Tales of high lakes fishing may now be told

A long-held set of occasionally not-too-well-kept fishing secrets is now officially out.

After decades of being largely mum about the fish and fishing opportunities of the vast majority of foothills forest and higher elevation mountain lakes in this state, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is now formally acknowledging them.

In a new section of its extensive Fish Washington Web site, the department posted lists of hundreds of back country waters together with basic details of lakes’ size, elevation, chief game fish species present, most recent stocking and links to maps revealing their location.


Anglers were always reluctant to give up even a shred of information that could concede to some nameless fisher an advantage and jeopardize their next trip.

Under its former paradigm, the department also held close to its vest the array of high lakes that were routinely stocked out of concern that these waters easily could bed‘fished out’ and their often ecologically sensitive shores trampled to a threadbare state.

In particular the identity of lakes with introduced unique game fish species, such as golden trout or grayling, were kept closely guarded by state managers, in part because of the expense and effort of acquiring these fish for planting and because they could be very slow to grow in high lakes. If subjected to intense enough fisheries, such small populations could be gleaned before making trophy specimens of themselves.

But in this age of tightened budgets, the department hopes that more anglers seeking out-of-the-way experiences will buy fishing licenses and partake in a responsible manner.

Virtually all lakes require some elevated level of preparation, heightened backwoods knowledge and physical exertion to visit.

Some are on a logging road or mountain highway, but more are along or at the end of a developed forest trail.


A basic definition of a high lake is any sedentary freshwater body above 2,500 feet in Western Washington and 3,500 feet on the east side of the state. By the department’s estimate there are about 4,700 of these unique waters in Washington. Approximately 800 are regularly stocked.

A surprisingly inclusive collection of mid- and higher-elevation lakes and ponds located in 16 of Washington’s 39 counties are physically capable of sustaining fin-fish are on these rolls.

Whatcom County’s listing includes 67 waters from the well-known Bagley Lakes and Twin Lakes to the Anderson and Watson clusters. There are 73 high lakes on Skagit County’s roster.

From a fish-bearing standpoint, all these waters can be roughly divided into two camps — ones where fish are able to and do reproduce naturally and ones where supply of trout must be regularly replenished.

Some such as the non-native brookies or interior cutthroat trout took overly to these often less-than-hospitable environs and became the bane of both fisheries and ecology managers, and the sheer numbers of them upset the ecological equilibrium in the waters they dominate. The department actually encourages anglers to visit, fish for and retain legal trout limits to wrangle some order out of this piscatorial chaos.

The National Park Service declared all fish to be intrusive biological nuisances in aquatic locales that had no history of natural fish occupancy. It curtailed state directed stocking efforts and even launched unilateral efforts to eradicate with fin fish populations from some lakes inside North Cascades National Park proper.

Other trout species and stocks such as Mt. Whitney rainbow, westslope cutthroat, and Montana grayling and California-origin golden trout have been introduced, replenished and performed for years in accordance with fishery manager aims.

Today, to replenish many high lakes fisheries, the state fish and wildlife department uses whenever possible locally native trout stocks it produces in its hatcheries.

Stocks are selected for their inability to reproduce in these types of lake or pond environments. The department is even moving to use only sterilized specimens of some trout strains to eliminate any possibility that introduced fish will spiral out of control and cause native insect and amphibian populations to crash.


As the numbers of fry per stocking trip indicate, trout replenishment also now is a much more deliberate act. Planting rate prescriptions are designed to allow fish to grow as quickly as possible and to limit the level of predation on aforementioned aquatic insects, frogs, toads and salamanders.

In many cases as few as 60 trout fry per surface acre of water are stocked, and a mountain fish venue may go two to three years in between visits.

The Trailblazers, Hi-lakers, Wildcat Steelheaders of Sedro-Woolley and the independent sportsmen of Snohomish County are the main groups in Northwest Washington participating in the replenishment of mountain trout lakes, and without their help fisheries in many back-country waters would simply end.

Here in Whatcom County, the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, Whatcom Chapter has long assisted state managers in stocking some waters.