High country trout fishing in Washington is one of the state’s premier recreational pastimes, offering gorgeous scenery, solitude, pristine lakes and streams and, at times, outstanding fishing.
But first you have to get there.
And even before that you have to do your research, putting together a list of lakes which might provide your preferred elevation, hiking distance and degree of difficulty, area, timing of ice-out and freeze-up, species available (if any), stocking schedule (if any), quality of the fishing as reported by anglers who have been there, and a bunch of other factors. There are some 2,500 lakes in the state far enough up the hill to qualify as “high” waters, but of this group, many are barren of fish and deliberately left that way. Others have at least some semblance of a self-sustaining native trout population, and so aren’t stocked. Some are hit hard by hiker/anglers and are stocked by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife every couple of years or so, while some are stocked only once a decade.
Research is essential (and a large part of the fun) when mounting a high country trout fishing trip because on the scale of one to 10, from no fishing to great fishing, the state’s high elevation waters provide a huge range of varying opportunity. Want to catch and release a few, but not many, larger rainbow? Want to try for a multi-pound Dolly Varden? Want to chase the exotic and elusive golden trout or grayling? Want to catch and keep and eat a bunch of small brookies from an overpopulated lake which can well afford to lose them? All these are available and more, but first you have to do your research.
There are fishing rules and regulations. There are land use restrictions in certain areas. With a million hikers and 100,000 anglers roaming the high country annually, there are important ethical considerations you should know about fires, waste disposal, water quality, fragility of flora and fauna, and other factors essential to no-impact hiking and camping. Researching a list of hot fishing prospects, providing yourself with a good topographical map and hiking equipment, and developing a willingness to get out and explore with knowledge and intelligence are probably more important than your choice of bait or lure.
The accompanying map shows a sprinkling of 10 of the more popular high elevation trout lakes north and south of Stevens Pass, but there are a whole lot more. Following is part of a list put together by longtime high country fish biologist Bob Pfeifer for the state (no longer with the agency) and Gerry Erickson, past president of Washington Hi-Lakers. All the lakes in this selection, and on the complete list, are on maintained trail systems and are considered able to withstand the increased fishing pressure resulting from their listing. They were selected using the combined expertise of members of the Washington Hi-Lakers and Trailblazer clubs, and state professional biological staff:
Snohomish County: Blanca Lake, 4,000 feet, rainbow; Goat Lake (Barlow Pass), 3,200 feet, rainbow and eastern brook; Heather Lake (Mt. Pilchuck), 2,500 feet, rainbow; Janus Lake (Stevens Pass), 4,200 feet, cutthroat and eastern brook; Joan Lake (Stevens Pass), 5,100 feet, eastern brook; Lower Ashland (Pilchuck River), 2,700 feet, cutthroat and eastern brook; and Upper (Big) Greider (Sultan River), 2,900 feet, rainbow and golden trout.
Skagit County: Slide Lake (Illabot Creek), 3,300 feet, cutthroat.
King County: Annette Lake (SF Snoqualmie River), 3,600 feet, rainbow and cutthroat; Bear Lake (Taylor River), 3,700 feet, rainbow; Copper Lake (WF Foss River trail), 4,000 feet, rainbow and eastern brook; Deception Lakes (Deception Pass), 5,100 feet, eastern brook; Dorothy Lake (EF Miller River), 3,100 feet, eastern brook; Fisher Lake (Tonga Ridge), 4,900, eastern brook; Glacier Lake (Tye River), 4,900 feet, eastern brook; Grace Lakes (Stevens Pass), 4,500 feet, eastern brook and cutthroat; Hester Lake (MF Snoqualmie River), 4,100, rainbow; Kaleetan Lake (Snoqualmie Pass), 3,900 feet, eastern brook; Lodge Lake (Snoqualmie Pass), 3,100 feet, rainbow; Lower Hardscrabble (MF Snoqualmie River), 4,600 feet, cutthroat; Lower Loch Katrine (NF Snoqualmie River), 2,900 feet, rainbow; Lower Tuscohatchie (Pratt River), 3,400 feet, rainbow; Marmot Lake (Deception Pass), 4,900 feet, cutthroat; Marten Lake (Taylor River), 3,000 feet, rainbow; Myrtle Lake (MF Snoqualmie River), 4,000 feet, rainbow; and Nordrum Lake (Taylor River), 3,800 feet, rainbow and cutthroat.
Kittitas County: Deep Lake (Waptus River), 4,500 feet, rainbow; Joe Lake (Pac. Crest Trail), 4,600 feet, cutthroat; Pete Lake (Cooper River), 3,000 feet, eastern brook; Spectacle Lake (Pete Lake trail), 4,200 feet, eastern brook; Stirrup Lake (Stampede Pass), 3,600 feet, eastern brook; and Waptus Lake (Salmon la Sac), 3,000 feet, rainbow, cutthroat, Dolly Varden, eastern brook.
Chelan County: Heather Lake (Little Wenatchee River), 3,900 feet, cutthroat and rainbow.
Okanogan County: Cutthroat Lake (Cutthroat Creek, Early Winters Creek), 4,900 feet, cutthroat. Starting off the North Cascades Highway about three miles east of Washington Pass, the hike up Cutthroat Creek is a very popular one, and the lake is one of the best in the area for abundant (but not particularly large) cutthroat.
The complete list can be found in a state publication titled Trout Fishing In Washington’s High Lakes, on the Web at www.wdfw. wa.gov/outreach/fishing/highlake.htm. If you don’t have Web access, the state’s Mill Creek office (425-775-1311) has a few copies, or you can call Pat Kelly in the agency’s fish program in Olympia for a copy, at 360-902-2700.
Besides the list of lakes, the pamphlet is a good general introduction to Washington’s high elevation trout fishery. It includes information on ethics, fish species, tackle, bait and lures, pack-in rafts, techniques, best times, and other factors.
Similar information – plus more, such as a list of lakes planted with golden trout – can be found in a section starting on page 350 of the new, 9th edition, of the Washington State Fishing Guide by Terry W. Sheely. Order one from Amazon.com; call Sheely at 360-886-9798; e-mail him at email@example.com; or send $35.25 (which includes tax and shipping), with your name, address and Zip to TNS Communications, P.O. Box 86, Black Diamond, WA 98010. This longtime, statewide, fishing “Bible” also lists most high country trout lakes individually, along with information on quality of fishing and species available, where it is, how to get there, and so forth.
Another book of value to high lake anglers is “100 Hikes In Washington’s Alpine Lakes,” published by the Mountaineers and available at REI and other hiking-oriented outlets.
Joining a club is probably the best way to gain quick access to quality information about the state’s high country fishing possibilities. The Hi-Lakers are available at www.hilakers.org, and the Trailblazers at www.watrailblazers.org. If you’re also a horse person, some Backcountry Horsemen of Washington chapters have anglers as members and some are involved in planting certain lakes by horseback.
When you’ve done your research and have a list of interesting lakes in hand, you can then contact a state biologist and discuss species, lake histories and planting schedules. The person to start with is Chad Jackson at the Mill Creek office, 360-775-1311, Ext. 113.
And last, a really good research opportunity: Former Hi-Lakers president Gerry Erickson will be the instructor at a high lakes fly fishing class on Sept. 9 at Lake Julius, sponsored by the Scottish Lakes High Camp. Cost is $10 and participants must bring their own rod and reel. Call 1-888-9HICAMP, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.