Lake Lenice Fly Fishing Trip
This weekend we made a trip to Lake Lenice to do a little fly fishing and escape the never ending rainy grayness of Seattle’s spring season. Seattle’s winters are dreary, cold and wet. It takes a sense of optimism (at times forced) to remind ourselves that, “Yes, It will get better and we will see the sun again!”
And then I remembered that just a mere 119 miles east of my home is a desert paradise. There are lakes! And sun and great fly fishing! I haven’t been fishing in Eastern Washington for a long time, and figured that this weekend would be a great time to head over to one of my favorite lakes. Most Columbia Basin lakes start fishing well in March, and by April and May are in peak season. I conscripted my buddy Mitch to join me, who is at home in a float tube and a phenomenal fly fisherman.
How To Get To Lake Lenice
This is for all my Seattle people. Head east on I-90 for 137 miles and you will cross the Columbia River bridge at Vantage, Washington. Get off the freeway to East SR 26 (Towards Othello) for a mile and take a right on SR 243 towards Desert Aire. You will meander past arid land and sage and a few recreation areas. The road parallels the eastern bank of the Columbia River for a half dozen miles until you reach Lower Crab Creek Road and swing a left on it. You drive through the tiny rural burg of Beverly and then venture out into the wilderness, pavement turns to washboard gravel. There will be sage grouse everywhere. The Saddle Mountains tower over the south side of the road. Lower Crab Creek Road is your gateway to a number of great fishing lakes: Burkett, Nunally, Merry, Bobby and Lenice.
Lake Lenice, Merry and Nunnally
There was once a great lake in Montana (like a million years ago, maybe less… but you aren’t here for a history lesson so let’s not get picky about my facts). It built up behind a huge ice dam. Then it broke and there was a great flood (think Noah’s Ark). It consumed and scoured Eastern Washington’s Columbia Basin, creating the rocky scab land terrain we have today.
The string of lakes look like one long scoured out trough, separated yet surrounded by reed and cattail filled wetlands. These areas harbor an impressive amount of aquatic and avian life. You will see so many birds: marsh wrens, hawks, red-winged blackbirds, ducks, Canadian goose, maybe even a pelican and more. You will hear Coyote calling each other as they roam the nearby hills. The first thing that all of us from Western Washington notices is the unfamiliar sweet fragrance of sage in the air. This is a magical place.
Rainbows and Browns
The lakes have a good mix of Rainbow and Brown Trout. Rainbows are the most common, some being very good sized and cruise the shallows all day searching for food. Browns are caught occasionally by fly fishermen. There are a few intense fly guys that take their pontoon boats out at night and do pretty well for Browns (they primarily feed at night).
These are some of the more popular fly fishing lakes in the Columbia Basin. Most people practice catch and release. You can check out fishing regulations here: https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/
These lakes are accessed from Lower Crab Creek Road. Each has it’s own parking area. Each is a short hike (about 1/4 mile) from the parking area. Nunnally is the first and largest. Merry is in the middle and smallest. Lenice is the most easterly lake. All lakes are well known but Lenice is by far the most popular.
Old Boy’s Club at Lake Lenice
As we turned into the parking lot we saw there was a camper hatch going on at the lake. Not uncommon, especially on a weekend. A fair number of guys will set out to these lakes for a weekend camping trip. They will haul their pontoon boats down the trail to the lake, fish for a few hours or until the winds kick up, then head back to their base camp for a hot cup of coffee, good food and a round of fishing tales with other fishermen. The atmosphere is very fun and relaxed.
We headed down the trail and there were a few guys fishing. There were also about eight other pontoon boats on shore. It was a busy weekend. On the lake, everyone chatted with each other and offered up a kind word and free advice. While he was out-fishing me, Mitch kicked around and made friends with everyone (what a multi-tasker!). It is not easy to get competitive and stressed out about fishing in an environment such as this. When you don’t know anyone but everyone is a friend, you know you’ve found a great fishing spot. One of the reasons I love fishing on the Eastside so much!
Morning Hatch: It’s Not Spring Yet!
I went to sleep the night before dreaming of damselflies and scuds swarming the weeds of Lake Lenice. My fly box appropriately matched my expectations. But when we pushed off from shore and paddled past the cattails, I came to the realization that mother nature had been as unkind to the eastern side of our state as it had the western side this spring. The air was cold, cloud cover was thick for Eastern Washington, and Mr. Sun hadn’t been showing himself enough to really get these lakes warm enough. The shallow edges of the lake were nothing but soft mud. There was no weed growth yet.
Rainbows Rising Like Raindrops
I paddled across the lake to find trout rising all around me. The lake surface was littered with emerging chironomids. All the veteran anglers were lining the edges of the lake with indicators. I’m not a fan of fishing chironomids but I am a fan of catching fish… but I didn’t bring a single chironomid imitation! I felt like asking for a dunce cap for being so unprepared. I kicked around with a damselfly, then a scud, to no avail. There were no signs of either in the water so it was no surprise. When trout are keyed in on an ultra-specific food source it is extremely challenging to get them to change their minds.
I tied on a red-hackle wooley bugger and got absolutely throttled by a nice trout but it came off before the fight really began. I was flustered. Mitch caught a few nice trout on a thin leech pattern. I kicked around for most of the day before I really had to stop and collect my thoughts. There were a few sparse size 14 stone fly nymphs in my fly box. With my scissors, I butchered them down to as small of a profile as I could, attempting to shape them into a chironomid… to my surprise it took me about a half minute to land my first fish! That was the ticket. I used what I had, but if I was prepared with a few chironomid imitations I think the overall results would have been better. But an experience like this will make me a better fisherman for sure.
We fished until the afternoon winds kicked up and it started to rain. A reminder that we had to head home. I will be vigilantly watching the Moses Lake weather for a long stretch of warm weather… once those weeds get growing in the lakes I will be back. Thanks Mitch for the fun trip!
Lake Lenice: https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/washington/822/
Lake Nunnally: https://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/water_access/30170/