Rufus Woods Impoundment, Triploid Rainbow Fishing

If you would like the chance to catch LARGE rainbow trout, the Rufus Woods impoundment on the Columbia River between Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams are the place to go.

So, just what is a triploid trout? These genetically altered rainbow trout can get large and are football shaped fat. It is a Rainbow trout that has had its chromosomes altered by taking eyed eggs and treating them in either a warm water bath or a pressure bath. This causes one of the chromosomes to split thereby creating a fish with three (triploid) rather than the normal two (diploid) chromosomes. The end result is a sterile fish. This means that triploids do not go through a spawn cycle. Instead, the just continue to eat and grow. Think steer, not mule. In other words a triploid is a sterile rainbow not a sterile hybrid. Since they do not go through a spawn cycle and all the food that goes into them is turned into growth and waste with nothing diverted to reproduction their size potential is much greater than a regular diploid rainbow. The world record rainbow of 43.6 pounds was a triploid that came out of Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan Canada.

State Record Fish : This reservoir is mostly known for its world class trophy triploid rainbow trout. It’s home to the current state record and there is a good chance that the next state record triploid will be caught out of Rufus Woods. There’s something about winter at Rufus Woods Reservoir. On February 23rd of 1998 Robert Halverson landed a 25-pound, .45-ounce triploid rainbow. This beat the old state record that had stood for decades by nearly 3 pounds. It was broken shortly after again, then again . Tim Hill of Twisp landed a 25-pound, 11 ½-ounce fish on January 8th. The current record holder is Norm Butler with a 29.6 pound brute taken November 11, 2002. OK, there’s something about winter fishing at Rufus Woods.

Average rainbows caught there range from 2 to 6 pounds. Since these are raised in net pens before being released into the system, their fins (particularly the dorsal and tail fins) shows wear. Because they are triploids and well fed, they have a much less streamlined shape than a diploid rainbow. This shape, resembling a football, adds to their fight as the girth of the fish in heavy currents makes them fun to catch on light gear.

History of These Fish : In 1993 the “pens”, where rainbow were being raised for sale to restaurants on the west side of the mountains. Sport fishing there at the time would bring in rainbow weighing from 6 to 12 pounds. They were attracted to the feed that leeched from the pens, and the fishermen were picking off these whoppers by fishing bobber-and-jig rigs, much like fishing for steelhead on the Columbia.

In 1995 things changed here dramatically. The story is that an angler that was trying to tie up to the pens got a little too close, and tore a hole in one of the nets. An estimated 10,000 triploid rainbow escaped, and the fishing party was on! Boats and bank anglers flocked to the site and caught bunches of the 18″ to 20-inch fish that were shaped more like a crappie, and weighed about 4 pounds each.

After this incident, more and more of these fish were taken from the reservoir. Anglers fishing Power Bait and worms from the bank forty miles below the pens were soon taking fair numbers of these rainbow weighing in the teens. Due to the popularity of this new fishery, both the Colville Indians and the Washington State Department of Fisheries purchased fish from Columbia River Fish Farms and added them to the reservoir. The frequency of catch and size of the fish was sustained.

Rufus Woods produces good numbers of big, triploid rainbow all year long. A common fish here will weigh-in at 6 to 9 pounds. Scores of fish weighing into the teens are taken every year, too, but the winter months are when the highest number of anglers will land the highest number of really big fish.


Rufus Woods lake showing good Walleye locations


The Impoundment : This reservoir is actually part of the Columbia River impounded above Chief Joseph Dam and is the second largest hydropower producing dam in the United States. It is the largest hydropower producing dam operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Alone it produces enough power to supply the whole Seattle metropolitan area.

Power produced here is marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration.

Fifty-one mile long Rufus Woods Lake offers a bounty of recreation opportunities. Recreation at Chief Joseph Dam is centered around the Columbia River. Behind the dam is fifty-one-mile long Rufus Woods Lake. Fishing, boating, camping and hiking are the most popular recreation activities. Chief Joseph Dam is located in north central Washington state, just upstream from the town of Bridgeport. You will find it where Washington Highway 17 crosses the Columbia River. Visitors are invited to begin their visit to the dam at the Orientation Area. There you will find interpretive displays and brochures which will guide you on your exciting journey. As you approach the dam, tune your AM radio to 1610. The radio broadcast will familiarize you with the history of the dam as well as recreation opportunities in the area.

Net Pens : The Triploid Rainbow Trout fishery is completely dependent on a net pen operation located near the middle of the reservoir. The Colville tribe has an agreement with the operator to release approximately 2,500 fish per month into the system. These releases are unpredictably augmented at times due to accidents. The most recent excess release occurred during the heavy runoff in the spring of 2011 when heavy nitrogen build up near the pens would have caused fish to die if confined causing the owners to release a lot of fish. The high run off also caused net pens to break apart and an estimated 100,000 triploids escaped into Rufus Woods.

There are actually three sets of pens on Rufus Woods. The (Lower) set is about 33 miles upriver from Chief Jo dam. The (Middle) set is the set that is closest to Nespelem and they are about 38 miles upriver from Chief Jo and the (Upper) set is about 45 miles upriver from Chief Jo. The upper set of pens for a while was getting the most traffic (Combat Fishing) because of the accidental release of 32,000 triploids. You will find the fishing around the lower set of pens to be much more relaxed because there are not as many people there. Bear in mind that there is over 100 miles of shoreline on Rufus Woods (much of it non-fishable however), so if you want to fish away from people it’s easy…just move.


Here a fisherman is fishing below the upper net pens on a COLD October day.



Time to Fish for the Triploids: So, what aspects of this fishery make bait fishing for these guys different than going to your local put and take pond to catch rainbows? The first is the environment. The second is a set of characteristics that make these fish different from diploid rainbows.

The environment of Rufus Woods has characteristics that position the fish differently than in most lakes. The first is variable flow, the second is temperature lag and the third is fertility. Because Rufus Woods is dependent on what comes out of Grand Coulee Dam, its flow can vary from nothing to very fast. The effect on leader length and the weight necessary to hold bottom can vary greatly. Rufus Woods water temps “lag” behind smaller bodies of water as it transitions through the seasons. Rainbow trout can tolerate water from 32 degrees to about 75 degrees Fahrenheit with a preferred temperature range is in the mid-fifties.

Rufus Woods has a well-deserved reputation for being a late fall / winter fishery. This is because it typically takes until November for its water temperature to drop below 60 degrees which really gets the metabolism of a rainbow trout going fast. This in turn makes them easier to catch. Ironically, in the spring when most anglers are eager to fish, Rufus Woods surface water temperature stays below 40 F which makes the triploids relatively inactive and difficult to catch. This is because of the constant infusion of 32 degree snowmelt water entering the system from the Columbia’s upper watershed in Canada as well as from the mountains of North Central Washington. The increased turbidity of the water also makes spring on Rufus a difficult time to fish. Keeping the ideal temperature range of the fish in mind can assist you in eliminating unproductive water and focusing your efforts where you are most likely to catch fish.

Fertility in Rufus Woods is greatest around the net pens because of the infusion of the pellets that feed the fish and the waste that comes from the fish. Other areas of increased fertility are where agricultural runoff and other water sources enter the system. Also, keep in mind that when the general water temperature is below 40 and well out of the triploids comfort range; they will seek areas where springs keep the temperature higher than the surrounding reservoir. The same thing occurs in late summer and early fall when the temperatures of the Reservoir water are above the Triploids comfort range. Because of these factors combined with the specific characteristics of the Triploid Rainbow, you have to tailor your location and presentation in some specific ways to consistently catch these fish.

The specific characteristics of these fish that need to be considered when determining location and presentation are the shape and limitations of the fish and its conditioned feeding pattern. First, because these fish are not streamlined and have relatively worn fins they will not swim as fast as non-net pen raised Diploid Rainbows. Slow your presentation down. Second, because they have been conditioned to eat hatchery pellets and they are slower they tend to not take bigger baits. If you clean hundreds of these fish over the years. Rarely will you find a fish in them bigger than a perch fry or stickleback (.75 to 1.5”). Far and away the most common stomach contents are hatchery pellets and snails. After that, midge larvae along with vegetation of all kinds are what you’ll typically find. The biggest (and weirdest) stomach seen was a dough bait jar in a nine-pound trout.

One aspect of fishing at Rufus Woods that frustrates shore anglers and boaters alike is the inconsistency of the bite here. It is not so much a morning and evening thing, as it is determined by the flow controlled by the dams. When there is a decent flow, the bite is good to great. When the flow is low, the bite sucks. There is no way to determine in advance whether the dams will be dumping water or holding it to generate power in the winter months. Even the folks at Columbia River Fish Farms, who should be in the know, have no clue as to what the flow will be like from day to day. Typically, though, which drives anglers nuts is that the flow is usually low during the weekends. This makes it tough for the weekend warriors. Sometimes they are surprised with sufficient current to get the fish active and have a great day.

Where to Fish : The “no-brainer” location is of course the net pens. Not very creative or original, but it can be very effective. Just remember that while it is OK to tie up to the support lines, it is not ok to tie up to the pens themselves. This is where the most readily available food source is present in the form of hatchery pellets to concentrate the fish. Remember the fish are there to feed on pellets that escape the pens. Therefore, your best bet is to fish the bottom below the pens. This can be extraordinarily deep for rainbows. Most of the time we are fishing at water depths of 75 to 95 feet.

However, it is not necessary to run to the net pens to catch triploid trout by bait fishing. Use your eyes to locate the spots. Primarily, you are looking for concentrations of surfacing fish to find those locations. Secondarily, look for water entering the system. Remember the shallower the water that the fish are hanging out in, the spookier they will be. While a stealthy approach to the pens is completely unnecessary, some of these other shallower locations require a quiet approach or a significant stand-off distance. Since this is a 51 mile long reservoir, there are plenty of potential hot spots for you to discover and make your own. It is unnecessary to crowd in with other anglers. There are fish concentrated in a variety of obvious and not so obvious locations. As an extra bonus, locating those spots can provide you with the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife as well as give you that satisfaction that comes from being a pioneer instead of a follower.

For anglers who fish from the bank, there are two areas that get the most traffic. One is just above the dam on the east shore of the reservoir. There are a couple of points here with good parking and easy access to the water. The Corps of Engineers, who built the dam, have even made available some fire pits and picnic tables and handicapped access at these locations.

Most anglers here are going to be using spinning or casting gear of steelhead weight. Not all the fish caught at Rufus Woods are in contention for the record books, but the likelihood of hooking a fish weighing 10 pounds or better is good enough that using lighter gear is risky business.

I would go to the pens just too see them. you want to be at the boat launch as early as you can get there and be at the lower net pens by 730- 8:00. It takes about 40 minute boat ride to the pens going like 35. So that’s just what we do because in the early hours before ten you cant keep them off your line. Those times are just by our preference. If we hadn’t lost those few fish we would have limited out and been home by noon.

Most of the anglers here will also be using either Power Bait of one flavor or another, or nightcrawlers. Anglers will also be using a slip sinker rig with a stout leader. The sinkers will be on the heavy end of the scale for casting, and sticking to the bottom, as there are varying currents here. I know of anglers who fish roe or jigs and shrimp below a bobber here, too, but there is usually too many lines in the water to attempt this technique.

Reaching this spot is easy. Anglers traveling from the west side take Highway 97 north from Wenatchee, through Brewster and take the turn off for Bridgeport. When they cross the bridge just below Chief Joseph Dam, they hang a left and another left about two miles up.

Getting to the other popular bankfishing site can be more difficult for first-time anglers. Highway 2 is the most direct route from the west and east to reach Banks Lake. From there anglers should head for Coulee Dam. To the west of Coulee Dam is the town of Nespelem, on the Colville Indian Reservation. Just past the Trading Post here, there is a fair grounds, and anglers should take a left. This road winds down to the river and the Tims Ranch property. The Columbia River Fish Farms, the people who raise the triploids is on this property. Access to the shoreline near the net pens is allowed through the cooperation of the Tims Ranch, Columbia River Fish Farms and the Colville Indian Reservation.

It is important to note that fishing in this location, in fact the entire west shore of Rufus Woods requires a Colville Tribal fishing permit. A one-day permit costs $7.50; a three-day permit costs $18.00; a seven-day permit costs $20.00 and a seasonal permit is $35.00. Anglers can obtain these permits at the Triangle Texaco in Brewster when traveling up Highway 97. There is a Kwik E Mart in Bridgeport, just across the road from the turn to road that leads above the dam. They don’t carry the permits, but are the last stop for items like gas, snacks, ice, etc.

A good place to stop on the way, or to call ahead for current information on Rufus Woods fishing, directions to the pens, and even Colville Tribal permits is Coulee Playland in Electric City. The camping resort is at the very north end of Banks Lake, just outside of the town of Coulee Dam. You can reach them by phone by calling (509) 633-2671. You will also find a link to their web site on the Home Page of You will also find a link to Rod Hammons Guide Service on the site. Rod specializes in fishing for Rufus Woods trout and walleye. If you are not “wired”, you can call him at (509) 689-2849.

How to Fish : When it comes to bait, trying to “matching the hatch” is futile. There are just too many pellets. Instead you want to use something that attracts them with a smell that is similar to but distinct from the hatchery pellets. Use Pautzke’s Fire Bait in pinks and green. You will want to use enough bait to encase a single #6 hook completely. You only need to leave the hook exposed when the water temperatures drop below 40 degrees making it difficult for the hook point to exit the bait into the fish. Fish a leader of two to eight pound test mono of at least four and a half feet in length. This will allow that Fire Bait to rise above the weed tips and be visible to the fish. Another effective bait combo is to use good old Pautzke’s Balls O’ Fire salmon eggs floated with a marshmallow.

You will need to lengthen the leader from there to compensate for increased flow. If the flow is negligible you can fish the more common 3/8oz to 1/2oz slip sinker. You must increase the weight as the flow increases to find and hold bottom. I’d be prepared to go all the way to 3 or more ounces when flow is heavy. Another subtle alteration of your presentation that can increase your bite rate when there is significant current is to add a small Mack’s Lure Smile Blade above your hook with a bead between the blade and hook knot. That slow wobble can provide just the right amount of vibration to appeal to the fish.

Another thing, that you will find is that about 90% of your bites will occur within the first 5 or 10 minutes of a cast. If you haven’t gotten bit within 10 minutes of casting, it’s recommend that you retrieve your bait, check it and recast possibly into a different location.

If you are seeing significant surface activity and not many fish on the sonar, a reasonable alteration would be to change to a baited jig and slip bobber presentation. If you do this, it is recommended that you go small. Use jigs that vary from 1/8th oz to 1/32nd oz for best effect tipped with coon shrimp cured in orange or pink Fire Cure or a kernel or two of Fire Corn. For jigs a recommendation would be either Mack’s Lures Glow Getter Jigs or Worden Lures Maxi-Jigs. When there is sufficient current going to turn it, a Mack’s Lures Smile Blade above the jig can increase your effectiveness.

Those who troll will use a wide variety of lures. Large Rapalas are a favorite, but many trollers will also pull Wiggle Warts, Flatfish or Kwikfish. Not many use use the gang trolls and worms, but some do troll the Double Whammys and worms and even Wedding Rings and worms and this seems to be increasing in popularity. A few will use the small Apex designed for Kokanee fishing.

Some will troll small perch colored Rapalas or a crawdad plug. Try fishing from the first pump station up to the third pump (they should be numbered). Its a short jaunt in the boat from Bridgeport State park. Also try trolling down by the buoy line. Keep your boat as close to the buoys as possible. Its pretty deep there 20-35 feet.

Go to where the blue pens and drift thru the black ones and flip black rooster tails with shiny silver is what they hit.

The water on Rufus Woods is Gin clear so if you decide to troll make sure that you troll with your choice of hook setup along way behind the boat. Some may troll a large woolly bugger style fly behind a wiggle fin action disc approximately 100 yards behind the boat close to the shore on the surface at 1 to 2 mph and consistently get hook ups. If you want to fish for more than a couple of hours make sure to use single barbless hooks so that you can catch and release. You will have the most fun casting small jigs, spinners, Trout Pellet Flies and Super Rooster tails to the shore. Trout Pellet Flies are by far the most productive way to fish on Rufus Woods especially in the areas adjacent to the net pens.

Boaters who make the run to the net pens will often be using the same tackle and tactics that the shore anglers are employing. They will tie-up to the pens or anchor and soak Power Bait or worms on the bottom. Some anchor in about 30 feet of water just below the pens and cast steelhead style, lead-head jigs tipped with a worm.

Keeping the few above-mentioned principles in mind should help you become more consistently successful in bait fishing for Triploid Rainbows at Rufus Woods.

Walleye Fishing : Here a chance when Triploid fishing to also catch a walleye, using the regular trout gear mentioned above. You can always expect to find a few walleyes in the protected seams just off the fast current, waiting for a meal to come by, but in the winter and early spring, a tad bit calmer water may be where you will find them. Many fishermen will launch at Seton’s Cove and hit all the little backwaters, behind the big island and the lee side of Split Rock.

The method may vary depending on the time of the year and the water temperature. Spring and summer probably the standard walleye trolling rigs would be a good bet. Also they seem to stay closer to the Grand Coulee dam as any small fish coming through the turbines stun or kill these fish which provides an easy meal for the walleye. Here you may have to vary your approach depending on how much water is coming through the turbines. If it is comparatively slow, you can fish as deep as 30′, but if the water is really flowing, then head for the shallower water maybe nearer 15′ so you have more control of your jig.

Later when the water cools down, then a 3/8 oz. leadhead jig with a 3′ curly tail. Sometimes you may need to entice them with a half of a night crawler added to the jig / curly tail. No fast jigging here as their metabolism is low and they are conserving their energy.

These coldwater walleyes are not going to be super active. If you find any on your sonar, stay on top of them, maybe even to where you entice them into striking.

Boat Launches : There are numerous boat launches, either State Parks, WDFW or from a unimproved Okanogan tribal access a few miles below Grand Coulee dam. However if you plan on fishing the tribal access you will also need a tribal license.

The two best launch sites on the reservoir are on the Army Corp of Engineers property just above the dam and across and up the lake at the Bridgeport State Park. For approximately two-thirds of its length the reservoir runs east-west. The north shore past Bridgeport State Park is mostly Colville Indian Reservation land. The south side of the reservoir is a mix of public and private ownership.


Bridgeport state park boat launch



There are two boat launches with docks on Rufus Woods Lake near Chief Joseph Dam; the Bridgeport State Park boat launch on the north side of the river is double lane and has a couple of docks, lots of traffic and Launch Fees. The Willow Flats Corps of Engineers boat launch on the south side of the river. It however a single lane, less people, less boat traffic, lots of parking and NO launch fees.

Also downstream of the dam on Lake Pateros, boaters can use a ramp at Marina Park and fishing is good there also.

Most boaters use these launches for the run up to the net pens however this is about a 40-mile run, so it is not one to undertake with a car topper.

On the upper portion of the lake, two more boat ramps are located on the north shore, a gravel ramp Army Corp / Bureau of Reclamation / Tribe launch located at River Mile 581, off of the Columbia River road. It’s got the last stop pooper to make your trip more pleasant. Also plenty of parking. And farther upriver the Seton’s Grove boat ramp near Elmer City below Grand Coulee Dam, this would be the first choice for those traveling from east as it is only about a ten-mile run down to the upper net pens from the Seton’s Grove launch.

Boaters searching for big fish at Rufus Woods also commonly head for the area above the dam and the net pens. There is an excellent launch, dock and parking area near that shore fishers use. It is a very short run to the barrier above that dam, and many boaters start their day here. It is a very popular location for those who are after the silvers that inhabit Rufus Woods. The silvers run large here, weighing up to 3 pounds. The daily limit for silvers, rainbow (triploids included) or a combination is just two fish. Boaters will also troll the shorelines, particularly the eastern shore, for the first four miles or more of the reservoir from here.

Accommodations / Camping : Camping accommodations can be had Bridgeport State Park, Marina Park, Rocky Flats, and the Colville Tribe Net Pens are the campgrounds in the Chief Joseph Dam and Rufus Woods Lake area.

License Requirements : There have been a few regulation changes on Rufus Woods recently, most importantly the use of bait or scent in regards to catch & release. However as mentioned above, if you plan on fishing the tribal bank access you will also need a tribal license.

• License Requirement – In waters of Rufus Woods Lake or within the Colville Tribal Designated Fishing Areas, either a tribal permit or state license shall be acceptable. A state license is still required when fishing from the Douglas County shoreline

• Kokanee – are now included as part of Daily (2) TROUT limit.• All Species – Chumming is not permitted

Reason for action: Standardize regulations on boundary waters (Lake Rufus Woods) for cooperative enforcement per agreement with the Colville Tribe.

IMPORTANT ANGLER NOTES: When fishing with bait or scent, all TROUT are counted as part of the daily limit, whether kept or released. (See statewide rules for TROUT, Page 31 of pamphlet). Anglers are encouraged to use artificial lures or flies with single barbless hooks if intending to release fish and to release uninjured fish only. Fish hooked in the gills or tongue will generally die after release.


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