Drano Lake Springer Salmon Fishing Tips & Techniques: Columbia River
Ask anyone in the Pacific northwest that has fished on the Columbia river, what the best tasting salmon is. If they know anything about salmon, the answer is simple, Drano Lake Springer Salmon. The Drano Lake & Wind River fishery is a staple amongst our fishing guides, and we are happy to share some tips and techniques to enhance your catching. Drano lake is a fabulous fishery and easily accessible for just about every type of boat. Just a little word of caution, the Columbia River Gorge is known for strong winds and heavy boat traffic. Follow along as we take you to the special section of the Columbia river, where springer salmon are destined to the little salmon fish hatchery.
Drano Lake & Wind River Location
Drano Lake is an impoundment separated from the Columbia river by railroad tracks and highway 14. Located in Skamania County, Washington and just miles upstream of Stevenson Washington. Drano was once a back bay off the Columbia until the railroad closed off the mouth and introduced train tracks in the late 1800’s. Inevitably, backwater from Bonneville dam would fill the lake and flood the last few miles of the Little White Salmon River. This backwater is now considered one of the finest springer fisheries we have in the Pacific Northwest. Drano Lake was born, and the rest is history. Learn about the Little White Salmon Fish Hatchery
Little White Salmon Fish Hatchery
Drano lake has a fish hatchery located on the Little White Salmon River which means the fish aren’t going anywhere. The hatchery produces up to 9.4 million salmon/steelhead smolt which are annually released to the lake and other locations within the state of Washington.
Drano Lake Springer Salmon – Best Eating Salmon
What’ the big splash we hear how a Columbia River Springer tastes so much better than other types of salmon. You want the skinny, Drano Lake springers enter the Columbia in the month of April. What does this mean, they have an extremely high fat content stored up in their body because spawn doesn’t happen until summer. The result is an oily, moist fillet that is out of this world for barbequing. Simply said, you will not find a better eating salmon in the Pacific Northwest.
Spring Salmon Fishing is Popular at Drano
Drano Lake Springer Salmon fishing is super popular and requires tons of patience. If you’re not willing to bump into other anglers and watch the boat next to you fight a fish, this is not the place for you. When the fish are in, expect the parking lots to be full and the toilet bowl to look like the Indy 500. Boat control and patience is a must. Get in line and enjoy the tight quarters. This is a big reason why most anglers choose to hire a fishing guide. The big prize is the 15-20-pound bright, chrome salmon. The Columbia river springer averages around the 15 lb. range but we’ve also caught some in the middle to upper 20’s.
Returning Chinook to Drano Lake & Wind River
The lower part of the Columbia typically closes early April. A 1 fish limit is common in the mainstream Columbia, Snake and Clearwater river and expect to have restrictions on hooks, rods and areas. However, Drano often allows a 2 fish limit, 2 pole endorsement, and allows party fishing. Down years on much of the river, brings early closures and sometimes never opening at all. Drano Lake still produces enough fish “only” if it is a 1 fish limit. The Drano Lake Spring Chinook will traditionally start trickling into the lake by April 1st and peak in early May. On certain years, fishing can continue to be good all the way through the month of June.
Spring Salmon Fishing Techniques
As years have gone by, salmon fishing techniques have immensely changed. In today’s “modern day” Drano Lake trolling, gear looks different in each guide boat. Cannonball sinkers in the 6-12 oz. attached to rotating flashers such as Leo’s, Pro-trolls, Shortbus and Spin Doctor Dream Weaver flashers is the norm. Spinners like Mack smiley blades 1.5, Macks Double D Dodger, UV Glow Burst and Double Wammy Walleye spinners are all hot tickets. Cut plugs like Brad Super Baits and Brad’s mini kokaneeare becoming a staple. For spinner applications, pro-cure prawn and shrimp cure makes a fantastic cured coon shrimp. Anglers using Super baits or cut plugs, tuna in oil, scented with Pro-Cures sardine, shrimp, and herring is deadly. Other guides choose to pull prawn spinners with cut herring wraps. Whatever your flavor is, it all works!
High Catch Rates – Pay a Price
Drano Lake is a fantastic “catching” fishery. Just remember, high catch rates come with a cost. High winds, crowded fishing, lines at the boat ramp, impatient anglers, is all part of Drano. If you are not completely comfortable with all these variables, hire a guide and experience Drano in a stress free, fun environment.
Stott’s Favorite Techniques for Drano Lake
Columbia River springers love prawns and herring. While we have our favorite rigging, we let the fish tell us what they want. Herring wraps, prawn rigs and tuna filled super-baits all work. We have seen some patterns here. Colder water or early mornings, springers are a bit shallower. Keep your line at a 45° angle and fish at 20 feet. We fish different water columns with the bow rods using heavier weights to bang the bottom. The middle rods will be just off the bottom with back rods, flat lined. Covering 3 different water columns lets us know where the fish are. Typically, early morning we see a herring bite with our slow rolling Leo Flashers. As water starts to warm, the fish go a little deeper and it’s the prawn and spinner game. Eventually, the superbait and kokanee cutplug bite will become king for the day.
Trolling Speed for Drano Lake Springer
Key is to keep your rod at a 45° angle and keep a nice spread in the water columns. Most of our trolling is from 1.5 to 2.0 mph. There are times we use 6 oz. of lead and other times we go with heavier 8 oz. cannonballs. When you detect a bite, hit your trolling motor throttle to drive the hook. Anglers make the mistake of lifting the rod out of the holder too early to set the hook. We make sure the rod is loaded up and have our anglers start to reel, keeping the line tight.
Playing the Wind on Drano Lake
It’s fairly uncommon to fish Drano lake without some sort of wind. After all, it is the Columbia river gorge. Drano anglers actually prefer some wind out of the west. The westerly wind has a tendency to push dirtier water into the neck of the lake, pushing salmon toward the hatchery. An Easterly wind is better than nothing, it doesn’t bring dirty water, but it does present some surface break. If the pond has frog water, fishing gets tough and time to tinker.
Drano Lake Spring Salmon Pro Tips
- Be flexible with your techniques
- Keep your bait fresh, change out every 45 minutes or so
- Fish different depths and varied water columns
- Early mornings fish shallow – afternoons move to deeper water
- When detecting bites, let the fish eat and keep your rod in the rod holder. Patience!
- Experiment with Flashers, Smiley Blades and Prawn Spinners
- Spread your trolling gear out and fish different depths.
- Experiment with trolling speeds and keep a 45° angle
- Keep herring, prawns and tuna on board. Fish will let you know what they want
- Keep in tune with the Bonneville dam fish counts
I would say Drano Lake Springer Salmon are a unique salmon in every sense. If you catch it at the right time, it’s world class. Fish pass over the Bonneville dam and we intercept them headed to the Little White Salmon hatchery. Our guides spend the better part of a month entertaining anglers that come from all over. We’ve broken down the fishery and shared tips and techniques to eager anglers trying to get an edge. Nothing is perfect, and by no means do we feel this is the end to all Drano Lake salmon fishing. Although, we’ve weeded through our numerous mistakes and left you with a solid blue print to catching more fish.
Thanks for the read, hope to see you on the water
Tom Bullock, Fishing guide with Team Fish Stott’s