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Bonnie Lake full of water, discover for paddlers, anglers

The fishing is poor and the beavers haven’t tried to dam the outlet of Bonnie Lake this year, at least not yet.

The high water of April has receded after flooding the rancher’s hay field and wetlands downstream from the basalt-canyon lake south of Cheney.

But the water was still flowing down the outlet channel last week in depths that allowed a fiberglass boat with a 90-horse outboard to be launched. The family of four seemed to have no trouble motoring nearly a mile up a narrow serpentine waterway past the cattails and yellow-headed blackbirds to the lake.

My friend, Jim Kujala, and I wish we could have seen that launch.

We narrowly avoided breaking ankles as we carried my canoe down on the unofficial dirt and gravel “ramp” along the Belsby Road bridge over Rock Creek.

It could have been worse. The scariest launch at this site occurred a few years ago when a huge loose hog stood its ground in the water, snorting and generally looking untrustworthy. It was a Volkswagon Beetle-size pig. It could have crushed my 17-foot aluminum canoe like a pop can.

Paddlers startled by the monster swine as they finished their trips under the bridge that summer said they also saw God.

Bonnie Lake is a regional classic paddling trip that requires navigation up the winding stretch of Rock Creek to reach the 4-mile-long lake snuggled between basalt cliffs where swallows nest on the gnarly rock walls just above the water. Turkey vultures soar here and ospreys raise their young on the lake’s bass and panfish.

I looked closely at the ospreys we saw nesting up above the cliff where they could swoop down and dive for fish. They didn’t appear to be gaunt and starving, yet every angler we surveyed said the fishing was poor.

“Nothing much but small bass,” one angler said echoing the report from others. “No crappie.”

Marc Divens, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department warmwater fisheries researcher, said he’s curious to see if the high-water spring altered the makeup of linked scabland fisheries.

“Perch that were in Bonnie Lake could end up in Rock Lake, or Downs Lake or even in Sprague Lake,” he said.

Considering the flooding that occurred throughout that area, there could be perch in the basements of Sprague’s downtown buildings.

Kujala and I caught a few small bass and even smaller perch before we heeded the wind forecast and started paddling back down the channel toward the bridge. Bonnie Lake is not a place to fool around with big winds in a canoe.

We had just enough fish to feed our families fish tacos. Worth the trip.

Land along the creek and lake that straddles the Spokane-Whitman county line is privately owned with the exception of an island one-third of the way uplake that’s state-managed.

A couple of kayakers paddled past us and said they’d camped on the island and had a pleasant night. They said they weren’t anglers, which may have added to their contentment. No rattlesnakes reported, which also makes for a better frame of mind.

Wind that often comes up in the afternoon can be a major hazard on this lake. So we paddled out at the first hint of whitecaps.

People fishing from the bridge reeled in as we approached. They said they had caught catfish and a few small bass.

“No pigs this year,” one angler said, answering my question. “But I remember that pig. It was huge. Would have made a bigger meal than the fish I’m catching. Could have fed the whole town.”

Paddlers wanting to visit Bonnie Lake and watch people not-catching fish can drive 17 miles south from Cheney on Cheney-Plaza Road, which becomes Rock Lake Road. Turn east on Belsby Road. Go approximately 5 miles, dropping into a canyon to the rugged put-in at the bridge over Rock Creek. Park off the gravel road but do not block farm access.

Seriously, don’t not block the gates or areas the farmer needs to access. He may still have the pig.

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