FISHING -- With the exception of Lenice Lake, most Columbia Basin trout lakes will be capped with ice when Washington's first lowland lakes trout season of the year opens on Wednesday.
However, the eight impoundments along the Tucannon River are ice-free, stocked with hatchery rainbows and ready for fishing, the Washington Department of Wildlife says.
Grant County, usually one of the first places in the state to provide open-water trout fishing after the winter freeze, is still in the deep freeze that isn't likely to thaw out soon.
"Everything is frozen except Lenice (north of Mattawa) and the northern third of Martha Lake (north of George)," said Chad Jackson, department fisheries biologist in Ephrata. "Lenice has been free of ice for only about a week."
Access is possible to most of the 16 Columbia Basin lakes that open Wednesday, but washouts and other winter road problems could cause issues.
The north gate leading into Quincy Lakes Wildlife Area near George in Grant County will be closed until further notice, he said, noting that repairs need to be made. There’s at least six inches of compact frozen snow and very unsafe travel conditions, he said.
"You can hike in and access Burke Lake via Road 3, but it's iced over," he said. "The ice looks as though it could be strong enough for fishing, but I can't vouch for that since I didn't go down and check it."
Jackson was unable to give an update on what anglers can expect of the Columbia Basin fisheries that open March 1 (more lakes open to fishing in April). "This is the first time since I came back here in 2010 that so many lakes have been iced over," he said. "I usually go out to sample a few lakes in mid-February."
Tucannon River campgrounds already are filling with anglers gearing up for the Wednesday opener on the impoundments along the river in the Wooten Wildlife Area.
Madonna Luers, department spokeswoman, said partial closures of some Blue Mountains wildlife areas to protect big game struggling through a tough winter will not affect Tucannon fishermen.
The Last Resort KOA apparently was receiving calls from sportsmen concerned that the state had closed lowland areas in the Wooten, she said.
The Cummings Creek drainage east of the Tucannon chain lakes has been closed to public access until April 1 for years to help reduce disturbance to wintering big game, she said.
Liberty Lake is one of the four Spokane County waters that will open Wednesday, but it, too, has ice.
The Liberty Lake public access is snow-free and will be open but the boat ramp is iced in and unusable (see photo above), said Daniel Dziekan, WDFW regional access manager. Liberty isn't likely to be safe to fish until the ice comes out, he said. Liberty is known for being a good producer of brown trout at iced out. Randy Osborne, fisheries biologist, says the state hatchery crew probably won't get any catchable-size trout in Liberty Lake before the opener.
Among the other lakes opening Wednesday are:
Spokane County: Amber, Downs, Liberty and Medical.
Stevens County: Deer.
Lincoln County: Coffeepot.
Okanogan County: Green.
Grand County: Upper Caliche. Cascade, Cliff, Crystal, Cup, Dusty, Lenore, Merry, Nunnally, Spring.
Whitman County: Pampa Pond.
See the current state fishing regulations pamphlet for more details and opportunities.
Following is a preliminary draft of a Weekender Report to be posted this week on the WDFW website featuring current conditions and what to look forward to in the region's fisheries in the next month.
In Columbia County, the six Tucannon River impoundments on the W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area -- Big Four, Blue, Deer, Rainbow, Spring and Watson lakes -- are free of snow and ice and stocked with trout. Blue and Spring lakes have actually been fished already this winter since they are open year-round. But like most of the Tucannon lakes, they received about half of their yearly allotted “jumbo” (one-plus-pound, over 14 inch) trout and about 20 percent of their yearly allotted “catchable” (one-third to one-half pound, 10 – 12-inch) trout in the last week of February. Wooten area manager Kari Dingman reports that the campgrounds near the fishing lakes are all open and ready for campers.
The 2017 Statewide Hatchery Trout Stocking Plan is not yet available on the Stocking Reports webpage, but the Catchable Trout Plant Weekly Reports are posted there weekly. WDFW fish hatchery staff are also now stocking other year-round-open fisheries in southeast Washington including: Asotin County’s Golf Course and West Evans ponds; Columbia County’s Dam, Dayton and Orchard ponds; Walla Walla County’s Bennington Lake and Hood Park, Jefferson Park, Lions Park and Quarry ponds; and Franklin County’s Dalton Lake and Marmes Pond.
Further north in the region, March 1 opening waters are still mostly iced up and some may not be fishable or stocked for awhile. But as WDFW central district fish biologist Randy Osborne says, “a lot can change in a short time in this area.”
Once conditions allow, Amber Lake, in southwest Spokane County, should provide pretty consistent fishing for rainbow and cutthroat trout as in years past. Amber is under selective gear rules, catch-and-release from March 1 through the Friday before the 4th Saturday in April, and internal combustion motors are prohibited.
Downs Lake, also in southwest Spokane County, will hopefully be stocked with rainbow trout before the opener if ice conditions allow hatchery crews to get in. Anglers may also catch nice sized yellow perch and black crappie at Downs, where there’s a crappie minimum size of nine inches and a daily catch limit of 10 crappie.
Medical Lake, near the town of the same name in southwest Spokane County, may also be limited on the opener due to ice. When it’s fishable, anglers need to remember this lake is under selective gear rules, a two-trout daily catch limit, 14-inch minimum size limit, and a prohibition on all motors.
Osborne had no reports of current ice conditions at Coffee Pot Lake in Lincoln County, but says water levels should be good there this spring. Coffee Pot was stocked last spring with rainbow trout that will provide good catches this spring. The lake is under selective gear rules, a trout daily limit of one fish 18 inches or larger, and a crappie limit of 10 fish nine inches or larger.
Also opening March 1 is Deer Lake in southern Stevens County, where most waters remain iced up. When it’s fishable, Deer Lake is best for lake trout in March, and many other species throughout the year.
Winter-only fishing: March is the last month to fish the region’s four winter-only trout lakes – Hatch and Williams in Stevens County, Hog Canyon in Spokane County, and Fourth of July in Lincoln County. All still have ice, but of varying degrees of depth and safety, so it’s more important than ever for anglers to use caution.
Vehicle access to Hog Canyon Lake has been closed due to the road washing out, but anglers can still access the lake on foot. Osborne says there are “mixed reports” about catches at Fourth of July; some anglers have caught rainbow trout above 14 inches, but others consistently catch smaller fish. Rules on both Hog Canyon and Fourth of July lakes are a five fish daily catch limit with no more than two over 14 inches.
“This is always a transitional time of year regarding ice conditions,” Osborne said. “Anglers should always test the ice conditions before venturing out on what looks like an iced-over lake, and be prepared with safety equipment.”
Anglers are encouraged to follow Ice Fishing Safety guidelines.
Year-round fishing: Lake Roosevelt is still pumping out limits of rainbow trout both from the bank and from boats. The huge Columbia River reservoir on the border of Lincoln and Stevens counties also has good kokanee fishing at this time of year, at least for those who find them.
Roosevelt anglers need to remember the new trout regulation in place to protect native redband rainbow trout. Any trout with an intact adipose fin in Lake Roosevelt from Grand Coulee Dam to the Little Dalles power line crossing must be released. Only hatchery-produced trout, marked with a clipped adipose fin, can be retained. The daily catch limit is still five trout, not including kokanee. But there is no longer a limit on how many of those fish can exceed 20 inches, as is currently indicated in the WDFW fishing rules pamphlet. The same new rule is in effect on the Spokane Arm and Sanpoil Arm of Lake Roosevelt.
In addition, from the Little Dalles power line crossing to the Canadian border, the daily catch limit is now only two trout (marked hatchery or unmarked wild), with a minimum size of 18 inches. See the details on these rule changes on the WDFW website.