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West's Hottest Summer Fishing Destinations

Summer is fast approaching and the fish—from trout and bass to panfish and salmon—are biting. Here's a look at some of the West's hottest bites in the months to come.

West's Hottest Summer Fishing Destinations

Summer Fishing Playbook – East Destinations: Washington’s Drano Lake, on the northern shores of the Columbia River, is the hot-spot when it comes catching spring Chinook. (Photo by Scott Haugen)

Throughout the West during the month of May, most fisheries undergo a marked improvement. Chinook salmon arrive in coastal bays, trout streams begin to fall and become more clear and warmwater fish respond to increasing temperatures by feeding more actively. And it only gets better from here. Try these top destinations around the region this spring and summer.

DRANO LAKE CHINOOK

If spring Chinook salmon get you fired up, south-central Washington’s Drano Lake is the place to be. Located on the northern shores of the Columbia River just across from Hood River, Oregon, Drano Lake is a small bay where Washington’s Little White Salmon River flows into a backwater of the Columbia.

Good good bank fishing can be had on the west side of the bridge where the bay drains into the Columbia River. It’s easy to cast lures and spinners here, and there’s even a designated line that separates boat anglers from bank anglers, allowing plenty of room for everyone.

Trolling, however, is how springers are primarily caught in Drano. A nice boat ramp is only two minutes from the best fishing spot, directly above the bridge. It’s a small, calm area to troll, so a big boat is not necessary. Leo Flashers and a small bait are ideal for catching Chinook in Drano.


“Leo Flashers offer a big, slow turn, and the bait follows it,” says guide Bill Harris. “I stick to trolling either prawn tails or small sardines this time of year.”


West Summer Playbook
Washington’s Drano Lake. (Photo by Scott Haugen)

LAKE TAHOE TROUT

Those seeking a top spring trout destination should consider Lake Tahoe. Here, rainbows, browns, mackinaw and Lahontan cutthroat can all be caught, along with kokanee.

“May is when browns and ’bows start moving into their standard summer patterns,” says guide J.D. Richey. “This means you want to fish deep along drop-offs and ledges.”

Richey also enjoys jigging spoons and jigs for mackinaw, the main fish to target this time of year. P-line’s ‘Sassin jig, weighing 2 to 3 ounces, is a solid choice. “When trolling on Lake Tahoe, using downriggers to get 100 to 200 feet deep is ideal,” Richey says. “Pulling flashers with live minnows is very effective, but the minnows have to be native to the lake. Flatfish, Rapalas and spoons can also be trolled.”

There are boat launches on both the California and Nevada sides of the lake; however, boaters should be aware that prior to launching, their boats must be inspected for invasive species.


West Summer Playbook
Guide Todd Harrington, with an average-sized redear sunfish taken on Lake Havasu. Now is the time to get after these world-class sunfish, and more, on Havasu (Photo by Scott Haugen)

LAKE HAVASU WARMWATER ACTION

Lake Havasu offers outstanding smallmouth, largemouth and striped bass fishing, but there’s nowhere in the country with better redear sunfish action than this Colorado River impoundment, where shellcrackers grow to epic proportions as they feast on quagga mussels.

“The last three [sunfish] world records came from this lake, and all were just shy of 6 pounds,” says guide Todd Harrington. “The sunfish come to the shallows to spawn in May, and can often be sight-fished.”

Havasu is a complete warmwater fishery. Beyond the sunfish and bass, channel and flathead catfish will begin to pick up this month, too, as they start to feed more actively.


Havasu offers 88 miles of lake/river to fish, with multiple launches. There are designated bank-fishing areas and plenty of campgrounds around Havasu.

West Summer Playbook
Smallmouth bass abound in many Western waters and are just one of the many species anglers can target this time of year. (Photo by Scott Haugen)

GREEN RIVER TROUT

Looking for trout in a river setting? Hit the Green in Utah this season. Below the Flaming Gorge Dam, the tailwaters of Utah’s famed Green River are home to upwards of 20,000 trout per mile. While cutthroat dominate the tailwater, rainbows and brown trout can also be caught. Most people fly-fish the Green River, but lures can be used, too. Fishing should be excellent into the summer.

Dutch John, Utah, is where many anglers base their stay when fishing the Green. Here, the Spillway Boat Launch allows access to about seven miles of river to the takeout at Little Hole Recreation Areea. About halfway between the ramps, walk-in access exists on the Little Hole National Recreation Trail.

West Summer Playbook
Caddis patterns are a good bet when it comes to fly fishing for trout throughout the West this time of year. (Photo by Scott Haugen)

FORT PECK WALLEYE

In Montana, Fort Peck’s walleye fishery is world class, offering anglers a legitimate chance of landing double-digit fish on any trip from late-May through the summer.

Fort Peck is a big lake and the walleye here move around readily. That means successful anglers search until they find a congregation of fish and then concentrate on that area. In May’s relatively cold water, jigging spoons are a go-to bait. As the spring turns to summer, worm harnesses and trolled crankbaits bring in more fish. Fishing really gets going here in June and into July.

Fort Peck is a huge reservoir. Anglers new to the lake can concentrate of the very productive Big Dry Arm section. In late-spring and into the summer, good fishing expands to the middle of the reservoir and down to the dam, as walleyes actively chase cisco as they head for cooler water.

ESTES PARK TROUT

Located at the confluence of the Big Thompson and Fall rivers, Estes Park, Colorado, is a trout angler’s paradise this time of year. Lake Estes and Marys Lake offer good fishing, too, as do multiple alpine lakes. Anglers can either hike in to secluded fishing spots or take advantage of convenient roadside fishing.

The upstream portion of the Big Thompson, where it separates into several streams and channels, can be fished along multiple trails. The Fall River is a 17-mile long tributary of the Big Thompson and home to many brook trout. Hiking access is easy to find along much of the Fall River, where trout are plentiful, but not big as in the Big Thompson; a 5- or 6-weight setup will do. Mayfly, stonefly and caddis patterns are good choices now.

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