The Colville Indian Reservation may be the best fishing destination in the state where most Washington anglers have never wet a line.
Scattered about the million-acre reservation, two dozen of about 35 fishable lakes are open to non-tribal anglers. A few of them range from good to outstanding. All of them are crowd-free.
This lack of pressure helps explain the excellent kokanee fishing at Buffalo Lake, the nice rainbows and trophy-size bass at Twin Lakes, the chance to catch 15-inch brook trout at McGinnis and perhaps the state's best fishery for 2-foot-long Lahontan cutthroats at Omak Lake.
"A lot of people don't know how much effort we put into our fisheries," said Bret Nine, tribal resident fish program manager in Nespelem.
"The tribe puts a ton of money into the fishery at Lake Rufus Woods," he said, referring to the Columbia River reservoir, stretching from Chief Joseph Dam upstream to Grand Coulee.
Rufus Woods is well known for the commercial trout-growing operations where many of the reservoir's free-roaming trout hang out and bulk up on feed that filters through the net pens.
While the commercial operators have cut down on the number of fish escaping the net pens in recent years, the tribe has been stocking the lake regularly. "We raise about 100,000 rainbows a year for release, with some going out every month the water temperatures aren't too high," Nine said.
Most of the fish weigh 1 pound when released, but some from the net pens are released at around 4 pounds, he said.
"To date we have released 69,996 triploid rainbows into Rufus Woods," he said Thursday. "Another release will occur next week or the week after. Our last release will typically occur in July because temperatures are too high to keep them in the pens."
The tribal fishing license requirement may deter some anglers from visiting the reservation. But Lake Rufus Woods is an exception. The tribe has an agreement with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife that allows anglers to fish with either a state fishing license or a tribal fishing license at designated areas along the reservoir shoreline.
Elsewhere on the reservation, non-tribal members must have a tribal fishing license. Costs are $10 for a one-day permit, $20 for three days, $30 for seven days or $40 for a season. Seniors get discounts.
Youths under age 16 can fish free in the company of an adult with a tribal license.
On Lake Roosevelt, anglers with a state fishing license can fish almost anywhere from a boat, but a tribal license is required for fishing from the reservation's shoreline.
Thousands of trout are raised at the Colville Tribal Resident Fish Hatchery downstream from Bridgeport to stock in other reservation lakes. So far this year, 98,000 rainbows, 7,700 brookies and 103,000 Lahontan cutts have been stocked.
Three lakes have resorts: Reynolds Resort on Buffalo Lake and Rainbow Beach and Log Cabin resorts at Twin Lakes.
Other lakes are sparsely developed with access sites and vault toilets. The only fishing waters with camping, other than the resorts, are Omak, Rufus Woods, the reservation side of Lake Roosevelt and the Sanpoil Arm.