From opening day right into summer, here are the Evergreen State hotspots you've been looking for! (March 2006)
Nothing heralds the arrival of spring more than the first stringer of trout, and Evergreen State anglers have the opportunity to fish for them in virtually every county in the state and in settings ranging from desert potholes to suburban ponds, and from sprawling reservoirs to rain-forest creeks. They take them within a short cast of the rollerbladers and sunbathers at Seattle's Green Lake. They take ice-out trout from mile-high lakes in the Olympic and Cascade and Selkirk mountains. They even catch them from saltwater beaches. And while most rivers and beaver ponds don't open until June, rivers like the Yakima and Kettle and Pend Oreille are open year 'round, and the spring sun kicks the insect hatches on these river into high gear.
Hatchery fish account for the bulk of the trout caught each spring. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife releases in excess of 2 million "catchable" trout, along with nearly 20 million fry and about 40,000 chunky triploid trout in a typical year. Most hatchery production is dedicated to rainbows, but the state also grows both West Slope and coastal cutthroat, which are released primarily in the eastern third of the state and in Cascade Mountain lakes. The WDFW releases brown trout in southwest Washington lakes and eastern Washington streams and ponds. It also plants Eastern brook trout and golden trout in a few areas.
Although hatchery fish account for most of the harvest, many of the largest trout in Washington are wild fish. And while you might assume that the largest trout come from remote, untrammeled, hard-to-reach regions, you may have a better chance of connecting with a wrist-wrenching brute close to home. Three years ago, Washington's largest, most highly developed and abused body of water, Lake Washington, gave up a 14-pound cutthroat -- the state's biggest coastal cutthroat in more than 40 years. Even better, Lake Washington routinely turns out cutthroats and rainbows exceeding 4 pounds.
PUGET SOUND TROUT
Outside of Lake Washington, perhaps the best news for Puget Sound trout anglers is that the Cedar River, which opened to angling in 2004 after a nine-year hiatus to protect wild juvenile steelhead, will be open in the summer of 2006. Cedar River rainbows grew fat and sassy during the closure, and anglers took many fish in excess of 4 pounds. The 21 miles of water between the Landsburg Road Bridge and the mouth on Lake Washington will open on June 1 and run through August, under catch-and-release, selective-gear rules.
Until the river opener, most Puget Sound anglers will focus on trout lakes and hatchery rainbows. The best bets east of Lake Washington include Langlois Lake near Carnation, which receives about 40,000 catchable rainbows, Rattlesnake Lake (11,000), along with Lake Margaret near Duvall, and Pine Lake near Issaquah. Anglers in the southeastern suburbs target Kent's Meridian Lake, which usually gets about 14,000 rainbows, Morton Lake near Auburn and the Renton area's Lake Desire. Snohomish County's Silver, Goodwin, Ki and Roesiger each receive around 15,000 trout; and Skagit County's McMurray Lake absorbs around 16,000 fish before the opener.
To the north, Whatcom County's Padden Lake receives around 16,000 plants. As always, North Sound flyfishers will be drawn to Fidalgo Island's Pass Lake for its fly-only regulations and potential for large fish, while all types of anglers have a shot at large carry-over trout on Cranberry Lake, just a short distance on the other side of the Deception Pass Bridge from Pass Lake.
There are fewer trout lakes south of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, but plenty of hatchery rainbows are released in south Puget Sound. Sprawling over more than 1,000 acres, Pierce County's American Lake receives a lot of plants and is open year 'round. Thurston County's Ohop, Pattison and Silver are also productive early lakes. On the Kitsap County side of Puget Sound, the Bremerton area's Wildcat Lake and Panther, Kitsap and Island lakes put out a lot of trout.
Cady Lake is a popular fly-only lake in the Mason County portion of the peninsula. In recent years, saltwater cutthroat have attracted a large following in the South Sound, especially during late spring, with some of the most productive beaches found at Gig Harbor's Point Fosdick, Kopachuck State Park, Olalla, Penrose Point State Park and Nisqually Reach.
Better known for its river fishing than its lakes, the Olympic Peninsula receives far fewer catchable hatchery plants than other regions. Having said that, it is richly endowed with both large and small stillwaters. A few miles south of Port Townsend, Anderson Lake was traditionally one of the most popular opening-day lakes, but the crowds have declined since the state began charging a $5 parking fee at state parks. Anderson is food-rich, with a nice population of carry-over rainbows in the 12-plus-inch range. All types of lures and baits are legal through August, when catch-and-release, selective fishery regulations come into play.
Closer to Hood Canal, Ludlow and Horseshoe lakes are good early bets, as are Sandy Shore and Tarboo lakes, all of which are on Pope Resource's timberlands. South of Discovery Bay, Leland Lake receives tens of thousands of hatchery rainbows, and is a favorite of families and non-boating anglers who can fish from its dock. To the south, Mason County hosts a large number of productive trout lakes, ranging from massive Lake Cushman to small mountain ponds. Anglers looking for some 8- to 12-inch hatchery rainbows should head to Trails End, Haven, Maggie, Wooten and Devereaux lakes. Trout are harder to come by on 4,000-acre Lake Cushman, but trollers take cutthroat to several pounds, along with good numbers of kokanee. Nearby, Prices Lake -- a beautiful, forest-rimmed, selective fishery lake -- is a favorite of float-tubing flyfishers, who have a shot at wild rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout.
Some of the best trout fishing on the Olympic Peninsula is for its wild fish, which continue to thrive in its large lakes and the upper reaches of many rivers. Located a couple of miles from Cape Alava, the most northwestern point of land in the lower 48 states, Lake Ozette is the third-largest natural lake in the state. It supports a good population of wild sea-run cutthroat, which prey heavily on juvenile sockeye salmon in late spring. Lake Crescent is home to both the unique Beardslee rainbow (the record is 18 pounds) and crescenti cutthroat (12 pounds). But it no longer opens until June 1, and downriggers are prohibited. Lake Sutherland, several miles east of Lake Crescent, is stocked with large numbers of rainbows and is open year 'round. The Elwha River supports arguably Western Washington's most productive rainbow fishery, and last year it turned on earlier as a result of the low snow pack and remained productive into autumn.
Southwest Washington provides anglers with a wider range of lakes and ponds than any other
area of Western Washington. There are easy-to-reach lakes near Vancouver, such as Klineline Ponds, Lacamas Lake and Battle Ground Lake, which receive, respectively, about 32,000, 14,000 and 25,000 rainbow plants. There are remote, hike-in waters in the Indian Heaven Wilderness and the network of mountain lakes north of Mount St. Helens. There are sprawling reservoirs -- Mayfield and Riffe on the upper Cowlitz, and Swift, Yale and Merwin on the Lewis -- that provide productive trolling after the water warms in late spring and summer. There are small rural stillwaters like the Kalama area's Horseshoe, which receives more than 20,000 hatchery rainbow and brown trout, and urban lakes such as Longview's Sacajawea, which gets a similar number of trout and to which kids can ride their bicycles.
Although it is set on the flanks of Mount Rainier and drains north to Puget Sound, Lewis County's Mineral Lake is usually considered along with other southwest region lakes. Mineral Lake has a long-time reputation for turning out behemoth trout, including fish in excess of 10 pounds in recent years. It opens on the traditional last Saturday in April, and by then, the water has usually warmed enough to kick into high gear the metabolisms of its hatchery and carry-over trout. In recent years, around 30,000 rainbows have been planted annually, about half of them from net pens. Mineral also receives about 5,000 brown trout, many of which escape harvest and become carryover bruisers, as well as a few hundred rainbow brood trout.
Flyfishers turn out in large numbers at Merrill Lake, a fly-only water north of Cougar, and on the upper North Fork of the Lewis, which is a catch-and-release, selective fishery during the June through October season. Coldwater Lake, the fjord-like body of water created by the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, is open year 'round under selective fishery (with electric motors legal), with a limit of one fish over 16 inches.
Although it isn't widely known outside the region, the Cowlitz River is the only river in Washington that still has a hatchery sea-run cutthroat program, which provides excellent fishing during September and October between Blue Creek and I-5.
Though most Evergreen State anglers associate central Washington with rainbow trout, the middle third of the state has produced five state-record trout in recent years, and only one was a rainbow. The record 18-pound Lahontan cutthroat came from Omak Lake in 1993. Lake Chelan produced a 35-pound lake trout in 2001, a record 3.9-pound golden was caught in an un-named Okanogan lake in 2002, and Grant County's Crab Creek gave up a record 2-pound tiger trout (brown/eastern hybrid) in 2003. The rainbow record is a 29-pound triploid taken in Rufus Woods Lake in 2002. Clearly, the middle part of the state has a lot going for it when it comes to growing big trout, most likely a combination of abundant nutrients and minerals, productive alkaline water, and a lot of sunshine.
Of course, in central Washington you have a much better chance for a pan-sized trout than a trophy, and during early spring, the lakes and ponds in the Columbia Basin's Grant and Adams counties probably turn out more than anyplace in the state. Potholes Reservoir, which sprawls over more than 4,000 acres, receives around 150,000 catchable rainbows annually and is very productive during the early season. Many light- tackle and fly anglers, however, prefer the Seep Lakes, those dozens of shallow stillwaters downstream of the reservoir. Several years ago, the WDFW delayed the openers on many of these lakes from their traditional March 1 date to late April or May, arguing that warmer water temperatures actually produced more predictable opening-day fishing.
A number of lakes remain open. Among them are Beda, Brookies Lakes, Burke, the Caliche Lakes Chain, Cascade, Cliff, Crystal, Cup, Dot, Dusty, George and Homestead.
The Lenice Lake Chain (including Merry and Nunnally) has become hallowed ground for Seattle-area flyfishers. It opens March 1, with selective fishery regulations and bag limit of one fish daily. March 1 is also the opening day of the catch-and-release season on Lenore Lake, and you can retain one of its Lahontan cutthroats after June 1. Dry Falls Lake opens April 1 under selective fishery regulations, with a one-fish bag and remains open through November. Anglers willing to wait until the third Saturday of April have an excellent chance at hatchery rainbows in the Park Lake Chain, which is in Sun Lakes State Park and includes Park, Blue and Deep lakes.
The lakes of the Okanogan Highlands usually take longer to turn on than the lakes to the south, but many remain productive after lower elevation lakes have slowed. Bonaparte Lake is open year 'round and offers a good chance at large lake trout during the early season, as well as large carry-over Eastern brook trout. Spectacle Lake opens March 1 and runs through July. The season on Conconully begins on the late April opener. It receives about 2,500 catchable rainbows, and more than 100,000 rainbow fry that grow quickly in its rich waters. Wannacut, Pearrygin and Alta lakes also open in late April and receive, respectively, 55,000, 65,000 and 35,000 fry.
Fly anglers are drawn to Chopaka Lake, the state's most famous callibaetis mayfly water, and Aeneas and Ell lakes, selective fishery waters. There are two Blue Lakes in Okanogan County: The one on Sinlahekin Creek has rainbows and selective gear regulations; the other is south of Oroville and hosts hefty Lahontans.
The Yakima River is Washington's most famous trout river. In spring, increasing water temperatures stimulate insect activity in the Yakima Canyon, between Ellensburg and Yakima. Chelan County's Fish Lake, open year 'round, is one of the better brown trout waters in the state. Although Lake Chelan is best known for Mackinaw and landlocked Chinook, it also receives about 100,000 rainbow trout each year, which provide dependable sport for bank anglers and light-tackle trollers.
Mountains at the north and south serve as bookends to the region's flatter, more developed land in between. It might seem logical that the mountainous regions would provide the best fishing, but the rolling hills, agricultural lands and suburbs in the middle actually contain some of the best trout lakes in Washington. Medical and West Medical lakes, near Cheney, turn out literally thousands of trout annually. Medical is selective-fishery water; its brown trout are a favorite of flyfishers. Any gear is legal at West Medical, which receives about 100,000 fry annually and is popular with bait and hardware anglers from boats or the bank. Spokane County's Amber Lake is very popular among light-tackle and fly anglers; it is open in March and April for catch-and-release fishing, and then has a two-fish bag after the late April opener. Waitts, Fish, Fishtrap and Sprague lakes also turn out good numbers of hatchery fish, while Hog Canyon Reservoir is a winter lake, but anglers there still have a chance at a rainbow through March.
Pend Oreille County's Sullivan Lake boasts the state-record brown trout, a 22-pounder taken back in 1965. You'll now be lucky to take a fish one-quarter that size, but a 5-pound brown is nothing to sneeze at. This 1,300-acre lake also gives up chunky cutthroats and rainbows, largely to trollers.
Two counties to the west, Ferry County's 870-a
cre Curlew Lake rivals Medical Lake as the region's most productive. It usually gets about 40,000 catchable rainbows and 250,000 fry. The Little Pend Oreille chain of lakes, in picturesque hill and timber country, come on later and are a favorite of canoe and small boat anglers. North and west of Spokane, good trout fishing is also available in Browns (fly-only), Marshall, Skookum, South Twin, Jump-Off-Joe, Deer, Loon and Diamond lakes. The Kettle River is a popular spring destination for river anglers, and trollers take 2-pound-plus hatchery rainbows in upper Roosevelt Reservoir.