Category Archives: Boating, swimming and fishing

Info to help you find your way around our lakes

Fishing is great, despite it all

Bass boats speed up a lowered Banks Lake
Bass boats speed up a lowered Banks Lake

“The most beautiful place in the world.”

That’s the way a man from the western part of Washington state last weekend described to me the place where I live. The avid bass fisherman said that twice a year, he makes his pilgrimage to Coulee Playland to go bass fishing. And he’s so “ansty” to get going, he can’t wait until Friday mornging to leave.

Instead, my new acquaintance, met at a newspaper industry conference in Everett, said he gets home from work Thursday evening, packs up and heads to the Grand Coulee. He drives through the night, launches his boat at first light, fishes all morning, then comes back and sets up his campsite.

“My wife never could understand why I would get so antsy to leave,” he told me, “until she came along. … Now she understands.”

I asked if he planned to fish Banks Lake while it was drawn down this winter. He said he hoped to make it over, if for no other reason than to see and map the underlying structure of the lake now exposed because of the drawdown of the lake for maintenance purposes, a very rare event.

Bass angling friends, he said, report that fishing has been good during the drawdown, but the regular winter strategies are out the window. The fish are confused and sometimes huddle together, their favorite places now high and dry.

Two weekends ago, organizers of an annual bass tournament at Coulee Playland were glad they decided not to cancel their event. They had a blast in the lowered lake with more concentrated fishing, according to Coulee Playland’s Hal Rauch.

A confession: I am not a fisherman, but I still think this is the most beautiful place in the world.

Tribal report says no harm to native runs from escaped farm fish

Upper Columbia steelhead runs are safe and not threatened by farm-raised trout that escaped from net pens off the shores of Rufus Woods Lake this summer, the business that raises the fish said Monday.

A press release from Pacific Aquaculture Inc. states that a senior resident fisheries biologist with the Colville Tribes investigated the situation recently.

The fish farm pays rent and royalties to the Colville Tribes to operate its net pens some 20 miles downstream from Grand Coulee Dam, where it feeds millions of fish.

More than 100,000 of them escaped last summer, following massive die-offs that resulted from too much air injected into the water at Grand Coulee Dam during spring runoff.

The escaped fish triggered a boon in local fishing tourism, with up to 100 or so rigs reportedly parked at the Seaton’s Grove boat launch at times.

“There is no evidence that these farm raised trout are feeding on young migrating steelhead,” said Ed Shallenberger, a Ph.D. with over 20 years’ experience conducting physical and biological studies in the mid-Columbia River, the fish farm reported.

“A recent in-depth analysis of the stomachs of 187 of the escaped farm-raised trout in Rufus Woods Lake determined that the primary food sources for these fish were insects and snails,” Shallenberger said. “Of the 187 fish that were analyzed, only eight had remains from sculpins and sticklebacks. No remains from juvenile trout or salmon were found.”

Shallenberger conducted the tests as part of an ongoing study of Rufus Woods Lake. Concern had been raised by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and others about the safety of young migrating steelhead.

Established in 1941 as a small retail shop in Portland, Ore., Pacific Seafood has become a leader in the seafood industry.

“Like the Department of Fish and Wildlife, we are concerned with the well-being of native fish on the river,” said Pacific Aquaculture Manager John Bielka. “Our top priority has always been to run an operation that is sustainable and safe for the Columbia River System.”

During a special season on Rufus Woods Lake in August, anglers caught hundreds of the escaped sterile trout ranging from 5-10 pounds. The special season attracted anglers from across Washington state.

“While the situation was unfortunate,” Bielka stated, “steelhead runs are safe and the net impact of the fish farm remains positive – for tourism and retail sales and employment for the Colville Nation.”

Lower lake means better beaches

I’ve got some good news and some not so great news, both about lake levels– on different lakes.

First the good. Lake Roosevelt has started to drop. Tonight, it’s down a little more than a foot.

You might not call this non-touristy spot on North Marina Way a "beach," but my dog loves it anyway. And sandy beaches will be better now, too.

That means we’ve got beaches! Last weekend, we boated to Swawilla Basin, an area with great beaches, but found no beach at all. But the big lake just started down last night and will likely continue.

By the weekend it will probably be down 2 to 3 feet, which I consider in the perfect range. It exposes beaches and leaves driftwood along the shore, not in the way of boats.

By the way, we found swimming to be quite pleasant, not cold, like it was just a couple weeks ago. This despite the fact that this has been the coolest summer since I’ve lived here (1989).

Now about Banks Lake.
The USBR started taking it down Aug. 1, as it does every year. But this time is different. A drop of 5 feet is normal, but by the end of August it’s predicted to be 13.5 feet down, depending on irrigators’ needs.
By October, it’s supposed to be at the record low of 30 feet below full, and it will stay that way until spring.

This planned drop is for maintenance of several things, including infrastructure at the south end of the lake.
The lake will still be accessible to boats at Coulee Playland in Electric City.

Fireworks, musicians, food, crafts, fun and a huge waterfall

A great printed publication just came out on the festivities planned for this weekend and July 4 in the Grand Coulee Dam area.

To see it online, click on the link image below. It’s pretty nice, informative too.

[issuu layout=http%3A%2F%2Fskin.issuu.com%2Fv%2Fcolor%2Flayout.xml backgroundcolor=A4112B showflipbtn=true proshowmenu=true documentid=110628033800-36ada0fea6634aaf823b029b4cb6d770 docname=festivalofamerica2011 username=starnews loadinginfotext=Festival%20of%20America showhtmllink=true tag=4th width=600 height=419 unit=px]

The Fourth will be dramatically different at Grand Coulee Dam this year

Official prediction: water to spill over the top

Sunrise adds a glimmer to a waterfall over Grand Coulee Dam 300 feet tall and half a mile wide.

This year’s Fourth of July will be dramatically different at Grand Coulee Dam and on Lake Roosevelt behind it.

You’ll be able to watch the dramatic spill at Grand Coulee Dam this weekend or over the Fourth of July holiday.

It’s rare, but this year’s climate conditions actually lead to a fairly stable prediction: expect water to overtop Grand Coulee Dam for at least a week and a half.

The long, cool spring, coupled with a double the normal snowpack in the mountains upstream (including Canada) from Grand Coulee has led to a later-than-normal spring runoff, and a big one at that.

Lake Roosevelt is quite low for this time of year, but very accessible, with great big beaches – hundreds of miles of them.

And visitors to the Grand Coulee Dam Festival of America July 2, 3 and 4 will be able to get an up-close view of the 300-foot-high, half-mile wide waterfall that will cool the park below the Visitor Center at the dam.

Over the last month, dam operators have been regulating the rise of the lake by “spilling” water through outlet tubes in the middle of the dam big enough to drive a truck through.

From 50,000 to 100,000 cubic feet per second shoots through those tubes into the river below. That’s up to about 750,000 gallons each second, less than half the river’s flow of about 2 million gps.

My house is about a half mile from the face of the dam, and my kitchen cupboards rattle just a little from the impact.

A more serious problem is that the resulting air injected into the water kills fish downstream, which take in too much nitrogen-saturated water through their gills.

A fish farm 20 miles downstream raising 2.7 million steelhead trout was losing them by the thousands. That operation has now apparently lost at least 100,000 of its big triploids, and anglers are snatching them up in Lake Rufus Woods — that part of the Columbia River between Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams.

Even so, operators will need to keep spilling through the outlet tubes even after the water tops the dam until enough volume is spilling over for a controlled spill, said Bureau of Reclamation Public Affairs Officer Lynne Brougher.

When you see the nice spill, realize that the management of the flow at this dam is the key to managing a river draining an area the size of France so that Portland, Ore. and points downstream does not flood.

Not letting the lake fill too quickly is critical in that plan.

“Actually,” Bougher said, “the system is working as it was designed to do this year.” She said the lower Columbia has been held right at flood stage, “and we’ve still got room” to fill the lake.

Normally full by July 4, Lake Roosevelt will likely be full about July 10 or 11, she said.