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Night fishing magic on Sprague Lake

Some of the most enjoyable fishing I have done in the interior of the Northwest have been the times I spent the night catching catfish on Sprague Lake.

One of the reasons I wanted to write an article about catfish fishing on Sprague Lake is that I recently learned of plans proposed by the WDFW (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) to rehabilitate the lake this fall. It appears that the density of fishermen has fallen in recent years to one of the lowest in the state. WDFW surveys say the lake attracts fewer than five anglers per acre a year. You can read Rich Landers’ full story from Spokesman-Review on his website.

While catfish can be caught during the day at Sprague Lake, I have always had the best results and the best experience at night.

I, for one, would miss the magic of catfish fishing at night in Sprague. My son and I usually go out with plans to be in the water before sunset. The best times for us are hot summer nights, when the air temperature stays in the 60s or more after dark. Far enough from the city lights, the stars shine brightly and the band of our Milky Way can be clearly seen. The stars seem close enough to reach and touch.

Another part of the magic is the crowds of bats, which feed on flying insects, get so close that they often mark your line when you leave the tip of the rod in the water. In addition to being harmless to humans, bats eat your weight in mosquitoes and other blood-sucking insects every night, which might otherwise be feeding on you. Despite this benefit, I still recommend using a good repellent spray or lotion that contains “deet.” The best I have found is the Avon product called “Skin-so-Soft”. It is by far the best smelling repellent I have ever used and it is still very effective.

Harper Island, at the southwestern tip of the lake, is an extremely active bird nesting site and even at night the sounds of seagulls and other water birds fill the air. I have often wondered if the island’s birds ever sleep. If they do, you wouldn’t know from the noises coming from there, even long after dark.

Since the nature of catfish fishing is a waiting game … much of that time is spent talking, telling stories of past fishing trips, and whatever else comes to mind. Usually we bring a little propane barbecue and cook burgers and hot dogs. Good headlights are essential, and one of the foam-mounted headlights that you can connect to your 12-volt battery can come in pretty handy for navigating to and from the jetty, along the shoreline, and around Harper Island ( see map above) at the southwestern end of the lake. Usually a fisherman holds the light for the person fighting the fish or head mounted lights can be great too. The east side of Harper Island has been our go-to spot for nocturnal cats, but I’ve heard from others that the mouth of the creek, (Cow Creek), at the southwestern end of the lake is pretty good too. Either location is within walking distance of the public launch at that end of the lake.

Now let’s go to the equipment you will need for these monsters.

Rods: You will need a good sturdy rod first. Any heavy to medium heavy rod 6 to 7 feet long will probably suffice. The ugly sticks will do the job quite well.

Line: The line requirements are also pretty simple, 15 to 25 pound monofilament or stranded or heavy test fluorocarbon. If you are fishing for trophies that weigh much more than 20 to 25 pounds, you may want to increase your line to the 30 or even 35 pound test.

The right hook: The correct hooks may be the most important factor to consider. Since virtually every bite your bait gets is swallowed, you need to make sure that when you set the hook you do not gut or hook your fish. A circular hook will slide up the throat and then generally hook onto the jaw.

In addition to setting without rod action, circle hooks are preferred in commercial fisheries because they hook and hold fish, even on slack lines. They also tend to hook fish in the jaw, causing less mortality than standard J hooks. Make sure to use a heavy gauge hook. Cats are known to straighten fine wire hooks.

The set of hooks: Using circle hooks requires a bit of attention to your hook set. With reels with a clicker, you can set the drag light and turn on the reel clicker. When the clicker begins to click (indicating that the bait has been bitten), squeeze your drag and slowly bring the rod tip back with a gentle sweep. A set of hooks too early or too aggressive can cause the bait to come out of the catfish’s mouth.

What bait to use? I have the best luck with a golf ball size piece of fish on a size 3/0, 4/0 or even 5/0 circle hook. Trout chunks work great, (but you didn’t hear it from me), and some people persist in using earthworms, chicken livers, stink baits, and even cornflakes, oatmeal, and flour concoctions. The truth is, almost anything edible with a strong smell is likely to attract and attract a catfish to bite into.

Coils: Without a doubt, the big bait casting style reels have the starting power to move these big fish. Spinning reels can and do work, and many catfish anglers swear by them. Just for fun my 31 year old son hooked and played a big catfish with a child’s Scooby-Doo stick and even his bottom reel could have brought him off the side of the boat if the line hadn’t snapped on the outboard motor .

Other rig: Some people use dumbbells to keep their baits on the bottom. With a large piece of fish on your hook, I haven’t found it necessary. Also, the rocky bottom of Sprague can make your weight hang on the rocks. Some cats like to roll when hooked, so a good ball bearing pivot can be an advantage. Bobbers can be a good idea from a bite indicator standpoint and, (if you’re slowly blowing across the surface), they can drag the bait along with it and present it to a larger area. I prefer to watch my line and the tip of the reed. Usually, there are not many doubts when you have a catfish. Last but very important, a good large net is an essential element in embarking these giants.

The fight: I’ve heard some people say that catching a big catfish is like pulling a big log, or some other nonsense like that. These comments are usually made by someone who has never caught a big catfish. I can attest that a good sized Sprague Lake catfish usually puts up a great fight.

Get there: The town of Sprague is only 37 miles from Spokane, WA. After exiting I-90, drive through town to the South Shore Highway and proceed to the public access road near the southwestern end of the lake.

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