Winter Produces Trophy Rainbow At Rufus Woods Reservoir.
There's something about winter at Rufus Woods Reservoir. On February 23rd of 1998 Robert Halverson landed a 25-pound, .45-ounce triploid rainbow. This beat the old state record that had stood for decades by nearly 3 pounds. This past season, it was broken again. Tim Hill of Twisp landed a 25-pound, 11 ½-ounce brute on January 8th. Yeah, there's something about winter at Rufus Woods.
Rufus Woods has had a reputation for producing big rainbow for quite a while. It got my attention in the early 90s when I was living at Lake Chelan. Every winter there would be a photo of a 12- to 17-pound rainbow in newspaper published in Brewster. Most likely, these were fish that had "trickled down" from Lake Roosevelt, where rainbow like this were more common.
In 1993 I made a trip up Rufus Woods to the "pens", where rainbow were being raised for sale to restaurants on the west side of the mountains. My host on this trip was the maintenance man for the operation. He had showed me a photo of a day's catch in this area that included rainbow weighing from 6 to 12 pounds. They were attracted to the feed that leeched from the pens, and this guy was picking off these whoppers by fishing bobber-and-jig rigs, much like fishing for steelhead on the Columbia. We didn't get any fish on this particular trip, but it sure got me paying attention to the fishing at Rufus Woods.
In 1995 things changed here dramatically. The story is that an angler that was trying to tie up to the pens got a little too close, and tore a hole in one of the nets. An estimated 10,000 triploid rainbow escaped, and the fishing party was on! Boats and bank anglers flocked to the site and caught bunches of the 18- to 20-inch fish that were shaped more like a crappie, and weighed about 4 pounds each.
After this incident, more and more of these fish were taken from the reservoir. Anglers fishing Power Bait and worms from the bank forty miles below the pens were soon taking fair numbers of these rainbow weighing in the teens. Due to the popularity of this new fishery, both the Colville Indians and the Washington State Department of Fisheries purchased fish from Columbia River Fish Farms and added them to the reservoir. The frequency of catch and size of the fish was sustained.
My first fish on my first fishing trip of the year was on Rufus Woods. On January 2nd a friend and I ran up to the pens from the launch at Bridgeport, and I landed a 16-pounder. I haven't bested this fish yet.
I caught this fish trolling in a bay well below the pens, and I have photographed fish weighing over 20 pounds that were also caught trolling and taken within sight of the launch just above Chief Joseph Dam. These fish can be had throughout the whole reservoir and it's over fifty miles long. The prospect of planning a strategy for fifty miles of river can be overwhelming, so I'll narrow it down.
For anglers who fish from the bank, there are two areas that get the most traffic. One is just above the dam on the east shore of the reservoir. There are a couple of points here with good parking and easy access to the water. The Corps of Engineers, who built the dam, have even made available some fire pits and picnic tables and handicapped access at these locations.
Most anglers here are going to be using spinning or casting gear of steelhead weight. Not all the fish caught at Rufus Woods are in contention for the record books, but the likelihood of hooking a fish weighing 10 pounds or better is good enough that using lighter gear is risky business.
Most of the anglers here will also be using either Power Bait of one flavor or another, or nightcrawlers. Anglers will also be using a slip sinker rig with a stout leader. The sinkers will be on the heavy end of the scale for casting, and sticking to the bottom, as there are varying currents here. I know of anglers who fish roe or jigs and shrimp below a bobber here, too, but there is usually too many lines in the water to attempt this technique.
Reaching this spot is easy. Anglers traveling from the west side take Highway 97 north from Wenatchee, through Brewster and take the turn off for Bridgeport. When they cross the bridge just below Chief Joseph Dam, they hang a left and another left about two miles up.
Getting to the other popular bankfishing site can be more difficult for first-time anglers. Highway 2 is the most direct route from the west and east to reach Banks Lake. From there anglers should head for Coulee Dam. To the west of Coulee Dam is the town of Nespelem, on the Colville Indian Reservation. Just past the Trading Post here, there is a fair grounds, and anglers should take a left. This road winds down to the river and the Tims Ranch property. The Columbia River Fish Farms, the people who raise the triploids is on this property. Access to the shoreline near the net pens is allowed through the cooperation of the Tims Ranch, Columbia River Fish Farms and the Colville Indian Reservation. It is important to note that fishing in this location, in fact the entire west shore of Rufus Woods requires a Colville Tribal permit. A one-day permit costs $7.50; a three-day permit costs $18.00; a seven-day permit costs $20.00 and a seasonal permit is $35.00. Anglers can obtain these permits at the Triangle Texaco in Brewster when traveling up Highway 97. There is a Kwik E Mart in Bridgeport, just across the road from the turn to road that leads above the dam. They don't carry the permits, but are the last stop for items like gas, snacks, ice, etc.
A good place to stop on the way, or to call ahead for current information on Rufus Woods fishing, directions to the pens, and even Colville Tribal permits is Coulee Playland in Electric City. The camping resort is at the very north end of Banks Lake, just outside of the town of Coulee Dam. You can reach them by phone by calling (509) 633-2671. You will also find a link to their web site on the Home Page of FishingMagician.com. You will also find a link to Rod Hammons Guide Service on the site. Rod specializes in fishing for Rufus Woods trout and walleye. If you are not "wired", you can call him at (509) 689-2849.
Boaters searching for big fish at Rufus Woods also commonly head for the area above the dam and the net pens. There is an excellent launch, dock and parking area near that shore fishers use. It is a very short run to the barrier above that dam, and many boaters start their day here. It is a very popular location for those who are after the silvers that inhabit Rufus Woods. The silvers run large here, weighing up to 3 pounds. The daily limit for silvers, rainbow (triploids included) or a combination is just two fish. Boaters will also troll the shorelines, particularly the eastern shore, for the first four miles or more of the reservoir from here.
Most boaters use this launch for the run to the net pens. This is about a 40-mile run, so it is not one to undertake with a car topper. It is a much shorter run by boat, but a much longer drive pulling a boat, to launch at the Seatons Grove, which is just downriver from Elmer City below Grand Coulee Dam. For those traveling from east, this would be the first choice. It is only about a ten-mile run to the net pens from the Seatons Grove launch.
Boaters who make the run to the net pens will often be using the same tackle and tactics that the shore anglers are employing. They will tie-up to the pens or anchor and soak Power Bait or worms on the bottom. Some anchor in about 30 feet of water just below the pens and cast steelhead style, lead-head jigs tipped with a worm.
Those who troll will use a wide variety of lures. Large Rapalas are a favorite, but many trollers will also pull Wiggle Warts, Flatfish or Kwikfish. I have not observed anyone using gang trolls and worms, but I do know that Double Whammys and worms and even Wedding Rings and worms are used with high frequency.
I caught my big fish on a Ross Swimmer Tail, which is most similar to an Apex. The Swimmer Tail is active and changes direction, and one would think that darting plugs the Lurh Jensen J-Plug or the Canadian-made Lyman Lure would be worth a try here.
One aspect of fishing at Rufus Woods that frustrates shore anglers and boaters alike is the inconsistency of the bite here. It is not so much a morning and evening thing, as it is determined by the flow controlled by the dams. When there is a decent flow, the bite is good to great. When the flow is low, the bite sucks. There is no way to determine in advance whether the dams will be dumping water or holding it to generate power in the winter months. Even the folks at Columbia River Fish Farms, who should be in the know, have no clue as to what the flow will be like from day to day. Typically, though, which drives anglers nuts is that the flow is usually low during the weekends. This makes it tough for the weekend warriors. Sometimes they are surprised with sufficient current to get the fish active and have a great day.
Rufus Woods produces good numbers of big, triploid rainbow all year long. A common fish here will weigh-in at 6 to 9 pounds. Scores of fish weighing into the teens are taken every year, too, but the winter months are when the highest number of anglers will land the highest number of really big fish.
Winter is the time to be here. Two records in four years say enough about that. There's something special about fishing Rufus Woods in the winter months. The possibility of catching a state-record class rainbow is a real factor in winter fishing at Rufus Woods.