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Behemoth 'Bows in Washington's Rufus Woods Reservoir

Winter is a great time to hook up a gargantuan triploid rainbow trout.

Behemoth 'Bows in Washington's Rufus Woods Reservoir

Guide Austin Moser specializes in catching monster trout, like this 17-pound triploid rainbow, on Rufus Woods Reservoir. (Photo by Scott Haugen)

High-sticking the rod, I struggled to keep up with the big rainbow as it sped toward the boat. The instant my line went slack, I saw the twitching jig fall from the fat trout’s mouth a foot beyond the net.

“How big was it?” I asked my buddy and noted guide, Austin Moser.

“Twelve pounds—at least,” he shrugged.

It was a rookie mistake, and I could feel it unfolding as it happened, but I figured my hookset was solid enough there was no way the big hook could slip out. It did.

Fortunately, Moser had already caught a 17-pound trout that was in the box. A week prior to my arrival, he got clients on 17 1/2- and 23 1/2-pound rainbows right where I lost my fish. After a while, I landed a 7-pound football on a twitching jig, but it paled in comparison to the one I’d lost. We rounded out our two-fish-per-person daily limit with a 4- and 5-pound trout. I was pleased with our catch, as these rainbows are some of the best-eating fish I’ve ever had.

HOME OF GIANTS

We were fishing Rufus Woods Reservoir in north-central Washington, a 51-mile-long section of the Upper Columbia River. It’s created by Chief Joseph Dam on the upstream end and Grand Coulee Dam below. The reservoir is fringed by about half the southern boundary of the Colville Indian Reservation on the north side of the water and Douglas County to the south, which is open to public access. The stretch of water is managed by both the Colville Tribes’ Fish and Wildlife Department and Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Permits to park, camp and fish on Colville Reservation Land can be obtained online or at the office in Nespelem, Wash. If launching at one of the many public boat ramps on the Douglas County side of the reservoir, parking permits can be purchased at the launch site.

The Colville Confederated Tribes manage three net pens in Rufus Woods Reservoir, where hatchery-raised fish are grown for commercial sale by Pacific Seafoods. In the 1990s many fish escaped from the commercial pens, and the popularity of catching them for sport spurred the idea to release triploid trout into the river annually. One year I fished it, more than 40,000 trout were released. Another year it was 64,000.

While the releases take place in the spring, it’s the cold winter months when anglers have the best crack at catching a trout tipping the scales at 20 pounds or more (the state record is just shy of 30 pounds).




TIPS AND TECHNIQUES

“Most of the year, the trout drop into the deeper holes throughout the reservoir and can be tough to find,” says Moser. “We troll plugs to cover a lot of water and find fish when they’re spread out, and a 3.0 Mag Lip is hard to beat for this. We also cover water by drifting with the current and fishing 1/16- and 1/32-ounce Maxi Jigs beneath a float. And we’ll anchor and twitch jigs in deep holes, too.”

As the water gets colder, the bigger fish move toward the pens to take advantage of the food that escapes the hatchery fish.

“It’s hard for these big fish to find insects and crawdads in the deep, cold water this time of year,” says the guide. “So they go to the pens where they can get a constant supply of high-protein food. These fish have ravenous appetites and aren’t hard to catch. You just have to find them.”

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There’s often a current in the reservoir due to the opening and closing of both dams. While bank fishing can yield some excellent catches of whopper trout, being able to cover water in a boat and fish the prime spots based on water levels and flow rates can help you find concentrations of bigger fish.

fishing jigs
A jig fished beneath a float is a great way to cover water and find the reservoir’s big rainbows. (Photo by Scott Haugen)

“We sometimes cover a lot of different water each day, as the big fish can change location based on currents and fluctuating depth,” says Moser. “But once you find ’em, hold on!”

Moser and I have been friends for many years and have enjoyed some great triploid adventures. One December, the big trout only bit on floating bait about the size of a ping-pong ball. We landed three over 7 pounds that day, including one over 15 pounds. Another time in late winter, the fish wouldn’t touch bait. We caught and released several fish by casting and trolling Mag Lips and Rooster Tails, but they were all 2 to 5 pounds. We went to twitching in fast, deep water later that day, and that’s where we found the big fish.

“Twitching jigs on the edge of fast currents can be the key to latching into these big triploids,” explains Moser. “I like big jigs for big fish, and we’ve done well on 1/4-, 3/8- and 1/2-ounce jigs. Black-bodied jigs with purple or chartreuse heads have been the best for me.”

Moser has his twitching jigs custom made, and he caught several trout of more than 10 pounds on them last season, including that 23 1/2-pounder.

rainbow trout fillets
Toss a big triploid on the cleaning table (left) and you’ll understand the joy of targeting trout measured in pounds, not inches. Right, the author ranks triploid rainbows among the best fish to eat. (Photos by Scott Haugen)

GOOD EATS

If you’re a fan of fat, spring-run chinook salmon, you’ll love eating these triploids. Their fat content is off the chart, and their meat is as orange as that of an Alaskan sockeye. They’re the best smoked fish I’ve ever had and are delicious grilled, fried or baked.

Moser also gets after burbot and walleyes in Rufus Woods Reservoir—two other great-tasting fish.

“A lot of times we tag out early on two trout each then troll for walleyes, and there are some big ones here,” he says. “Last year we caught a number of big walleyes, with the largest measuring 33 1/2 inches and weighing 14 pounds.”

Most of the burbot are caught in the dark as they move into the shallows to feed.

December marks the start of good fishing for fat triploids, but Moser has been figuring out where these fish go as spring approaches.

“I used to give up at the end of February, but the more I fish this reservoir, the more I learn about these monster trout and how many are out there,” he says. “Now I fish it through May, and we’re catching giant trout until the end.”

How addicting are these hulking triploids? Ask Moser. He’s been fishing Rufus Woods for more than 20 years, and guiding it for five, and last year he and his wife moved to the area so he could be closer to this spectacular fishery he loves. Once you get a taste of it, you’ll understand why.

WHAT'S A TRIPLOID?

  • There’s a reason these jumbo rainbows get so big.
23-pound rainbow trout
Because triploid rainbows are sterile and focused solely on feeding, they grow big and fast in Rufus Woods Reservoir. (Photo by Scott Haugen)

The hatchery-raised rainbow trout in Rufus Woods Reservoir are known as triploids. Triploids have three sets of chromosomes rather than the two sets that are normal for diploid fish. Triploids are sterile and do not reproduce, so their entire focus throughout their lives is on eating. In the right conditions, such as those in Rufus Woods where high-protein hatchery food combines with natural food, triploids grow big fast. Their large bodies and proportionally small heads speak to the voracious appetites of these fish.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

map
Dining and lodging accommodations near Rufus Woods.

If booking a trip with Austin Moser (austinsnorthwestadventures.com), he offers lodging for anglers at his property in Grand Coulee. If fishing on your own, there are plenty of places to stay in the nearby small towns of Grand Coulee, Bridgeport, Brewster and Pateros, with other options in between and on the outskirts. If looking for campsites or resorts, check out Bridgeport State Park, Rocky Flats, Marina Park, Rainbow Beach Resort and the Colville Confederated Tribes’ Reservation land. Restaurants are plentiful, but some close early in the winter, so plan accordingly.

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