Bass Fishing Banks Lake, Washington
Banks Lake in North Central Washington probably isn’t in the conversation with other major western bass destinations like Clearlake or Shasta or Washington’s Tri-Cities area on the Columbia River, but it certainly needs to be on the 2nd tier list. It’s a scenic destination with awesome Bass fishing four hours east of Seattle on I-90.
A reservoir created when Grand Coolie Dam was built during the Great Depression. Water from the Grand Coolie Dam is diverted from the Columbia River into one of the state’s unique geological gorge formations called Coolies.
These are located in the Scab Lands region of the state and they formed during an epoch from the Ice Ages known as The Great Missoula Floods. A giant ice dam formed in the western Rocky Mountains and when it let go the sudden release of water is estimated to have been ten times the volume of all rivers combined in the world. It reformed and broke several times.
Conveniently two small earth filled dams 27 miles apart on each end of the Coolie form Banks Lake and the level of this reservoir is maintained at a near constant level. Merely 100 miles from Canada the climate is so dry the landscape reminds of Lake Mead, 1000 miles south. Banks Lake is located in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains.
In late September broad leaf trees have already begun to change color while it’s crisp in the morning and can have lows in the 40s. Water surface temperatures average in the mid 60’s. Weed growth is still plentiful in dozens of shallow bays and creeks and along the flatter sloping shorelines.
This year the lake level is down two feet from full pool and the depth of the water at the base of the reeds is just a foot to 18 inches. Drove the Triton to the back of Devil’s Punch Bowl where the reeds line the shallow creeks on the west side. After some persistence with a spinnerbait and a vibrating jig these baits produced two afternoon largemouth between 3 and 4 pounds. Gaps in the grass near the edge of the reeds.
Largemouth can be caught on the main body, but shallow grassy bays on the north end of the lake- Osborne Bay, Jones and Kruk Bays and Devil’s Punch Bowl offer the best Largemouth bass habitat. Prior to inundating by Columbia River waters Grand Coolie was a long flat valley a few miles wide where highways and a railroad were built. An additional feature of these bays is the submerged highway roadbeds and the old railroad levee. Not difficult to locate and shaking a plastic and casting a crankbait on and around them produced two more largemouth. Osborne Bay has a few creeks with depths to 15ft in the middle. Perch are abundant all over the lake and these bays have them too.
For Smallmouth bass cover is everywhere outside the shallow bays. Solid granite formations hundreds of feet high sit with 25 to 50 feet of water at their base. The signature landmark of Banks Lake- Steamboat Rock, an enormous basalt outcropping is only 10 to 30 feet deep at the bottom. It provides shade on the water until mid day and smallmouth were very receptive to a surface offering. Walking baits out performed poppers that don’t move as much while fish suspend out away from the shore over deeper water. The morning was warm and still as if summer was trying to hold on just a week longer.
Is every island a good island? Just about. Main lake facing islands big and small where water over 25 feet deep begged a few casts,.. A few of them disappointed. If Islands are producing then so are big main lake points with similar conditions. Adequate depth present and facing the main lake.
Fishing surface lures against vertical walls on the sides of points smallmouth have two dimensions to pin the bait against. Escape routes vertically and to one side aren’t possible and an optimistic predator can significantly increase their chances for success. Patience and covering water are required because many of the smallmouth are grouped up in wolf packs.
Another way they succeed in the pursuit of the bait. Competition was definitely in evidence, but fish were skittish and usually didn’t blow up again after the first time. When a strike comes wait until you know your bait has been eaten then set on the fish. A short strike is worth the pause and then deadstick and wait for a return. Sometimes it happened. Occasionally the pack’s largest fish took the first swing. Fish in the 4lb class.
Plastics are productive for Bass fishing on main lake structure and the off shore humps. Tubes in particular and try different colors until you find a favorite. Standard 3.5” on heavier than usual heads to reach the fish that are holding close to the bottom in deeper water this late in the season. Be prepared with extra baits and gear- the basalt chunk rock is particularly sticky.
The southern half of the lake the shoreline is much more horizontal. Look for boulder-strewn bottoms with depths of five to 12 feet. Smallmouth bass cruise this cover randomly and it requires covering a lot of water to get the bites. An LV-500 in Red Craw catches cookie cutter 2lb fish, but a big fish can surprise.
Fall comes quickly to this region with the arrival of cold fronts from the Gulf of Alaska. The TBF District 18 Semi Final tournament was launched from Coolie Playland Resort on the north end of the lake on October 1st and 2nd.
Temperatures cooled by ten degrees and wind and rain showers greeted the state qualifiers from Oregon and Washington. Matt Krumdiak won the two-day competition by more than 6lbs with 29.73lbs all on jerkbaits fishing over the tops of off shore humps.
Banks Lake is an experience like Mead only with comfortable temperatures, less wind, and bigger fish. The scenery is somewhat like Flaming Gorge only Banks Lake has areas with cover you can flip for Largemouth bass. It’s a remote destination and recreational boat traffic is less compared to waters near urban centers.
Steamboat Rock State Park offers best in class camping and launching facilities, while small towns on each end of the lake offer rustic amenities that are satisfactory for most fishermen. This high desert reservoir in the Pacific Northwest is relatively underrated nationwide and true a Smallmouth factory with bonus Largemouth to be had.
A worthy destination on it’s own to any Bass fisherman!