By Mike Carey and John Kruse
March 1st is a special date for anglers in Washington State. Those that are ready to brave still cold temperatures will make their way to central Washington to fish the early season opener trout lakes found in Grant County. There are also some early season lakes in the Spokane area, but for this article we’ll be focusing on Central Washington.
This year we’ve had a snowy, cold winter and it’s very likely that the March 1st opener will be ice fishing rather than open water. A word to the wise – trend carefully on any iced-over lakes you decide to hit. Make sure you have all the necessary safety equipment and if possible fish with a friend if you decide to venture on to late season ice. Let caution be your primary concern, not catching fish. Personally, I’m waiting for open waters and making plans on where to go this year. I recently spoke with Northwestern Outdoor radio host John Kruse, who lives in Central Washington, to get his take on fishing these early season lakes. John had some ideas and strategies to share with you to improve your success on the water.
Quincy Lakes Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area
Opening Lakes include: Burke, Caliche, Dusty, Martha, and Quincy. Per the WDFW overview of this area – “The most striking feature of the 15,266-acre Quincy Lakes unit, west of the town of George, is the geology. It is a product of erosion of lava flows by glacial floodwaters. The many layers of basalt are exposed in towering 800-foot cliffs, isolated mesas, stair stepped benches, box canyons and potholes.”
John’s take on the Quincy Lakes Unit
"When it comes to taking my family fishing I usually join the crowds at Quincy and Burke Lakes. There are plenty of trout for everyone to catch and holdovers from the previous year provide some extra tug and girth. The walk-in lakes in the Quincy Lakes Unite of the Columbia Basin State Wildlife Area offer uncrowded fishing but uncertain opportunities with the exception of Dusty Lake, which can on occasion provide excellent fishing for selective gear anglers, though often times this lake turns on a couple of weeks after the 1st. Martha Lake near the small town of George off of Interstate 90 usually offers fast action when the ice comes off but gets fished out fast!
When it comes to tactics, most anglers are soaking power bait at the main lakes if they are fishing from shore though some will add a marshmallow or worm to the mix with good results. The hot color varies from year to year and lake to lake. Boat anglers can do well trolling Mack's Wedding Ring spinners tipped with worms at both Quincy and Burke Lakes and some fly anglers do well pulling fish in from pontoon boats dragging streamers. My favorite tactic though, casting spoons or spinners. I can cover more water this way and if the fish are on the bite near the surface, this can be a very effective way to catch trout. Dark colored Roostertail spinners or Mack's Promise Keeper Spinners fish well, and sometimes a bright red lure with a chrome blade will work too.
When it comes to places to stay near the Quincy Lakes there are plenty of primitive camping opportunities by the lakes themselves and you'll see lots of folks taking advantage of this when the sun is shining on these waters, especially during the weekends. One last note - all of these lakes see crowds during the first week of March and right after the lakes become ice-free. Help keep them clean by packing out your trash and maybe take a little extra with you to throw into your curbside can back home. It will make a difference! "
Tucannon Lakes near Pomeroy
A series of artificial lakes in the W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area between Dayton and Pomeroy offer some of the most popular fishing spots in Southeast Washington. Opening Lakes are Big 4, Blue, Spring (open year round), and Rainbow, Watson, and Deer opening March 1st. From WDFW: “W.T. Wooten unit is approximately 16,445 acres. It is located in Columbia and Garfield counties, 25 miles east of Dayton and 14 miles south of Pomeroy. About 17 miles of the Tucannon River are located within the boundaries. Elevations range from 4,100 feet on Hopkins Ridge, down to 1,800 feet on the lowest section of the Tucannon River.”
John reports, "Another March 1st chain of lakes to consider are the Tucannon Lakes near Pomeroy in Southeastern Washington. Several lakes with easy bank access are well stocked here and The Last Resort has both RV sites and cabins available as well as the latest information on the conditions there (Tel.509-843-1556) or www.thelastresortrv.com. "
Additional March Opener Lakes
There are other lakes scattered around Central Washington that will be opening. They include Cascade, Cliff, Crystal, Cup, Merry, Nunnally, Dry Falls, Lenice, Lenore, and the Winchester Wasteway. Not to mention under-utilized Stratford/Brook which receives drainage from Billy Clapp lake and has potential for some interesting fishing for both trout, kokanee, and spiny ray, including bass and walleye.
Lake Lenore is a favorite fly fishing destination for anglers in pursuit of Lahontan Cutthroat trout. Several years ago the lake suffered severely from poaching, but has recently been on the rebound and can be hot for larger 16-20” Lahontan. Of Lenore John says, “Lake Lenore, north of Soap Lake, is another option though it tends to fish very slow at the first of March for the sizable Lahontan Cutthroat found there.”
So if lesser traveled early season trout fishing is your interest, Washington has several options for you to check out. Fishing can be fast and furious if you hit it right, and the solitude of a sunset in Central Washington is worth the drive alone. If that isn’t enough for you, John reminded me that the Quincy Valley Chamber will once again be hosting a trout derby at Burke Lake. The date this year, March 23rd. The entry fee is $30 for adults and you can register at various locations in Wenatchee, East Wenatchee or Quincy or contact the Quincy Valley Chamber of Commerce website for details www.quincyvalley.org
John Kruse is founder, host and producer of Northwestern Outdoors Radio, an hour long show covering the outdoors beat in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. The show is currently heard on 50 stations in these four states and is one of the five most widely distributed outdoors radio shows in the nation.