Skagit County lakes offer variety for fishers

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 27, 2013 

Skagit County lakes offer all the variety of recreational fishing that Whatcom County waters do, and four Skagit lowland lakes receive the same fine trout, produced at Kendall Creek and Bellingham Trout hatcheries, that Whatcom lakes do,

So whether it's a change of scenery you want, a more finicky trout that'll test skills, tastier fare for the fry pan or perhaps scarcer but bigger quarry, you'll find a selection of fishing lakes in our neighboring county to satisfy any need or desire.

When you take to the water on opening day Saturday, keep these things in mind:

- Statewide creeks, beaver ponds and most main rivers are closed to all fishing until at least June.

- To learn the specific rules for your intended lake, start on page 16 of the new 2013-14 Fish Washington pamphlet.

- Unless a different bag limit is specified in the special rules, a total of five trout per day may be kept from any lake or reservoir. Other fish species have different daily takes.

- For many lakes and reservoirs there is no minimum size for trout. However, some lakes do have trout specific length rules and other fish species may have minimum and/or maximum keeper lengths specified, too.

- Two-pole license endorsements cost $14.80, are good in many lakes and reservoirs, and allow fishers to use a second rod to catch their standard daily limit of five fish. That special revenue goes to WDFW's fish hatchery program.

? Anglers using artificial lures and flies may catch and release until they retain their daily limits. People fishing with bait may keep or release the first five otherwise legal trout they bring to hand, then must stop fishing.

? Be sure to display your WDFW vehicle access permit or Discover Pass - which is free if you buy an annual fishing license - when parking on a state fish and wildlife department access. If you are on state parks land, only the $35 Discover Pass is valid.

- While state hatchery-produced fish are safe to eat, the Washington Health Department has issued advisories for the consumption of a number of naturally spawned and/or reared fish. Lake Whatcom's smallmouth bass and perch bear such precautionary notes. See page 20 of the 2012-13 FishWashington sport regulations pamphlet.

- Check online now or pick up at any license dealer a copy of new 2013-2014 Fish Washington sport fishing pamphlet.

Some 43,200 of the more than 3 million catchable trout planted in Washington lakes by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for this opener are now residing in four easily accessible lowland lakes in neighboring Skagit County.

Here's a rundown of Skagit's most popular fishing spots, leading off with its hot hatchery-stocked waters Erie, Heart, McMurray and Sixteen, for anglers seeking those obliging put and take rainbow trout.

OPENING DAY OF FISHING

This is the second in a series of three stories profiling spring trout fishing in Northwest Washington. Today, Skagit County lakes are highlighted, with many lakes opening for fishing on Saturday, April 27. Read about Okanogan County lakes Sunday, April 28. You can also find these lake profiles and maps online at Bellinglhamherald.com/outdoors.

LAKE ERIE (3)

From its nutrient-laden but shallow confines, Fidalgo Island's Erie has served up some beautiful rainbow trout - a few to nine pounds.

These trout were once grown from fingerling size, but that stocking strategy has been compromised by wintering cormorants as well as competition from illegally introduced perch.

Erie's catchable plant was boosted this sprin,g while triploid introductions have been reduced, but both will uphold Erie's reputation for fine spring season catches. Get here early and, with the crowds, plan to still-fish for a while before there's room to troll.

Season: Last Saturday, April 27, to Oct. 31. Page 60 in the regs.

Size: 111 acres.

In your catch: Rainbow trout and illegally introduced perch.

Stocking for 2013: 11,500 catchable rainbows and 850 triploid rainbows, all planted in April.

Past years' catches: Opening day kept trout averages: 3.9 in 2012, 3.4 in 2011 and 4.0 in 2010.

Angler amenities: Lake Erie Resort operates at the lake's southeast shore providing fishing tackle, ice and fee access to launch, but, alas, they don't have boats anymore.

Boat launching: WDFW, gravel with shallow drop-off. Will accommodate small trailered boats, but access has limited maneuvering room.

Boating rules: None.

Getting there: Drive west on State Route 20 from I-5 at Burlington through Sharp's Corner. Take Lake Campbell Road west from Highway 20 about two miles. Very limited off-road parking, with much spillover onto adjacent county road.

HEART LAKE (1)

Smallish Heart Lake can get just as crowded but will be no less rewarding on opening day than its neighbor to the south.

There's more shore access here in the City of Anacortes forestlands, and the bank-borne fishers do almost as well as those in stationary boats since the crowds can all but rule out trolling. Don't be surprised if a few tiny bluegill nibble at your bait. Their illegal introduction prompted the ending of young rainbow fry plants.

Season: Last Saturday, April 27, to Oct. 31. Page 61 in the regs.

Size: 61 acres, 75 percent 10 feet or less in depth.

In your catch: Rainbow trout and illegally introduced bluegill.

Stocking for 2013: 6,500 catchable rainbows in April. As with Erie, fry plants have been stopped.

Past years' catches: Opening day kept trout averages: 2.9 in 2012, 3.4 in 2011 and 4.7 in 2010.

Angler amenities: Excellent shore fishing access at the park ramp. Anglers often sit along the county road on the lake's east shore or pioneer into the park woods surrounding the lake.

Boat launching: City of Anacortes parks department, concrete puncheon ramp with shallow dropoff that will accommodate up to small trailered craft.

Boating rules: Speed limit is 5 mph, and no-wake rule is in effect.

Getting there: Take Heart Lake Road north from Lake Erie Road or drive south on Heart Lake Road from 11th Avenue in Anacortes. Some off-road parking, with spill-over onto county road.

LAKE MCMURRAY (7)

The largest hatchery-rainbow stocked lake in Skagit County, McMurray attracts a large, cosmopolitan crowd of anglers from several counties on the opener. Trolling's doable here in the lake's deeper middle section, or anglers can anchor at either end and still-fish to their heart's content.

Season: Saturday, April 27, to Oct. 31. Page 63 in the regs.

Size: 160.6 acres, maximum depth 52 feet at north central part of lake.

In your catch: Rainbow trout, native cutthroat and perhaps a landlocked salmon or two; on the warmwater ledger, perch, black crappie and largemouth bass will awaken later in the spring.

Stocking for 2013: 17,000 catchable rainbows, planted in April.

Past years' catches: Opening day kept trout averages: 3.1 in 2012, 1.6 in 2011 and 3.8 in 2010.

Angler amenities: There are several expansive but private group access areas along the lake shore if you are willing to join a fraternal or community club.

Boat launching: WDFW, graveled, but will accommodate small trailered craft. Can be crowded.

Boating rules: The lake boat speed limit is 5 mph.

Getting there: Take State Route 534 east about five miles from Conway. The public access is on the lake's south end. Parking spills over on to narrow access road out to highway.

LAKE SIXTEEN (8)

One of Skagit County's smaller "locals" lakes, Sixteen always yields good crops of imported rainbows at season's start. Discerning anglers will notice a few wild cutthroat turning up in their creels, usually the result of trolling in close to the weedy shoreline. Unfortunately, parking is limited, but under no circumstances should you park on the county road.

Season: Saturday, April 27, to Oct. 31. Page 65 in the regs.

Size: 41.6 acres.

In your catch: Hatchery rainbow predominate with some native sea-run cutthroat trout from natural spawning.

Stocking for 2013: 6,500 catchable rainbows in April.

Past years' catches: Opening day kept trout averages: 3.0 in 2012, 1.0 in 2011 and 2.0 in 2010.

Boat launching: WDFW, graveled, handles up to small trailered craft.

Angler amenities: There is some shore fishing space at ramp area. Sixteen's faithful are almost always well-mannered.

Boating rules: Gas-powered motors are banned and the lake speed limit is 5 mph.

Getting there: Take State Route 534 east from I-5 at Conway, turn left on the gravel access road. Parking space fills quickly here.

OTHER SKAGIT WATERS

Lunker triploid rainbow each up to a pound and a half will be stocked in six Skagit lakes including Campbell, Clear, Erie, Heart, Pass and Vogler.

Campbell and Clear lakes also feature warmwater species, while Pass and Vogler are the featured fly-fishing only waters in Skagit County.

Though it's actually in Island County, Cranberry Lake, just south of Deception Pass in the state park complex, is close enough to the above two Fidalgo Island waters to merit mention, especially because of its hard-to-entice brown trout.

Much sought-after kokanee are the staple in Skagit County's largest fresh- and still-water body, Lake Shannon, a Puget Sound Energy hydroelectric reservoir.

Big Lake holds middling largemouth bass, together with nice crappie that should verge on 11 inches, in its long, shallow reach. There's a limit on the sunfish, as well as a minimum size.

For more out-of-the-way angling options, try the walk-in waters of Whistle Lake south of Anacortes, as well as drive-up Grandy Lake or Texas Ponds in the Cascade foothills for cutthroat trout.

LAKE SHANNON (15)

The lower and older of the Baker River Valley's two hydroelectric impoundments north of Concrete, at one time Shannon was renowned for its prolific kokanee. With shifts in management of both PSE reservoirs and their salmon, this once hot angling spot has chilled. There's now a size limit of 6 to 18 inches on trout, and and native char (bull trout/Dolly Varden) are off limits. Opening day yields can be good for kokanee if you chum up the waters downlake near the dam's log boom. If you value elbow -room as much as hot fishing, Shannon's seven miles of water allow you to pull gang trolls to your heart's content at multiple depths for both silvers - and maybe a stump or two. With Shannon's fetch, beware of windy afternoons.

Season: Saturday, April 27, to Oct. 31. Page 65 in the regs.

Size: 2,148 acres.

Angler amenities: Some shore fishing at the launch site. The ramp is wide and graveled but the lower end is rough when the reservoir is low. As of Thursday, April 25, Shannon was at 422.3 feet above sea level and saw-tooth daily activity is around 20 feet below nominal full pool.

In your catch: Kokanee with occasional rainbow, cutthroat and eastern brook trout.

Stocking for 2013: No gamefish planted.

Past years' catches: Not available.

Boat launching: PSE and Skagit County provide launch access at old Lone Star Cement location on the lower southeast side of the lake. At lower lake levels the ramp can be rough.

Boating rules: No boats inside log boom at dam. Also, the east bank will be closed due to construction of the fish out-migration facility.

Getting there: From Interstate 5, take Cook Road east to Sedro-Woolley, then continue east on Highway 20 to Concrete. Cross the Lowell Peterson Bridge and take the next left turn, take another left at the stop sign and then the uphill right before crossing the old bridge. This will take you to either the dam or past Everett Lake to the power-line right-of-way and the left turn downhill to the launch.

VOGLER LAKE (14)

Its fly fishing-only waters make Volger a fair bet for a spring venture - if you don't mind a quiet, catch and release experience with some potential for having your arms tugged out of their shoulder sockets.

Season: Saturday, April 27, to Oct. 31. Page 67 in the regs.

Size: 3.5 acres, maximum depth 10 feet.

Angler amenities: Catch and release under the fly-fishing rule but not two poles. Vogler is shallow and warms quickly, so skip it during the hot summer. Do try it again in October before the closing.

In your catch: Rainbow trout.

Past years' catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2013: 200 catchable rainbow in April 2013 and 59 triploid rainbows in May.

Boat launching: WDFW, graveled with capacity for small trailered boats, carry-ins and certainly belly boats.

Boating rules: None.

Getting there: Take Cook Road east from I-5 to Sedro-Woolley. Continue east on Highway 20 past Hamilton, turn left on Baker Lake Road and drive past Grandy Lake to Burpee Hill Road. Turn right and go to the top of the hill (about a half mile).

CAVANAUGH LAKE (13)

About the size of Lake Samish, out-of-the-way Cavanaugh has long been considered a summer-home-by-the-lake type of place. It's open year-round and among its principal historical yield have been both cutthroat trout and kokanee, though the "silvers," as the kokanee are called, are small. You'll also find rainbows (excess hatchery program trout), some holdover cutthroat trout down deep, an occasional eastern brook and a few largemouth bass. Sorry, there won't be any triploid rainbows this year. You may chum or feed for kokanee when still-fishing.

Season: Year-round. Page 59 in the regs.

Size: 844 acres, maximum depth 80 feet just east of islands.

Angler amenities: Best fished now before the weather and water warm when the skier/skidoo set starts churning up the lake. Try fishing deep for the cutthroat.

In your catch: Rainbow and cutthroat trout, kokanee (land-locked sockeye salmon), eastern brook trout and occasionally largemouth bass.

Past years' catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2013: 10,152 cutthroat fry in June 2012; 21,200 rainbow fry from June to October 2012; and 39,198 kokanee fingerlings in December 2012.

Boat launching: WDFW, graveled on the southeast side of the lake, best approached by taking the lake-shore drive around the southwest side of the lake.

Boating rules: None.

Getting there: Drive from I-5 to Highway 9 somewhere around Mount Vernon and drive south along the east side of Big Lake and watch for the Lake Cavanaugh Road. It's about 14 miles of blacktop road, though it'll seem you're driving deep into the woods .

CLEAR LAKE (11)

For the better part of its sport-fishing existence, Clear Lake's shallows have been a spiny ray haven with an occasional load of legal rainbow trout added when state hatcheries had leftovers. Now its gets a dose of cutthroat trout fry for early spring action and a helping of triploid rainbows to break up the late spring monotony for trout anglers. It's open year-round, so the trout when active are fair game any time. Bass clubs pay attention to Clear Lake spring and fall, so spinnerbaits now or top-water lures mid-summer may be worth carrying.

Season: Year-round. Page 16 statewide rules in the regs.

Size: 223 acres. About half the lake is 20 feet or deeper to 44 feet.

Angler amenities: There is some shore fishing from the ramp causeway that juts into the lake.

In your catch: Cutthroat and rainbow trout as well as largemouth bass, yellow perch and brown bullhead catfish.

Past years' catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2013: 9,600 cutthroat fry in fall 2012, plus 718 triploid rainbows in April 2012.

Boat launching: WDFW, located on the north side of the lake off Old Day Creek Road.

Boating rules: The speed limit is 25 mph and personal watercraft are banned on the lake.

Getting there: Take Cook Road east to Sedro-Woolley, then drive south across the Skagit River on Highway 9 to Clear Lake, turn east on Old Day Creek Road.

WHISTLE LAKE (2)

Though a walk-in lake, Whistle is not way up in the backcountry. It's on Fidalgo Island within the City of Anacortes's unique community forest lands. It's best fished in the early spring and late fall. In between it's a swimming hole.

Season: Year-round. Page 16 statewide rules in the regs.

Size: 29.7 acres.

Angler amenities: Fishing activity is limited by the steep, brushy nature of the shoreline combined with the half-mile walk. Casting spot accesses are available at intervals off the circum-lake trail. There are likely to be some good sized cutts and perhaps some fair size bass here.

In your catch: Cutthroat trout, largemouth bass and yellow perch.

Past years' catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2013: Cutthroat trout fry in 2009 and 2012. Regular fry stocking has resumed.

Boat launching: Carry-in craft only, though the road, turned trail, is relatively flat and wide.

Boating rules: No city ordinances.

Getting there: Drive west on Highway 20 from I-5 at Burlington through Sharp's Corner, taking the Anacortes route. At Commercial Street and Highway 20, drive south on Commercial to Fidalgo Ave, turn right go one block to O Avenue. Turn south on O Avenue to a left turn onto Spradley Road. Drive east to Whistle Lake Road, then a right to the city forest lands gate.

LAKE CAMPBELL (4)

An annual stop on several Northwest bass tournament trails, Campbell hosts some championship largemouth bass and, though they don't figure in any weigh-ins, lunker rainbows thanks to the triploid program. Fishing rules also set a minimum 9-inch size and 10-fish daily limit for Campbell's crappies.

Season: Year-round. Page 59 in the regs.

Size: 410 acres.

Angler amenities: Fish it shallow. The deepest part of Campbell is a postage stamp-sized hole 16 feet deep immediately to the south of the island. Campbell's average depth according to state ecology department information is 8 feet.

In your catch: Largemouth bass, yellow perch, black crappie, bullhead catfish, cutthroat trout and some bigger specimens of channel catfish and rainbow trout.

Past years' catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2013: 21,200 cutthroat fry from June to October 2012 and 1,071 triploid rainbow in April 2013.

Boat launching: WDFW, a concrete puncheon ramp that accommodates larger trailered boats.

Boating rules: No county ordinances.

Getting there: Drive west on Highway 20 from I-5 at Burlington through Sharp's Corner. Take Lake Campbell Road west from Highway 20 about a half mile.

PASS LAKE (5)

Its angling faithful credit the catch-and-release and fly-fishing-only rules, plus close monitoring, for creation of what is considered by many to be among the best year-round trophy coldwater-type fisheries in Northwest Washington. The average trout size is 15 inches with some ranging to 30 inches. At only 20 feet deep, these waters warm to summe time highs that can make trout lethargic, so fishing is best in fall to early/mid-spring.

Season: Year-round. Page 64 in the regs.

Size: 98 acres.

Angler amenities: The trout here speak for themselves.

In your catch: Brown, cutthroat, rainbow trout, green sunfishes and maybe red-side shiners,

Past years' catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2013: 5,280 brown trout fingerlings in fall 2012, 10,000 rainbow fry in May 2012 and 162 triploid rainbows in May 2013.

Boat launching: WDFW, graveled ramp that accommodates up to smaller trailered boats.

Boating rules: Motors are not allowed, by WDFW regulation.

Getting there: Drive west on Highway 20 from I-5 at Burlington through Sharp's Corner. Continue west on Highway 20 to Pass Lake along highway one mile before Deception Pass Bridge.

CRANBERRY LAKE (6)

Tempered by the marine environment, unlike many other year-round waters, Cranberry Lake provides action 12 months of the year. While rainbows, including some nice carryovers, are the norm in fall and winter months, brown trout and bass tend to perk up in late spring. State park lands ring these shallow waters and help meter access.

Season: Year-round. Page 16 statewide rules in the regs.

Size: 128 acres. Half the lake is 15 feet or shallower, maximum depth is a 25-foot pocket against the north shore.

Angler amenities: A public dock in park on east side of lake, plus several extensive rock outcrops along the road on the north shore.

In your catch: Brown and rainbow trout, plus yellow perch and largemouth bass.

Past years' catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2013: 3,000 catchable rainbows in spring 2013, and 5,280 brown trout fingerlings in fall 2012.

Boat launching: State parks (Discover Pass), gravel, accommodates car-topper and small trailered boats,

Boating rules: Internal combustion motors are not allowed by state park rule.

Getting there: Drive west on Highway 20 from I-5 at Burlington through Sharp's Corner. Continue driving west on Highway 20 to Deception Pass. Look for state park entrance about one mile south of the pass bridge.

BIG LAKE (9)

Known principally as a warm-water haunt, Big is another of Northwest Washington's shallow lowland waters that regularly hosts bass angling contests. Because of extensive residential development on its shores, aquatic activities have significantly transitioned away from fishing. Minimum size (9 inches) and 10-fish daily limit are in place for the crappie.

Season: Year-round. Page 58 statewide rules in the regs.

Size: 545 acres.

Angler amenities: Look for natural, weedy transitions of the shoreline at the very south end. Despite its lanky fjord-like appearance, Big's maximum depth is only 23 feet with an average of 14 feet.

In your catch: Largemouth bass, yellow perch and brown bullhead, plus some nice black crappie with an occasional naturally produced cutthroat trout.

Past years' catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2013: None.

Boat launching: WDFW, dual concrete puncheon accommodates larger trailered boats.

Boating rules: None.

Getting there: Drive east from I-5 on state Highway 538, then south on state Highway 9 from Big Rock about three miles to West Big Lake Drive. Turn left and drive along the west shore of the lake to the 19000 block and the public access.

BEAVER LAKE (10)

If you are looking for a little change of pace in your warm-water fishing, try this out-of-the-way, weed-lined pan in the Nookachamps River basin. It produces fair largemouth bass, plus lots of crappies and perch during the hot summer.

Season: Year-round. Page 16 statewide rules in the regs.

Size: 73 acres, 10 feet or less of depth.

Angler amenities: If you like fishing poppers among the lily-pads, there is plenty of that habitat here.

In your catch: Yellow perch, black crappie and largemouth with an occasional cutthroat trout.

Past year's catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2013: None.

Boat launching: WDFW, gravel, accommodates car-topper and small trailered boats.

Boating rules: None.

Getting there: From I-5, take Cook Road east to Sedro-Woolley, then drive south across the Skagit River on Highway 9 through the town of Clear Lake, turn left onto Beaver Lake Road and drive 11/2 miles southeast to Beaver Lake.

GRANDY LAKE (13)

A local's lake on a heavily driven road, but not on angler radars. Grandy's once resilient naturally reproducing cutthroat trout population has faded in the face of angling pressure and the presence of largemouth bass. A smattering of hatchery rainbows have been added. This is a combination fishing and overnight camping destination that's great for kids.

Season: Year-round. Page 16 statewide rules in the regs.

Size: 56 acres.

Angler amenities: Lakeshore county parks campground provides a one-stop fishing/camping opportunity.

In your catch: Native resident cutthroat trout and largemouth bass.

Past years' catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2013: 1,500 catchable rainbows in spring 2013.

Boat launching: Skagit County parks, graveled, accommodates car-topper and small trailered boats.

Boating rules: None.

Getting there: From I-5, take Cook Road east to Sedro-Woolley, continue east on Highway 20 to Birdsview. Turn left onto Baker Lake Road and drive northeast five miles to Grandy Lake.

TEXAS PONDS (16)

Being out-of-the-way waters on a forest road, Texas Ponds makes for a nice, day-long outing in the woods. Though its fish see a lot of angling pressure, it's on an annual stocking list, so there are always trout available.

Season: Year-round. Page 16 statewide rules in the regs.

Size: 6 acres.

Angler amenities: Several campsites in wooded area. Ponds are in an hour-glass shape and there are some bank fishing spots along the shore in the woods.

In your catch: Cutthroat trout.

Past years' catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2013: Stocked with cutthroat fry in 2011.

Boat launching: USFS, carry-in boats only.

Boating rules: None.

Getting there: From I-5, take Highway 20 east to Rockport, then drive south on state Highway 530 south across the Sauk River bridge to the Christian Camp Road. Turn right, drive uphill to Forest Service Road 2811. Turn left, continue uphill to ponds.

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