Some people just assume fish will be teeming in the rivers and lakes when they get the urge to pick up a fishing rod, just as they were last year and the years before that.
But fish are like any crop. They have good and bad years, and with humans impacting virtually every place fish exist, they often need assistance to flourish.
Some of our favorite fisheries would have no game fish if it weren’t for wildlife agencies stocking them by foot, horse, truck or aircraft.
But even with the boost from hatcheries, the biologists who manage Eastern Washington’s modern assortment of excellent fishing waters say the changes never end.
That’s why serious anglers look forward to hearing biologists make spring presentations.
The Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club was interested Tuesday mostly in the reports two biologists gave on Eastern Washington’s “selective fishery” waters, which have special rules: Bait is prohibited, single barbless hooks required, only knotless nets can be used and boats with motors often are not allowed.
General rules lakes, such as Fishtrap, are stocked liberally for the purpose of churning out five-fish trout limits for a few weeks. (More details on those waters are in the Fishing 2011 special section in today’s paper or available online at Spoksman.com/outdoors.)
Selective fisheries are stocked lightly to assure the trout have more aquatic groceries to eat so they can grow to sizes that reward catch-and-release angling all season long.
Amber and Medical lakes are the top selective fisheries near Spokane, said Chris Donley, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist.
Amber has a good number of trout in the 13- to 20-inch range. Medical is particularly attractive this year, producing rainbows running 13-24 inches long, browns 14-20 inches and a growing contingent of tiger trout up to 20 inches.
“The tiger trout switch from insects to preying on other fish when they get older, so fly fishers have to fish accordingly if they want to catch the big ones,” he said.
Coffeepot Lake west of Harrington is enjoying its first full tub of water in years. “The fishing has been good (since it opened in March), but the fish should be even larger next year,” he said.
McDowell Lake blossomed into a sensational rainbow fishery soon after it’s infestation of tench was removed in 2006. But last year the fish were looking skinnier. “It’s likely the productivity of the lake changed after the initial boom and we probably have too many fish in there,” Donley said. “We’ll have to adjust.”
Bayley Lake, which is near McDowell at the Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge, has suffered from low water for years. The lake level is up this year, Donley said, but it’s been stocked lightly – just 500 trout a year.
“There aren’t many fish, but they’ll be nice when you catch them.”
The Columbia Basin and Okanogan regions are renowned for productive selective fisheries that attract anglers from both sides of the Cascades.
Tops on the list are Aeneas Lake near Tonasket and Chopaka near Oroville. “Both will be excellent again this year, but it’s not a secret. You’ll be fishing with half of Seattle if you go in May,” Donley said.
Fly club members nodded knowingly and confided the fishing is still good after the crowd thins in the fall.
Lenice Lake west of Othello started slowly in the cold weather of March, but anglers recently have been having heydays on active trout, said Chad Jackson, the biologist responsible for the Columbia Basin fisheries.
Nearby Nunnally Lake is deeper and tougher to fish, but anglers who have figured it out are doing well for fish up to 20 inches on the eastern half of the lake.
Dry Falls south of Coulee City is producing excellent fishing with some anglers boasting of catching 50 fish in day.
Nearby Lake Lenore is not that fast, but persistent anglers are rewarded with Lahontan cutthroats up to 28 inches long.
The best thing about constantly evolving fisheries is that there’s always something exciting to anticipate. Jackson did not disappoint.
Beda and several Desert Chain Lakes (Harris, Sedge, Tern and Dune) southwest of Moses Lake were treated with rotenone and restocked with trout last fall, he said.
“These are amazingly productive lakes,” he said. “Give them a year or two and they’ll be sensational.
“You have to hike in two miles on a road to the Desert Lakes. That means that guys who can roll in a pontoon will be guaranteed to have great fishing and no crowd.”