by Dan Egan

Maybe it's Mother Nature's fault. Gale force winds greeting area fisherman on opening day. Drought conditions threatening both fish and fisherman with low water levels and warmer water temperatures. Many watersheds receiving less than 60 percent of normal snowpack, and unless Biblical rains hit western Montana in the next few weeks, several of the state's blue-ribbon streams could be closed for fishing sometime after mid-July.

Or maybe it's the fishing gods who've been unkind, and you've heard, "Shoulda been here yesterday," just a little too often lately. Or maybe you're catching plenty of fish but every one of them looks like the same 10-inch planter that was eating pellets and swimming in a cement pool just a couple weeks ago. Do you find yourself asking, "What do I have to do to catch a friggin' fish?" lately? If any of this sounds familiar, you could be in a fishing slump. Or, you could be suffering from FDS -- Fish Deficiency Syndrome.

You won't find this in any medical books, but it's as real as a hook in the eye. Its onset can be immediate and can last anywhere from two or three outings to several months or even years. Usually, FDS is simply nature's way of reminding you that maybe it's time to make a change. Find some new water. Go somewhere unlikely. Somewhere without paved parking lots, low water levels or fees to fish off a crowded dock.

If you're happy with your fishing, by all means keep doing what you're doing. But if you're bored with the bass at Banks Lake, or tired of the trout at Twin Lakes, here are some ideas to help change your fishing fortunes.

Private Lakes

Small, privately owned fly-fishing lakes offer a chance to have a lake to yourself with the chance of hooking into some monster trout. Most lakes are limited to four to eight anglers per day, usually fished from float tubes or pontoon boats, and all are strictly catch-and-release. Prices range from $115 to $225 a day per person. Usually included in the fee is a guide who can answer any questions about hatches, fly patterns, presentation or offer advice on technique. Lunches are generally provided and some offer overnight lodging. During the day, the lake is yours from dawn to dusk.

"The interest in private lakes is becoming more intense," says Bill Marts of the Blue Dunn Fly Shop, who books trips to a handful of private lakes in the area. Marts says some of the lakes are managed for numbers of fish and some are managed for their sheer size. "They provide an opportunity for people to catch a lot of fish and also the chance to catch really big trophy-size fish."

Marts says he books trips to about six or seven private lakes in the area. The nearest is Double E Preserve, about 45 minutes north of Spokane. One of the most consistent is Isaak's Ranch, which has been in business for about 10 years. Located about 20 miles northwest of Coulee City, it has two 40-acre lakes full of rainbows and brown trout with reports of fish to over 30 inches.

Baseline Lake is a new private fishery just outside of George, Wash. The 11-acre lake has been stocked with rainbow, triploids and kamloops trout, with plans to stock two-pound brown trout later this spring. The average size trout in this shallow, fertile lake is a pound-and-a-half, with fish in the four- to 12-pound range not uncommon. The growth rate of the trout here is rapid due to its abundant food sources from which they're constantly feeding.

Other lakes, which range from high desert to alpine settings, include Babbits Lake, Walker Lake, Ashley Creek Lake, and Moccasin Lake. Marts says the lakes offer fairly consistent fishing, but adds, "In fishing, there are no guarantees."

Catch A Tiger

Get the heavy gear out and go after a tiger muskie. A cross between a northern pike and a muskellunge, this big predator may grow to 30 pounds or larger. Last year, a state record 37-pound tiger muskie was caught at Hauser Lake. Large plugs and spinners fished around weed beds and old stumps are best bets to prompt vicious strikes from this trophy fish. Other lakes with tiger muskies are Newman, Shepherd, Dawson, Freeman and Blue lakes.

The Yellow-Signed Road

Head to the nearest Bureau of Land Management office and pick up a map of BLM land. Recent BLM land purchases in the channeled scablands have opened up good, little-used fishing water in places like Rock Creek, Wilson Creek, Coal Creek, as well as Coffee Pot and Twin Lakes in Lincoln County. Look for the little yellow signs indicating BLM property to avoid trespassing on private land. With a little effort (map-reading, bad roads and some hiking), your reward can be miles of rarely fished water and unspoiled land all to yourself. It's just like fishing on your own land, which it is ultimately, since your taxes paid for it.

Get on up

Strap on the backpack and start climbing. By mid-July, when the drought is taking its toll on the lowland fisheries, it's time to get a little altitude.

"Mountain lakes are a real good bet in a year like this," says Ned Horner from the Idaho Fish and Game Department. Horner says there are about 125 mountain lakes in the Idaho panhandle region, 75 or 80 of which the state stocks with brook trout and cutthroat each year. "The lakes will be accessible earlier this year due to low snowpack and should provide good fishing for small trout, plus some grayling."

Under the stars

Many fisherman find the best fishing starts once the sun goes down. Night fishing for silvers at Loon Lake is a longstanding tradition. Larger brown trout and rainbows can do most of their feeding at night in the summer.

"Low water levels mean higher water temperature," explains Madonna Luers of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Trout become less receptive, and those fish start holing up and not biting during the day."

Fly-fisherman might try retrieving a big black wooly bugger in the shallows under the cover of darkness and wait for that hit, and be ready for a fight. Mature trout caught at night can put up a serious fight out of their sheer surprise at being caught.

For more information on trips to private fishing lakes,

contact Peregrine Angler at (509) 838-3474.

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