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Ice Cover Could Put A Big Chill On Early Opener

More than forty lakes and streams will open to fishing Saturday, but anglers may discover that many of the lakes will be covered by ice that’s too thin for safe fishing and too thick to break with rocks.

For the first time, Lenice, Nunnally and Merry lakes, selective fisheries waters in the lower Crab Creek drainage, will be opened along with the waters that are opened each year on March 1. Although they’ll likely attract numerous fly fishers, as well as some spin fishermen, it’s possible they’ll be covered or at least partially covered with ice.

Other lakes that will be opened include Lenore, a selective fishery lake that holds 15- to 28-inch Lahontan cutthroat; Warden and South Warden, lakes south of the Lind Coulee; the Pillar-Wigeon and Hampton lakes in the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge; Spectacle, Okanogan County; several lakes near George, and a couple of lakes in southeastern Washington. The March 1 opening is the biggest opener in the Columbia Basin. Only a few lakes will be opened April 26, start of the state’s general fishing season.

Lenice, Nunnally and Merry lakes are exceptionally popular with the state’s fly fishers, many of whom lobbied the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to open them early so they could take advantage of early insect hatches.

In past years, the massive hatch of giant chironomids has peaked by the time the lakes were opened. This year fly fishers will get opportunities to fish the entire hatch. However, it’s unlikely that fishing will be good until after the water has warmed several degrees.

Prospects are for a good season this year. Regional fisheries biologist Joe Foster said that slowly increasing numbers of sunfish haven’t affected rainbow and brown trout populations. Anglers should hook large numbers of 12- to 20-inch trout after water temperatures rise into the 50s.

Lenore Lake southwest of Coulee City should attract plenty of anglers interested in catching large Lahontan cutthroats. Again, fishing may be slow early in the season.

Foster said the Fish and Wildlife Department now releases about 40,000 Lahontans into the lake each year, half the number released before the present season structure was adopted.

Foster suspects there are state record Lahontans in Lenore. Two years ago a woman caught a Lahontan that was more than 30 inches long. The fish probably was a state record, he said, but the woman didn’t weigh it. A 9-pounder was caught last year.

It’s possible that fair numbers of trout in shallow lakes south of the Potholes Reservoir and the Lind Coulee died as the result of months-long ice and snow covers the last few months, Foster said. He suspects that there were losses in Warden, South Warden, Upper Hampton and Pillar, Snipe, Gadwall and Shoveler in the Pillar-Widgeon group.

Fishing has been mediocre at Warden, South Warden and most lakes in the Columbia refuge the last few years, possibly because of predation by cormorants and the gradual eutrophication of the shallow lakes.

On Tuesday, most of the refuge waters were covered with some ice, with the exception of Lower Hampton Lake. Even Soda Lake, which has water flowing into it, was 90 percent covered with ice, said Randy Hill, refuge biologist.

The Pillar-Widgeon chain of lakes was almost completely frozen. Marie Lake was half-frozen and Juvenile Lake had ice on about a third of the lake.

“A good wind could get rid of the ice, but barring that, fishing will be difficult this weekend,” Hill said.

The Soda Lake campground will be open over the weekend, said Greg Hughes, assistant superintendent of the Columbia refuge. But there could be some restrictions on access because of wet roads.

Parking lots south of Soda Lake and near the Hampton lakes will be closed at least until the morning of opening day, Hughes said.

Dusty Lake could be the best producer among the lakes near George, Foster said. It should have good numbers of yearling trout and a good carryover of 2- to 3-year-olds. Most of the trout are rainbows, but there are some browns in the lake.

, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact Fenton Roskelley by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 3814.

You can contact Fenton Roskelley by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 3814.

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