Fly Fishing Highway 17 in Eastern Washington
Outdoors and Recreation
I’ve written about a lot of the spots I fly fish in Eastern Washington from the north where Highway 17 meets Highway 2 at Banks Lake just outside of Coulee City and south as far as Crab Creek (lower) close to where it dumps into Moses Lake. I wanted to write a short re-cap article that includes all the spots along this 50 or so mile fly fishing paradise that I have fly fished at. A few of these I didn’t include in previous articles. I have caught Crappie, Blue Gil, Rainbow Trout, Lahanton Cutthroat, Brown Trout, and Large Mouth Bass from these lakes and spring creeks. A few of the trout like those at Lake Lenore and Rocky Ford Creek were in the five pound range.
Banks Lake (south end)
Along this magic strip of highway lies Banks Lake a massive body of water that has Rainbows, Browns, Large and Small Mouth Bass, Carp, Crappie, and many other species that may or may not take a fly. The south end of the lake lies just to the other side of the Highway 17/2 intersection. I mostly caught Crappie there in the Spring, but Walleye come in close to shore at times and will take flies.
I’ve also fished on the north end of the lake as well. I had much better luck with the Rainbows on this end of the lake in the Spring time for some reason. They seemed to like white streamers and Wooley Buggers a lot. I caught several in the 12 to 16 inch range. Though I also had a strange encounter with some locals who apparently used M-80s as the their primary searching patterns. I assume this is illegal, but judging by the drunken whoops coming from their boat after I heard the explosions I guess they “caught” some fish.
This is a very good video about targeting Small Mouth Bass (a species I’ve never caught) with flies. It is a very good primer for fly fishing all of Banks Lake too I think, especially if you have a boat.
Dry Falls Lakes
Heading south along Highway 17 the next spot is Dry Falls. At the bottom of this massive instinct waterfall are a series of shallow lakes with some giant Rainbows (biggest in WA some would say). You will need a float tube or small boat to fish these lakes though. No engines are allowed though as far as I know. Spring is the best time, but the Fall can be great as well.
It might come as a surprise that I haven’t fished these lakes a lot more. The truth is chironomids work best here, but I’ve always been more of a big pattern “chuck and duck” type. Maybe it is because I taught myself to fly fish while living on the California Delta fishing for Large Mouth Bass and Striped Bass. And later Salmon in the Puget Sound. Sitting in a floattube watching a strike indicator never appealed to me as much as either trolling a larger pattern or casting one into schools of bait fish.
Still, this is one of the premier fly fishing lakes in the entire state of Washington and provides a great shot at trophy size Rainbows, Browns, and Tiger Trout (hybrid of Brooks and Browns). This is a pretty good video that covers Dry Falls very well.
As you drop down Highway 17 Blue Lake runs alongside for several miles. I've only stopped and made a few casts here to be honest, but I do know it is one of the most popular lakes in the area on Opening Day of the season, so I imagine the fishing there can be great if you know where to go. Also, this is a good lake to try if you also use gear or bait. This lake is stocked, so you can catch your limit and keep here if you like.
Park Lake is just a little bit south of Blue Lake on Highway 17 and very similar. It is stocked with no restrictions, so if you are in the mood to catch some trout for dinner using whatever method works best at the time this is another great place to do so.
Alkali Lake is a funky little lake right across from the north end of Lake Lenore. Sometimes in the spring when the Lahontans are trying to spawn and Lenore is a zoo of people trying to catch them I will cross Highway 17 with my floattube and troll or cast poppers for Crappie and Large Mouth Bass. I’ve never caught anything huge here, but I almost always catch something and it is often a nice change of pace from the madhouse that Lenore can be.
Lake Lenore is home to giant Lahontan Cutthroat trout. Lahontan Cutthroat trout thrive in waters that are normally far to alkaline for regular trout and other fish to survive in. Lake Lenore is one of the few lakes in Washington State in which these giant Cutthroats do well in.
Lake Lenore is fly fishing and lure only with barb-less hooks. Float tubes, pontoons, and small motor-less boats are also allowed on the lake. There is a small boat launch on the south-east side of the lake.
If you’ve ever dreamed of catching trout on a fly rod in the four to twelve pound range Lake Lenore might be your best shot to do it. Spring is by far the best time to fish Lake Lenore. Though as you would expect, it is also when the lake is the most crowded. Though there are no streams or rivers flowing into or out of Lake Lenore in which the big Lahontan Cutthroats can spawn in, that doesn’t stop them from trying in the spring time.
When their attempted spawn is in play in the Spring (it usually starts around mid-March) these big fish move into very shallow water on the North end of Lake Lenore. The beach on the North end of the lake isn’t very big, so you can imagine the types of crowds these easily accessible fish attract, especially on the weekends. It has been described as a floating carnival. If you ever watched the Hydroplane races on Lake Washington then you get a pretty good picture, though on a much smaller scale, what the North end of Lake Lenore looks like sometimes.
Often times there will be a wall of floatubes casting towards the shore and another wall of shore fisherman casting out into the lake. The poor Lahontans sometimes get trapped between them in a tiny corridor full of fly lines.
Black, purple, olive, and white leech patterns, Wooley Buggers, and streamers cast or trolled will all work. Lake Lenore isn’t very deep, so generally speaking, an intermediate sinking line will work most of the time.
In the Spring and Fall chronomids under a long tippet and strike indicator work very well. Long casts and very slow and short strips can work very well especially in early to mid-Spring and later in the Fall. I know I mentioned I don’t like fly fishing this way as much, but for a chance at these monsters, I’ll do it.
I usually bring both a four weight and six weight with extra spools of full floating and intermediate sinking lines. The six weight is nice to have in case the wind kicks up and you need to punch through it with larger leech and streamer patterns.
I have had the best luck at Lake Lenore in the early and mid-Spring when the false spawn is on. I try to go during the week days though when it is less crowded. Chromids, size #18-#22 have work best for me most of the time. And I have caught Lahontan Cutthroats at Lake Lenore up to four pounds and seen other people land them up to eight pounds.
Rocky Ford Creek
About 40 minutes South along Highway 17 lies Rocky Ford Creek an absolutely amazing Spring Creek that has rainbows up 5-7 pounds. This is a catch and relase fly fishing only 3 mile stretch of water. In the Spring as it warms up there are some huge hatches so dry flies work well at that time. White leach patterns, black and purple Wooley Buggers, and small nymph patterns in tan and black also work well at times. It can also get very crowded here on the weekends during the Spring time, but most of the West side of the stream can be easily hiked, so there is usually a place for everyone to fish.
These are a couple of videos to give you an idea of what a day on Lake Lenore can be like.
Crab Creek (Lower Section)
This last one I found by accident and is the least interesting of the bunch. On one of my first outings to Rocky Ford Creek as I was leaving I accidentally turned right and headed South on Highway 17 instead of North back towards Coulee City. I drove for several miles before I figured out I was going the wrong direction. But not before I saw a small patch of water off the side of the highway that I later learned was called Crab Creek (at least a part of it). Crab Creek is actually extremely long, about 160 miles. The small section I fished is near Moses Lake.
Too be honest I've only ever caught 10-12 inch trout here either on dry flies or streamer patterns. But I've seen guys bait fishing and lure fishing on either side of me catch Rainbows and Browns up to four pounds, Black Bass, Carp, and Crappie. Though I have only caught small trout here I did hook something one time using a large black Wooley Bugger that broke me off. At the time I was using a straight six pound test leader and stripping the Wooley Bugger in fairly quickly. I'm guessing it was a really big Brown, but I never saw it, so I can't say for sure. But it was big.
As always, if you have a chance I advise you to hire a guide at least for one day to help you learn the water. Highway 17 is an absolute magical place to fly fish if you have the chance.