Mike Clark, a veteran angler from Post Falls, is old enough to be a grandfather, but he learned to leave his ego at home after traveling across the border for the opening of Washington’s lowland lake fishing season.
He confided this story Saturday at the Bunker’s Resort dock on Williams Lake:
“I made one not-so-perfect cast and a kid next to me said, ‘You haven’t been fishing long have you, mister?’ The kid was only 5 years old.”
Several dozen lakes in the region stocked with several hundred thousand trout tend to even the playing field of fishing prowess.
A little girl curled up on the dock with a pink Barbie pole is just as likely to hook a lunker hatchery rainbow on opening day as an experienced angler in a boat rigged with electronic fish finders.
The biggest news of the day wasn’t so much where the fish were biting, but rather where they weren’t.
“West Medical was a disappointment,” with an average of less than one fish per angler, said John Whalen, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional fisheries manager.
That’s a jaw-dropping revelation for anglers accustomed to the Spokane County lake being among the best in the state where a five-fish daily limit is almost automatic.
“We’ll be evaluating it for rehabilitation,” Whalen said. “It’s been about 10 years since we treated the lake (with rotenone), and it’s full of tench.”
Tench, sunfish and other nonsport fish compete with trout and curb their growth.
Fishtrap Lake also was below par at 1.5 fish per person, although determined anglers were still catching plenty of fish.
“The weather was a factor, with a cold wind that came up in the morning and some rain showers in the area around noon,” Whalen said.
Trudy Barker at Fishtrap Lake Resort said the temperature at 1 a.m. was 36 degrees.
But cold weather didn’t stop a contingent of anglers from being on lake docks to make their first casts of the season at the stroke of 12.
“Sleep is overrated,” said David Primm shortly after midnight Saturday morning as he reeled in one of the first big trout caught in the opening minutes of the season.
Primm was with his brother, Nathan, and friends who have occupied a corner of Klink’s Williams Lake Resort dock by lantern light on opening morning for the past 14 years.
“It’s a tradition,” said his buddy, Ed Rehfeld, who won the annual $1 bet from his buddies for the first fish, caught within three minutes of making the first cast of the season.
But Primm got more than even in bragging rights with a 4-pound whopper he caught minutes later.
The casts of thousands would follow at lakes across the state throughout the day.
About 9 a.m., Fish and Wildlife fish biologist Chris Donley counted 192 fishing boats on Williams Lake.
Exactly two boats at that time were on nearby Amber Lake, a more restrictive fishing lake that’s been open since March 1.
“Having lots of fish to catch is still a big draw, although opening day isn’t the event it was years ago,” said Mike Barber, resort owner at Fishtrap. “Our culture is changing, and we have a lot more lakes open year-round, but we also have a lot of pictures of young and old alike to prove that it’s still a big thrill to catch a fish.”
Family fishing activity is another factor affecting catch rates.
“We caught four fish this morning, and then we got cold,” said Jason Michaels, who kept his two young boys’ spirits high by serving a hearty breakfast by their tent in the Bunker’s Resort campground.
Parents and grandparents with kids are a common sight at area lakes on opening weekend. A Washington season fishing license costs less than $22 for adults, while kids younger than 15 fish for free.
“We caught three fish this morning,” said Matt Albrecht as he docked his boat for a breakfast break with daughters Katie and Addy, who were trolling Rapala minnow imitations with treble hooks. “We could have caught more but we had issues. I learned that Rapalas don’t mix with kids wearing soft, fuzzy gloves.”