Chase away the winter blues starting March 1 for early trout fishing opportunities east of the Cascade Crest
If weather cooperates, trout anglers can get a jump start at 28 lakes across central and eastern Washington.
Originally published in Northwest Sportsman Magazine
More than two dozen lakes across eastern Washington are set to open March 1, although unpredictable winter-like conditions could limit trout fishing options and success.
“Early spring is a great time to get out fishing at some of our east side lakes,” said Steve Caromile, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) statewide inland fish program manager. “The March 1 opener is happening right when the weather starts to improve. We’re all jumping at the chance to get outside to find some outdoor activities, and these spring fisheries are a good way to start the year.”
Depending upon the severity of late winter weather, some lakes east of the Cascade Crest may still be iced over. Ice conditions aren’t monitored by WDFW, so before heading out the door, it’s wise to stay off the ice if you don’t know it is safe.
The initial best bets will likely be Martha and Upper Caliche lakes near George in Grant County. Each can be excellent choices on opening day and anglers should expect good fishing in 2023.
“Martha and Upper Caliche lakes received 500 catchable 10- to 12-inch rainbow trout in the fall off 2022 and should be in the 13- to 14-inch range by opening day,” said Michael Schmuck, a WDFW regional fish program manager. “It is not uncommon for Upper Caliche to still be frozen on March 1. However, there’s almost always plenty of open water on Martha Lake on the opener.”
The north section of Martha Lake is usually ice free with plenty of shoreline space, and that’s likely where most of the trout will be concentrated.
Not far to the north and in Grant County, Quincy and Burke lakes should both fish well this spring and both have improved boat launches. Shore anglers also have plenty of elbow room to spread out and enjoy these lakes. Most fish will be in the 10- to 12-inch inch range, with some, carryover trout in the 13-to 15-inch range. Try casting spinners and small spoons from the shoreline.
While many Columbia Basin lakes were thawing from the warmer weather in early February, some might not be fishable for the time being due to the recent cold snap. The access area at the west end of Burke Lake is thawing out slowly, and Quincy Lake may not be fishable on the opener. Both lakes are well-stocked and should provide limits of 12-inch rainbows when the ice melts.
The Quincy Valley Chamber of Commerce Trout Derby is March 25–26 at Quincy and Burke lakes. Cost is $35 per person over age 18 and free for youth ages 17 and under.
Lake Lenore in Grant County is also open on March 1 with a one fish daily limit and an 18-inch minimum size limit.
Other lakes and ponds in Grant County included in the March 1 opener are Cascade, Dry Falls, Lenice, Merry, North Potholes Reserve, Nunnally, Stratford/Brook and Winchester Wasteway.
Also note that within the Quincy Lakes Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area there are many walk-in lakes that open March 1. These lakes can provide not only good fishing, but also solitude.
Hike-in Dusty Lake is a selective gear lake that has excellent rainbow trout fishing as well as brown and tiger trout. Just southeast of Dusty is a collection of small lakes that hold rainbow trout. Cliff, Crystal, Cup, and the Spring lakes are small enough that they can all be fished in a morning. All these lakes receive spring fingerling rainbow trout and produce good catches of fish in the 12- to 14-inch range with some up to 20 inches.
The greater Spokane region has several March 1 openers including Liberty Lake that can be excellent fishing around the opener for brown and rainbow trout averaging 12 to 16 inches. Statewide rules apply at Liberty Lake.
There are other March 1 opener lakes managed under “selective gear rules” but the action doesn’t generally pick up until the weather warms up. However, fishing can be pretty good, but not great until warmer weather arrives.
Those lakes include Amber (rainbow trout averaging 12 to 19 inches with a few nice cutthroat as well) in Spokane County; Coffeepot (rainbow averaging 14 to 20 inches) in Lincoln County; and Medical Lake (rainbow averaging 14 to 19 inches and some brown trout added into the mix) in Spokane County. All three lakes are managed with an 18-inch minimum size limit and a daily limit one-fish regulation.
Downs Lake is also a March 1 opener, but it is your typical mixed species fishery which can be fair fishing but not spectacular most of the time. As in many other locations anglers run the risk of lakes being ice covered — typically ice that isn’t safe to walk on — during the early part of the season.
In the northeastern section of Washington, Deer Lake in Stevens County opens on March 1.
“Around the opener, anglers can find lake trout cruising the shallows at Deer Lake, so trolling near shore or throwing crank baits can be productive,” said Bill Baker, a WDFW regional biologist. “We surveyed it last fall and caught a fair number of lake trout some up to around 15 pounds. I also marked a bunch on the fish finder.”
Deer Lake is also stocked with rainbow and brook trout and there’s always a decent chance it will be iced over on the opener. Over the last few years, Baker indicates, Deer being iced over occurs about 50% of the time, and usually the ice thickness isn’t safe to walk on this late in the season. Once the ice starts to recede from the shoreline, anglers should start fishing, as lake trout will be actively feeding.
And finally, all seven human-made lakes off the Tucannon River in Columbia County –
Beaver, Big Four, Blue, Deer, Rainbow, Spring and Watson — have open water and are stocked with rainbows weighing up to 1.5 pounds each. Fishhook Pond in Walla Walla County and Pampa Pond in Whitman County also open March 1 for rainbow trout fishing.
Helpful information and resources:
· Visit the WDFW website for specific weekly fish stocking numbers.
· Mark your calendar for the highly anticipated 2023 statewide general lowland lakes trout opener on April 22.
· The WDFW Trout Derby held from April 22 through Oct. 31. In past years, prizes handed out for the derby totaled about $37,000. WDFW expects around 800 tagged trout will go into select lakes for 2023. All the trout in the derby have a white tag attached to their fin. If you catch one be sure to keep the tag to claim your prize. The derby, held for the past eight years, has generated close to 55 to 60 percent of the tags turned in for prizes. To help boost catching a tagged trout, WDFW has a list of all the lakes in real-time where prizes are left to be claimed. Be sure to share your derby success on social media using the hashtag #watroutderby. The WDFW Trout Derby webpage should be updated soon with 2023 information.
· You can find information on lowland lake locations by going to the WDFW webpage and basic trout fishing techniques on the WDFW YouTube webpage. More trout fishing tips can also be found on the WDFW Medium blog.
(Mark Yuasa is a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife communications manager and longtime local fishing and outdoor writer. You can find this story published in the March issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine.)