Many anglers equate trout fishing with warm sunshine, abundant insect hatches, and family picnics. Frosty fall and winter days are reserved for watching football on big-screen TV. However, there’s no reason to put your fishing tackle in the closet when maple leaves turn color in the fall. Year-round opportunity for rainbow trout abounds! For example, most low-elevation streams in eastern Washington and Oregon remain open for trout fishing until October 31. The upper Yakima River from Roza to Keechelus Dam is open year-round to catch-and-release anglers, while spring-fed Rock Ford Creek near Ephrata attracts a crowd of seasonal-affective-disorder fly casters to its resident population of jumbo rainbow trout. Upper Columbia River reservoirs and many area lakes also have extended seasons.

Late-Season Stream Fishing

For over 20 years, I camped in the same U.S. Forest Service campground on the Umatilla River for one purpose: autumn fishing. I spent overnight trips warming my backside next to a blazing campfire and waking up to ice in the water bucket. Nowadays, I’m more likely to hike up the North Fork’s fern-shrouded trail after spending the night at the family cabin. The morning bite doesn’t occur until well after bacon and eggs are served, leaving me ample time to savor the change in season. My reward is native redband trout who have little else to do but wonder, where have all the grasshoppers gone?

An easy fall hike in a wilderness setting can also be found in the South Fork Walla Walla River upstream of Harris Park. A low gradient trail leads you up a narrow, winding canyon where bedrock pools and pan-size trout wait. Classic fly patterns that include Royal Trude and Stimulator are sure to bring hungry trout to the fly.

If hiking is not your forte, convenient roadside angling for fall trout can be found on the upper Tucannon River near Camp Wooten, the Touchet River near Lewis and Clark State Park, and the North Fork arm upstream of Dayton.

Big Water Means Big Rainbows

Travel north to upper Columbia River reservoirs where trophy-sized, orange-meated trout lurk. Lake Rufus Woods, a scenic and secluded stretch of water between Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams, supports a popular winter fishery for krill-fed triploids that weigh 10 pounds or more. Boat anglers troll plugs and toss Vibrax spinners adjacent to commercial net pens and shoreline kick-points. The launch at Seatons Grove ramp sets up a 20 minute run downriver.

If it’s too cold to fire up your ancient Evinrude, then join bank anglers to plunk Power Bait near the main net pen complex off Highway 2 west of Nespelum. A newly developed campground features 31 RV spots, 30 and 50 AMP hookup sites, a pet area, handicap sites, a dumping station, sewer, water and bathroom facilities with coin operated showers. A Colville Tribal permit is required to fish from the west shore where a daily limit of two trout is in effect.

A trip I look forward to every year is trolling for fat, sassy rainbows in Lake Roosevelt. Thread a kernel of canned corn on the front hook of a bright orange or “perch” Kekeda fly and spool out six colors or more of lead core line from your Penn level-wind reel. Alternatively, drop a Wiggle Wart or Flicker Minnow down to a specified depth with the aid of a downrigger and set the cruise control on your kicker motor at 2 mph. The launch area at Fort Spokane provides convenient access to the expansive shoreline between Seven Bays and Hawk Creek. Boaters also put in at Spring Canyon to troll near Grand Coulee Dam. In any case, there’s a good chance you might also mix it up with a kokanee.

Early Spring Options for Stocker Trout

A passel of regional water bodies open for trout angling on March 1. Of the so-called Tucannon Lakes in Columbia County, Blue, Deer, Rainbow, and Spring are typically stocked first, followed by Beaver, Deer, and Watson. Pull up a lawn chair and fish near the bottom with worms, salmon eggs, or your favorite color of Berkeley’s PowerBait. It’s a social occasion where families gather and glad shouts of “I got one” fill the air.

A short drive away, Big Four is fly-fishing only with a small allocation of feisty trout. A word of advice though: getting there requires straddling a log or wading across a sometimes high and roily Tucannon River.

Bennington Lake (i.e., Mill Creek Reservoir) receives several thousand rainbow trout in early spring as does Dalton Lake. Near the Tri-Cities, Quarry, Fishhook, and Hood Park ponds each get a few thousand hatchery trout. Because much of the angler harvest occurs during the first few weeks after planting, don’t wait too long to dust the cobwebs off your trout gear. WDFW’s stocking schedule for the year can be found at

Fly fishers seeking still water and the solitude of a desert landscape flock to Lenice, Nunnally, and Merry Lakes in early spring. These small cattail-lined lakes, located in WDFW’s Crab Creek Wildlife Area near Beverly, are open to selective gear rules and a one-fish limit beginning March 1. Pack a float tube or drag a pontoon boat and sink a chironomid pattern below a strike indicator. Those anglers with less patience (like me), troll Wooly Buggers.

Whether you prefer to cast flies following the season’s first frost, regale in the solitude of a slow troll on a gray winter day, or seek stocker trout when daffodil bloom, rainbow trout are there for you.