By Mike Carey
“Conconully, that tiny town nestled in a mountain valley on the sunny side of Washington's North Cascades, bounded by two lakes, and embraced by state and national forests -- is waiting for you. It is a unique community in the heart of Okanogan County and the welcome mat is always out!”
Thus starts the Conconully Chamber of Commerce web site. JoAnn and I had been looking forward for months to our Memorial Weekend get-away to Liar’s Cove Resort in Conconully. As we drove our final miles, climbing up the Conconully Road from Omak, the trees and green hillside became ever more beautiful. Then, appearing on our left, we saw Conconully Reservoir, glistering dark blue, the sun just beginning to settle behind the hills to the west. Trout dimpled the surface, a promise of good fishing to come. We knew at that moment it was going to be a special weekend.
The genesis of our holiday weekend getaway actually began in Puyallup many months earlier. Wandering the Sportsman’s Show, we stopped at the Conconully Chamber of Commerce booth. There we met a friendly, easy-going man by the name of Gene Bussell, owner of Liar’s Cove Resort. I introduced myself and reminded him that they were sponsors on our web site. “Are we now?” he replied. “Well, you’ll have to come out and pay us a visit”. Twist my arm and show me where to sign up! Just like that we had our Memorial Day weekend booked (no small bit of luck, that, and in a nice lake view cabin no less) and months to wait in anticipation.
I’d been to Conconully once before, what seemed like a million years ago.
Memories faded by time, I do remember some pretty decent fishing.
But not at all what we were about to experience…
We pulled up to the resort, our brand new boat in tow. When we checked in we got to meet Linda, Gene’s spouse. She and Gene run a first rate family resort! Even with a twenty foot boat and the resort sold out, I had no difficulty parking. With Gene ever present driving his little white golf cart, er, mini-truck on the grounds I felt no anxiety leaving my gear in the boat. Rig parked, we unloaded and took our dogs, Rudy and Diesel, for the first of many walks over the next three days. The dogs were in dog heaven, sniffing a plethora of new smells, taking in new sights and sounds. Plus, the family atmosphere that is Liar’s Cove resort meant lots of kids and other dogs to meet and greet. Yup, we had two happy dogs this trip.
Morning came and I awoke at 5:15am to the sounds of birds greeting me. Anxious to get on the water and fish, I left JoAnn snoozing and backed my boat down the state park launch. The launch is unimproved, but has a nice angle and steady drop off making it easy to launch my boat. Liar’s Cove also has a boat launch, but for a bigger boat the state park launch is the better choice.
As I pulled around from the launch and motored over to the dock, two friendly early bird anglers, Mike and Jason, assisted me tying down my boat. I walked to our cabin and tried to get JoAnn up, but she was having none of 6ish in the morning fishing, so we agreed to meet at the dock at 7:30am. When I returned to my boat, it occurred to me that fishing all alone in a twenty foot boat would be kind of lonely and a waste of a lot of good fishing space. Seeing an opportunity to share my good fortune, I invited Mike and Jason on board. They were more than happy to join me, and very soon we were steadily hooking trout and kokanee on the glass smooth lake. I don’t know something about being in a small town, far away from the craziness that is the Puget Sound corridor just makes people friendlier. At least, that was our experience this weekend. The fishing was steady and we lost as many as we caught. By the time we returned to the dock to get JoAnn and the dogs, my new friends had a half dozen trout and kokanee to add to their stringers.
JoAnn and I continued the fast action on our own. Dogs comfortably resting, we targeted the kokanee at the far end of the reservoir, by the dam. This end of the lake is the deep end, dropping down to 48 feet in a large oval bowl.
I ran the downriggers down to twenty five feet, which kept us below the prolific rainbows. The kokanee kept us busy over the next hour and a half. Small dodgers, pink or orange hoochies, and a piece of corn were all we needed. The kokanee weren’t huge, running 10-12”, but they were plentiful. It was an easy limit of five each and we were heading back to the cleaning station with our fish, done for the day fishing, and ready to relax and explore the area.
Conconully isn’t big. Heck, there’s only a couple dinners/bars, a small museum, store, Post Office, and (yes!) place to get fresh espresso (Salmon Creek Bistro). But each place we visited felt like home. I’ve never met so many nice, friendly people in one spot before. It must be the water, or maybe it’s the air. I can say this for sure – this is one friendly little town! Of course, if you yearn for fast food the towns of Omak and Okanogan are just down the hill, fifteen miles or so, a whole lot closer than my daily commute to work.
But that’s just the reason you would want to come to Conconully – to get away from hustle and bustle, to stop. And breathe. And relax for a moment and leave the insanity of your city life far behind. And you will, trust me; you will feel your brain waves mellow out and slow down. You’ll feel yourself begin to have an inner smile again as your worries drop away. And if you don’t? Well, then, buy a duck!
Huh? What? I said buy a duck, or three or four. And don’t miss this fun event. The Duck Race. That’s right, a duck race. But not the feather kind, no, these ducks are your vintage rubber duckies. But they aren’t in your bathtub. They get released into the creek that runs from the upper lake into the reservoir. Each duck has a number. The top three ducks earn cash prizes for the winners. It’s a super fun event, with kids running along laughing and cheering on the ducks.
Like I said, the town of Conconully is all about good, family fun. Other events to check out include a real small town Fourth of July celebration, Cowboy Caviar in August, Grubstake Open Golf Tournament, Town-wide yard sales, and not to be missed, in January internationally covered, The Outhouse Races. Yes, outhouse races. Let your imagination run wild, or just come on up and check it out.
OK, the anglers out there want fishing info, and I’m going to share it. If you thought the lower lake (reservoir) was good, then I have to tell you, the upper lake is just as good! The next day I again set out on my own at 5:30am, this time to try the upper lake. This lake is a long, narrow, deep lake. Although, I would call it a reservoir as well, since there is a long earthen dam at the city end of the lake. This, by the way, is an excellent spot for bank anglers to wet a line.
The state park also has a launch on this lake. It’s paved, two lanes, and has a long dock, which made putting my boat in a breeze.
As soon as I launched and turned on my fish finder I was struck by the amount of meter marks indicating soon to be “fish on”. Now, I won’t say exactly where I started fishing, but I will say, I don’t think it would have mattered much. Because everywhere I motored I saw lots of fish on the fish finder. Gene told me earlier the state had planted several hundred thousand kokanee and trout in the two lakes, plus, the chamber of commerce plants larger fish as well. And, for you warm water anglers, both lakes have healthy populations of smallmouth bass – with some real trophy fish to be had!
Back to the kokanee… as soon as I put my gear down, it was “fish on”. I mean, literally, apply brake on downrigger, tighten rod slack, and bamm! A kokanee. The upper lake kokanee acted like they had never seen kokanee gear. They would slam my rigs and pop releases left and right. And these fish were a bigger class. We caught 12 to 15 inch kokanee. By that, I mean to say; after I caught my five fish I returned to the cabin (that long, one mile drive, right?) and woke JoAnn up. By 8am she and the dogs were enjoying the same hot action I had just experienced on my own. I know, it’s tough, isn’t it? We had ten kokanee by 9am, all 12-15 inch shiny bright fish. Word of advice, drop your gear down to 28-35 feet to avoid the rainbow trout. I have nothing against rainbows, but if I can get kokanee like we were catching then I’m on a mission! As to the gear, we used small dodgers and a small hoochie with a Colorado blade in front, and a 10” leader. Add a piece of corn and every few minutes it was bouncing rods, barking dogs, and a whole lot of big grins.
There is one thing I would be remiss if I didn’t mention. Last year, this area had a lot of fires. Some of the Washington’s worst fires were in the areas around Conconully. We witnessed evidence of fire damage and were grateful that the town survived intact. Gene and Linda want you to know the town is welcoming guests with open arms. Small towns like Conconully depend on our tourism dollars to survive. I hope I’ve gotten your interest and you’ll give this little corner of Washington a try. I think you’ll be very happy you did.
Liar's Cove Resort