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  • Marc Fryt

Fishing Report, Eastern Washington Lakes, March 22nd 2024

fly fishing spokane

It's stillwater trout season in Eastern Washington, or as I refer to it: cheeseburger season. I know that sounds odd, but when you’re out on the lake and the air is calm, you’ll hear a faint bird call that sounds like “cheeseburger”. I never paid much attention to this bird call, which comes from the black-capped chickadee, until Ethan mentioned to me one day that it sounds like they’re saying cheeseburger. Now I can’t unhear it, and floating atop the lakes throughout spring I’ll be making my casts while a bunch of tiny birds are all trying to sell me a “cheeseburger!”

The weather last weekend and for most of this week was blissful; sunny, warm, low winds, and thawed out lakes. Chad and I were on Medical Lake a few days ago and the boat launch on the south end is closed because they are tree thinning due to the wild fire that ripped through the area last summer. The north end is open and you are able to get a trailer down to the water. The lake was 39F at the surface and I took another ready at 20 feet which was also 39F. The water was off-color and some decaying aquatic vegetation floated around. So, all signs were pointing out that the lake was in the process of turning over. If you aren’t familiar with lake turnover, check out this article here for more information.

  Lake turnover can put the fish down for a couple days to a week or so. As ice on the lakes thaws out, the water at the surface will warm up, sink, and cause a churning effect as it pushes up the lower column of water (hence, ‘turnover’). This action diffuses the dissolved oxygen in the lake and will stress the fish out until other factors like warmer weather and wind help to infuse the water with more oxygen. It’s a natural process, and yes some fish may die as the lake turns over. I’d guess that within another week or two, conditions at Medical Lake will be on the rebound and the fishing will steadily increase. If you time it just right, you can have some great fishing once the lake finishes with turnover.

fly fishing spokane
Photo by Chad Triplett

  While on the lake, we didn’t notice any trout in the shallows so we anchored up along some drop-offs but had zero contact. So we continued to move about the lake and saw very little activity on the sonar. Eventually the wind picked up enough that we were able to deploy a drogue which allowed us to steadily drift and cover water while making numerous casts with full sinking lines. This was the ticket, and I connected with a nice rainbow. A quick throat pump revealed that the trout was not actively feeding, and that corresponded with what we were seeing out on the lake (lake turnover makes them feed less actively).

  Chad was out the other day again on another local lake and had better success prospecting the shallows. This time of year the rainbow trout are going through their false spawn. Rainbow trout in lakes don’t naturally reproduce in lentic (stillwater) environments, they need moving water in order to successfully spawn. Only under rare circumstances can they pull off spawning in lakes, and it’s usually under conditions that mimic some sort of underwater current (like groundwater coming up through the lake bottom). Many of our lakes don’t have tributaries, or adequate tributaries, for trout to move into and reproduce, that’s why the lakes have to be continuously stocked. However, just because the trout don’t have access to tributaries doesn’t mean they can shut off their biological urge to reproduce, so they still go through the motions of finding shallow, rocky areas and then build/defend their redds (nests). 

  Attractor patterns and small streamers are the way to go right now. There’s little insect activity going on but once water temperatures creep up into the low 50s is when the chironomids will really start hatching in force. The weather for this weekend doesn’t look great though; cold temps and wind coming out of the north which usually dampens the trout activity. But if you are planning on going out then I would focus on the shallows, and keep moving around the lake.

  Fourth of July and Hog Canyon will be open through March 31st. If you don’t have the Fish Washington app on your phone, which is a free app created by WDFW and gives seasons and regulations for bodies of water in our state, then I highly recommend downloading it. It’s a great tool to make sure you are fishing lakes that are open, because several won’t open until the 4th Saturday in April.

Upcoming Community and Conservation Events

There's a few fun upcoming events this spring to get you active and ready for the fishing season:

  On Sunday March 24th, Spokane Women on the Fly (SWOTF) and Spokane Falls Trout Unlimited (SFTU) will have another fly tying event. It will be from 2:00 - 4:00pm over at Lumberbeard Brewing (25 E 3rd Ave, Spokane, WA 99202). No experience is necessary and fly tying tools and materials will be provided, but be sure to sign up here. Cost is just $8. The fly pattern Diane Ragan Smith will be teaching is an ant pattern which is a very useful fly to have for trout on streams, rivers, and lakes and is also a great pattern for panfish and smaller bass in ponds, lakes, and slack water zones on larger rivers in Eastern Washington.

  There is also casting practice on Saturday April 13th over at the south end of Audubon Park  starting at 11:00am. No experience or equipment necessary, and it's completely free! It's a great opportunity to learn how to fly cast or to practice/learn new skills like the double haul. I am planning on being at the casting practice to help out and to answer any questions about fly fishing the Spokane River and nearby lakes. Email if you need equipment or if you have any questions about the event.

The Spokane Riverkeeper is having their largest river clean up of the year on April 20th in Highbridge and People's Park from 10:00am to 2:00pm. They'll provide gloves and bags, and can use your help to remove trash from along the river. It's a great way to be a angler-steward and give back to the river. For more information and to sign-up, click here.

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