Trout anglers work Pine Lake in Sammamish during 2023’s lowland lakes opener. The popular water is just one of hundreds stocked with a range of rainbows for the spring fishing season, which actually kicks off in March on year-round lakes and runs through the fourth Saturday in April opener and well into May before angling slows down. (Photo by Mark Yuasa)

On Your Mark, Get Set, Fish!


Washington’s opener will bring out tens of thousands of anglers to lakes across the state in hopes of landing limits and derby fish — and there are trout to be had now too.

Story originally published in the Northwest Sportsman Magazine April issue

Think of April as one of the most stable months when it comes to fishing.

That added level of stability comes from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) large-scale springtime trout stocking plan, through which anglers can expect to find hundreds of lakes across 39 counties busting at the seams with millions of stocked trout.

The hype around this hoopla kicks off with Washington’s lowland lakes trout opener the weekend of April 27–28, when thousands of anglers will try their luck to catch around 14.5 million fish.

“Trout fishing is very popular; 70 percent of our anglers target them, and that makes opening day one of our biggest and most important days for anglers,” said Steve Caromile, WDFW Inland Fish Program manager. “Our spring weather can be difficult to predict, but the opener always draws a lot of interest and brings people together, and it’s always a great day.”

Boasting one of the largest fish-production systems in the world, WDFW hatchery personnel — think fleet of Amazon delivery drivers — will be busy trucking an estimated 2.2 million catchable-size trout into selected lakes in the coming weeks.

A while ago, WDFW hatcheries created a cost-effective way to produce larger catchable-size trout in hatcheries, which has received rave reviews in surveys taken during previous openers. These catchable-size trout average 2.5 fish per pound, or 12 to 14 inches apiece.

Top that off with the nearly 143,000 “jumbo” trout measuring more than 14 inches and averaging one to 1.5 pounds that are destined for many lakes across the state. Most of the jumbos will be planted in March and April and others will be saved for fall planting.

Taking it up another notch are the almost 1.5 million trout categorized as “put, grow and take” — reared in hatcheries and 2.6 to 10 fish per pound in size — that were stocked in 2023 and should be in the eight- to 12-inch range now.

But it doesn’t stop there, as more than 10.6 million trout and kokanee fingerlings and fry planted two years ago will recruit into 2024 fisheries. The majority of them go into Eastern Washington opening-day lakes, which are managed to create decent fry survival.

As many steelheaders and salmon fishermen will attest — and no doubt this gent at Pine Lake too — river-running drift boats sure do make a great and stable platform to take out a bunch of kids! (Photo by WDFW)

WDFW Trout Derby

It’s not just fish to catch when season opens this month — there are also prizes to land when WDFW’s popular statewide trout derby returns from April 27 through Oct. 31. For nearly a decade now, the derby has seen close to 50 to 55 percent of the tags on fish turned in for prizes.

“Not a lot is changing for our trout derby this year, and we plan on planting the same lakes as we have in the past,” Caromile says. “It has been very popular with anglers for the last nine years. The generosity of our vendors has made the trout derby a huge success, and something that many anglers look forward to.”

A good amount of money has gone into this event and for 2024, 100 participating businesses donated over 800 prizes worth a total of $41,000. The donations totaled over $42,000 in 2023; $37,000 in 2022; $38,000 in 2021; $39,179 in 2020; $39,091 in 2019; and $38,000 in 2018.

Refer to the WDFW trout derby webpage and for youth fishing events, go to the WDFW youth fishing events webpage.

Word on trout releases

In the Puget Sound region — Island, King, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom Counties — the projected plant is 436,800 catchable-size fish, which should have anglers reeling in lots of fun this season. The additional icing on the cake is 23,175 jumbo-sized trout and 13,000 “put, grow and take” trout on top of more than 5.4 million fingerlings and fry trout planted here in 2023.

“The trout plants are pretty consistent from 2023, and the fish we have going into our regional lakes are nice, quality-sized fish,” says Justin Spinelli, a WDFW Puget Sound regional biologist. “Our fisheries don’t harvest more than half the trout that are stocked in the spring, and anglers in the summer and fall should have plenty of fish to catch.”

From a statewide perspective, WDFW creel checkers on last year’s opening day surveyed 69 lakes with 3,935 anglers counted at 8 a.m., and 3,626 counted at 12 p.m. In all, 2,102 anglers were checked, and they kept an average of 1.8 trout per rod and caught and/or released 2.8 fish per rod. A total of 3,819 trout were kept and 2,076 trout were caught and/or released.

Success varies from year to year, but here’s how westside lakes fared on April’s 2023 opening day:

· Grays Harbor County — Aberdeen, 1.75 trout kept per angler; Bowers, 2.21; Failor, 3.36; Inez, 1.18; and Sylvia, 0.79.

· Jefferson County — Sandy Shore, 2.37.

· King County — Cottage, 1.93; Geneva, 2.69; Margaret, 1.36; Walker, 0.77; and Wilderness, 1.64.

· Kitsap County — Mission, 1.37; Panther, 2.50; and Wildcat, 2.13.

· Klickitat County — Horsethief, 2.13; Rowland, 3.24; and Spearfish, 1.98.

· Lewis County — Carlisle, 0.52; and Mineral, 1.62.

· Mason County — Devereaux, 3.50; Limerick, 0.67; Tiger, 3.35; and Wooten, 2.32.

· Pacific County — Black, 0.66; Cases Pond, 1.14; and Western, 0.33.

· Pierce County — Carney, 0.38; Clear, 2.88; Crescent, 2.68; Ohop, 0.57; Rapjohn, 0.57; Silver, 1.67; and Tanwax, 0.83.

· San Juan County — Cascade, 1.22.

· Skagit County — Erie, 2.68; Heart, 2.17; McMurray, 2.27; and Sixteen, 0.59. Snohomish County — Howard, 2.22; Ki, 1.35; Martha (Alderwood Manor), 2.96; Serene, 2.50; and Wagner, 4.2.

· Thurston County — Clear, 3.89; Deep, 0.65; Pattison, 0.0; and Summit, 2.0.

· Whatcom County — Cain, 2.73; Padden, 0.48; Silver, 1.85; and Toad, 1.27.

The top lakes east of the Cascades on April’s 2023 opening day:

· Adams County — Warden, 3.09.

· Chelan County — Wapato, 3.45.

· Douglas County — Jameson, 2.72.

· Grant County — Blue, 1.32; Deep, 2.96; and Park, 1.40.

· Okanogan County — Pearrygin, 1.33.

· Pend Oreille County — Diamond, 0.83.

· Spokane County — Badger, 1.50; Clear, 1.95; Fishtrap, 4.47; West Medical, 0.48; and Williams, 0.52.

· Stevens County — Mudgett, 0.55; Rocky, 1.08; Starvation, 1.20; and Waitts, 2.40.

Along with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s statewide trout derby at some 100 lakes, local organizations have long held fun fishing competitions for kids on the opener. Randy Hart Jr. shows off the nice rainbow his granddaughter Brooklyn caught at the 2023 Eatonville Lions Club’s Annual Kids Derby. (Photo by Northwest Sportsman Magazine)

Avoid opener’s madness and go now

Don’t want to wait for April 27? Anglers can get ahead of the opening day excitement by targeting year-round lakes that were or are being stocked between March and May. Refer to the list of year-round lakes planted in the spring with catchable-sized trout by going to the 2024 WDFW statewide hatchery trout and kokanee stocking plan webpage.

On top of the springtime plants, a total of 23,175 jumbo trout averaging 1 to 1.5 pounds apiece will go into some Puget Sound region lakes for the “Black Friday” fishing event in late November. Other lakes will also receive bonus plants in autumn/winter. You can view the statewide trout stocking schedule, by going to the WDFW fishing and stocking reports webpage.

Catchy opening-day tips

When it comes to trout fishing gear, don’t overthink it and keep things pretty basic. A little know-how will help keep you from burning a hole in your wallet.

A trout rod and reel combo will cost around $50 to $90, and a more expensive setup will set you back about $120 to $200. Fishing rods should be six to seven feet long, and keep the rod relatively light and limber, in the four- to 10-pound range. Stick with a medium-sized spinning reel that can hold more than 100 yards of six- to eight-pound-test fishing line.

On the main line, attach one or two number nine-sized egg sinkers with a rubber bumper, then tie on a small barrel swivel. The length of leader is the most important factor; avoid the store-bought, pretied 12-inch leaders, which are way too short. Leaders should be three- to eight-pound test and 18 to 30 inches long. For hooks, think small and use an egg or worm hook in a size eight or 10 or try a number 14 or 16 treble hook.

There are myriad bait options for catching trout, but old-school choices include worms, maggots, salmon eggs and scented marshmallows. There’s been a huge switch to soft dough baits, which comes in all sorts of colors and varieties of egg, maggot, and worm shapes. Get creative with the moldable dough bait and shape it into a square, triangle, small egg-shaped ball or whatever else pops up in your mind.

Various fly patterns also work well, and many prefer a black or black and olive Woolly Bugger in a size eight or 10 attached to a five- or six-foot leader. You can also troll a fly weightless close to the surface.

From a boat you can troll a gang flasher set up with a worm, maggot or salmon egg laced with a tiny piece of scented dough bait or a small spoon.

Bank anglers often cast out a bobber with their presentation sitting just below the surface in three to six feet of water. Others adjust their bobber up the line to send their bait deeper, so it hangs a few feet off the bottom.

A pro tip to know is that most recently stocked trout tend to school near the surface, and many congregate right around where the hatchery truck placed them in the lake and usually within yards of the shoreline, boat ramps and docks.

Planted trout stay just under the surface in three to five feet of water before they acclimate to their new surroundings and then eventually spread out and move to deeper areas of the lake.

Kayden and Parker Wiles and mom Amanda smile over trout limits the boys caught at a south Puget Sound lake on last year’s opening weekend. (Photo by Northwest Sportsman Magazine)

Must-haves or to do’s

Now that spring has arrived, Washingtonians are reminded that a new fishing season is underway and need to buy a 2024–2025 recreational hunting and fishing licenses. A fishing license is required (youth under age 15 fish for free) and can be purchased from WDFW’s licensing website, and from hundreds of license vendors around the state. The 2023–2024 licenses expired on March 31.

Anglers parking at WDFW vehicle water-access areas are required to display the WDFW Vehicle Access Pass — provided when you buy eligible annual fishing licenses — or a Discover Pass. Anglers visiting Washington State Parks or Department of Natural Resources lands need a Discover Pass. Information on parking passes can be found at WDFW’s parking and access passes webpage.

There are more than 7,000 lakes, ponds and reservoirs in Washington, and hundreds of WDFW-managed water-access areas, including some with areas accessible for people with disabilities. Other state and federal agencies operate hundreds more. Details on water-access areas can be found on WDFW’s water access areas webpage.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission Boating Program would also like to remind angler to take a boater safety education course, if you haven’t already, to be prepared for spring and summer. In Washington, boaters who operate a vessel with a 15-horsepower engine or greater must carry a Boater Education Card to prove they passed an accredited boating safety education course.

Before heading out, anglers should also check WDFW’s fishing regulations webpage for permanent regulations and emergency rules webpage for rule updates affecting fisheries.

WDFW has an excellent fishing resource website where you can get additional tips. For lowland lakes information, go to WDFW places to go fishing webpage and the Weekender Report.

(Editor’s note: Mark Yuasa is a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife communications manager and longtime local fishing and outdoor writer.)



The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.