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Reeling in the Rainbow Trout at Lake Roosevelt

Reeling in the Rainbow Trout at Lake Roosevelt

The Lake Roosevelt fishery is co-managed by the Spokane Tribe, Colville Tribe, and Washington Department of Fish and Wilflife (WDFW). They have done an excellent job of protecting and enhancing the Roosevelt Reservoir fishery. There are currently 63 net pens on the reservoir, located north to south from Kettle Falls to Keller Ferry. Net pens are operated by a group of volunteers and the WDFW Sherman Creek Hatchery and the Spokane Tribal Hatchery produced the rainbow trout for transfer. In the spring of 2017, about 500,000 rainbows were released with a target goal of 750,000 to be released in 2018.

Lake Roosevelt has the best rainbow fishing in the region. Both wild and planted triploid rainbows are held within the system. In order to preserve the native species, wild fish must be released. Hatchery triploids "those with a clipped adipose fin" are the fish you need to target. As planted fish “hold over” from one year to the next, they grow quite large. It’s more than possible to catch a 25-inch rainbow!

The combination of extremely deep, cool water and the abundance of shrimp and other feed produce the tastiest fish imaginable. The meat is firm and deep red, much like a sockeye. You can smoke or can the catch, but it is most tasty right off the barbecue or cast iron skillet.

If you don’t have a boat, don’t worry. Grab a bundle of firewood, some hot dogs and cocoa, then head out to one of the abundant, sandy beaches along the shoreline. I suggest you purchase the Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake Map published by Fish-n-Map Co. It was made by fishermen for fishermen and has all the information regarding fish locations, topography, etc.

Winter through spring is fantastic bank fishing for the rainbow. During those months, fish migrate to the shallower waters and are easier to target. All you need is a light rod with a spinning or bait caster reel and you are good to go. Cast your line with a slip sinker out as far as you can. Use a hook loaded with powerbait of a mashmallow and worm. Sometimes the simplest of techniques gives the best results. A cast and retrieve method is also productive. Rainbows  can’t seem to resist Smile Blade® setups. I suggest you give the Mack’s Lure Promise Keeper® a try, as well. It incorporates the Smile Blade® and Wedding Ring® and its designed to cast.

If you have a boat and enjoy trolling, the following tips should bring you success. I refer to depth, speed and lure presentation as the “Holy Trinity” of successful fishing.


In the late fall, winter and early spring when the water is cool, trolling boards or side planers are an awesome advantage because usually the game fish can be caught in the top 10- to 25-feet. In early January this year, the water temperature was 37 degrees and the rainbows bit between 9- and 12-feet.

With the use of equipment, such as trolling and planer boards you can troll your line along the shallow shoreline, spacing your lines at multiple depths using weights or diving lures. This method also enables the angler to space presentations different distances apart, covering more water. The Double D™ Dodger is also a good way to spread lines out in combination with the action of a dodger. The added advantage of a two-pole endorsement gives some trial and error options when finding the desired lure, depth, speed or presentation that works on that day.

When the fish are in the top strata, the leaded line also does very well. Downriggers are effective, too, as is long-lining a lure with a light banana or snap weight. Rainbows tend to spook away from the boat and, for that reason, I try to space my lures 80- to 150-feet back, especially when fishing on the top.

As the water warms, the fish follow the cool water and gravitate to the lower depths or areas of cool water flow. In the summer, they usually bite in the 30- to 50-foot zone, but fish don’t follow rules well.


A good speed for rainbows ranges from 1.6- to 2-knots or faster, depending on your lure and how active the fish are. Speed up or slow down to find the magic tempo. Bear in mind that it may change as the day brightens, water warms up, or the fish decide to mess with your mind.

When it comes to speed, I want to know my lure speed exactly. Yes, your GPS on whichever sonar unit you own, measures speed, as do some other high tech methods. They, however, are not correct indicator of lure speed. One of the most important peices of fishing equipment on my boat is the Luhr Speed Indicator. Most of the time, that indicator speed will be at odds with the high tech readouts. A difference as small as 0.2 knots may determine a successful day of catching versus a day of sight seeing. 


Rainbows are the easiest of the game fish to target on Roosevelt. They seem to love the bling! Smile Blades® or Flash Lite blades are great attractors. You can attach a 2-, 3- or 4-Bladed Flash Lite Troll to your lure’s leader. Smile Blades® can also be strung on the leader "just separate the blade from the lure by using a bead or two. Using a Smile Blade in front of a Pee Wee Hoochie or a small squid, fly or Wedding Ring spinner is usually a sucessful combination, as well.

My favorite setup is a streamer or muddler fly with a Smile Blade or Wedding Ring Blade at its nose. I often place a Wedding Ring Tapered Bead at the head of my fly, then top it with a Smile Blade 1.1 or 0.8. Use a two-hook setup with a single- or treble-trailing hook, topping the front hook with a piece of night crawler or maggot" rainbows love worms! As I mentioned, these fish follow no rules and bling may not be their thing on certain days. Give small, straight or broken back plugs, hockey stick- or plastic mini cut plug-style lures a try, too.

When the fish seem to want attraction and action, use a Sling Blade (4”, 6” or 9”) or a Double D™ Dodger (4.4” or 7.6”). Did you know that you can bend the Sling Blade to increase its action? Try different dodger sizes to adjust lure action. Also, shorten or lengthen your leader to slow or hasten the action of your lure. A Wiggle Hoochie™ Bill, available in clear or UV options, rigged on the tip of your hoochie will also increase the action of your lure substantially.

Green, pink and orange lures and blades seem to be the most effective colors throughout the year. That being said, it is always wise to give some other color combinations a try if you are not getting the strikes you want. Give brown, chrome, purple and black tones a try, too. Also, UV and glow setups will give you an advantage in deeper waters. Often, water color, temperature and depth will dictate the winning color of the day.

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