Okanogan lakes offer a change of pace for fishers who don't mind the trip

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 28, 2013 

With the North Cascades Highway opened by Washington State Department of Transportation crews this month well in advance of the statewide opening day of spring fishing, the Okanogan's lucrative trout waters are as close time-wise as they'll get to Bellingham.

North-central Washington's dry pine forest and scrub sage settings are always a welcome change for us wet-side anglers and the fishing there will be as good and occasionally even better than it is here.

Notes for the lakes listed below include their status with regard to the two-pole endorsement. Holders of the $14.80 freshwater licensing add-on may fish for gamefish with two rods on all lakes and reservoirs in the state except those exempted.

And though anglers may deploy dual sets of fishing gear with the two-pole endorsement, they are still allowed only one legal daily limit of gamefish. The good thing if you like trout is that all the money that this special license earns goes to support the department's freshwater hatchery program.

Here's a rundown of 22 well-stocked northern tier waters scattered from the Winthrop area of the Methow River Valley east to the Sinlahekin and Okanogan valleys that will be either destinations or tour stops for many Western Washington anglers this spring:

PEARRYGIN LAKE (1)

Multiple public accesses including a state park, private resort and a fish and wildlife department ramp at Pearrygin Lake prompt many westside anglers doing a spring trout tour of the Okanogan to make these Winthrop-area waters their first stop. The lake is well stocked and produces good early catches. It's best fished in spring and again in October.

Season: April 27 to Sept. 30.

Size: 192 acres.

Angling quarry here: Rainbows.

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 65,000 rainbow fry in May 2012, plus 357 triploid rainbows in April 2012.

Boat launching: WDFW and state park. Both will handle most trailered boats.

Angler notes: Besides the boat launch capacity, the state park has a fishing dock accessible to wheelchairs. This spring's yearling rainbows are about 10-13 inches, carryovers are 15 inches.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to Winthrop. After crossing the Chewuch River go straight on Bridge Street, which turns into Bluff Street and East Chewuch Road. Continue to a right turn onto Bear Creek Road to the state park and WDFW ramp.

PATTERSON LAKE (2)

On the road out of Winthrop to Sun Mountain Lodge, Patterson warms quickly as the Methow winter chill wears off. It produces fair catches of several species for spring anglers. Planted trout fry compete directly with Patterson's perch, so last year saw the stocking only of the ferocious hybrid tiger trout. No catchable or triploid rainbow plants are listed for 2013.

Season: Year-round.

Size: 143 acres.

Angling quarry here: Large- and small-mouth bass, yellow perch, kokanee, black crappie, hybrid tiger trout and perhaps an occasional rainbow or cutthroat trout.

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 2,000 tiger trout fry planted in spring 2012 and 17,156 kokanee planted in April 2012.

Boat launching: WDFW gravel ramp for small-trailered boats about halfway up the east shore.

Angler notes: A resort provides access and boats here. Fish early for rainbows (11-13 inches), then for perch (7-10 inches) and largemouth bass in the weedy hot summer months. The tigers and leftover kokanee should start appearing soon, too. Cutthroat trout stocking has been discontinued.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to Winthrop. After crossing the Methow River eastbound on Highway 20 turn right on Twin Lakes Road and drive 2.5 miles to Patterson Lake Road. Turn right and drive two miles to Patterson Lake.

BIG TWIN LAKE (3)

Popular among Winthrop locals and knowledgeable passers-through, Big Twin is managed under selective fishing rules and a one-fish-a-day limit on bigger rainbows.

Season: April 27 to Oct. 31.

Size: 65 acres.

Angling quarry here: Rainbows and the occasional cutthroat.

Two poles: Not allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 4,000 rainbow trout in spring 2013 and 220 cutthroat trout fry in spring 2012.

Boat launching: Public access with graveled ramp for most small-trailered boats.

Angler notes: There's a lakeside resort here. Expect the rainbows to run 10 to 18 inches. Gas motors are banned.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to Winthrop. After crossing the Methow River eastbound on Highway 20 turn right on Twin Lakes Road.

LITTLE TWIN LAKE (4)

Little Twin is available to anglers only seasonally and now has a one-fish per day take-home limit with the selective gear rule applying. Internal combustion motors are not allowed.

Season: April 27 to Oct. 31.

Size: 19 acres.

Angling quarry here: Rainbows and eastern brook trout.

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 250 catchable and 250 triploid rainbows this May, and 400 triploid eastern brook fry in April 2012. Catchable rainbows are stocked as a contingency if winter kill has occurred.

Boat launching: WDFW with a graveled ramp.

Angler notes: Expect the rainbows to be from 12 inches. Brookies, if present, have been 9 to 10 inches.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to Winthrop. After crossing the Methow River eastbound on Highway 20 turn right on Twin Lakes Road.

DAVIS LAKE (5)

Davis is one of two Winthrop area lakes on a split year-round schedule that is intended to combine spring fishing with a later-cropping of trout to make room for next year's fish. Davis this year is not getting triploid rainbows.

Season: Year-round (April 1-Aug. 31, catch and release and selective fishery rule, then Sept. 1 to March 31 catch and kill).

Size: 39 acres.

Angling quarry here: Rainbows.

Two poles: Not allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 2,000 catchable this May and 4,000 fry in fall 2012, rainbow plants plus 220 tiger trout fry in June 2012.

Boat launching: WDFW with a graveled ramp.

Angler notes: This spring, the grown-in-lake yearling rainbows should be about 10-14 inches, carryovers to 15 inches.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to Winthrop. Before crossing the Methow River get on Castle Avenue and drive southeast, turn left on Bear Creek Road drive up to Davis Lake Road and turn right.

LEADER LAKE (6)

Perched above Highway 20 just west of Okanogan, Leader's waters are held in place by two dikes. Before summer's heat takes hold fishing is good for rainbows, then as the reservoir level drops angling transitions to Leader's sunfish and bass.

Season: April 27 to Oct. 31.

Size: 159 acres.

Angling quarry here: Rainbow trout plus black crappie, bluegill, brown bullhead, small and largemouth bass.

Two poles: Not allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 6,000 catchable and 250 jumbo rainbows in April 2012, and 4,484 rainbow fry in May 2012.

Boat launching: A gravel ramp.

Angler notes: Washington Department of Natural Resources operates the campground in the Loup Loup State Forest. Reservoir shore access is good and there is a float for fishing. Rainbows this year range from 11 to 14 inches. Crappie and bluegill catches into the summer. Leader is subject to significant drawdowns the fall.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 east from Twisp through the Loup-Loup and just before entering the Okanogan River valley proper, turn left on Leader Lake Road.

CONCONULLY LAKE (7)

This fiord-shaped impoundment, like its companion waters to the south, gets heavy fishing pressure throughout the season. But it is stocked to sustain catches. Expect yearling rainbows 10 to 12 inches with carryovers to 15 inches and later triploids to two pounds.

Season: April 27 to Oct. 31.

Size: 292 acres.

Angling quarry here: Catchable and triploid rainbows plus largemouth bass.

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 7,500 catchable in spring 2013, 35,035 fry in May 2012, and 250 jumbo and 357 triploid in spring 2013, all rainbows, plus 24,000 kokanee fry in May 2012.

Boat launching: State parks ramp.

Angler notes: A resort and state park launch provide accesses.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 into Okanogan, stay on Second Avenue to Pine Street and right onto Orchard Grade, which turns into Conconully Road northbound to the Johnson Creek valley, where the road heads northwest to Conconully.

CONCONULLY RESERVOIR (8)

The pear-shaped reservoir at the confluence of three forks of Salmon Creek also is stocked to accommodate large crowds all spring with both grown-in-the-lake yearling fish and spring planted catchables 10-12 inches with carryovers to 15 inches, some even larger triploid rainbows and kokanee around 12 inches. Anglers are encouraged to keep bass up to the legal limit.

Season: April 27 to Oct. 31.

Size: 382 acres.

Angling quarry here: Rainbows, eastern brook, kokanee, large- and small-mouth bass.

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 7,500 catchable in spring 2013, 35,019 fry in May 2012, and 250 triploid and 1,107 triploid in spring 2013, all rainbows.

Boat launching: State parks ramp.

Angler notes: Two private resorts, plus a state park that wraps around the head end of the lake in town, provide access and accommodations.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 into Okanogan, stay on Second Avenue to Pine Street and right onto Orchard Grade that turns into Conconully Road northbound to the Johnson Creek valley where the road heads northwest to Conconully.

FISH LAKE (9)

One of the waters of the Sinlahekin. Historically, Fish has been a good first stop on a belly-boat tour of this out-of-the-way valley. Fish was rehabilitated in 2011 to remove the spiny ray challenge trout production. It's expected to yield rainbows from 10- to 15 inches from three different stock regimes.

Season: April 27 to Oct. 31.

Size: 101 acres.

Angling quarry here: Rainbows.

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 2,000 catchable, 250 jumbo in spring 2013 and 20,004 fry, all rainbows.

Boat launching: Four WDFW gravel ramps scattered around this mile-long lake.

Angler notes: Expect most of the catch to be 11-13 inchers, with a few bigger rainbows bulked up at the hatchery. Ample camping space is available. Fish makes a good base camp for more angling in this locale.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to the Okanogan River valley. Drive north from Omak past Riverside and turn left on Pine Creek Road. Drive west to the lake.

BLUE LAKE (10)

An old reservoir turned keystone fishing lake in the Sinlahekin Valley, this Blue (one of three so-named in the Okanogan) is managed for yields of brown and rainbow trout (one-trout-a-day is now the bag limit) from among its spiny ray denizens.

Season: April 27 to Oct. 31.

Size: 205 acres.

Angling quarry here: Rainbow and brown trout, plus sunfish.

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 8,002 rainbow and 1,000 tiger trout fry.

Boat launching: A graveled ramp is at the south end.

Angler notes: Use of lead sinkers was banned here on May 1, 2011. The selective gear rule still applies and internal combustion engines are not allowed. Expect some of the browns to verge on 18 inches and two ages of rainbows running 10-12 and 13-15 inches long.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to the Okanogan River valley. Drive north from Omak past Riverside and turn left on Pine Creek Road. Drive west to Fish Lake and head north on Sinlahekin Road about four miles.

FORDE LAKE (11)

One of several Sinlahekin Valley lakes to host them, weedy Forde was infused with an unusual hybrid trout that is a cross between a brown trout and an eastern brook trout. The tiger trout has a skin pattern faintly reminiscent and noticeable enough to earn its name. They're also said to have a temperament matching that of their namesake.

Season: April 27 to Oct. 31.

Size: 24 acres but shrinks to 8 non-weedy acres.

Angling quarry here: Tiger, eastern brook and rainbow trout, plus spiny rays.

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 300 tiger trout fry in June 2012.

Boat launching: WDFW gravel launch at north end.

Angler notes: Forde is shallow and gets weedy later in summer, but fish the edges.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to the Okanogan River valley. Drive north from Omak past Riverside and turn left on Pine Creek Road. Drive west to Fish Lake and head north on Sinlahekin Road about seven miles.

CONNER LAKE (12)

Also noteworthy for a string of plants of experimental tiger trout, Conner has some holdover eastern brook that may be quite bulky by now.

Season: April 27 to Oct. 31.

Size: 58 shrinking to 34 non-weedy acres.

Angling quarry here: Tiger trout and eastern brook trout.

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 450 tiger trout and 1,200 triploid eastern brook fry, both planted in spring 2012.

Boat launching: WDFW gravel launch at north end.

Angler notes: Shallow and, like Forde, can get weedy later in summer. Camping nearby.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to the Okanogan River valley. Drive north from Omak past Riverside and turn left on Pine Creek Road. Drive west to Fish Lake and head north on Sinlahekin Road about seven miles. Conner is about a mile north of Forde.

PALMER LAKE (13)

Palmer could be called the Alice's Restaurant of Okanogan lakes. Anglers may be able to get just about anything they want from its expanses including large- and small-mouth bass, crappie and kokanee in the summer and in the winter, burbot or perch (6 to 10 inches). It's one of a handful of Washington lakes with a fishable freshwater ling population. Its outlet probably lets in a few trout from the Similkameen River.

Open: Year-round.

Size: 2,032 acres.

Angling quarry here: Kokanee, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, carp, yellow perch, sunfishes, several chub species, whitefish and burbot (freshwater lings).

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 160,576 kokanee fry in 2010.

Boat launching: A federal BLM access with a concrete ramp at the north end and a state DNR gravel ramp at the south end.

Angler notes: Kokanee are running to 11-13 inches. A small resort has boats for rent. Palmer is quite deep, 79 feet, for its geophysical location in a cutoff channel of the Similkameen River valley.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to the Okanogan River valley. At Tonasket drive north on the west valley highway, turn left on the Loomis-Oroville Road, drive to Loomis and turn right on Sinlahekin Road and drive north about five miles.

SPECTACLE LAKE (14)

For decades a destination trout fishing lake in the Okanogan, Spectacle's fishery is suffering through the introduction of nuisance spiny rays. It's now in post-rehabilitation phase. The brown trout are intended to quell any sunfish resurgence.

Season: April 1 to Sept. 30.

Size: 313 acres.

Angling quarry here: Rainbow and brown trout plus largemouth bass, sunfishes and yellow perch.

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 10,000 catchable, 32,258 fingerling and 18,474 fry, all in 2012.

Boat launching: WDFW with a concrete ramp.

Angler notes: The newer fry-origin rainbows are averaging 11-12 inches with a few carryovers to 15 inches. Three resorts plus camping space at the state access offer plenty of room for overnighting and boat rentals.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to the Okanogan River valley. At Tonasket drive north on the west valley highway, turn left and drive west on Loomis-Oroville Road drive to lake.

AENEAS LAKE (15)

It's fly-fishing only here and restrictions also prohibit all motors, electric included. The daily limit is one trout and the tigers are ready to pounce on dry flies now.

Season: April 27 to Oct. 31.

Size: 61 acres.

Angling quarry here: A trout trifecta including rainbow, browns and tigers.

Two poles: Not allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 1,000 tiger trout fry in spring 2012.

Boat launching: WDFW gravel ramp on east side.

Angler notes: Campsites available. Rainbows 12-15 inches are fairly common early until hot weather drives them deeper in the 60-foot center hole. The browns are running to 16 inches. It gets weedy and blue-green algae blooms can occur.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to the Okanogan River valley. South of Tonasket turn left on Highway 7 and drive north to Pine Creek Road. Turn left and drive up to lake.

WHITESTONE LAKE (16)

Largemouth bass tolerate the alkaline water in Whitestone's long, shallow confines. Management is aimed at producing fair-sized bass.

Open: Year-round.

Size: 147 acres.

Angling quarry here: Largemouth bass, carp, and smallish sunfish plus some channel catfish.

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: No trout. Some warmwater stocking has been done in the past.

Boat launching: WDFW. The access and launch are improved for disabled anglers, midway up east side.

Angler notes: Camping is permitted here and the access is rated level 2 for disabled fishers. A warm-water assessment report is also available online. Very weedy from May to fall.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to the Okanogan River valley. At Tonasket drive north on the west valley highway, turn left on the Loomis-Oroville Road and drive about two miles.

CHOPAKA LAKE (17)

Its 2,900-foot-plus elevation occasionally renders Chopaka chilly on the opener and the trout a little stand-offish. However, the relative isolation more than makes up for slow starts and contributes to its reputation as one of this state's premier fly-fishing waters. Motors of any kind are banned and the governing rule is fly-fishing only.

Season: April 27 to Oct. 31.

Size: 133 acres.

Angling quarry here: Rainbow trout.

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 5,005 rainbow fry in spring 2012 and 1,000 triploid fingerling rainbows in fall 2012.

Boat launching: BLM & WDNR access for carry-in (car-topper) boats on west side midway up.

Angler amenities: Camping is permitted. Rehabbed in 2007, Chopaka boasts an excellent crop of rainbows, most ranging 12-18 inches with quite hefty carryovers.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to the Okanogan River valley. At Tonasket drive north on the west valley highway, turn left on the Loomis-Oroville Road, drive to Loomis and turn right on Sinlahekin Road. Drive just over two miles to a left turn onto Toats Coulee Road and watch for the Chopaka road several miles up.

WANNACUT LAKE (18)

A slightly saline water chemistry from magnesium sulfate can create a no-oxygen dead zone in the lower reaches of its 158-foot depths, but the grown-in-lake rainbow trout and now eastern brook trout still do fairly well in the top water. Anglers also might still dredge up a leftover Lahontan.

Season: April 27 to Oct. 31.

Size: 428 acres.

Angling quarry here: Rainbow, eastern brook, a rare Lahontan cutthroat trout and largemouth bass.

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 50,026 fry in spring 2012; and 2,000 catchables, 357 jumbo and 250 triploids in 2012, all rainbows.

Boat launching: WDFW (south end) and private resort east side midway up.

Angler notes: Last year's rainbow fingerlings are 10-12 inches with carry-overs to 14 inches.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to the Okanogan River valley. At Tonasket drive north on the west valley highway, turn left on the Loomis-Oroville Road drive to Enterprise. Turn right on Wannacut Lake Road and drive to south end of lake.

BLUE LAKE (19)

The northernmost of three so-named lakes in the central Okanogan, this Blue's waters are alkaline, enabling it to support the Humboldt Basin's Lahontan cutthroat. Selective gear rules are in effect and anglers may take only one of the trophy cutts away each day.

Season: April 27 to Oct. 31.

Size: 119 acres.

Angling quarry here: Lahontan cutthroat.

Two poles: Not allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 2,006 Lahontan cutthroat fry in fall 2012.

Boat launching: WDFW gravel ramp.

Angler notes: The Lahontans are running up to 14-18 inches this year, but some real lunkers are reputed to be in the lake.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to the Okanogan River valley. At Tonasket, drive north on the west valley highway almost to Oroville. Two miles before the Similkameen River bridge turn left on Golden Road and then left again on Blue Lake Road.

SIDLEY LAKE (20)

Known for its shoreline access (thanks to the paved highway), a rarity in the Okanogan, Sidley also is a winter ice-fishing mecca. The daily trout limit is two. Sidley used to have Lahontan cutthroat because of its alkaline chemistry, but at only 22 feet deep was subject to fish kills in the summer.

Seasons: Year-round. Holds thick ice well, so remember it for winter fishing.

Size: 107 acres.

Angling quarry here: Rainbow trout, Lahontan cutthroat and golden trout.

Two poles: Allowed.

Stocking for 2013: 5,000 catchable in May 2013 and 5,000 fingerling rainbows in 2012, plus 1,500 golden and 2,000 Lahontan cutts in fall 2012.

Boat launching: WDFW gravel ramp middle north side.

Angler notes: Expect most of the trout to be in the 10- to 12-inch range.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to the Okanogan River valley. Drive north on Highway 97 to Oroville, then east on Oroville-Toroda Road. Turn left on Molson Road and drive to lake.

GREEN LAKES (22)

This stair-step pair of coulee-type sliver lakes northwest of Omak is uniquely managed for combination summer-winter fisheries. In the summer anglers may catch and release only, then through the winter they're allowed to take home some trout.

Seasons: Year-round (April 1-Nov. 30, catch and release, selective gear rule applies and Dec. 1 to March 31 catch and kill, no selective rule).

Size: 54 total acres (45 and 9 acres).

Angling quarry here: Rainbow and eastern brook trout and maybe an old cutthroat.

Two poles: Allowed both.

Stocking for 2013: Big (upper) Green, 10,004 rainbow fry and Little (lower) Green, 2,000 rainbow fry, both in fall 2012.

Boat launching: Big Green has a WDFW launch and Little Green is a WDFW carry-in gravel site with steep paths.

Angler notes: Rainbows in both Greens should run 11-13 inches with carryovers to 15 inches. Little Green also will produce eastern brook 10-11 inches.

Getting there: Take Highway 20 to the Okanogan Valley, cross the river and drive north on Conconully Road. Turn left on Green Lake Road just after crossing Johnson Creek.

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