Downs Lake Will Lift Your Spirits

by John Kruse, September 02, 2019

Suffering from a case of the summertime blues? Is life’s fast and frantic pace stressing you out? There’s a tonic for that and you’ll find it at the most unlikely of named destinations, Downs Lake.

That’s where I went a few weeks ago after loading my kayak into the back of my pick-up, placing a couple of fishing rods in the cab, and bringing a digital camera for good measure. Located in Spokane County, this 425-acre lake is easily accessible from Interstate 90 (Exit 245) and the small town of Sprague. The lake itself sits in a region known as the channeled scablands, a rural area of lakes, ponds and coulees surrounded by basalt rock formations, all formed by the Great Missoula Flood some 14,000 years ago.

Downs Lake is a peaceful place – you won’t find jet skis or water skiers here. The only public access and boat launch available is at Downs Lake Resort, a rustic but pleasant place to pitch a tent or park an RV if you want to stay the night. Pay a small boat launch fee then hit the water. During the summer, huge rafts of lily pads cover much of the lake and other portions are un-fishable because of weed growth. However, if you paddle your way through a channel cut through the pads, you’ll be able to access about 75 acres of water on the other side of the lake where the water is deeper and the fishing is good.

During my day on the water I fished along the edge of the lily pads and cast small jigs tipped with worms. I was rewarded with lots of six-inch perch, a nice 10-inch crappie and an 11-inch rainbow trout. I also hooked and lost quite a few others to include a nice largemouth bass. Other fish found in Downs Lake include uncommon species such as tench and grass pickerel.

The weather was perfect: Sunny with temperatures in the mid 80’s coupled with a soft breeze that blew over the water throughout the day. Better still was the wildlife. From turtles in the water to birds of the air, there was much to see. In fact, I found out I was far from the only angler on the lake. There are two resident bald eagles that perch in a tall Ponderosa near the shoreline, osprey that soar above the water looking for their next meal, and flocks of small Bonaparte’s gulls that flew all around my kayak. The gulls would call to each other with a “Keh…Keh” sound as they flapped their wings a few yards above the water before stopping, hovering for a moment and then diving to the surface to catch small fish.

Experiencing all of this from a quiet platform like a kayak, immersing my hands into the water or paddling alongside the lily pads, was an intimate experience that proved to be a very effective way to decompress. Better still, there are no side effects to this sort of therapy except for good memories and a desire to repeat the experience again.

Downs Lake is open for fishing from March 1st through September 30th. Check the WDFW regulations for details about catch limits.


DECEPTION PASS STATE PARK – Cast for Coho and pink salmon during the next couple of weeks from the beach in this popular state park at the north end of Whidbey Island near Deception Pass; then go on a 90-minute guided kayak tour with Anacortes Kayak Tours out of Bowman Bay at the north end of the park. Keep your eyes peeled for seals, porpoise and maybe even a whale.

COLUMBIA HILLS STATE PARK - Horsethief Lake in the Columbia River Gorge is an 85-acre lake bordering the Columbia River. Enjoy the views of the scenic gorge and nearby Horsethief Butte while fishing for trout and bass. Raptors to include various hawks, bald eagles and osprey are common and don’t forget to check out the Native American pictographs at the park.

SINLAHEKIN WILDLIFE AREA – Blue Lake is a 205-acre body of water within the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area north of Conconully in Okanogan County. Sightings of deer along the shoreline and a variety of different birds in and around the lake go hand in hand with good spring and fall fishing for nice sized rainbow and the occasional brown trout. Selective regulations rules (single barbless hooks and no bait) are in effect.

John Kruse – Host and Producer of Northwestern Outdoors and America Outdoors Radio and


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