By Anton Jones | 11/26/2011
Looking to hook into the trout of a lifetime? Then head to North Central Washington’s Rufus Woods Reservoir! This reservoir, part of the Columbia River, is impounded above Chief Joseph Dam and is best known for its world-class, trophy triploid rainbows. It’s home to the current state record and there is a good chance the next state record will be caught here, too.
The reservoir stretches 53 miles from Bridgeport to Grand Coulee. The two best launch sites are on the Army Corp of Engineers property just above the dam and at the Bridgeport State Park. For approximately two-thirds of its length the reservoir runs east-west. The north shore past Bridgeport State Park is mostly Colville Indian Reservation land. The south side is a mix of public and private ownership.
The triploid fishery is completely dependent on a net pen operation located near the middle of the reservoir. The Colville Tribe has an agreement with the operator to release approximately 2,500 fish per month. These releases are unpredictably augmented at times due to accidents. The most recent excess release occurred during the heavy runoff in the spring of 2011 when heavy nitrogen build up near the pens would have caused fish to die if confined causing the owners to release a lot of fish. The high run off also caused net pens to break apart and an estimated 100,000 triploids escaped into Rufus Woods.
You can almost always get your two-fish limit at Rufus by either slip sinker fishing Pautzke’s Fire Bait off the bottom or Balls O’ Fire eggs on a jig under a slip bobber. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do, if you hit the lake with bait, they’ll bite. Other times it can be more difficult. The devil is in the details. We will focus here on a few of those small details that will allow you to be more successful when the bite is difficult.
So, what aspects of this fishery make bait fishing here different than at your local put-and-take pond? The first is the environment. The second is a set of characteristics that make these fish different from diploid rainbows.
Rufus Woods has characteristics that position the fish differently than in most lakes. The first is variable flow, the second is temperature lag and the third is fertility. Because Rufus Woods is dependent on what comes out of Grand Coulee Dam, its flow can vary from nothing to very fast. The effect on leader length and the weight necessary to hold bottom can vary greatly. Rufus Woods water temps “lag” behind smaller bodies of water as it transitions through the seasons. Rainbows can tolerate water from 32-75 degrees Fahrenheit with a preferred temperature range in the mid-fifties.
Rufus Woods has a well-deserved reputation for being a late fall/winter fishery. This is because it typically takes until November for its water temperature to drop below 60 degrees, which increases the fish’s metabolism, making them easier to catch. Ironically, in the spring when most anglers are eager to fish, Rufus Woods surface water temperature stays below 40 F which makes the triploids relatively inactive and difficult to catch. This is because of the constant infusion of 32 degree snowmelt water entering the system from the Columbia’s upper watershed in Canada as well as from the mountains of North Central Washington. The increased turbidity of the water also makes spring on Rufus a difficult time to fish. Keeping the ideal temperature range of the fish in mind can assist you in eliminating unproductive water.
Fertility in Rufus Woods is greatest around the net pens because of the infusion of the pellets that feed the fish and the waste that comes from the fish. Other areas of increased fertility are where agricultural runoff and other water sources enter the system. Also, keep in mind that when the general water temperature is below 40 and well out of the triploids comfort range; they will seek areas where springs keep the temperature higher than the surrounding reservoir. The same thing occurs in late summer and early fall when temperatures are above the triploid’s comfort range. Because of these factors combined with the specific characteristics of the triploid, you have to tailor your location and presentation to consistently catch these fish.
Specific characteristics need to be considered when determining location and presentation. It’s important to understand their shape, limitations and feeding pattern. First, because these fish are not streamlined and have relatively worn fins they will not swim as fast as non-net pen raised Diploid rainbows. Therefore, it’s essential to slow your presentation down. Second, because they have been conditioned to eat hatchery pellets they tend to not take bigger baits. We have cleaned hundreds of these fish over the years. Rarely will you find a fish in them bigger than a perch fry or stickleback (.75 to 1.5″). Far and away the most common stomach contents are hatchery pellets and snails and some midge larvae and vegetation. The biggest (and weirdest) stomach content I’ve seen is a dough bait jar in a nine-pound trout.
Where to fish: The “no-brainer” location is of course the net pens. Remember that while it is ok to tie up to the support lines, it is not ok to tie up to the pens themselves. The pens is where the most readily available food source is present to concentrate the trout. Keep in mind, the fish are here to feed on pellets that escape the pens. Therefore, your best bet is to soak bait on the bottom below the pens. This can be extraordinarily deep for rainbows; some 75-95 feet.
Meanwhile, it is not necessary to run to the net pens. Other areas can be productive, too. Look for concentrations of surfacing fish and water entering the system. Remember the shallower the water the spookier they will be. While a stealthy approach to the pens is completely unnecessary, some of these other shallower locations require a quiet approach or casting from a distance. Since this is a 51-mile long reservoir, there are plenty of potential hot spots to discover and make your own. There are fish concentrated in a variety of obvious and not so obvious locations. As an extra bonus, locating those spots can provide you with the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife as well as give you that satisfaction that comes from being a pioneer instead of a follower.
When it comes to bait trying to “matching the hatch” is futile. There are just too many pellets. Instead you want to use something that attracts them with a smell that is similar to but distinct from the hatchery pellets. I use Pautzke’s Fire Bait in pink and green and be sure to use enough bait to cover a single #6 hook. Use a leader of two-to-eight-pound test mono of at least four and a half feet in length. This will allow that Fire Bait to rise above the weed tips and be visible. Another effective bait combo is to use good old Pautzke’s Balls O’ Fire salmon eggs floated with a marshmallow.
In higher flows lengthen the leader from to compensate for increased flow. If the flow is negligible you can fish the more common 3/8oz to 1/2oz slip sinker. You must increase the weight as the flow increases to find and hold bottom. I’d be prepared to go all the way to 3 or more ounces when flow is heavy. Another subtle alteration of your presentation that can increase your bite rate when there is significant current is to add a small Mack’s Lure Smile Blade above your hook with a bead between the blade and hook knot. That slow wobble can provide just the right amount of vibration to appeal to the fish.
Another thing that we have found is that 90% of our bites occur within the first 5 or 10 minutes of a cast. If you haven’t gotten bit within 10 minutes of casting, I’d recommend that you retrieve your bait, check it and recast.
If you are seeing significant surface activity and not many fish on the sonar, a reasonable alteration would be to change to a baited jig and slip bobber presentation. If you do this, I would recommend that you go small. Use jigs that vary from 1/8th oz to 1/32nd oz for best effect tipped with coon shrimp cured in orange or pink Fire Cure or a kernel or two of Fire Corn. I would recommend either Mack’s Lures Glow Getter Jigs or Worden Lures Maxi-Jigs. Again, when there is sufficient current going to turn it, a Mack’s Lures Smile Blade above the jig works well.
So, what the heck is a triploid trout? It’s a trout that has had its chromosomes altered. This is accomplished by taking eyed eggs and treating them in a warm water or a pressure bath. This causes one of the chromosomes to split thereby creating a fish with three (triploid) rather than the normal two (diploid) chromosomes. The end result is a sterile fish. This means that triploids do not go through a spawn cycle. Instead, the just continue to eat and grow. Think steer, not mule. In other words a triploid is a sterile rainbow not a sterile hybrid. Since they do not go through a spawn cycle and all the food that goes into them is turned into growth and waste with nothing diverted to reproduction their size potential is much greater than a regular diploid rainbow. The state record rainbow of 29.6 pounds was a triploid that came out of Rufus Woods Reservoir. The world record rainbow of 43.6 pounds was a triploid that came out of Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan. Average rainbows caught range from 2 to 6 pounds. Since they are raised in net pens before being released into the system, their fins (particularly the dorsal and tail fins) shows wear. Because they are triploids and well fed, they have a much less streamlined shape than a diploid rainbow. This shape, resembling a football, adds to their fight as the girth of the fish in heavy currents makes them fun to catch on light gear.
Keeping the few above-mentioned principles in mind should help you become more consistently successful in bait fishing for Triploid Rainbows at Rufus Woods.
Bobby Loomios; Darrell & Dad’s Family Guide Service guide, Andy Byrd and Pat Salokay with a nice four guy Rufus Limit.