Kokanee and Walleye Head Up the Best Prospects for Spring

Lance Effrig hefts a two-fish limit of kokanee taken on Lake Chelan. (photo Dave Graybill)

By Dave Graybill 

A couple of years ago I said that Lake Chelan for kokanee and Banks Lake for walleye would share the spotlight for spring fishing in our region. Well, last year the fishing at both of these lakes was even better than I had anticipated. This year I think that they both will be even better.

Let’s start with Lake Chelan. Hang on folks. It’s going to be a kokanee fishing party at Lake Chelan. Fishing for kokanee was good last season, with limits of 12- to 14-inch fish very common. The fishing didn’t slow down and limits were being taken throughout the winter on Chelan. Even better news is that the fish are bigger. Kokanee of 13 and 14 inches dominated the catches this winter, with some 15-inch fish sprinkled in. By late spring and summer we should see many kokanee of 16 inches and even larger being taken. Things are looking up for a spectacular season for kokanee anglers on Chelan.

The wind was howling but the kokanee were biting near 25 Mile Creek on Lake Chelan. (photo Dave Graybill)

I was out in January with Lance Effrig, of Washington Guide Services, and we got 20 fish that day, and even hit a quadruple once. A few years ago this would have been unheard of, but now it is expected on Chelan. We got our fish above the Yacht Club and at a variety of depths. When we hit the quad we had a rod at 125 feet, another at 100, one more at 80 and the last at 60. They all went off at the same time!

Effrig is a man of my same bent. He fishes Kokabow Fishing Tackle pretty much exclusively. These blades, spinners and squid rigs are deadly. I haven’t seen a blade with as much “kick” as the Kokabow, and the kokanee seem to like the spinners and squid rigs about equally. Effrig trolls fast, especially when looking for fish. He will cook along at 1.8 to 2.0 mph at times. He uses a 20-inch leader as a result. I myself usually troll at 1.5 to 1.7 and use a 14 inch leader. Both of us tip our hooks with stained shoe peg corn. We both will start out with a different blade on each rod and then switch until if we think the kokanee are preferring one color over another.

This is a winning combo for kokanee on Lake Chelan: A Kokabow blade and squid, tipped with stained corn. (photo Dave Graybill)

I got this 22-inch walleye on a recent trip to Banks Lake, on a green and blue butterfly blade. (photo Dave Graybill)

I have fished as far up on Chelan at 25 Mile Creek to find kokanee this late winter and as the water warms the main schools will head further down the lake. By late April and May anglers should be finding them in the area of Rocky Point and the Blue Roofs. Soon after that they will be off Chelan Shores and Lakeside Park.

In the early season I expect the main schools to be found around 100 feet down. Later on they will be available in shallower depths. Last season I was fishing with 3- to 4-ounce lead balls on a sliding rig and got limits doing this.

Hang on folks. It’s going to be a kokanee fishing party on Lake Chelan this season!

The walleye fishing on Banks Lake got a later start than usual. It froze from one end to the other and didn’t clear off until April. When the ice did clear off the fishing was great. This year it didn’t freeze and there were limits of nice walleye being taken in February. I expect the walleye fishing to be something special this season.

So far the fish have been deep in the chilly water on Banks. Anglers were pulling worm harnesses or Slow Death Hook rigs down 50 feet. The fish will be moving into more shallow water soon, and these same rigs will produce good catches. I have had great luck already this season with the new Butterfly Blade from Northland Tackle. This blade is nothing like anything else on the market and I would fish it either on a worm harness or a Super Slow Death Hook. For Banks I suggest using blades in shades of blue.

Another really fun and effective way to catch walleye on Banks is with crank baits. My brother Rick and I had many days on Banks when we limited trolling cranks. If you haven’t tried this before better give it a go this season. Get yourself a selection of Flicker Shads and Shad Raps in a variety of colors that dive from 8 to 20 feet and troll them at 2.0 to 2.2 mph. Put them at 75 to 100 feet behind the boat and hang on! When they hit these plugs your rod really bends.

Anglers will start fishing Banks behind Steamboat Rock, and then as the water warms move onto Barker Flats. The fishing inside Devils Punchbowl can also be good in the spring. The walleye will be found off the edges of the weed beds, picking off small bait fish. This can be frustrating, as you will be picking weeds off your baits constantly, but it is worth it.

Trolling worm harnesses and Slow Death Hook rigs will often be the best approach in the early season. The spawn should occur in late April or sometime in May, depending on water temperature. After the spawn the fish will be hungry and aggressive. Crank bait fishing will kick in then and boy is it fun.

Anglers should expect to catch walleye of over 17 inches this season. There should be quite a few fish over 20 inches this year. My daughter caught a 30-incher in Devils Punchbowl in early June two years ago, so some really big walleye can come from Banks Lake. Some of the shallow bays, like Jones, can be productive with crank baits, even in the early season, and the north end, where the canal enters Banks can also be a place to find good numbers of walleye.

There is a lot of water on Banks, so there is plenty of room for lots of anglers. The most popular launch is at Northrup, which has two docks and lots of parking. Don’t forget to have your Discover Pass.

I had a great time on Banks Lake last year, so expect to see me when you’re out there!

Dave Graybill
North Central Washington Blogger
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

Fish Blades for Early Potholes Walleye

Potholes Reservoir is currently locked up with more ice than the lakes seen in quite a few years. It’s been awful chilly in Eastern Washington since early December and that bout of cold weather continues to this day. So why are we talking about walleye then?

The second the ice comes off Washington’s Potholes Reservoir and the boat launches are finally useable again you’ll find a group of hardcore anglers hitting the reservoir in search of walleye. It could be another month or so before that happens but when it does it pays to be ready.

One of those anglers is longtime walleye guide Shelby Ross of PotholesFishing.com. Shelby lives on Potholes Reservoir and has guided for walleye and waterfowl on the lake for years.

When the ice burns off and you’re itchin’ to hit the lake here’s a few tips from the master himself that will put some early season walleye in your frying pan this spring.

Find the Bait, Find the Walleye

There’s no shortage of drop-off’s and humps in Potholes Reservoir and Shelby will hit as many as twenty of them in a day until he finds one loaded up with bait. He targets humps and ledges in 25 to 50 feet of water until he finds one that’s holding a bunch of bait. If the sonar screen looks promising he’ll toss a marker bouy out and keep cruising to see if there’s anything else in the vicinity.

Some of the areas that he’ll scope out first are the rock shelves around Goose Island, the north shoreline just west of Linn Coulee and the deep humps near the mouth of Crab Creek. These are all staging areas for the spawn and walleye are usually feeding in these areas in the months and weeks leading up to the spawn.

Once he’s got a good handle on exactly where the bait is he’ll stop the boat and start casting blade baits into the shallow water and work them out into deeper water. He say’s he’ll know instantly how good it is if they start catching perch right away. Find the perch and you’ve found the walleye.

The technique is somewhat simple to master but of course it does have it’s nuances. Shelby uses 1/2 ounce blades eighty percent of the time and has a few 3/8 and 3/4 ounce blades on board if he needs to switch up. If the walleye are just rattling the blades and they are missing a lot of hookups he’ll switch to a lighter 3/8 ounce blade first to give the lure a little slower fall. That usually produces a more aggressive strike and if that doesn’t work he’ll try the 3/4 ounce blade.

Position the boat on the deep end of the drop off and cast the blades up onto the shallow end of the ledge or hump. The lure should fall into about 25 to 30 feet of water. Once they hit the bottom start working them down the face of the ledge. He likes to work the jig up about a foot and then let it fall back to the bottom with the strikes always occurring on the drop. If you feel anything subtle or different about the action of the blade set the hook!

Make Your Own Blade Baits

Snagging up on the bottom is inevitable with this technique, so bring plenty of blades with you. Shelby spends some time in the winter months making up his own blade baits to cut the cost down a bit. He buys 3/8, 1/2, and 3/4 ounce nickel plated blades from Jann’s Netcraft and then adds the prism tape and hooks to finish them. His favorite prism tape colors are chartreuse, red, and silver and on any given day one can be hotter than the other.

He prefers to run Mustad split shank treble hooks on his blades because they greatly reduce the number of tangles. Blade baits with split rings are a tangle waiting to happen. Mustad split shank trebles are extremely sharp and they are easy to install on the blades.

Rig up for Success

Shelby likes a spinning rod in the eight foot range with a fast action. The sensitive tip allows him to feel the action of the blade and the backbone slams the hook home when a walleye picks up the blade. They can be surprisingly subtle and a sensitive rod tip definitely helps feel the bite.

He uses a Daiwa Excelor 2500 series reel spooled with 10 pound Power Pro braid. 10 pound Power Pro has the diameter of 2 pound test monofilament and it’s great for casting blade baits a country mile. The extremely small diameter line allows his guests to feel the action of the blade and contact with the bottom in water as deep as 50 to 60 feet.

He’ll attach a barrel swivel to the end of the braid and then he runs a bumper of six inches of 15 pound fluorocarbon between the swivel and the blade bait. The short section of flourocarbon is easy to cast, reduces tangles, and has some abrasion resistance against the blade bait and treble hooks.

Walleye don’t fair well when they’re caught out of deep water and it’s usually not possible to “high grade” fish when they’re caught in excess of twenty feet of water. If you land on the walleye in deep water keep your limit and head for the barn.

This has been one of the coldest winters in Eastern Washington in nearly a decade and Potholes has been locked up with ice since mid-December. When the ice finally comes off the lake though you can bet there will be walleye willing to jump all over a blade bait. Give some of Shelby’s tips a try and with any luck you’ll go home with some fresh walleye.

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Now’s the time to target Potholes Walleye

Walleye are coming off their full-moon spawn in Moses Lake and Potholes Reservoir in Eastern Washington, which means the best walleye bite of the year is upon us. Walleye will congregate where the water spills out of Moses Lake into Potholes Reservoir, at Frenchman’s Wasteway, and in Lind Coulee as they cruise back into the big water after doing their thang.

“Small jigs are the ticket,” says Levi Meseberg at Mar Don Resort, located right on the reservoir. “We fish a lot of 1/16th and 1/8th ounce jigs in chartreuse, white, salt and pepper, and glow in the dark.  If you can get into these areas in the dark it’s best. Fishing from a boat out in front of any of these spots during the day can also be great.”

“Tip the jig with a leech or a crawler and fish it right along the bottom,” added Levi. Most of the walleye will be in three to four feet of water within these channels, so it’s not necessary to use anything heavier than a small jig to get down to the bottom. 

Jerkbaits or shallow diving cranks catch plenty of fish, too. “At night when the fish are up in the channels you want to throw something at them that makes noise,” says Levi. The shallow diving crankbaits also work during the day using a boat to access the mouths of Frenchman’s Wasteway, Lind Coulee, and the outlet from Moses Lake.

As the summer comes along and the lake begins to drop the bait and the walleye will drop out of the channels and back into the lake. Trolling spinners with nightcrawlers and leeches work excellent for taking walleye out of deeper water, as do Countdown Rapalas and Shad Raps in perch colors. 

Potholes Reservoir and Moses Lake have an 8 fish limit for walleye with a 12” minimum size. Only one walleye can be retained per day over 22” and both lakes are open year round. The spring is far and away the best time to fish for walleye, as they are easily more accessible than the rest of year on the reservoir.

For more information about walleye fishing on Potholes Reservoir and Moses Lake contact Mar Don Resort at 800 416 2736.

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com