Fat triploids. Literally tons of catchables and holdovers. Huge cutthroats. The Evergreen State offers nearly endless possibilities for Pacific Northwest trout bums. (March 2008).
Photo by Terry W. Sheely.
Nothing heals the bite of a long wet winter like the lightning strike of a shimmering trout, followed by the hot sizzle of cornmeal-coated fillets dancing in a campfire's frying pan.
The challenging mix of rainbows, cutthroat, goldens, browns, brookies, mackinaw and tiger trout (a cross between brown trout and brook trout) still makes for the most popular fishing in Washington. That's amazing, considering the statewide diversity of nearly 50 varieties of freshwater fish and roughly as many saltwater species, including bass, panfish and the much celebrated Northwest salmon and steelhead fisheries.
This year's lowland lake prospects are being bolstered by another round in the Fish and Wildlife Department's fledgling trophy-trout program -- a project that's pumping fresh excitement into a trout-fishing program that had been sliding into a short, lackluster put-and-take fishery.
Under the trophy program, dozens of the most popular trout lakes across the state are stocked with big and fast-growing triploid rainbows whose weights reach into the double-digit range. Anglers also get a secondary shot of better-than-1-pound trout that biologists call " jumbos."
By pumping up lakes with triploid and jumbo bragging-size fish, on top of the normal spring and fall fry plants, the state has delivered an electrifying jolt to spring trout angling. This welcome shock is revitalizing the popularity of lowland lake fishing and is stretching the opportunity to catch big trout deeper into summer.
The trophy-trout stocking supplements, but doesn't replace, the state's long-standing program of stocking 4.1 million 7- to 10-inch put-and-take catchables -- plus planting another 18 million fry and fingerlings that grow to skillet-size catchables by the April opener. Most lakes on the west side of the state have planted catchables. Most of the fry plants are made in fertile central and eastern Washington lakes that enjoy long growing seasons. Just before the opener, almost all of the fry-planted lakes also get a good dose of catchable-size trout. Many also receive slab-sided triploids or jumbos.
More than 100 lakes throughout Washington are now stocked with the fast-growing, aggressive triploid trout that weigh between 3/4 and 1 1/2 pounds, along with a sampling of super trophies -- those 5- to 15-pound fish that earn headlines in local newspapers.
The WDFW buys triploids from Trout Lodge, a private international fish grower. These game fish are rainbows that have been sterilized while in the egg stage by heat or air pressure. Hatched without reproductive systems, triploids channel their energies into eating and growing. That's a super combination for sport fishermen.
" Trips" are voracious feeders. If not harvested the first year, they have the potential to grow to trophy size, as long as their lake offers good forage. After a couple of years of trip plants, most lakes have a fair number of survivors that have grown into the 5- to 10-pound range.
Most of the state's inventory of triploid rainbows is planted within weeks of the traditional lowland lakes fishing season opener the last Saturday in April. In May, though, another sixty-plus lakes are stocked with trips, including higher-elevation lakes that were snowbound in April. Most years, including this 2008, more than 100,000 of lunker trout will be stocked.
WHERE TO GO?
~ Columbia Basin~
To get an early jump on the statewide opener, a lot of anglers head for the Columbia Basin and a cluster of small lakes that are either open year 'round or open in March or by the first of April.
More than 100 of these little lakes are clustered below O'Sullivan Reservoir Dam on either state or federal land, including the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.
Located in Washington's desert area, these lakes are at their peak in early spring before summer fills the water with algae and high water temperatures send success skidding.
In March, April and early May, though, the Seep Lakes can be red-hot for rainbows, browns and tiger trout, and there's as much good shore-fishing available as boat-only areas, making for great family trips.
Some lakes are only a few acres, others more than 100. Some are accessible by gravel road; others are hike-in. The Seep Lakes are pretty much a pick-your-poison kind of place. Whatever you like, from flinging bobbers and bait to float tubes and flies, you'll find it here.
Another good trout bet is 28,000-acre Potholes Reservoir behind O'Sullivan Dam, where Mar Don Resort (call 1-800-416-2736) sponsors a cooperative net-pen rearing project with the WDFW that releases between 150,000 and 180,000 trout for fishermen each spring.
The reservoir is open year 'round. There's always good fishing from the docks at Mar Don and along a section of bank nicknamed Medicare Beach, in honor of the retirees in RVs who stake out favorite bank-fishing spots.
A lot of flyfishermen don't consider spring sprung unless they've wet a float tube and line at Lenice, Nunnally and Merry lakes. These are hike-in lakes with a one-fish daily bag. Lenice is the favorite, but all three have big-fish potential and are stocked with rainbows, browns, triploids and tiger trout.
The WDFW estimates that Lenice and Nunnally will offer 12- to 14-inch rainbows and browns, with carry-overs to 20 inches, and some really big triploids. Lenice and Nunnally also offer a great chance to hook a tiger. The state record came from Lenice -- a 6.26-pounder caught in 2006.
Further north near Ephrata, the alkaline waters of 1,670-acre Lake Lenore support the hottest Lahontan cutthroat fishing in the state. Many of these fish run 14 to 22 inches, and some hit 10 pounds.
During the spawn -- from March 1 to May 31 -- the lake is restricted to catch-and-release fishing. For the rest of the season, only one fish per angler is the rule. These regulations reduce fishing pressure and increase big-fish potential. Also, the highly alkaline water of Lenore is fished for sport, not for table fare.
If you're looking for skillet trout, continue a little north of Lenore to Sun Lakes State Park, which includes several exceptionally heavy planted catch-and-eat lakes.
Tops are Park and Blue lakes
, but don't ignore Perch Lake, which can come on strong with pan-size rainbows. This is a super-popular family camping-fishing destination.
The Okanogan, stretching across the northern part of central Washington, holds some of the best trout fishing in the state. Its lakes are located in the colder part of the state, so many of the best waters open in April but don't really start kicking until May. This gives anglers who invested opening weekends in western Washington or the Columbia Basin a second shot at peak bites.
Perennial top lakes to consider are Spectacle, Pearrygin, Alta, Wannacut, Concunully Lake and Conconully Reservoir. These waters are heavily planted with fry and catchables. Also, Pearrygin, Spectacle and both Conconully lakes are each topped off with around 600 triploids, joining a good number of large carry-over trout from previous plants.
These lakes have state parks nearby, public boat ramps, camping and resorts.
Big Twin and Patterson lakes near Winthrop, and Leader Lake northeast of Loup Loup Pass on Highway 20 are good bets for pan-size and holdover rainbows. Big Twin gets a modest plant of triploids, too.
A big fish favorite is Bonaparte Lake, which is open year'round and delivers good mackinaw and brook trout in early spring. Often it produces near-surface action before the general opener.
On the Colville Indian Reservation, lanky Omak Lake requires a tribal fishing permit to chase oversize Lahontan cutthroat. State records are set here, although the spring fishery is strictly catch-and-release to protect spawners. Omak is a great place to hunt for a truly trophy-size fish.
Rainbows and browns up to 18 inches will also be available in 160-acre Blue Lake on the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area. Like many of the best producing Okanogan lakes, Blue is restricted to selective tackle and has a one-fish daily limit for trout.
Spokane is eastern Washington's largest city, and its anglers never have to travel far for exceptionally good trout fishing, especially in the dozens of small lakes that dot the rolling countryside.
Badger, West Medical, Clear and Williams lakes are heavily stocked with triploid rainbows, on top of a solid mix of rainbows, browns, and cutthroat. West Medical also holds tiger trout. With a resort, rental boats, fishing dock and state access, it's one of the most popular and productive lakes in the county. Hatch time for mayflies at Williams Lake is mid-May, and that's when this 319-acre lake zooms to the top in popularity and productivity. Expect rainbows and cutts in the 14- to 16-inch range, with triploids and brood-stock plants giving the lake trophy-trout appeal.
Deer and Loon lakes are planted with triploids to complement fry and catchables. These are big lakes with resorts and camping and lots of early trout action.
Up north on the Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Management Area, several chains of small cutthroat lakes are perennially productive for fly- and light-spinning gear. This year, based on stocking and growth records, the WDFW expects Sacheen, Fan, Brown's and Crescent lakes to be productive early.
Diamond Lake, southwest of Newport, reportedly has a large number of carryovers in the 14- to 16-inch range, is pumped up with a net pen rearing-release project and is also stocked with triploids. It's going to be tough to beat that combination!
Big 870-acre Curlew Lake in Ferry County is another eastern hot spot. It's heavily planted with net-pen reared rainbows, along with tiger muskies and largemouth bass.
Spokane, Stevens, and Pend Oreille counties are fat with April and May trout potential. The hard part is finding a lake that isn't productive. And if you do, just cruise on the road and you'll find one that is. Eloika, Hog Canyon, Liberty, Silver, Jump Off Joe, Waitts, Marshall, Skookum, Diamond, Yokum, Frater are all good-to-great '08 trout prospects.
No trout story would be complete without mentioning the big Columbia River impoundment known as Rufus Woods. The 7,800-acre reservoir has produced the last several state-record rainbows, including the current 29.6-pound record. These are triploids, and it's mostly a winter fishery, but it's where the state records live.
Jameson Lake is always one of the best rainbow trout spots, with trout averaging 13 inches. Almost across the road is Grimes Lake, which opens June 1. But Grimes can be red-hot for Lahontan cutthroats in the 5-pound range. Gear rules apply.
The WDFW regards Wapato Lake as the best spring trout fishery in Chelan County. It's nicely planted with triploids and rainbows to 16 inches. Wenas Lake, just north of Yakima, was closed most of last year because of a jurisdictional dispute. But it's been re-opened and re-stocked and should deliver some exceptional rainbows, browns and triploids early in the season.
A rough road leads to Mud Lake on Clemans Mountain near Naches. But at the end is a small pool packed with big triploids and flyfishermen in float tubes.
On White Pass, adjacent to Highway 12, Leech Lake is a small-boat, fly-fishing mecca for triploid rainbows and unusually large brook trout.
This high mountain lake is rarely ice-free before late May, however.
Stream fishermen turn to Rocky Ford Creek, the best spring creek in the state and one of the most challenging, and the Yakima River from Cle Elum to Roza Dam through the Ellensburg Canyon. " The Yak" fishes best early in the year and again in fall after irrigation runoff ceases from the upriver irrigation reservoirs.
The Yakima is easily the top trout river in the state, although the Methow, Spokane, Kettle and extreme upper Columbia are also solid river bets.
The Naches River, west of Yakima, is beginning to build a decent trout population under strict selective fishery guidelines and can offer a few surprises in the 16-inch range.
The west side of the Cascades between British Columbia and Oregon holds literally hundreds of small trout lakes, nearly all stocked with rainbows, a few with triploids.
Most waters fish well during the first couple of weeks, then fade with May. But at some of the larger lakes, the introduction of triploids has extended the fishing deep into summer.
Picking top waters is almost impossible. But there are a few standouts, like Lake Wilderness in King County. Year-round, Battle Ground Lake near Vancouver is heavily stocked throughout the year with jumbos, triploids, brood stock, steelhead and catchable rainbows.
Lake Stevens is doing well with a developing triploid program. A net-pen trout-rearing project has breathed new life into Ohop Lake.
Mineral Lake produces some of the best catches in the Puget Sound region with a mix of rainbows, triploids, browns and broodstock.
Lone Lake on Whidbey Island offers 92 acres of quality fishing for solid numbers of triploids and rainbows. A one-day limit is one fish. And to take it home, that fish must be a minimum of 18 inches -- if that tells you anything!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Terry W. Sheely, a full-time freelance writer and photographer, is the author and publisher of the 416-page Washington State Fishing Guide, now in its ninth edition.
Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com
Find more about Washington-Oregon fishing and hunting atWOgameandfish.com