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BIG Surprises Await At Buffalo Lake.

BIG Surprises Await At Buffalo Lake.

Ever fish a lake or stream, and tell yourself that you’d go back there sometime? Maybe the fishing wasn’t that great, but you could see the potential and wanted to give it another try. Buffalo Lake on Colville Indian Reservation in North Central Washington was one of these for me, and this year I did something about it. If fished it once, briefly, about three years ago and always planned to go back. I finally made it this year, and if I had known what kind of surprises were waiting for me, I would not have let those years pass without giving Buffalo Lake a visit.

I made my return trip to Buffalo Lake over Memorial Weekend this year, and one of the reasons this lake was our destination is that one of the people who was with me on the first trip there was a member of the Memorial Weekend fishing party. He also saw the potential of Buffalo Lake, so it was easy to make a trip here part of our plans. The first night of our four-day weekend was spent at Rufus Woods, upriver from the net pens. If we would have known what was waiting for us at Buffalo, we would have skipped Rufus altogether.


We broke camp at Rufus Woods, spent some time trolling around without any success and then broke camp, loaded up the boat and headed for Buffalo Lake.

We got a campsite, purchased our tribal fishing permits and got everything set up. When I had the boat ready to go, I noticed that there was a large truck parked right in the middle of the launch. I walked over to see what the deal was, and got my first, big surprise. The truck was from Columbia River Fish Farms and it was unloading brood stock rainbow! These fish were averaging 6 to 8 pounds. It took the guys almost an hour to net the fish from the truck tanks and drop them into the water.

I was willing to wait.

When the truck pulled out and we dropped the boat in, lets just say we were fishing with a heightened sense of anticipation for big fish. I myself didn’t really plan on any surprises. Just-planted fish usually take a day or two to settle out and begin to feed or attack lures.

Two people in our party were fly fishers. So we trolled with two fly rods and two trolling rods, which was fine with me. I ran out a couple of my favorite Rapalas and we began to explore the lake. We caught a few small trout and found a lot on the fish finder at the very east end of the lake. We decided to head back toward camp, maybe make a pass or two in the launch bay and them prepare our dinner.

When we reached the launch bay, I tied on a Rooster Tail in my favorite color (chartreuse with black), and started trolling a path around the small bay. We wanted to get our friend Debi into some fish before we quit for the day. We didn’t get far into the bay before the rod with the Rooster Tail on it slammed against the rod holder. Line was burning off the casting reel as I handed it to Debi and the battle was on!

The fish turned out to be full of eggs, and the female exploded in the boat, spewing eggs everywhere. This fish still weighed close to 6 pounds, though, and Debi was both elated and exhausted from the excitement. We headed for the dock and dinner and anticipation of another great time at Buffalo Lake the following day.

In the morning we decided to head straight to the far-east bay where we had marked tons of fish. This is a short run really. The lake is about 500 total acres, and my 17-foot Smoker Craft Osprey Deluxe is outfitted with a hundred-horse Yamaha four stroke.

We found the fish all right, and proceeded to catch and release a bunch of planted rainbow. The rainbow averaged about 10 inches and hit both lures and flies readily. The water at this end of the lake was shallow and weedy, and we fished the edges in about 12 feet of water, but got a lot of rainbow as shallow as six or eight feet. This was fun and all, but we wanted to find some larger fish, so we started working our way back up lake through a series of bays that line both shores of Buffalo. Buffalo Lake is at about 2,000 feet in elevation. High above the Columbia River Gorge, and it’s where the sagebrush gives way to pines. It’s a pretty spot.

The next bay produced more, small rainbow, but also a couple of silvers of about 15 inches. Buffalo is famous for its silver fishing, which is just one more reason I will be back there in the fall.

The small rainbow and silvers were keeping us happy, but ba-boom! Another rod rattling strike woke up the crew and got us scrambling for the net. This one was landed by Eileen and netted by my friend Greg, and it was a beauty. This one probably weighed close to 7 pounds and was hooked in such a way that it was easy to release.

Greg also hooked a monster on his fly rod in the next bay up, but it slipped the fly before we could see it. We then headed for camp, lunch and break at mid-day.

Following lunch we all decided to try our luck fly fishing along the shore near the campground. None of us had any luck—except Eileen. She waded out from shore about fifty yards above our camp and was flinging a brown Wooly Bugger. Ka-Wham! She was screaming or someone to come and see what she had, but before she got anyone’s attention, the fish broke off.

When we got back out on the water later that day, we got a bunch more of the planted rainbow, another silver, and two more of the big boys.

To make a long, really fun story short, we hooked a total of 10 really big fish, landed seven and were able to release all but two. The surprise was that there were this number of big rainbow in Buffalo Lake, and I found out that there were a lot more than the ones we saw being planted. The majority of the big fish we caught were feeding like this had always been their home.

Another surprise about Buffalo Lake was that there wasn’t much of a crowd here. I mean this was Memorial Weekend, the biggest weekend of the year for this lake, and there was maybe ten boats tied to the dock. There were a good number of RVs and campers there, but not many tents pitched on the lawn.

Most of the people that we talked to had been coming to Buffalo Lake for years. It seemed we were the only first-timers there. Granted, there isn’t much here in the order of amenities. There are not showers here, and fresh water is obtained at the fish cleaning station. There is one pit toilet that serves the whole campground. There are several small cabins for rent, but I think the reason there are so many RVs is that they are self-contained. You know, have toilets, showers, water, etc., right on board.

Still, I was amazed that so few people were spending a long weekend at such an obviously great place to be. This is just one more surprise about Buffalo Lake.

If you want to plan your own Buffalo Lake adventure this fall, I’ll give you some more details that might help make your fishing here memorable. Fall should be a spectacular time to fish here. Fall fishing should be even better than spring, and certainly better than mid-summer.

As I mentioned earlier, Buffalo Lake is about 500 acres in size. This makes it possible to run all over this lake with ease. Small boats are just fine here. There are bays that break both north and south on the lake, so if it’s rough out in the middle there are options.

The deepest point that I found was about halfway down the lake, smack in the middle. The depth sounder registered 120 feet. What I learned looking for bottom, was where the silvers were hanging. I marked fish after fish between 45 and 30 feet when at the hundred-foot depth in the lake. I didn’t know what they were at the time, and although I ran a variety of plugs past them, nothing tempted them to strike. Next time I will try some spoons, like a Needlefish, and even some gang trolls and worms. Silver populations are so strong here that the limit is 15 fish a day.

The rainbow we caught were all taken on Rapalas, except the first one, that smacked a Rooster Tail. Although I have a pair of Scotty downriggers on the boat, we didn’t use them, except when I was trying for the “mystery” fish hanging at forty feet. Running out 75 to a hundred feet of line with floating Rapalas did the job just fine. Rapala colors that worked best were the rainbow, black-back with silver belly, and the bronze.

Buffalo Lake is not just a destination for trout anglers, either. Although at a relatively high elevation, it is loaded with largemouth bass. I didn’t fish for bass myself on my visit to Buffalo, but there was a serious-business bass boat on the water. The word at the fish cleaning station was that the anglers aboard the bass boat were taking five-fish limits averaging over 20 pounds while they were here. Not bad. I did notice that they spent most of their time in the shallow-water bay at the far east end of the lake. Given the nature of the water in this area, I would suggest worms, lizards or leeches to start. Largemouth bass are so plentiful that the daily limit is 25.

There are also brook trout in Buffalo Lake. Fish to 18 inches are no surprise here either. You may want to alter your tactics a bit to target the brook trout. I know that fly anglers do fairly well on this species, and one place to start looking for them would be the first bay to the right, facing down lake from the resort. There is also a launch in this bay, and a pit toilet.

Another reason people come to Buffalo Lake is for the crawdad. Yup, another surprise. It is loaded with them, and they get big, too. We missed the season opener by one day when we were there, but crawdads are such an attraction here there is a special season. The season runs from June 1st through September 30th, and the daily limit for crawfish is ten pounds in the shell.

There is also a special winter season at Buffalo Lake. The winter fishing must be darn popular here, because there is a fee of $20.00. This is in addition to the Colville Tribal permit. These cost $7.50 for a day, $18.00 for a three-day, $20.00 a seven-day, and $35.00 for a seasonal permit. You can buy the permits right at the resort at Buffalo Lake. The special winter fishing season at Buffalo Lake is from January 1st through March 15th.

To check in on fishing conditions, book a reservation for an RV spot or camping space, you can call Reynolds Resort or Buffalo Lake Resort, depending on what directory it’s listed in. The Colville Tribe now operates the resort. Mike, the manager, lives at the resort and is very helpful. He indicated when we were there that there are several improvements planned for the resort, and additional plants to attract more anglers. The number for the resort is (509) 633-1092.

Fall is here, and if you haven’t made plans for the balance of your fishing season, put Buffalo Lake on your list. You’ll be surprised by what you’ll find here. Not just the fishing. You’ll be surprised there aren’t more people there at such a beautiful spot, and that, like me, you hadn’t been there before.