished.  The waves were pushy and getting a fly to stay where you wanted it was nearly impossible.

I did find that the fish were really wanting a Beadhead Holo Worm fished very slowly on a Rio Camolux intermediate line.  I wasn't moving it at all, but fighting the wind and trying to keep it in place was giving it just enough action that the fish were all over it.

Typical fish, but we wanted bigger!!!
I eventually gave up fighting the wind and walked my tube up to the top end of the lake so that I could let the wind push me down the bank, hopefully slightly easing the struggle.

As the evening progressed, we found the fish wanting a callibaetis nymph, and eventually we moved to small woolly buggers, and then to bigger streamers as it got dark.  Fishing was good.  We had chosen wisely.

Morning came too quickly, but Ryan's hand-roasted artisan coffee was just the ticket.  I can't tell you exactly what happened over the next 13 hours, except this:  we caught fish on a Snow Cone chironomid nymph, then chironomid dries, then crushed them for a few hours on this soft hackle.  As the afternoon continued, we moved to an Anatomical Callibaetis nymph, as well as a Carey Special, a Teeny Nymph, and then eventually back to woolly buggers again.  In that 13 hours, I ate one granola bar and had two ciders, and I think I got out of my float tube twice for a minute or two for a bathroom break, but I do know that 13 hours in a float tube in the wind will give you some mighty bad leg cramps...  Sleep was a welcome commodity that night.

Secret Creeks...
We knew that attempting another marathon float tube session would not be wise for the legs or the morale, so we aimed our sights at a little spring creek that I have been keeping in my back pocket for a while.  This is a special spot for me.  It's the first place I ever caught a fish with a fly that I tied.  It's a place where I learned to fish, and it is still a secret (they do exist).

I hadn't been back since 2002, and things changed a little on the creek.  The one thing that didn't change was the lack of people on a nice Saturday in late April.  One thing that did change was that fishing was not that great.  I remember averaging 5-15 fish per outing there back in the day when I was truly not very good at fishing.  The water was high and off-color due to recent rains and loads of melting snow from a horrific winter.  Ryan and I each managed to land one fish each, and I missed several other chances. I switched from streamers to a squirmy worm under an indicator (which I am usually opposed to) but fish were more eager to eat it than the former, and I do believe Ryan to be a better streamer fishermen than me, so we wanted to cover all the bases.

Unexpected Billy!
Fishing was not fabulous on the creek, so we moved 30 minutes up the road to another lake that had been on the radar for years that I had never been to.  As we pulled into the remote lake in the middle of nowhere we found one of our friends sitting in his drift boat drinking beer...  small world.  He was leaving because the wind was picking up, and we soon left as well in order to find shelter from the unrelenting gales that were starting to get a little bit annoying.  We found another lake a few miles away.  It was perfectly protected from the wind (see picture of glassy water with bass...)  It took about 30 minutes to figure out that this was a warmwater lake.  Largemouth after (tiny) Largemouth Bass soon came to hand.  We proceeded to find the best habitat in the lake for bass and caught about as many largies as I would want, including a couple over a pound and a Black Crappie or two just for fun.

Now I could skip the part where Ryan and I ended up in an all-night diner in a bustling little town in Central Washington just as the entire high school prom showed up, but that is just too good to pass up.  Double pastrami burgers, a key lime milkshake and reminiscing about awkward high school dances gave us the energy for the drive back to camp which ended up being much further than expected as we had continued wandering away from camp as we had explored that day.

I see why its called a pothole lake
The next day was even windier than the previous three... We headed for the middle lake in this chain of three that we had camped near hoping to find a little relief.... hahaha.  It wasn't as bad as up on the plateau or in the larger lakes, but 40+ mph winds are not fun on a lake no matter what.

Unfortunately, the fish were stacked up in a deeper hole in the middle of the lake eating a Carey Special.  I took as much as I could handle and then walked a couple of miles back to camp in my waders, leaving Ryan all alone on this lake to battle the wind.  He took about an hour longer than me to admit defeat.  He picked me up about 100 yards short of camp.  Nice timing...

Oh the choices!  (From a previous trip)
This was another successful trip to the basin lakes, but they were not always successful.  It took me many years of doing this to get it down to where I feel that I am catching about as many nice fish as the lake will give anyone.  Just a little piece of advice to anyone that wants to get into this type of lake fishing: keep changing everything until you find what works, and then expect that not to work in an hour.  We are almost always fishing two flies, changing what doesn't work with regularity.  I make good note of how deep they are, how far off shore, and how they like the fly moving; and if I pay enough attention I can figure out that there is usually a pattern to their movements and habits.  I can't always figure out that pattern, but it is definitely happening.

We caught fish with every type of line and fly that we had.  The Rio Deep 5 Sinking line worked great when they were deep.  the Rio Camolux line was the workhorse of the trip (it usually is), but the Rio Gold Floating Line got a lot of play with dries, chironomids and in the bass lake.  Nymphs, streamers, dries, slow, fast, it was all working, but not all at once.  We worked our butts off to find what the fish were eating, where they were feeding, and we kept on them as conditions changed.  Radios were a key to success.  We kept in contact to let each other know what was working if we weren't near each other, and spreading out to use different tactics is key.  Ryan fished streamers shallow while I was throwing a chironomid deep.

Unfortunately for fishermen, trout love to hang out where the wind is pushing the food to.  Two weeks later, my legs are still jelly, but it was totally worth it and I am already formulating our plan for next year.

Andrew Perrault



-Attractors -Crappie -Nymphs -Pike -Saltwater -Steelhead -Stillwater -Terrestrials Big Y News Book Review Fish on Fishing Flies Fly Fishing Education Fly Rods Hot Flies ICAST Ice Fishing Jigs New Fly Patterns New Products On the Water Photos of the Month Random Thoughts Trade Shows Where the Fish Are
The Blog of Big Y Fly Co: Columbia Basin Lakes of Central Washington - A Springtime Tradition
Columbia Basin Lakes of Central Washington - A Springtime Tradition
The Blog of Big Y Fly Co
Not found any posts VIEW ALL Readmore Reply Cancel reply Delete By Home PAGES POSTS View All RECOMMENDED FOR YOU LABEL ARCHIVE SEARCH ALL POSTS Not found any post match with your request Back Home Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat January February March April May June July August September October November December Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec just now 1 minute ago $$1$$ minutes ago 1 hour ago $$1$$ hours ago Yesterday $$1$$ days ago $$1$$ weeks ago more than 5 weeks ago Followers Follow THIS CONTENT IS PREMIUM Please share to unlock Copy All Code Select All Code All codes were copied to your clipboard Can not copy the codes / texts, please press [CTRL]+[C] (or CMD+C with Mac) to copy