Joe Ewing caught and released this nice 24 in. lahontan on a blustery day at Omak Lake. Photo courtesy Joe Warren.
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I had not wet a fly line since last October, so I was more than anxious to chuck a fly. With the crazy
warm weather for February it was time to travel over to the eastern part of Washington on the Colville
Indian Reservation. My most favorite trout fishery is there that sports husky Lahontan cutthroat trout in
Omak Lake and rainbow trout, both triploids and rainbows of the regular kind in Rufus Woods Reservoir,
Columbia River. February is an excellent month for winter streamer fly fishing at these two locations
and it’s always great for me as long as it doesn’t freeze! I knew it would be perfect weather and with
that, I called my good buddy from Bend, Jerry Ewing to come join me.
Pulling into Omak at the motel at midnight, we hit the sack to catch some much needed rest. Friday
morning we woke up to cool temperatures and an overcast sky, which I really prefer when searching for
the bigger trout. We launched my 13’ smokercraft on the south end of Omak Lake at a granite graveled
beach called, “Cowpie” beach. The beach has a fairly shallow shoal and the cutts love it here for gorging
on midge larvae. The competition was fierce with one other bank fly angler casting from shore.
February outings in the past have proven successful and the fish are generally not far from shore. I
watched the depth sounder and when we hit the 20-ft. mark, we drop anchors. First, we casted towards
the deeper water and caught a fish here and there, but then discovered that casting towards shore
yielded more trout. It was crazy good and you could almost anticipate a grab almost every cast. The
cutthroats were averaging 16 to 19 inches, not bad for a boat load, but the large class size was yet to be
seen. Eventually, we moved around to other places nearby catching fish at every stop but the beach
front of Cowpie was the bucket! We went back and hit the same spot only to continue where we left
off. We fished 5-6 wt. fly rods with integrated fast sinking shooting heads on intermediate or floating
running lines. My preferences are the Air Flo, Depth Finder and Sniper lines. Leaders are short, less
than six feet and we used no less than 12-lb. tippet. The Lahontans have very sharp needle teeth and
can wear through tippet fairly quick. 15-lb tippet is even better. We used various types of buggers and
streamers ranging from white to black; it didn’t seem to matter! The evening bite brought some larger
fish in up to about 22 inches, but when you’ve experienced the big trout well over 24 inches, anything
less is just another nice fish.
The next two days were spent on Rufus Woods Reservoir on the Columbia River. Lahontan cutthroats
are fun because they are abundant, large and eat anything but the fight and hard pull is still owned by
the rainbows! We did equally well for the rainbows as we did the cutthroat at Omak; better than 25 fish
each per day, fly fishing with black buggers on fast sinking lines. The trout ranged from 14 to 18 inches
and we stuck a few pushing the 20 inch mark. No triploid rainbows were caught on this trip but plenty
of stocked rainbows, hold-overs with great color and shape and a few wild trout. The upper section of
Rufus Woods above the coyote creek beach boat launch to Seaton Grove was incredible. We anchored
in back eddies, drifted shorelines and caught fish at every spot!
President’s Day brought back to Omak for a quick fish in the early morning before the long road trip
home. My buddy, Jerry, had a bit further to go than I and I advised that we should probably pull out by
11 am. The fishing kept us there til 1 pm; just too fun to give up! Once again we were fly fishing off
Cowpie beach. The wind was a straight shot out of the north at +25 mph. Launching the boat was out
of the question. No problem, the big winds pushed fish right along the shore within ease of casting
distance and a 25-30’ cast put you right into fish. Sure was nice to have a 10-ft fly rod to battle the head
wind having a little more leverage. Jerry quickly moved up the shore to a deeper drop off and casting to
a side wind. Great move, as the casting was easier and the fish were even more plentiful! I swear for at
least two hours, on every cast, we either hooked a fish, had a grab or a follow right up to shore! We also
landed some bigger fish up to 24 inches. With that kind of action, you can’t help but laugh and shake
your head in disbelief as if it were a dream. It almost feels like a crime.
My many trips this time of year to these places have all been very successful. As I mentioned, as long
the temperatures are above freezing, the fly fishing is some of the best in the region, especially with
streamers! The fishing will only get better as the season warms up and will be great right to Memorial
weekend. Omak Lake is artificial lures only. The catch and release season starts March 1st and goes
through the end of May.
So when it comes to throwing a birthday party for Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln
have your cake and eat it too with some of the best winter trout fishing in Eastern Washington!