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Photo: Young girl and grandfather with trout caught while fishing at Williams Lake, Washington.
Williams Lake rainbows grow fat and long by gorging on aquatic invertebrates in the lakeís cool depths during summer. This young angler and her grandfather scored summertime limits of rainbows and cutthroat by fishing much deeper than they would have during spring. Photo by Chris Donley
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Opening Day and beyond: Cheney-area trout lakes
People stream into the small town of Cheney, about 20 miles southwest of Spokane, for two main reasons: to go to school at Eastern Washington University and to go trout fishing in late spring. This ponderosa pine and basalt-dominated landscape is best known for opening-day action. Anglers cease to be the majority of users on many waters once the weather warms and stimulates swimmers, skiers and sunbathers.

Spokane County contains scores of trout and warmwater lakes with great year-round fishing, but it’s somewhat true that high summer temperatures slow trout fishing and drive bass and panfish to greater depths than many anglers realize. Easy limits of trout that bite all day during the fishy fervor of the late April opener turn to tougher limits of fish that mostly bite early and late in the day and in the dark. Little bass replace the nice-sized ones people caught in shallow water during spring and early summer. Some people give up on these prime lakes when the heat comes on, but they shouldn’t.

Choose from several vacation options close to Spokane

Photo: Girl on boat with rainbow trout caught fishing one of the Cheney-area lakes.
Big rainbows caught on ultra-light tackle equal big smiles on kidsí faces. Successful fishing encounters hook kids on fishing for life. Photo by Marc Divens

For many anglers, summer is frustrating, but there are some excellent family vacation options to explore, especially south and west of Cheney, where some deeper lakes stay cool enough to yield good action and some of the best swimming and water skiing in the Spokane area. Williams, Badger, Clear and Rock lakes fall to depths of over 100 feet, keeping waters cool. Two feature small resorts with camping and RV space, and one offers popular dining options. Cheney and Spokane offer an abundance of lodging, camping, and dining options as well as other family vacation attractions to keep everybody happy.

For more on local tourism resources, see Visit Spokane.

Only a stone’s throw separates
two good-fishing lakes

Williams and Badger lakes are less than two miles apart and occupy the same deep coulee in the timbered channeled scablands 16 miles south of Cheney. Both lakes hold cutthroat and rainbow trout and are two of the state’s most popular in the spring. Crowds decrease in summer, but the fishing can be good for those trolling or still-fishing deep (28 to 40 feet) for fish that grow quickly and add 2 to 3 inches by the end of summer. Spoons, FlatFish, Muddler Minnows, Woolly Buggers, and spinners are good trolling options, with or without flashers or bait. Still-fishers do well with all of the typical trout baits, including worms, salmon eggs, dough baits, and shrimp. The water is cool, pleasant and clean at both lakes, and two resorts at Williams Lake offer lodging, dining and other amenities.

Fish the depths at Clear Lake

Photo: Woman holding 23 inch largemouth bass.
The Cheney area may be best known for its trout fishing, but the area’s lakes also hold some giant bass like this 23 inch largemouth. Photo by Jeff Holmes

Clear Lake sits seven miles north of Cheney and offers two small resorts and a WDFW public access site. Although the south end of the lake is shallow, depths cascade to well over 100 feet toward the north end. Here, suspended from 28 to 50 feet, large German brown trout and tiger trout – the latter being a brown trout and brook trout hybrid – and nice rainbows spend the summer. Trollers with downriggers or leaded line do well in the mornings and evenings at Clear using the same lures that work at Williams, along with meatier offerings like minnow-imitating plugs and stickbaits, and larger spoons, spinners, and flies. The lake has been known to kick out some huge browns, especially after dark. Crappie schools, which suspend in deep water during summer, can sometimes be located by trolling trout gear deep. When anglers catch one, they can sometimes go back and vertically jig to locate a school. Clear also has nice largemouth bass, and they tend to go deep during summer, hunting mostly crayfish but also small fish from deep-water ambush points like ledges, rock piles, and weed beds.

Rock Lake adds adventure to the vacation equation

Rock Lake, located 26 miles south of Cheney in northern Whitman County, is one of Eastern Washington’s best fall and winter fisheries, but it is often overlooked during the summer.

Almost seven miles long and more than 360 feet deep, Rock Lake is spring-fed and stays cooler than neighboring lakes. The WDFW public launch at the south end is one of the most rustic in the region, and only those with four-wheel-drive vehicles should launch trailered crafts. Further, only careful, experienced boaters should fish the lake except in the mildest conditions. Rock is often windy and is edged in places by high cliffs that forbid an escape from the water in an emergency. Running full speed close to shore is also very dangerous. Rock formations rise in places out of very deep water to present transom-ripping hazards. To be safe, stay in the middle of the lake while moving fast.

For those who accept the challenge, Rock Lake offers good largemouth fishing well into summer. These fish, some of which approach 10 pounds, will eventually hang deep in 20 to 40 feet of water during late summer, but even then they rise to feed early in the morning and late at night. In early and mid-summer, the bass are still oriented to shorelines and shallow structure, where they ambush crayfish, panfish, small trout, and minnows.

Photo: Tiger trout
Tiger trout are a cross between a brown and brook trout. They are sterile, highly predatory, and less temperature-sensitive than some of their coldwater cousins like rainbow and cutthroat trout. WDFW stocks tiger trout in several Cheney-area lakes. Photo by Randy Osborne

By early July, the huge brown trout and fat rainbows – up to 20 pounds and 20-plus inches, respectively – will suspend in deep water and are best targeted by trolling lures in 35 to 60 feet. Some very large browns – well over 10 pounds – have been caught in Rock in recent years. A dodger or flasher five to six feet in front of a jointed trout-imitating plug is a proven big fish killer in July and August, when trout anglers fishing shallow come up empty. Nice-sized crappie and bluegill also can be found near the lake’s few shallower bays.

When Rock’s fish don’t cooperate – often during dead-calm conditions and bright sunlight – the lake offers abundant wildlife viewing. Species include bald and golden eagles, ospreys, vulture, peregrine falcons, turkeys, rock and canyon wrens, otters, mink, raccoons, coyotes, mule deer, and the occasional elk from the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge herd. The lake was proposed as a state park in the 1950s – one trip to Rock, and you’ll see why.