Skip to main content

Banks Lake Bass

Banks Lake Bass
How does a combination of sun, scenery and topflight smallmouth and largemouth bass fishing sound after a long winter's layoff?

Photo by Michael T. Williams

It was one of those late spring desert days -- sunny but not too hot, breezy but not too windy. Wearing polarized sunglasses, I spotted a cruising fish, cast my fly on an interception course, then held on as another smallmouth frantically rushed about trying to throw the hook. The pinched down barb allowed a quick release followed by another cast and another catch. This was Banks Lake at its best.

Banks Lake, part of the Bureau of Reclamation's Columbia Basin Irrigation Project, was created in 1951 by damming the north and south ends of the Columbia River channel known as Grand Coulee. This long, skinny, 27,000-acre lake, ringed with basalt cliffs and talus slopes along its 90 miles of shoreline, produces some of Washington's best smallmouth and largemouth bass fishing and it's open all year.

SPRING


Smallmouth fishing starts to pick up in March and April, triggered by warming water. According to Mike Carney, a Banks Lake guide and B.A.S.S. touring pro, spring produces a good smallmouth bite as the fish start to move up the water column from their deep-water winter habitat. He favors crankbaits such as Luhr Jensen's Baby Hot Lips T.A. Anything with an orange belly attracts smallmouth searching for crawdads, a food favorite.


When water temperature rises, smallmouth migrate into shallower water. Carney recommends fishing rocky shoals and flats with water depths around five feet, adjacent to deeper water where the fish can run and hide. Lou Nevsimal of Coulee Playland agrees. "Look for broken rock rubble with immediate access to deeper water," he says. Nevsimal seconds the crankbait suggestion and adds that fishing jigs draws strikes too.

The spring largemouth bite begins to heat up in May. The males combine feeding activity with their search for appropriate nesting sites so the successful fisher will prowl for prime nesting habitat. Carney suggests looking for old submerged roadbeds that run through and along the lakeshore. These sites often consist of raised roadbeds with deeper water to each side, which provide good spawning beds and deep-water protection.

May is a great time to put fish in your livewell but you'll have company on the water. The Washington State BASS Federation holds its Jamboree and Jr. Bassmaster Championship at month's end. Savvy tournament participants hit the smallmouth first because they are the dominant species in the lake, then target largemouth in hopes of swapping out a smallmouth with a bigger largemouth. That tactic makes sense when you consider that an 11.57-pound bass, the heaviest largemouth ever recorded in Washington, was taken from this lake.

SUMMER & FALL


Once the spawn ends, both species of bass move off the beds into deeper water. Carney again suggests working submerged roadbeds. He also expects to find fish in the flats during the lowlight early morning and evening hours, which means staying on the water late or getting out of bed way early. Nevsimal spends time working over the Million Dollar Mile area south of Steamboat Rock.

Fall is Carney's favorite time of year when he throws popper-type baits, light spinnerbaits and Senkos fished without weight over the roadbeds and grass-lined flats. Fall offers the opportunity of combining early morning fishing and afternoon upland bird hunting.

STEAMBOAT ROCK STATE PARK


Steamboat Rock, a 600-acre block of columnar basalt jutting 1,571 feet above sea level, forms a peninsula, which is home to Steamboat Rock State Park, a perfect home base. The park offers two camping areas, a day-use area, boat launch, docks, sandy swimming beach, horseback riding, hiking and other activities for the non-fishers in your party. One word of caution, which goes for the entire Grand Coulee area: This is rattlesnake country, so keep your fingers out of crevices and watch where you step.

The area between Steamboat Rock and the east shore, known as the Devil's Punch Bowl, produces largemouth from the reeds, especially in the spring. Try a No. 23 Uncle Josh Kicker Frog.

At the south end of Steamboat Rock you will see tall poplar trees, which give the area its name. The Poplars is known for aggressive smallmouth that chase crankbaits. It is also known for busting boat props on the submerged roadbed. Keep a sharp eye out and motor slowly.

You don't need a boat to catch fish in this lake as there are miles of accessible shoreline. In the spring, try Osborn Bay where the water flows through culverts under Highway 155. In May and June, you can move downlake to an area south of Steamboat Rock known as Million Dollar Mile where you have access to huge flats and scattered weed patches filled with cruising fish.

HABITAT RESTORATION

All too often we hear complaints about how fishing just isn't as good as it used to be. Unwilling to accept declining numbers of largemouth bass, Nevsimal of Coulee Playland decided to do something about fish habitat in 1995, and the Banks Lake Enhancement Program was born. Since 1999 when the first work was performed, that program planted 15,864 shrubs and trees along the shoreline. Additionally, it constructed and submerged 1,027 Fish Habitat Units in the lake. One type, consisting of large tree limbs anchored by concrete blocks in 3 to 5 feet of water, were placed in known largemouth spawning areas. The second type, essentially a huge brush pile, serves as recruitment structures for juvenile fish leaving the nest.

Although the program was directed toward restoring largemouth populations, research has shown that the spawning structures are used by both species. Largemouth spawn under the tree limbs while smallmouth nest alongside the concrete anchors.

WHAT TO USE

Smallmouths love crawdads. Orange-bellied baits should be found in every tackle box. If you bounce the bait along the bottom, the orange should show when seen from above. Crawdads vary widely in coloration from a bright orange to an almost deep purple. The one consistency is they are always lighter in color when viewed from the underside. Match your bait accordingly.

Perch are the primary forage fish in Banks Lake so another choice of baits in sizes and finishes which match perch will work. In deeper water try drop-shotting with green-pumpkin baits.

Senkos, either fished weightless or on a jighead are popular.

Since I love to catch bass on a fly rod, I use a BananaRama, which is a bunny leech modified by adding bead chain eyes to make the hook point ride up. Field research has shown that smallmouth prefer bright yellow with purple and black being t

he next color choices. My next favorite pattern is a black rabbit bugger. Every flyfisher should have crawdad patterns as well.

Smallmouth have replaced largemouth as the dominant species. Fish size has changed over the years as well. A 5-pound largemouth used to be run of the mill but now merits mention. Smallmouth average 2 to 3 pounds, with several 5-pounders taken each year. Nevsimal has fished this lake since 1979, landing fish to 6 pounds, and he has been spooled three times by bass he simply could not control.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

Boat access is good at Banks Lake. You can launch at Big Wally's (www.bigwallysfishing.com or 800-632-5504) at the south end of the lake near Coulee City, from Coulee Playland

www.couleeplayland.com or 509-633-2671) at the north end of the lake by Electric City, or from Steamboat Rock State Park near the middle of the lake. Other access sites can be found online at

www.wdfw.wa.gov/lands/r2banklk.htm. Coulee Playland is a full-service marina with fuel and fishing supplies. Big Wally's offers fishing gear and guide services. Mike Carney can be reached at (800) 811-5827.

The daily bag limit is five fish with no minimum size; no bass between 12 inches and 17 inches may be kept, and only one fish may exceed 17 inches. The Washington Department of Health recommends limiting the consumption of bass caught from the Columbia River system due to fears over heavy metal contamination.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

A Bolt Action from Benelli?

A Bolt Action from Benelli?

We know what you're thinking: Isn't Benelli a shotgun company? Of course it is, but decades of shotgun manufacturing actually put Benelli in a unique position to redefine what a hunting rifle should be. Episode 1 reviews some company history to explain how this all came about.

New for 2021: Excalibur Crossbow, BowTech Bows, TightSpot Quiver, Ripcord Rests, Black Gold Sights

New for 2021: Excalibur Crossbow, BowTech Bows, TightSpot Quiver, Ripcord Rests, Black Gold Sights

New for 2021 are several hunter-defined products, such as the Excalibur TwinStrike Crossbow, BowTech Solution and Solution SS Bows, TightSpot Pivot 2.5 Quiver, Ripcord Cage and Code Red X arrowrests, and Black Gold Pro FX and Pro Hunter HD sights.

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

The Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system is the pinnacle of kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and allows the boat to be moved in any direction.

New for 2021: Hoyt RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum 30 and Ventum 33

New for 2021: Hoyt RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum 30 and Ventum 33

ATA 2021 NeDuring this video from the Archery Trade Association's New Product Premiere showcase, Bowhunter's TV Mike Carney visited with Evan Williams, pro staff manager for Hoyt Archery, to learn about the new RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum and Ventum 33 bows.w Product - Hoyt

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Fast and accurate: Crossbows from this year's ATA Show.10 Great New Crossbows for 2021 ATA Show

10 Great New Crossbows for 2021

Game and Fish Staff - January 15, 2021

Fast and accurate: Crossbows from this year's ATA Show.

Get ready to braise ground venison with all the traditional chili ingredients, directly on the grill, for a smokin' hot take on this comfort food classic.Smoked Venison Chili Recipe Wild Game

Smoked Venison Chili Recipe

Eva Shockey - October 16, 2020

Get ready to braise ground venison with all the traditional chili ingredients, directly on the...

There are plenty of bowhunters who opt for the dependability of fixed-blade designs.New Fixed-Blade Broadheads for 2021 ATA Show

New Fixed-Blade Broadheads for 2021

Lynn Burkhead - January 11, 2021

There are plenty of bowhunters who opt for the dependability of fixed-blade designs.

More visible arrow flight to your intended target.New Archery Gear: Easton 6.5 Whiteout Carbon Arrows Bows

New Archery Gear: Easton 6.5 Whiteout Carbon Arrows

Game and Fish Staff - December 16, 2020

More visible arrow flight to your intended target.

See More Trending Articles

More Bass

Ugly Stik's Santa Claus Bass Tournament featured 298 Santa-suit-wearing anglers at Lake Norman, N.C.Good Deeds: Bass-Fishing Santas Raise $15K in Toys for Kids News

Good Deeds: Bass-Fishing Santas Raise $15K in Toys for Kids

Game and Fish Staff - December 21, 2020

Ugly Stik's Santa Claus Bass Tournament featured 298 Santa-suit-wearing anglers at Lake...

Across the west, look to these areas to find aggressive bass.Transition Bass: It Doesn't Have to Be Difficult Bass

Transition Bass: It Doesn't Have to Be Difficult

Ken Duke - December 04, 2020

Across the west, look to these areas to find aggressive bass.

Use these presentations to boat more cold-water bass as the season winds down.3 Active Ways to Grab a Cold-Weather Bass' Attention Bass

3 Active Ways to Grab a Cold-Weather Bass' Attention

Mike Pehanich - December 17, 2020

Use these presentations to boat more cold-water bass as the season winds down.

Here's how to take it one step further and actually catch bass.October Game Plan: Find the Food, Find the Bass Bass

October Game Plan: Find the Food, Find the Bass

Ken Duke - October 22, 2020

Here's how to take it one step further and actually catch bass.

See More Bass

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now