Skagit County lakes offer a number of fishing opportunities

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 24, 2014 

The 2014 trout lake fishing season casts off Saturday, April 26, across Washington.

Four easily accessible lowland lakes in Skagit County, Erie, Heart, McMurray and Sixteen, have received a total of 39,500 hatchery rainbows.

For Anglers out for a change of scenery, a more finicky trout that'll test skills, tastier fare for the fry pan or perhaps scarcer but bigger quarry, there is a broad selection of fishing lakes from which to choose in our neighboring county that will satisfy any needs.

As you get ready for your first or next fishing trip of the new season, there are several things to remember:.

? Be sure to display your WDFW vehicle use pass when parking on a state fish and wildlife department access. They are free if you buy an annual fishing license. If you are on state parks or forest lands, a $35 annual or $11.50 one-day Discover Pass is required.

? Statewide, creeks and beaver ponds, as well as most main rivers, are closed to all fishing until at least June. In the greater Puget Sound basin, small streams and their associated beaver ponds are now permanently closed to fishing unless they are "named" waters that are opened by special rule found on pages 23-38 of the Fish Washington regulations pamphlet.

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

? On lakes and reservoirs there is no minimum size for trout except for native char (bull trout/Dolly Varden). Other species may have minimum or maximum keeper lengths specified.

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

? Two-pole license endorsements ($14.80) allow fishers to use a second rod to catch their standard daily limit. The revenue goes to the trout hatchery program.

? State hatcheries produce fish that are safe to eat, however the Washington Health Department has issued advisories for the consumption of some naturally spawned or reared fish species. See page 20 of the sport regulations pamphlet.

? Check online now or pick up a copy of new 2014-2015 Fishing in Washington sport fishing pamphlet at any license dealer. It takes effect the first of May.

Doug Huddle writes hunting and fishing stories for The Bellingham Herald that appear on Sundays. For more information, follow his blog at http://www.bellinghamherald.com/outdoors-blog/.

GONE FISHING.

This is the second in a series of three stories profiling spring trout fishing in Northwest Washington. Today Skagit County lakes are highlighted. Read about Okanogan County lakes May 4. You can also find these lake profiles and maps as well as Sunday's Whatcom County Lake preview at bellinghamherald.com/outdoors.

SKAGIT'S BIG FOUR RAINBOW LAKES.

LAKE ERIE (3)

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

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

Erie's replenishment this spring includes both catchable and triploid rainbows for the opener, and with both, Erie's reputation for fine spring season catches will be upheld.

Size: 111 acres.

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

In your catch: Rainbow trout and illegally introduced perch.

Stocking for 2014: 10,500 catchable rainbows (April 2014) and 850 (April 2014) triploid rainbows.

Past year's catches: Trout per angler 2013 - 4.6, 2012 - 3.9, 2011 - 3.4, 2010 - 4.0.

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

Season: April 26 to Oct. 31.

Boating rules: None.

Getting there: Drive west on State Route 20 from Interstate 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 spill-over onto adjacent county road.

HEART LAKE (1)

Smallish Heart Lake, boat-for-boat and angler-for-angler, can get just as crowded, but will be no less rewarding on opening day than Erie, 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.

Size: 61 acres.

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

In your catch: Rainbow trout and illegally introduced bluegill.

Stocking for 2014: 7,000 catchable rainbows (April 2014) and 600 (April 2014) triploid rainbows. As with Erie, fry plants have been stopped.

Past year's catches: Kept trout per angler: 2013 - 4.6, 2012 - 3.9, 2011 - 3.4, 2010 - 4.7.

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

Season: April 26 to Oct. 31.

Boating rules: The speed limit is 5 mph, also 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)

Size-wise the biggest of the hatchery-rainbow stocked lakes in Skagit County, McMurray attracts a large, pretty cosmopolitan crowd of anglers from several counties.

Trolling is doable here in the lake's deeper middle section, or anglers can anchor at either end and still-fish to their heart's content.

Size: 160 acres.

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.

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 summer.

Stocking for 2014: 16,000 catchable rainbows (April 2014) and 500 jumbo rainbows later in June 2014.

Past year's catches: Kept trout per angler: 2013 - 3.5, 2012 - 3.1, 2011 - 1.6, 2010 - 3.8.

Boat launching: WDFW graveled ramp, but will accommodate small trailered craft.

Season: April 26 to Oct. 31.

Boating rules: 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.

But discerning anglers may 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.

Size: 41 acres.

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

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

Stocking for 2014: 6,000 catchable rainbows (April 2014).

Past year's catches: Kept trout per angler, 2013 - no report, 2012 - 3.0, 2011 - 1.0, 2010 - 2.0.

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

Season: April 26 to Oct. 31.

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

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

OTHER WATERS

Out for bigger fish? Triploid rainbow trout are again slated for release this spring in other Skagit lakes including Campbell and Clear in April and Pass and Vogler in May.

Campbell and Clear lakes also feature warmwater species, while convenient Pass and Vogler are the premier fly fishing managed waters in Skagit County.

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

Much sought-after kokanee are the piscatorial staple in Skagit County's largest fresh- and still-water body, Lake Shannon.

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 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 hydro-electric impoundments north of Concrete, at one time Shannon was renowned for its prolific kokanee population and catches. With shifts in overall management of both PSE reservoirs and their salmon, this once hot angling spot has chilled. There's now a slot size limit on trout (6-18 inches) and native char (bull trout/Dolly Varden) are off-limits altogether. Opening day yields can be good for kokanee down-lake near the dam's log boom, if you chum up the waters. For valued 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, do beware of windy afternoons.

Size: 2,148 acres at full pool.

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 Tuesday, April 22, Shannon is at 434.18 feet above sea level and dropping currently at eight feet below nominal full pool.

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

Stocking for 2014: No gamefish planted.

Past year's 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.

Season: April 26 to Oct. 31.

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 powerline right-of-way and the left turn downhill to the launch.

VOGLER LAKE (14)

It's fly fishing-only waters make Volger a fair bet for a spring venture, if you don't mind a quiet, catch and release lake with some potential for having your arms tugged out at the shoulder sockets.

Size: 3.5 acres.

Angler amenities: Catch and release under the fly fishing rule. 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 year's catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2014: 200 catchable rainbow (April 2014) and 59 triploid rainbows (later in May 2014).

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

Season: April 26 to Oct. 31.

Boating rules: None.

Getting there: Take Cook Road east from Interstate 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 (12)

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 principle historical yield have been both cutthroat trout and kokanee, though the silvers are small. You'll also find rainbows some holdover cutthroat trout down deep, an occasional eastern brook and a few largemouth bass. There won't be any triploid rainbows this year. You may chum or feed for kokanee when still-fishing.

Size: 844 acres.

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, eastern brook trout and occasionally largemouth bass.

Past year's catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2014: 11,004 cutthroat fry (June 2013), 10,605 rainbow fry (June 2013) and 30,000 kokanee (Fall 2013).

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

Season: Year-round.

Boating rules: None.

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

CLEAR LAKE (11)

For the better part of its existence as sport-fishing waters, Clear Lake has 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 this Clear Lake spring and fall, so spinnerbaits now or top-water lures mid-summer may be worth carrying.

Size: 223 acres, mostly shallow.

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 year's catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2014: 9,500 cutthroat fry (Fall 2013) plus 718 triploid rainbows (April 2014).

Season: Year-round.

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

Boating rules: 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.

Size: 29 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 year's catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2014: Cutthroat fry plants have resumed, but no counts are available.

Season: Year-round.

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

Boating rules: None.

Getting there: Drive west on Highway 20 from Interstate 5 at Burlington through Sharp's Corner, taking the Anacortes route. At Commercial Street and Highway 20, drive south on Commercial to Fidalgo Ave and 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, now lunker rainbows thanks to the triploid program. Fishing rules also set a minimum nine-inch size and 10-fish daily limit for Campbell's crappies.

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 ecology department information, is eight feet.

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

Past year's catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2014: 821 triploid rainbow (April 2014) and 10,000 cutthroat fry (Fall 2013).

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

Season: Year-round.

Boating rules: None.

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

PASS LAKE (5)

It's angling faithful credit the catch-and-release and fly-fishing-only rules plus close monitoring for creation of what is considered 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 28 inches. At only 20 feet deep, these waters warm to summer highs that can make trout lethargic, so fishing is best in fall to early/mid-spring.

Size: 98 acres.

Angler amenities: The trout here speak for themselves.

In your catch: Brown, cutthroat, rainbow trout and maybe red-side shiners or sunfish.

Past year's catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2014: 5,600 brown trout fingerlings (Fall 2013), 10,000 rainbow fry (May 2013) and 162 triploid rainbows (May 2014).

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

Season: Year-round.

Boating rules: Motors are not allowed.

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

CRANBERRY LAKE (6)

Tempered by the ever-present marine environment, unlike many other year-round waters, Cranberry Lake can provide good action all year. While rainbows, including some nice carryovers, are the norm in fall and winter months, brown trout, together with the bass, tend to perk up in late spring. State park lands ring these shallow waters and help meter access. You'll need a Discover Pass to access this state park lake.

Size: 128 acres.

Angler amenities: A public dock and 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 year's catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2014: 10,700 catchable rainbows (Spring 2014) and 5,300 brown trout fingerlings (Fall 2013).

Boat launching: State parks gravel ramp accommodates car-topper and small trailered boats.

Season: Year-round.

Boating rules: Internal combustion motors are not allowed.

Getting there: Drive west on Highway 20 from Interstate 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 warmwater fish 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 only. Minimum size (nine inches) and 10-fish daily limit are in place for the crappie.

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 plus some nice crappie with an occasional naturally produced cutthroat trout.

Past year's catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2014: None.

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

Season: Year-round.

Boating rules: None.

Getting there: Drive east from Interstate 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 19,000 block and the public access.

BEAVER LAKE (10)

If you are looking for a little change of pace in your warmwater 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.

Size: 73 acres.

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

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

Past year's catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2014: None.

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

Season: Year-round.

Boating rules: None.

Getting there: From Interstate 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 a lot of anglers' radar, Grandy boasts a resilient naturally reproducing cutthroat trout population that persists in the face of angling pressure and the presence of largemouth bass. A smattering of hatchery rainbows have now been added. This is a combination fishing and overnight camping destination that's great for kids.

Size: 56 acres.

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

In your catch: Rainbow trout, native resident cutthroat trout and largemouth bass.

Past year's catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2014: 3,000 catchable rainbows (Spring 2014).

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

Season: Year-round.

Boating rules: None.

Getting there: From Interstate 5, take Cook Road east to Sedro-Woolley. Continue east on state 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.

Size: Six 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 year's catches: No creel info.

Stocking for 2014: Stocked with cutthroat fry periodically.

Boat launching: USFS, carry-in boats only.

Season: Year-round.

Boating rules: None.

Getting there: From Interstate 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 and drive uphill to Forest Service Road 2811. Turn left and continue uphill to ponds.

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