8 AM - 4:30 PM (PST) Mon-Fri
8 AM - 3 PM (PST) Mon-Fri
By Richy Harrod
As hunting season comes to a close, most sportsmen and women throughout the Northwest just hang up their gear and hunker down by the fire to wait for spring to arrive.
Why not go fishing? Trout can be readily caught this time of year and you're likely to have the best fishing spots all to yourself. So, as you store your waterfowl gun, pull out that fishing rod and organize your gear because it's time to go fishing. In this blog, I'll provide a few tips about gear and how to effectively fish winter waters for trout.
North Central Washington has some of the best year-round fishing opportunities in the Northwest — and it just so happens to be in my backyard. There are also many great fishing holes for winter trout and kokanee in Oregon and throughout the rest of Washington, so you can apply my local examples to waters near you.
Most people think of steelhead when you talk about winter fishing, but I prefer fishing for rainbows and triploids because of the potential to catch numerous fish. Triploids are sterile rainbows that are voracious feeders and have the potential to grow to trophy size, if not harvested the first season after stocking. Triploids are stocked in 117 lakes in Washington, providing anglers with ample fishing opportunities.
Lake Roosevelt and Rufus Woods reservoir on the upper Columbia River are my favorite places to catch these rainbows. It's not uncommon to catch triploids up to 10- to 12-pounds in Rufus Woods and a fish of that size eats much like a spring Chinook, in my opinion.
The best way to catch rainbows is to troll because you can cover lots of water in order to locate lethargic fish. These fish are typically near the surface this time of year as cloudy days and cool water allow rainbows to find food in the top water. We use several different presentations to catch these rainbows.
My favorite setup is the Mack's Lure Cha Cha 1.5 Kokanee on an 18-inch leader behind the Double D Dodger 5.8. You can shorten the leader for added movement or lengthen it for less movement. In addition to added attraction, this mid-sized dodger provides a little extra weight to keep your lure in the water while trolling. A nice feature of the Cha Cha 1.5 Kokanee is that they come in a variety of colors. I typically use pinks or hot orange — you can buy them pre-tied or grab the Squid Skirts 1.5" and pair them with your favorite Smile Blade (0.8 or 1.1) combinations. I prefer the Cha Cha 1.5 Kokanee due to its closely tied, dual hook setup. It's a good idea to also tip your lure with a couple pieces of shoepeg corn, brined in our secret sauce, which includes the Mack's Lure UV Bait Scents.
A couple variations to the setup above can work well, too. Use a Flash Lite Troll 2-Blade or Hot Wings in place of the Double D Dodger 5.8. These attractors do not have the side-to-side action of the dodger, so length the leaders of your squidder setup to 24- to 36-inches. Flash Lites and Hot Wings are ultra-light, so you will need to add a couple ounces of weight (or place your presentation in a downrigger) to keep your lure in the strike zone.
You can also replace the squidders with a bucktail fly-type presentation, such as the Smile Blade Fly. This lure does not require bait, but you can add some scent for additional attraction. You can set up a rod rigged with one of these variations to see what works best, then switch everything to the setup that is producing that particular day.
Troll at speeds between 1.5 and 2 mph, making slow S-turns so that your lures will alternate between slower and faster speeds. Slow your speed if you notice that you always catch fish during the turn on the inside rod or, conversely, speed up if it's on the outside rod.
If you don't have a boat, you can catch rainbows from the bank. Rainbows will cruise the shallow water along the bank looking for food, so using a stationary bait will work well.
The setup is relatively simple. Tie a single bait hook — sizes #1 or #2 are best — on a 36-inch leader and attach the leader to a swivel tied to your main line. I also slide a small bead and Smile Blade on the leader above the hook for added attraction. On the main line above the swivel, place a 2 oz. weight that will slide up and down the main line. The water speed in the Columbia River varies greatly, so you may use more or less weight to keep your gear in place.
Lighter weight will work in lakes. Bait your hook with artificial bait, such as Power Bait, worms and marshmallows, or shrimp and marshmallows. You want to use marshmallows or the artificial bait because this will float your hook slightly off the bottom and positions it in the perfect depth for trout.
This type of fishing requires patience, however, as fish are cruising slowly this time of year. Build a fire, pour your favorite warm drink and enjoy being outside.