10 Western Washington Opening Day Favorites By Hannah Pennebaker

10 Western Washington Opening Day Favorites By Hannah Pennebaker

Is it that time of year already? That’s right, go dust off the trout rods and dig out those jars of dough bait! The 4th Saturday in April traditionally marks the opening day of many lowland lakes in Washington State. Many anglers anxiously look forward to it and count the days down on their calendar. WDFW stocks hundreds of lakes with thousands of catchable size rainbow trout in preparation for this event.  Freshly stocked trout are often willing biters and scrappy fighters, perfect for kids or those new to fishing. Here’s a list of my favorite lakes to hit on opening day in Western Washington. See if your favorite is on the list, or maybe plan to try a new one this year!

  1. Clear Lake

Clear Lake will always have a special place in my heart; it’s where I learned how to troll for rainbow trout. I have many fond memories of warm spring days spent cruising around the lake, kicking back and watching the rods go off. Only about 15 minutes away from the city of Puyallup, this lake has an outstanding view of Mt. Rainier on a nice day, and it truly is a crystal-clear lake. 99% of it is private property, so bank anglers will probably do better at Tanwax Lake, just down the road. There is a pay to fish dock there and plenty of shore access at the boat launch on the south end of the lake. A word of warning, it’s best to fish Clear Lake early in the morning. By about noon, especially on a nice day, the lake can become a washing machine for pleasure boaters and jet-skiers. You can either troll or still fish on this lake. Green dough bait is always killer! The key is to troll slowly and keep an eye on your fish finder. This lake is surprisingly deep, but shallows up quickly, so be prepared to pull up your gear if needed. 

  1. Harts Lake

Harts Lake is unique simply for its wide variety of fish species. Come here for the rainbow trout, and stay for the channel catfish, brown bullhead, pumpkinseed, crappie, and bluegill. It is small and shallow: perfect for small boaters and kayakers. The rainbows seem to hug the boat launch during the early season, but spread out as time goes on. Try targeting the edges of the lily pads that surround the lake. There is a little tackle shop on the lake where you can buy worms or a cold drink. The owner is very nice and loves showing off the photos of customers with 15 pound channel catfish caught off his dock! You can pay to fish off his dock or try your luck off to the side of the boat launch for free.

  1. American Lake

Located next to JBLM, this lake is renowned around the state for its plentiful jumbo size rainbow trout. There’s also a chance you may hook into a kokanee; the lake is planted with thousands of them every year. There is a good amount of shore access around the lake in the form of boat launches and parks, but check to see if they are military only first. You don’t want to be turned away at a military checkpoint like we were the first time we tried to fish there! The lake is large, so there is plenty of room to spread out and get away from other boaters. Finding the fish can be a little tricky, so don’t be afraid to pull up your gear and motor over to try new spots.

  1. Rapjohn Lake

Don’t be fooled by the tiny size of this lake, it’s a great producer of rainbow trout throughout the season! The boat launch is pretty barebones, so don’t expect to launch more than a small boat or kayak here. This is one of our favorite lakes to take our inflatable boat out on when we don’t feel like gassing up the Smokercraft. Dough bait and eggs work very well on this lake, as do worms under a bobber. This is a very kid-friendly place to fish since the vast majority of fishermen use small aluminum boats powered by electric trolling motors or oars. There is a decent amount of shore access at the boat launch and kids can do very well casting out a chunk of green or orange dough bait.

  1. Mineral Lake

Any list of the best trout lakes in Washington State would be incomplete without Mineral Lake. This lake boasts not only trophy rainbow trout, but brown trout as well. It is unique among Western Washington lakes in that it is stocked with thousands of fry every year, which grow to impressive sizes thanks to the rich forage available. WDFW also supplements the fry with catchable size rainbows and browns before opening day. There is a boat launch, tackle shop, resort, and a pay to fish dock off the side of the lake. The dock can get crowded with swimmers during peak season, so it’s best to get there early. It’s no secret how good the fishing at this lake can be, so expect to have company at the boat launch on opening day.

  1. Riffe Lake

Riffe Lake might be more well-known for its land-locked coho salmon, but a few years ago thousands of triploid rainbow trout were planted there. These trout are reaching the 14 to 20-inch range, and they put up plenty of fight! The coho salmon are perfectly willing to bite rainbow trout gear, so expect to come home with some of those too. Trolling is the name of the game here. Try trolling faster in the morning, when the fish are more active, and slower in the afternoon. Small spinners such as Mack’s Wedding Rings take a lot of fish here. You can pull them behind lake trolls or small dodgers. There is some shore access near Mossyrock Dam and at Taidnapam Park. Most shore anglers fish pieces of shrimp or worms under a bobber. Be cautious when fishing Riffe, the lake is deep and wide, and afternoon winds can kick up to dangerous levels. 

  1. Black Lake

Black Lake is located near Olympia, and, like Harts Lake, boasts a wide variety of fish species. There is public shore access at the boat launch and park. The lake is long but shallow, so trolling can be difficult. Long lining in the early season can be very productive. This is one of my favorite lakes to cast out small spinners and spoons. The fish will gladly gobble up worms, corn, or dough baits as well. If you don’t have any luck with rainbow trout, you can always try targeting the vast amounts of crappie and bluegill in this lake.

  1. Swift Reservoir

Though it’s more off the beaten path than the other lakes, Swift Reservoir shouldn’t be overlooked. If you do make the drive, you’ll be rewarded with unbeatable views of the surrounding mountains and forests. This is a peaceful, beautiful lake, and the fishing can be just as amazing. I highly recommend trolling on this large, deep reservoir. Wedding Rings pulled behind lake trolls are deadly effective. Don’t be afraid to tip your spinner with a piece of corn, worm, or shrimp. Try trolling near the dams to start out with. Launching can be difficult/impossible if the water level is drawn down too low, so make sure to call and check the water level before heading out (the phone number is listed on WDFW’s Swift Reservoir webpage). 

  1. Lake Meridian

Unlike Swift Reservoir, Lake Meridian is an urban lake, surrounded by houses. It can get crowded on a nice day! But this lake has good populations of rainbow trout and kokanee, and shouldn’t be overlooked. Most fishermen will anchor up and throw out their offering on a bottom rig with a sliding weight. There is a fishing pier and shore access at the boat launch. Every year, fishermen get some nice holdovers from the year before. Try fishing a bit deeper and increase the size of your offerings to target these larger fish.

  1. Lake Sammamish

Though this lake is open year-round, April is a great month to fish it. This is Western Washington’s premier cutthroat trout lake! Small plugs stuffed with tuna, spinners, and spoons all work well here. Troll faster than you would for rainbow trout, and remember to target structure, such as points or coves. Switch up your techniques and tackle until you find out what the fish want that day. Cutthroat trout are highly predatory, but can be surprisingly fickle. Have fun catching these fish, they are incredibly athletic and often jump when you’re reeling them in!

No matter where you decide to fish, make sure to follow all the proper safety rules, and don’t forget to renew your fishing license. Check out our YouTube channel, Northwest Fishing, for videos on many of these and other opening day rainbow trout lakes. We hope to see you out there!

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