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Story 2019 Fishing In The Desert

Page history last edited by Jerome Moisand 3 years, 11 months ago

Fishing In The Desert



Fall 2019


Columbia and Snake Rivers (WA)
See also

NACA Q4-19




A few years ago, Olivier Gandzadi (aka The Sniper, aka the Pacific Northwest discoverer) started to post pictures of beautiful carp caught in stunning desertic and mountainous environments, from Oregon and Washington states. I received excited phone calls about the wonders of the Columbia river and the Snake river, if one were to drive a few hours east of Portland (where I fished for white sturgeons with Olivier quite a few times). I started to play with the idea of going there or further upstream. Then last year, my wife wanted to give me a nice Christmas gift and totally independently suggested a fishing trip to Coeur d’Alene, a large scenic lake close to the border of Idaho and Washington states. Both inputs triggered this discovery trip.



Starting with a bang


I landed in Spokane on Sep 8th, rented a car and went to buy essentials (a few buckets, a big cooking pot, two bags of dried maize and some cracked corn). Later in the day, I walked around the river near the (quite pretty) center of the city and discovered that my cursory Internet investigation wasn’t quite right. Lots of waterfalls, brackish shallow water and steep shores. I drove out of town along the Spokane river for a little while only to find the same pattern. Google Maps and Google Earth aren’t too good at showing depth and water movement!


Back to the drawing board, I checked the Internet again while boiling my maize in the evening. I figured out that the river does widen and spotted what seemed to be a great spot near the mouth of the river, half a mile before it flows in the Columbia. I drove there in the morning, crossing beautiful wheat fields, and this time, I loved the spot! The river was bending under a bridge, with a nice bay of sorts along a pleasant park (dubbed Fort Spokane). Plenty of rocks on the shore were indicative of crayfish under water. I unpacked and dragged my gear out there (a bit of a walk) and set up close to a young fisherman. He confirmed that carp swim around (he caught a couple on worms), that crayfish are abundant and that carp actively jump early in the morning. ALL GOOD. Except that I couldn't get a bite that day, plus we got drenched twice in a row (it didn’t cross my mind to take a raincoat for my trip in the desert!).


I threw a good deal of bait and came back the day after, fairly early. Two hours later, I was developing serious doubts, which evaporated when I got the run that changed everything… I started with a big bang, a really nice fish. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good selfie with this one. An hour later, I got another solid fish, very cool. I had to move on though, my plan didn’t allow a lot of time in Spokane and I drove away early afternoon, quite pumped.


Amazing scenery and frustrations


I was aiming at Wenatchee on the Columbia, but I wanted to take some time to go check Grand Coulee and its dam. I spent a couple of hours there, even wet a line just for the sake of it and was duly impressed by the desert scenery.



Then I drove along the ‘coulee’ on route 155, a meandering road on the side of a string of lakes called Banks Lake. The road follows the base of steep cliffs, giant rocks lay in the water, this was absolutely SPECTACULAR, I was stopping every few minutes to take pictures… While writing this story, I found out that a CAGI event was organized at Banks Lake in 2007 and some local CAG members did well fishing on the fly. Unfortunately, my schedule didn’t allow fishing time in this incredibly scenic venue.



I reached Wenatchee at the end of the day and took a good walk at dusk along at the park nearby. Two spots seemed promising. The day after, seeing the area in bright light, I loved it. The Wanatchee river flows in the Columbia half a mile upstream, creating a large bay that just screamed for carp. One of my spots was right at the end of the bay, with some depth, some weeds but not a lot, the wind blowing towards a rocky shore, it seemed just perfect. I set up my rods, threw a few method balls and waited for the inevitable sign of carp to come. Half a day later, I was none the wiser. I could see some occasional rolls close to where the main river was flowing, but I wasn’t too sure those were carp (local sculptures strongly suggested salmons were around). For the sake of it, I tried to move there for a couple of hours, but nothing moved. Hm.



Late afternoon, quite bored, I drove around, but didn’t find any other suitable spot. I paid a quick visit to the dam a few miles upstream and was mesmerized by the fish ladder and the windows allowing to get a quick glimpse of numerous sizable salmons passing by. I went back to the park at dusk, chummed heavily and hoped for the best. The day after, same scenario and same outcome, very frustrating. It was clear by then that the rolling fish were salmons. I kept trying, to no avail. Late afternoon, I visited the dam’s museum, which was surprisingly large and enlightening. I checked the fish ladder again and recorded short videos (click on the salmon image below to see the fish going through the ladder). The big pipe in the second image below is a giant slide for smaller fish going in the downstream direction!



Salmons and not-so-large carp


After 2 days of nothingness, I relented. I started to give phone calls to salmon fishing guides and succeeded to schedule something very early the following morning mid-way to Kennewick. I had to wake up before 4am (yawn) and leave quickly to be there on time. The sunset on the river was magnificent. An overly excited fishing guide took us on a boat, then he proceeded to make another client and myself land salmons in no time, reaching our quota (two each) and going back to shore in less than 90 minutes. Beautiful fish (~20 pounders), but… this wasn’t quite satisfying. Except for my next Airbnb host who saw me arrive mid-morning with pounds of salmon fillets for her!



I had plenty of time left that day, I drove towards a nice spot on the Columbia in Kennewick that Olivier told me about, started to fish and spent most of the day landing one carp after another. It was fun to begin with, but I started cringing as few fish were above 10 or 12 pounds (biggest was probably 15 pounds). Plus it wasn’t the desert scenery I was looking for. So I quickly fell back to discovery mode. I drove around a good deal, exploring various areas and even hiking a bit for a change. Late afternoon, I had located lots of access to the Columbia, but the ecosystem was obviously similar as to where I fished in the morning. In the evening, I pondered if there was a dam nearby that could create a change of ecosystem? Ah yes, the last dam on the Snake river before it flows in the Columbia!



The day after, I was at the dam and it looked great, beautiful scenery, plenty of space to fish from shore, a local angler told me carp were jumping at times. Two spots seemed especially promising. I fished one of them all morning and saw exactly nothing. Steelhead anglers weren’t successful either, mind you. Early afternoon, I drove along the river upstream, found a nice park, wasn’t too excited about it (although I noticed plenty of small shells on the shore), drove further to an area tantalizingly named “Fishhook park” which turned out to be closed for the season, grrr. I drove back, checked a couple of other spots closer to the Columbia, but really the dam was where I wanted to fish. As a side note, Olivier told me later he never fished there. I came back the next day, was very lucky to have a steelhead angler vacate the exact swim I wanted to fish (near overhanging trees), set up and waited for hours. And I finally got a run and a nice mid teen. RELIEF. Then another run. Darn it, a catfish. I tried a bit longer, to no avail. I tried a couple of other things downstream of the dam for a few hours, nada. Hmpf. Discovery is hard, it is one thing to find nice-looking spots and quite another to actually catch.



The big canyon


I drove towards Lewiston by the end of the afternoon, over the plateau. I finally took a turn towards the Snake river, down the mountain and ended up at a small park with a not-so-exciting backwater. Then I drove along the main river, which flows in some sort of lengthy canyon, surrounded on both sides by steep rocky slopes for miles and miles. Another section of the river nearby is dubbed “Hell’s Canyon”! Another truly spectacular drive, I have never seen anything like that. Where to fish though? Quite some access along the road, amazing views, but very little structure.



I drove along, observing the other shore and I noticed a large bay and what seemed to be an island. Later this evening, Google Maps confirmed my perception and lucky me, the island was a camping/recreation area reachable via a small bridge. Now that is structure!


In the morning, I crossed the Lewiston/Clarkson bridge and stopped to check the local boat ramp and the town park along the river. It didn’t take long. Jump. Jump. Jump. Ok, all right, I’m setting up here to begin with. Sure enough, once they found my bait, I caught one fish after another. None of them larger than 10 pounds. It was good to catch, relieving the pressure to make the discovery process work around here, but... what's (missing) in the water? I wanted bigger fish!


Early afternoon, I had enough, I drove towards the island and explored. Some areas displayed ‘rattle snake’ warning signs, ah, er, maybe not. Two spots seemed especially convenient, scenic and promising. I fished one of them for a couple of hours, saw a few jumps farther away, got one single run at the end of the day. I made a plan. I would heavily chum this spot tonight, come early in the morning, lightly chum the other spot, back to spot #1, fish there for a few hours, then switch to spot#2. A pattern I often used while exploring Quebec when I was a bit younger and more energetic!



For once, my plan worked to perfection. In the morning, I got one run after another at spot#1 and had good fun. Once I landed (and sacked) a mid teen, I bugged the ranger at the park booth nearby to come and take some scenic pictures. As luck would have it, I got another run right then and she was happy to take many pictures while I played and landed the fish. Then I moved to spot#2, it took longer to make it work, but they started to bite as well and I got a decent enough fish for more scenic pictures. It's really nice when things happen the way you planned for...


At the end of the day, I drove back to the canyon area, getting more ambitious about my plans for the next day. I struggled to find a spot that seemed promising, finally located a nice point of rock with a slack area behind it, a fish jumped in front of me, this day was just perfect. SO FAR. I drove a quarter of a mile downstream, took a look at another apparently nice opening and… stumbled on a carp cemetery. Dozens of mid teen carp (including a rare mirror) were lying there, rotting in the sun, recently killed by what can barely qualify as human beings. So utterly disgusting and idiotic. Bow fishing as a form of hunting, I can somewhat understand, my dad liked to hunt. But dropping fish carcasses on the shore to rot, that is completely beyond me. I fumed for a while, I was ready to leave the area for good, I vented during a phone call to my patient wife, then decided “screw them, I’ll fish my newly discovered spot, damn it”.



And I did come back the day after. And I caught carp, nice healthy fish, mid teens. I got a hard time to land them due to floating logs, but I did get them, all of them. And I finished with a 20 pounder. And I took great scenic pictures. And I released all fish in good health. And this was very satisfying in more than one way. Later in the day, I went to visit the Lewis and Clark Discovery Center, reading details about another type of discovery trip, a much more grueling one!



Back to bigger fish


At the end of my stay in Kennewick, I decided to tweak my plans and carve out some time to go back to Fort Spokane. Fortunately, my Airbnb hosts were flexible enough to let me do so and I booked a nice B&B in Davenport for a couple of nights. I drove across the plateau, crossing quaint small towns and a lot of scenic wheat fields (check some great pics and a nice video of ‘The Palouse’ area by clicking here) and I arrived early afternoon. I fished for a few hours, caught nothing, saw nothing, but that was ok, I mostly wanted to heavily chum at the end of the day.


I came back in the morning, kept blanking, seeing no sign of fish and started developing all sorts of doubts. At 2pm, I was shaking my head, ready to go explore somewhere else when I finally got a run. And landed a beautiful upper teen. A Fish and Wildlife Department rep came to chat right then and told me I was the 3rd angler he ever saw fish for carp in this state in 25 years of service (he was quite open minded, asking plenty of questions). The afternoon brought me six fish total, 3 of them low twenties, one of them a muscular 25 pounder, which dragged me all over the place. Big runs, big fights, beautiful sunset, I was happy. I chummed heavily again, hoping to attract a bigger school the day after. And this was possibly (in hindsight) a mistake.


Back in the morning, at the crack of dawn. Carp jumped all over the place for an hour while I was bringing my gear and setting up, nice. Then it all got quiet. Awfully quiet. For hours. And I started to speculate that maybe fish move here in small groups (while congregating close to the marina on the other shore). That maybe they didn’t come overnight and had a hard time going though my heavy chum in the morning. And they couldn’t find my hook in the middle of such a pile of bait. Doubts, doubts, doubts. I finally cast a rod farther away in rather deep water. And I got a run within minutes. And it was a stunning 29 pounder. RELIEF. I landed two more fish before lunch time, all at the same distance. Then nothing all afternoon, sigh, plenty of time to finish my book. I was wrapping up, procrastinating as usual, went to dump the rest of my bait farther away, cleaned up and packed my stuff, finally started to reluctantly walk towards my rods to reel in and… I got a run! A low twenty to finish my day (and my fishing time) on a high note. Life was good, all waiting hours quickly forgotten.





I hesitated, but I didn’t fish in Idaho. Lewiston is there, but I only fished the Clarkson side, which is in WA. I did spend a full day at Coeur d’Alene, but only to do some pleasant and relaxing sightseeing and hiking, then celebrated my successful trip in an amazingly good small Italian restaurant. Apparently, there are no carp in this large lake anyway. WA was the 30th state where I caught fish in the US and the 29th state where I caught carp. Idaho’s turn will come, in due time.


Remember that I said I started ‘with a bang’. The first fish I landed in Fort Spokane, the first fish of my trip, the first fish I hooked and landed in WA, was 31 pounds, no less. The average size at Fort Spokane was easily 20 pounds, I believe. Nice spot for quality fish. I might go back.


When flying back from Seattle (two weeks after I started), I had a window seat and stunning views of the Columbia river, Wenatchee, Grand Coulee, the Spokane river, Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. It was fascinating to have a good look from above (the picture is taken while flying above Wenatchee, we can -almost- see the swim where I fished). Did I use the word ‘spectacular’ a few times? Truly so.





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