Well, winter is around the corner and it’s time to put the rods away and winterize the boat, right? NOT QUITE YET! Salmon season is indeed winding down, aside from some late season river opportunities, and winter steelhead is often a mystery, so many anglers don’t know where to look for the next bite. If this is you, look no further than some fantastic winter trout fishing at multiple stocked lakes! Winter trout fishing is incredibly rewarding, and in many cases, produces some large trout that cut beautifully. There are many ways to chase these fish from shore or from the boat, and with a little research and timing, you are sure to be on the fish!
How to prepare
To begin, let’s look at the setups to use. Cold water temps have a lot of effect on fish, as they are a cold-blooded species. During this time, they are in energy consumption mode, with not a ton of energy to be spent moving around. Additionally, cold temps slow down fish metabolism. All this together means that when the fish feed, they are looking for an easy meal that does not require too much energy wasted in chasing it down. For this reason, small profile lures and stationary baits are often the best choice.
When fishing from shore, it is hard to beat the “stocked-trout standby”, the Carolina rig! An egg sinker on the mainline with a 2–3-foot leader to a small hook, with an inflated nightcrawler or chunk of Powerbait, is an easy meal for a meandering trout to engulf. Another good option is a small spoon or spinner with a slim profile and wounded look. Lighter casting spinners and spoons can be worked slow through the water column and produce a very crippled look. They are a great way to cover water in new spots and find the fish.
From a boat, these methods work great as well, but trolling can be added to the mix. Small spoons and spinners tipped with a worm are always a good option. Trolling allows the angler to go to the fish. Compared to spring and summer, trolling a little slower can be very effective. Many rainbow trout will sit low below the thermocline. Trolling past them just fast enough to get their attention but slow enough have them commit is the target.
Where to go
As with any fishing trip, the first thing to do is check the regulations. Many stocked trout lakes are seasonal, meaning they close at the end of October. If your lake is open, you are set to legally fish, but there may not be great fishing. Luckily for the angler, the WDFW publishes a list of recently stocked lakes that is updated weekly. Checking lakes in your area will give you the best idea of where and when to wet a line. The best time to catch stocked trout in the winter is directly after the stock. This is when the trout aren’t quite acclimated to the new area, and they are the most aggressive. After a couple weeks in the lake, the fish will hunker down and be far less active compared to their first little bit in the new water. Knowing when the trout are stocked can be the difference in a couple bites and a nice limit on the stringer! During most of the winter months, the state stocks their “jumbo’s”, which are trout over 1lb, which usually cut fantastically.
As a local Western Washington Angler, I know a couple great lakes in my surrounding counties that are stocked in November, which give me just enough time to make some smoked trout dip for the Thanksgiving table. Nothing warms a day like a tight line on a cool river bank, sipping hot coffee, and enjoying some bank lunch.
With a little research, a simple setup, and a couple of free hours, you can be knee deep in some delicious trout! Just like the spring, ultralight trout setups, light monofilament line, some extra hooks, and a couple of weights, and you are set on terminal tackle. Then add some jars of Powerbait, a few lures, and a stringer, and you will be ready to hit the water. As always, be prepared for the weather!