Steelhead bolster fall lake plants

The 2014 release crop of young hatchery-born steelhead that the state fish and wildlife department was directed in a federal court settlement back in May to withhold from release into Puget Sound streams will serve a good angling purpose after all.

From Oct. 1 to the end of November, 47 lakes across Northwest Washington, including Fazon Lake here in Whatcom County, will have rainbow trout added including these would-have-been steelhead currently running in the 11-13 inch size range.

With angler sentiment trending toward more off-season opportunity, department lake fishing managers this year had allocated 40,000 resident rainbows for its westside fall and winter lake fishing. The juvenile steelhead availability — they were held and fed from May until now — boosts by 300,000 the 2014 fall lake stocking program.

Because of this programmatic windfall, as an added bonus, on 19 of waters receiving significant doses of these fall fish, as of Saturday, Oct. 18, the normal daily take-home of five trout is being upped to a limit of 10 per day.

The ‘fatten’ creel rule will last in 16 lakes until Friday, Feb. 13. King County’s Rattlesnake Lake reverts to five fish a day the Feb. 1 and the two Vance Ponds in Grays Harbor County go back to the lower take the end of November.

Anglers will note that this roster of rainbow waters significantly differs from the classic spring suite of trout fishing lakes.

That’s because a caveat governing releases of the hatchery-bred steelhead is that they must be put into public waters from which they cannot physically escape to possibly run to sea. Since these are trout of a stature requiring they be hauled by tanker, their receiving waters must be accessible to the water’s edge by vehicle as well.

There is only one publicly accessible lake that fills that bill in Whatcom County, and that’s Fazon Lake.

Neighboring Skagit County doesn’t have a lake matching those criteria but Island and San Juan counties do have Cranberry and Cascades lakes that have sufficient egress constraints which anglers and trucks can get.

Being rainbows are meant to run out to the ocean, but being trout nonetheless, these steelhead can be raised to a normal catchable trout release size then put into freshwater bodies. Had they lived out their lives as anadromous fish, living on the largesse of the Pacific Ocean, they would have returned bruising bows weighing anywhere from five to six pounds up to 14 to 16 pounds depending on how long they stayed in saltwater and how abundant the grub was where they were at.


With just 1,500 rainbows going into Fazon, it will not be one thats bag limit is boosted. The Goshen area ‘sink’ lake is to receive its share of these fall trout sometime between Oct. 13-22. Two poles may be used by fishers with the proper endorsement to catch their daily trout take at Fazon which also has bass, catfish and bluegills to boot.

The closest lake getting sufficient numbers of these windfall rainbows to warrant a bag limit upping is the aforementioned Cranberry Lake on Whidbey Island’s very north end.

It’s getting a total of 28,500 trout in three deliveries spanning October and November.

The beachfront freshwater haunt is in Deception Pass State Park south of the famous saltwater defile and being that it’s in a state park, visiting anglers are required to have and display a state Discover Pass.

There is a boat ramp at this Cranberry as well as a fishing dock on the east shore and some bank fishing access on bedrock along the north shore. Do keep in mind that there’s limited parking along the park road there.

Cascade Lake, also in a state park (Moran) on Orcas Island, has received 3,500 trout for the fall winter fishery.

Snohomish County has three lakes Gissberg North, Gissberg South and Tye all receiving rainbows now and all three will be bonus waters for the maximum duration of this program.