The Columbia is the big show when it comes to Northwest walleye fishing. But just outside the spotlight, these lakes boast many fish and few fishermen. (June 2009)
The biggest walleyes come from the Columbia, but Bob Roberts shows that lunkers are in other waters, too.
Photo by Terry W. Sheely.
Hard as it may be to believe, the nationally recognized walleye waters of the roily Columbia River do not have an exclusive lock on Washington'sfinest 'eye action.
Agreed, the biggest river in the Northwest is still the odds-on favorite to produce the next official world record. It already produced several walleyes that "unofficially" shattered that record, but they weren't weighed and recorded on a certified scale.
The river owns every Washington and Oregon state record ever posted, routinely attracts headlines from Portland to Kettle Falls, and sucks up most of the tournament trail fishing pressure. But it's also big water that can be tough to read, finicky and sometimes downright dangerous. Itrequires a big-water boat, top gear and well-above-average fishing skills.
National celebrity that it is, the Columbia is no casual fishery for a family hungry to fish away a weekend and sizzle walleye fillets.
OPEN YOUR EYES
Flanked by pastoral public parks and shade trees, Moses Lake, on the other hand, is fat with unsophisticated walleyes that require little more than a night crawler with a spinner blade, bottom-walker weight and a decent breeze to drift the family car-topper.
At Scootney Reservoir, an overlooked hour-glass-shaped impoundment in the wide-open alkaline country southeast of Othello, 45 percent of the fish are walleyes that average just under 1 1/2 pounds, with a free campground made for family fishing fun.
The locals around Billy Clapp Lake think they're sitting on the best walleye secret in the state. It's tucked into a coulee between the wheat field sprawl west of Wilson Creek.
And those are just three of Washington's "other" walleye honeyholes on the edge of the spotlight shining on the Columbia.
Washington has several dozen waters with surprisingly decent walleye potential. And then there is another boatload of truly hot prospects. Most of these lakes and streams are just far enough off the well-pounded walleye trail to qualify as "local secrets."
All of them are located on the semi-arid, sun-washed east side of the Cascade Mountains. Most are in the Columbia Basin.
To narrow the chase Washington-Oregon Game & Fish has trimmed the list to nine proven producers. Recommendations came from top Basin fishermen and biologists.
Dave Graybill's outdoor radio program and newspaper columns are delivered throughout the Columbia Basin. His news contacts keep him up to speed on what's hot and where.
Graybill said Moses Lake is the hotspot now.
"Moses Lake is my walleye destination of choice," said the Leavenworth walleye aficionado. "Moses has had a population explosion of walleyes over the last few years. I'm not sure what to attribute that to exactly, but there is such a big population of walleyes in the lake that fishing is really productive and quite a few are really nice-sized fish."
There are so many walleyes in Moses now that the WDFW decided to expand the opportunity for anglers to catch them by reducing the minimum size. It was 16 inches, but the minimum size is now 12. They also increased the daily limit from five to eight fish. You can have one fish more than 22 inches.
Graybill said this fishery starts up in late April or early May.
"Then I'll fish it right up to July 1 when the salmon season opens," he said.
Moses has a reputation for delivering small walleyes, and while Graybill agreed the big lake has its share of "eaters," it also has a thriving population of big fish.
Graybill reported that last year he fished with Dennis Beich, director of the WDFW's Region 2, and in four hours, they caught five walleyes from 19 to 27 inches long.
"That's a very healthy population of big fish," Graybill said.
This big central Washington lake covers 6,815 acres. It's about 40 feet deep, and has a long, narrow channel that is crossed twice by Interstate 90.
A recent state study of the lake's fish composition showed that 16 percent were walleyes, and 60 percent perch, a close cousin of the walleye. Perch are also one of walleyes' favorite foods.
Lakeshore public parks and boat launches make this one of the most family-friendly walleye spots in the state.
Graybill said his preferred technique at Moses is trolling a spreader wire with bottom walker and Mack's Lure Cha Cha Squidder, a little hoochie with a floating body and Smile Blade.
"I always bait it with a night crawler and give it a serious dose of Graybill's Guide Formula scent," he said. "Just go slow and keep it on the bottom. After the spawn, I concentrate on following the canal. Nothing hard, to it."
BILLY CLAPP LAKE
Billy Clapp Lake is far enough off the beaten track that it misses most of the walleye-fishing pressure. The 1,010-acre lake is an unheralded walleye hotspot.
Billy Clapp is cached in a long coulee in the lonesome country south of Coulee City between Wilson Creek and Soap Lake.
Summer Falls State Park day-use area is on the north end, and this is where you'll find the best fishing in the lake.
"It can be really productive and pretty popular, but it's just remote enough that it's primarily fished by locals. They're pretty good about keeping quiet about it," he said.
You'll need a boat because of the cliff-like bank. There's a WDFW launch on the southwest shore and another at the Summer Falls access.
Banks Lake and the headwaters of Moses Lake feed Billy Clapp. The timing of the spawn parallels Moses.
Another lonely walleye lake is the great wide-open 685-acre Scooteney Reservoir. It's between Othello and Mesa near State Highway 17 in Franklin County on the
walleye-filled Potholes canal system.
According to WDFW regional biologist Jeff Korth, it provides decent fishing for walleyes up to 8 pounds. There are two boat launches on the reservoir's south end, and a Bureau of Reclamation campground.
"It's a little tricky to troll," Graybill said, "because there's a lot of structure, lots of haystack rocks on the bottom that are good tackle grabbers. It's also good structure to find walleyes."
This is another lake that's primarily fished by the local crowd, and you won't hear much about it.
Not far from Scooteney, Mesa Reservoir is 50 acres of walleye potential in a lake barely 12 feet deep. It's not a mega-producer, but Mesa is small, shallow, easily fished and rarely sees a walleye angler.
In the public access on the west shore, you've got a good combination for finding overlooked walleyes. Bring plenty of night crawlers because there's a lot of perch that will be competing for your bait.
RUFUS WOODS RESERVOIR
While technically part of the Columbia River, this big impoundment is famous for producing state-record-sized triploid rainbows. In recent years, those fish have pushed one of the state's great walleye fisheries into the shadows. And that's just fine as far as the walleye addicts are concerned.
The upper end of the reservoir, below Grand Coulee Dam, is a productive fall, winter and spring hotspot for walleyes, especially in the Seaton Grove area.
One of many popular lakes in the Quincy Wildlife Area between I-90 and Quincy, Evergreen is a long, skinny lake of only 235 acres. But it covers 1 1/2 miles and is developing into a must-fish walleye water.
Fishing starts in the early spring at the inlet as the reservoir fills. Later, it's good top to bottom with crankbaits, bottom walkers and spinners baited with 'crawlers. The introduction of tiger muskies has put an element of mystery in every strike. There are three ramps and year-round WDFW access.
CRESCENT BAY LAKE
Another one of Graybill's walleye secrets is Crescent Bay Lake, a 90-acre impoundment formed by a dike on an arm of Lake Roosevelt about one-half mile east of Grand Coulee. There's public access, a decent population of "eater" walleyes and almost no anglers. Hit it as early in spring as you can.
While it's about as far from a walleye secret as you can get, Potholes is too good to leave off the list. According to a recent WDFW survey, almost 60 percent of the fish in this Columbia Basin landmark are walleyes averaging 15 inches and 1.6 pounds. But an unusually high percentage is 4- to 8-pound lunkers.
The reservoir is on the circuit for many walleye tournaments and is likely the most popular walleye lake on this list.
MarDon Resort is the information and recreational heartbeat for Potholes Reservoir. You'll find a motel, camping, store, restaurant, boat rentals and fishing dock. Just up the road is Potholes State Park, a fine camping area with an excellent ramp. Crab Creek Channel is always a hotspot for spring walleyes.
Just below the O'Sullivan Dam, which impounds Potholes Reservoir, is the Seep Lakes region. It's a nest of approximately 50 small fishing lakes, including several productive walleye waters. Seventy-five-acre Long Lake and nearby 180-acre Soda Lake are wide spots in the Potholes Canal, and both have a fairly good fishery for walleyes, according to WDFW's Korth.
When I'm prowling the Seep Lakes in April and May, I try to also hit Black, Crescent, Lower and Upper Goose and Hutchinson lakes. They are all potential walleye producers that see minimal fishing pressure.
Check in at MarDon for the latest hotspot on the Seep Lakes walleye circuit.
TIMING THE BINGE
Washington walleyes, like walleyes everywhere, can be caught year 'round but never as quickly or as aggressively as in the spring. That's when they spawn. It can happen anytime from March to June in different regions and in different lakes. It all depends on water temperature.
Walleye expert Larry McClintock of the Lower Columbia River Walleye Club said that walleyes in Washington and Oregon typically spawn when the water temperature is between 47 and 52 degrees. The pre-spawn bite begins when the water temperature gets to about 42 degrees and remains there for several days, he said.
Once the water temperature rises to 47 degrees to 52 degrees and is constant for three to five days, it triggers the spawn.
Walleyes will stage for the spawn in 30 to 50 feet of water, then go up into the shallows of 1 to 8 feet to actually spawn, said McClintock.
Not all the females will spawn at the same time, and the spawn may be on for one to three weeks.
"If the temperature cools drastically it can cut off the spawn," said McClintock. "If there is several recurring cold spells, the females will just reabsorb the eggs and not spawn at all."
When the spawn is over, females may not be on the bite for a month or so while they are recuperating. But the males will remain in the general vicinity and be fairly active.
"Once the females have recuperated, they go on a feeding binge that won't quit," said the expert. "If you are there it could be the best walleye bite of the year."