Saturday, June 5, 2010

Coldwater Lake at Mt St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens

My wonderful, older sister Patti agreed to sit Casey for a weekend. It gives us a great gift but also Casey gets to cultivate his relationship with Patti, Vick and Hannah and her beau, Travis Waldmer. We dropped Casey off at her place and stayed long enough to have some of Vick's amazing BBQ chicken for dinner! Then we hit the road and drove the truck down to Kelso, where we stayed at the Red Lion.

Looking Good, the weather I mean!

We woke to FANTASTIC weather and had breakfast at the local Denny's before hitting the road for the drive to Coldwater Lake. The drive takes only 60 minutes but it seems like all day as you climb slowly up into the mountains and eventually into the blast zone and finally arrive at Mt St. Helens National Park and then the boat launch to Coldwater Lake.

The Launch

Coldwater Lake is one of our all-time favorite places to fish. Formed during the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption, this gigantic lake is chronically under-fished and yields big, wild trout. That's right, the trout there are WILD. Their ancestors came down out of protected little pockets of water and repopulated the lake. And the descendants live their lives, spawn and repopulate the lake every year.

Hey look who can catch fish too

The lake is so big (1000 acres? 3 miles long?) that the fish get spread out, often making for slow fishing, or at least, infrequent action. On a personal note: I was prepared to be out-fished and I was okay with that (wink)! I picked up the first nice fish shortly before lunch and then the second soon after. We had sighted minnows in the shallows so I figured that there would be trout waiting just in the deeper water to pick them off. And I was right, at least in the morning. Both of my fish were 15".


In the afternoon, Amy started picking up fish, too, using the same techniques. But things became REALLY fun when we started encountering the waterfalls. Every quarter mile or so, we'd find a new waterfall draining into the lake. The current that it created in the still water made the fish start acting like it was a river. We could see large trout picking off bugs in the moving water, so we'd anchor the boat and fish each falls as if they were little rivers. It was AWESOME.

Such a great day

Eventually we ended up at the far end of the lake. It had taken us five hours to get there its so far away! A full-on RIVER feeds into the far side creating a delta and broad shallow basin where lots of fish feed on terrestrials and other bugs in the water. We switched our lines to dry lines and each caught some nice, nice fish on dry flies. I fished the only Elk Hair Caddis from my box. I cast to a rising fish, watched him swirl under the fly, turn and take it. It was so sweet. He also was 15" (according to that new net that Amy got me for Christmas).

Amy with a Trout

Amy fished a beetle pattern, hoping to duplicate the experience of catching that giant fish from last year. She didn't get the giant, but she did catch a 16" fish on her beetle. At 4:00pm we decided to head back across the lake and I started steaming in that direction. Even going straight back it took us 3 hours to get to the truck!

The amazing Heathman Lodge

I slept in the truck all the way back to I-5 I was so tired. We had a celebratory dinner at a Mexican restaurant and then stayed the night at the Wonderful Heathman Lodge in Vancouver. I'm telling you, that place is FOUR STAR for a TWO STAR price. Sunday it rained like crazy, so we cancelled any fishing plans and went shopping instead. Like tourists. It was a great little trip. Here's to the next one!


  1. What a nice trip! I always wanted to fish Coldwater, but never couldn't justify the drive. I guess, it can be worth the efforts.

  2. Great report, David. Awesome picture of St. Helens.

  3. Well-written report and nice photos! All the photos of Amy are really good, as she is so photogenic, but that first one of Amy looking good is one you should get framed. She looks so happy! Good idea on fishing the waterfalls and the inlet creek! I've never been all the way down to the inlet creek, as it is too far to row and I don't have a trolling motor for my pontoon boat. Good work on finding the Heathman Lodge; Joyce and I will have to give that place a try one of these days.

  4. Awesome report, and glad you two had a great time! Coldwater is on my TODO: list, I've only done Merrill down there by St. Helens so far, for the hex hatch. That looks like some awesome fishing and the country has really gotten beautiful again over the last 30 years.