Every year the anticipation for salmon season is high and as we inch closer to the “big run” we always wonder how good of a year its going to be? In early June I took a charter out of Oswego, NY with our good friend Captain Kevin Keller of Fish Chopper Charters. We had nonstop action from the moment we put the first rod in the water until we called off the trip by late morning with sore arms. Typically, when you have great numbers of salmon that early and throughout July and August it tends to lead to an above average return year in the river. Since then the lake reports from charter captains around the eastern basin of Lake Ontario have been incredible, with large numbers of fish and larger than average fish size. Although there are many tributaries to find salmon throughout September and October we consider our home water to be the world famous Salmon River in Pulaski, NY.
Each year the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation stocks both King and Coho salmon, which will return to spawn 3-4 years later. The wild card on how many fish will return to the river can also depend on the natural spawning that occurs each fall. In my opinion this is one of those years where we had a high rate of successful natural reproduction from 3-4 years ago. There are many factors that lead to great natural spawning years and high returns, many of which are hard to pin point. Typically, higher than average water flows during the spawning timeframe leads to less angling pressure. When you combine less angling pressure and higher than average water flows when the smolt swim back to the lake you have a recipe for success. Predation from other fish and birds play a large factor in this equation, but when everything works out in favor of salmon spawning and smolt survival you have big numbers of returning fish!
Many people associate salmon fishing with crowded, shoulder to shoulder rivers using barbaric tactics to fight these fish. However, over the last couple decades I’ve seen a great transformation in the way anglers respect the space of each other in addition to their angling methods. There are always a few bad apples in the bunch that ruin the experience for some but you can say that about most anything in life. Having fished the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY for over 30 years I can honestly still say I look forward to the return of these fish in the river and everything that goes along with fishing for them. My advice to you if you are inexperienced or have never done this is to take a walk away from the crowds and carve out your own little piece of salmon fishing paradise. Personally, I would rather fight or land a few fish or nothing at all than be crowded amongst hundreds of other anglers. If you are experienced or a veteran of this fishery take a couple minutes out of each trip to educate and help others be successful.
SOCIAL CIRCLE, GA (April 10, 2023) – If your angling skills need a new challenge this year, it’s time to triple up your catch and take on the Georgia Trout Slam. Catch all three species of trout found in Georgia (rainbow, brown and brook) within a calendar year and you succeed!
The Georgia Trout Slam recognizes anglers with the knowledge and skill to catch different species of trout in the state, while also stimulating interest in the conservation and management of trout and their habitats, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division.
To qualify for the Georgia Trout Slam, fish must be caught within a calendar year, must be legally caught on waters where you have permission to fish, and anglers must provide some basic information about themselves and their catch (such as county where caught). Anglers must also be able to submit a photo of themselves with the fish, and one clear side photo of the fish.
Anglers can review complete rules and submit their information and photos for verification for the Georgia Trout Slam at GeorgiaWildlife.com/trout-slam.
What is Your Reward? Successful Trout Slammers will receive an official “Georgia Trout Slam” decal and the names of all successful anglers will go into a drawing for an annual grand prize!
LAKE CITY, Colo. – As Colorado Parks and Wildlife celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2022, it may be long remembered as the year of the brook trout.
Only five months after CPW certified a new state record brook trout for the first time in 75 years, the record was again reestablished by Matt Smiley of Lake City. He caught an 8-pound, 9-ounce brook trout on Oct. 8 from Waterdog Lake, located on the east side of Lake City in Hinsdale County within the Uncompahgre National Forest.
The fish measured 26.25 inches in length and had a girth of 16 inches.
“The experience of this catch has been surreal, and it took a few days to soak in. It’s a really special fish,” Smiley said. “The toughest thing for me with this whole deal was deciding to keep the fish. I’ve released so many over the years, but it was one of those deals where I made a quick decision and wanted to give this fish the recognition it deserves.”
In May, Tim Daniel of Granby reeled in a 7.84-pound brook trout from Monarch Lake in Grand County. That fish, measured at 23.25 inches with a girth of 15.375 inches, broke the previous state record of 7.63 pounds from a brook trout caught in 1947 out of Upper Cataract Lake in Summit County. That had been the longest-standing fishing record in the state.
Since Daniel’s catch May 23, the record has actually been broken twice, with both caught at Waterdog Lake.
The weekend before Smiley’s triumph, Larry Vickers of Lake City had caught an 8.22-pound brook trout. While Vickers knew he had a record fish, he opted not to go through the certification process and decided to eat it to not let the meat go to waste. CPW aquatic biologist Dan Brauch was notified of the catch, and word spread across the region.
Smiley, who sells tackle for the company Favorite Fishing, has chased large brook trout in lakes across Colorado for a decade. He was eager to get in the high country for some fall fishing, and Vickers’ catch was stuck in his mind. So, he set up the Waterdog Lake trail with a 3.9-mile hike and 2,400 feet of elevation gain between him and the lake nestled in the timberline bowl beneath Mesa Seco at 11,130 feet.
After a day of catching smaller fish, Smiley was about ready to pack up and head home to watch college football. But 20 seconds after he had that thought, he felt the tug of a large fish on his Favorite Fishing Jackhammer rod and set the hook on his artificial lure.
“After fishing for a bit and only seeing smaller fish, I thought I wasn’t going to see any real good ones,” Smiley said. “But then the rod got heavy, I set my hook and could tell I had a really big fish.
“When it surfaced and I could see it, all I could think was, ‘Wow.’ I’ve caught big brookies in the past around the state, but when I saw this one, it was just different. It had way more length than any of the big ones before.”
Smiley battled the fish and waded into the water to try to get it in his net. He was able to net it, but with one forceful roll, the trout was free of the net and the fight resumed. It once again took his line out to the middle of the lake.
“I went into the, ‘I can’t lose this one’ mode,” Smiley said. “She pulled and rolled and was doing crazy things. My heart sank when she flopped right back out of the net, but she stayed hooked up and I brought her in a second time. It was a wild, crazy deal.”
Finally with the trout in his hands, Smiley had another 3.9-mile hike down the steep trail with the fish in his backpack.
He took it directly to the Lake City post office where it was weighed by Emily Dozier, who happily obliged Smiley’s request to have the fish weighed.
After further inspection from Brauch, the local CPW aquatic biologist, it was declared the new state record brook trout.
“Having sampled that water, I know the shoreline is loaded with scuds,” Brauch said. “So I am not too surprised this fish came from that lake, but it is a smaller body of water. It’s not a lake that handles a lot of use or fishing pressure and is difficult to access. Seeing two record fish in one week caught from there, it’s a cool story.”
Smiley thanked Brauch for meeting him over the weekend to inspect and certify the fish as well as his friends who helped get him in contact with CPW.
The brook trout, introduced to Colorado in 1872, is a member of the char genus of the trout and salmonid family. It is a beautifully colored fish with pink or red spots surrounded by blue halos along the sides and a distinctive marbled pattern over an olive-green back. Brook trout, which are native to Northeastern United States, often grow anywhere from 11 to 23 inches in length.
Smiley and a friend have enjoyed fishing for brook trout around the state together. Smiley said they have run into plenty of large fish over the years.
“We’ve been doing this for 10 years pretty hard across Colorado. We just love backcountry brook trout,” Smiley said. “There are several lakes with really good fish in them, and we’ve been close a few times. My friend got one five years ago that would’ve broken the record, and on the spot he released it. He had one earlier that day he lost that was even bigger. The way lakes cycle, a couple of years go by and there are no big brookies left in it as things change.”
Smiley said the decisions to keep the fish, certify it as a record brook trout and have it mounted were all difficult.
“I’ve let some really big ones go, and then you see them later and age has not been kind to them as they’ve regressed and gone the other way when they aren’t getting the nutrients they need to maintain that size,” he said. “This one, it was in peak condition, and I made the decision to give that fish the recognition it deserves. But it’s been the toughest thing for me with this whole deal. We learn none of them live forever, but it’s just a crazy deal when it all happens at once and you have to make that quick call.”
Now, the oldest fishing record in Colorado is for white bass, dating back to 1963. The oldest trout record in the state is for native cutthroat, dating back to 1964.
Gainesville, GA Wednesday, October 26, 2022 – 11:00
If you were looking for a reason to go trout fishing, we have just the ticket.
Beginning November 1, trout fishing on Georgia’s delayed harvest trout streams will be in full swing, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division (WRD).
While trout fishing can be found year-round in Georgia, there are five trout streams that are seasonally managed under special regulations called Delayed Harvest (DH) to increase angler success. These streams have catch-and-release regulations from November 1-May 14 and are stocked monthly by WRD and other partner agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and South Carolina DNR. This combination of stocking and catch/release allows for good trout catch rates and high angler satisfaction.
This year, all five delayed harvest streams will be stocked with trout. These streams include:
Chattahoochee River from Sope Creek to US Highway 41 (Cobb Parkway). Toccoa River located on U.S. Forest Service land upstream of Lake Blue Ridge in Fannin County (from 0.4 miles above Shallowford Bridge to 450 feet above the Sandy Bottom Canoe Access). Amicalola Creek on the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area (from Steele Bridge Road downstream to Georgia Hwy. 53). Smith Creek downstream of Unicoi Lake (Unicoi State Park). A portion of the Chattooga River (from Ga. Hwy. 28 upstream to the mouth of Reed Creek) on U.S. Forest Service land bordering South Carolina.
“We are excited to resume delayed harvest stockings on the Chattahoochee River below Morgan Falls Dam this year thanks to excellent trout production in our state hatcheries, and the low, fishable flows we are seeing in the river currently,” said Georgia Trout Stocking Coordinator John Lee Thomson. “With the Lake Burton Fish Hatchery renovation complete and trout inventories returned to historic levels, the Chattahoochee DH should provide a great trout fishing opportunity near Metro Atlanta.”
Between November 1 – May 14, anglers on all traditional delayed harvest streams are restricted to single hook, artificial lures. Beginning May 15, the general regulations to designated trout waters then apply to those streams.
In addition to the excellent fall fishing opportunities that delayed harvest streams provide, other Georgia streams offer ample year-round trout fishing. Examples include:
Noontootla Creek Watershed: This watershed offers high-quality fishing for wild brown and rainbow trout, with many of its tributaries offering a chance at a wild brook trout. Both Noontootla and its tributaries are managed under an artificial lure only regulation and have a 16” minimum size limit to “recycle” the 8-12” trout that make up most of the population. Chattahoochee River: For trout fishing close to metro Atlanta, the Chattahoochee River downstream of Buford Dam offers diverse fishing opportunities, from stocked rainbow trout to trophy wild brown trout. The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area parks offer good bank, wading and boating opportunities. An artificial-only section exists from Buford Hwy (Hwy 20) to Medlock Bridge. The best fishing conditions are low flow when the river is clear to slightly stained. Additional Suggested Streams: Notable fall trout fishing opportunities also exist in the Toccoa River downstream of Lake Blue Ridge, Tallulah River, and the Chattooga River.
Anglers must possess a current Georgia fishing license as well as a trout license. By purchasing a license, fishing equipment, and other related items, you help fund sport fish restoration programs thanks to the Sport Fish Restoration Act. The Sport Fish Restoration Act and Trout Unlimited license plate funds make the following activities possible: managing sport fish populations, raising freshwater fish in hatcheries and stocking them in public waters, maintaining and operating public fishing areas, and building boat ramps, fishing piers, and much more!
Where can you get a fishing license? Buy it online or find a list of retail license vendors at GoOutdoorsGeorgia.com or buy it by phone at 1-800-366-2661.
Wild trout flourish in Southwestern Virginia, a unique fact considering it is one of the lowest elevations and eastern-most points on the continent where this occurs. That fact, and the pristine Blue Ridge Mountains that define the area geologically, combine to create a fisherman’s paradise.
The clean, cold Dan River welcomes fly fishing. Part of the Roanoke River system, it flows over 200 miles and crosses the Virginia and North Carolina border in eight places. The headwaters of the Dan are in Meadows of Dan, a mountain valley about 45 miles north of Winston-Salem, N.C.
The Dan begins north of U.S. Highway 58 and slightly northeast of the Meadows of Dan in mountainous Patrick County, at an elevation of over 3,000 feet. In this section of the river anglers will find fishing for native brook trout in waters classified as wild trout waters by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Brookies require clean, cold water to survive, far more so than rainbows and browns, and their presence here is indicative of the quality of the flow.
Just above and below U. S. Highway 58 the river is a put-and-take trout stream – Category B, in Virginia’s classification system. Traveling farther east, the river flows through a deep gorge within the Pinnacles Hydroelectric Project owned by the City of Danville.
This area has been dubbed the Grand Canyon of Virginia, rugged and spectacular country that appeals to the hardy. Trout fishing becomes first class for rainbow and brown trout in the six-mile section between Talbott Dam and Townes Reservoir. The stream from Townes Dam to the Pinnacles Powerhouse has been designated as catch-and-release trout water, and it holds some big fish. From the powerhouse several miles downstream (Kibler Valley) is a popular Category A put-and-take trout stream.
A 6-mile stretch of the Dan runs through Primland, a boutique resort covering some 12,000 acres of wooded mountains. The property is rugged, remote, and beautiful. Two impoundments are adjacent and provide hydroelectric power for the city of Danville. Below the dam is designated as a Special Regulations Trout Water, meaning there is a reproducing population of wild born fish throughout that section. Brown, brook and rainbow trout are found here. A small section of the Smith River below Philpott Dam also has a thriving population of wild fish.
Fisherman can expect year-round action with the best fishing occurring in spring and fall. Hatches of mayfly, caddis and stonefly happen every month and anglers can expect dry fly or surface action any time of year. It never hurts to carry some bead head nymphs and all-around fish catchers like the San Juan worm in sizes 12 to 16. A 5-weight rod 8 to 9 feet long works fine. A pair of waders will be welcomed. Even though you’re in the South here, the water is cold year around.
Primland is a massive mountain resort property larger than many wildlife management areas (and probably has more deer and turkey than many–guided hunts are offered in season.) It’s located about 40 miles north-northwest of Winston Salem, N.C. The resort, recently re-opened after the COVID-19 shutdown, also offers guided fly fishing on a catch-and-release basis, golf, paddle-sports, mountain biking–all the good stuff.
For fly casters seeking less challenging Blue Ridge Mountain fishing, the broader and more forgiving Kibler Valley section of the Dan River is located nearby. Guided fishing with local Orvis pro’s is available April through November depending on weather and stream conditions–as everywhere in trout country, too much rain or runoff makes for tough going.
The Orvis-trained guides not only provide guided fishing trips they also offer fly casting and fly-fishing lessons. There’s an Orvis Dealer Pro Shop on the property, stocked with a large selection of flies and all the other goodies fly fishers love. They also rent Orvis rods and sell fishing licenses at the shop.
For other fishing options, there are three ponds at Primland stocked with trout, bass and channel catfish and open year-round. Fish cleaning is available for the put and take fish in these ponds, so anglers can cook their catch at their Mountain Homes, one of several lodging options at the resort. For details, visit www.primland.com.
First ice is a magical time to pursue many species of gamefish, and members of the trout family are no exception. Just ask veteran trout and salmon guide Bernie Keefe, who plies the high-country lakes around Granby, Colorado.
“Rainbows, brookies and browns are all hungry right now,” he says. “The spawn is over and trout are feeding up before the winter crunch settles in.”
As a bonus, a lack of fishing pressure in recent months often has trout at ease. “Nobody’s fished them for awhile, so they’re ‘dumbed down’ a little bit compared to the rest of the year,” he laughs.
Keefe targets skinny water in early winter, where trout pursue crayfish, baitfish and other sizeable sources of sustenance. “They eat insects, too, of course,” he concedes. “But trout have big appetites this time of year and prefer larger forage when they can get it.”
He focuses on depths of four to seven feet, especially where bottom transitions sweeten the pot. “Changes from rock to sand or muck can be trout magnets,” he offers. “And green weeds can be a plus where available.”
On the flip side, vertical inclines are out. “Forget steep drop-offs,” he says. “Gentle slopes and flats in the backs of bays or alongside points are ideal.”
When he finds a promising fishing area, Keefe quickly pops a trio of holes and sets up shop. “I drill two holes 30 inches apart, which allow me to fish two lines,” he explains. “Then I add a third hole in between, so I can sight-fish both outer holes simultaneously.”
To maximize comfort and manual dexterity while fishing, he pops a Clam portable shelter over the work zone and fires up a Mr. Heater to ward off the chill. “I like fishing without gloves for better feel, as well as the ability to quickly unhook fish, rebait hooks and retie lines,” he says.
In one hole, Keefe drops a flashy attractor lure like an 1/8-ounce Clam Leech Flutter Spoon. In the other, he deploys a more subtle presentation, such as Clam’s tungsten Caviar Drop Jig. Spoons are often fished without tippings, but traditional jigs are tricked out wit h a small soft-plastic or live bait dressing. “Berkley Gulp! and Maki Plastics work very well,” he says. “Mealworms and waxies are always good choices if you like live bait.”
Spoons are fished with flair. “Give the spoon a 6- to 8-inch lift, then let it flutter back down,” he says. “Dance it in place, pause and repeat the process. When you see a trout rush in, kill the theatrics. Most fish prefer to crush it on the pause.”
Keefe cautions to keep your spoon performances well grounded. “You don’t have to pound the rocks or stir the mud, but always keep the spoon within a foot of the bottom,” he says.
Jigs are fished with a slower hand, tighter to bottom. “Jigs like the Caviar Drop Jig imitate fish eggs, which don’t jump around a whole lot,” he says. “But you have to add a little movement to get trout’s attention. I favor slow, methodical, 1-inch lift-and-drops, but nervous shakes also have their moments. With either approach, keep the jig within an inch of the bottom.”
Whether jigging or spooning, Keefe wields a 28-inch, medium-light Jason Mitchell Meat Stick ice rod, which he says offers a great balance between strength and sensitivity. “The high-vis tip also makes it easy to see light bites when you can’t see the lure,” he adds, noting that 4-pound Berkley Trilene 100 Percent Fluorocarbon is his line of choice.
Since trout are on the bite, Keefe rarely lingers in an unproductive area. “If you don’t get bit within 10 minutes, move,” he says.
Most days, the bulk of the action comes early in the day. “Under clear skies, it’s usually over by the time the sun hits the ice,” he says. “But it’s a great way to spend a morning. And cloudy conditions can prolong the action until noon or later.”
Keefe says the first-ice flurry usually lasts around three to four weeks, depending on fishing pressure. “When crowds move in, trout slide out to deeper haunts,” he says. “They’re still catchable, but the early season magic is over for another winter.”
The Clam Outdoors “Caviar Drop” jig is an excellent first and last ice trout jig. Watch Bernie’s video to learn more.
Wild salmon are struggling to get their groove back. Along North America’s Pacific coast, salmon populations—already hit by overfishing—have been forced to dodge the Blob and hungry seals. For years, Canada has tried to help bolster the salmon population by releasing hatchery-raised juvenile fish, or smolts, into the wild.
Scientists know these hatchery smolts don’t do well in the wild—the fish tend to die younger than their wild brethren and reproduce less, but it’s unclear why.
In a recent study, however, researchers think they’ve hit upon a possible explanation. In two British Columbia streams, researchers caught coho salmon smolts that were making their way out to sea for the first time. Some of the fish had been born in hatcheries, while others were wild. Comparing the genetics of the hatchery- and wild-born smolts, the scientists found a huge difference between the two populations. But the changes weren’t so much in their genetics as in how their genes were regulated and expressed—their epigenetics.
Epigenetics is the physical and molecular processes that control how the instructions contained within DNA get expressed or turned into the proteins that affect day-to-day life. Often, epigenetics causes a gene to be expressed more or less frequently than it otherwise would. Everything from stress to chemicals to natural processes like puberty can cause epigenetic changes. Some of the changes are temporary or reversible, while others last forever.
Suppose, for instance, that rather than a jumble of folded proteins, your DNA is a cassette tape of Phil Collins’s 1985 smash album No Jacket Required. When you were born, your DNA was a factory-made tape—you had the same physical spool of tape, more or less, as 13 million other fans.
But say a section of your tape was kinked or twisted after unspooling in the stereo of your Trans Am, garbling the classic riffs of “Sussudio.” Meanwhile, your brother can rock out to “Sussudio” just fine, but he accidentally erased the sultry chorus of “Inside Out” while making a mixtape for his girlfriend. Much like these changes will affect which of Collins’s epic rhythms you and your brother respectively blast, epigenetics can permanently or semipermanently affect how genes get expressed.
In the case of the salmon, Louis Bernatchez, a population biologist at Laval University who worked on the new research, found that while hatchery- and wild-born coho smolts have similar genetic profiles—which makes sense since the two are closely related—some parts of their DNA have wildly different epigenetics. But more than this, Bernatchez found that all the hatchery-raised fish had similar epigenetic changes, even for fish reared at different hatcheries.
Just as two different cassettes chewed up in the same spot of “One More Night” suggest an issue with the tape deck, Bernatchez suspected there’s something about hatchery life that triggers epigenetic changes. He points to two features as possible suspects: atypical food and overcrowding.
“Some of those genes are important in appetite, important in osmoregulation,” Bernatchez says. He stresses that these epigenetic effects don’t necessarily explain hatchery fish’s shortcomings as adults. In part, that’s because it’s still not completely clear which traits they affect, or how long the changes last. But it does open new avenues to explore.Hatchery-born coho salmon smolts have epigenetic changes as a result of hatchery living, which may affect them for life. Photo by Stock Connection Blue/Alamy Stock Photo
In Washington State, hatchery-spawned steelhead also do poorly in the wild. But Penny Swanson, division director of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, says that while epigenetics may play a part, there are other factors that could account for hatchery fish’s struggles.
For example, fish that do well in hatcheries often have voracious appetites and grow quickly, she says. This serves them well in captivity, but not in the wild, where searching for food and enduring hunger are more important. But it’s not clear if hatchery conditions lead to a form of artificial selection, where the quickest gobblers survive, or if the food, temperature, or relatively sedentary lifestyle are modifying the fish’s genes through epigenetic effects.
Swanson thinks Bernatchez’s research lays important groundwork for untangling the different factors, but there’s still a lot to study, such as epigenetics in fish at different ages. This is tricky to do with wild populations, she says, in comparison to the captive or domestic animals on which most epigenetics research is done, because the natural genetic variation is much wider and less understood.
Mackenzie Gavery, a post-doctorate researcher working with Swanson, agrees that it’s a leap to suggest the epigenetic changes seen in smolts are affecting their success as adults. There’s a big gap in time between when smolts head out to sea and when they return to breed as adults, she says. Gavery also notes that many epigenetic changes are natural, transient, and even reversible. Like straightening a twisted cassette ribbon by rewinding it with a pencil, epigenetic changes in the smolts may be gone by the time they return to spawn.
Bernatchez hopes that further study will untangle how persistent the epigenetic changes are, as well as make it clearer how they’re manifesting in the fish. But it’s a new field, and the researchers still have a long long way to go.
High lakes trout fishing is one of Washington’s premier recreational pastimes. Geology pressed its thumb into some of the state’s most gorgeous places when it laid in the alpine lakes. Trails into remote mountain potholes wander across flowered meadows and pass through shady forests of cedar, fir and hemlock. At trail’s end, trout grow plump on mayflies, midges and other minute delectables.
Western Washington has about 1,600 lakes that are considered “high” lakes, above 2,500 feet elevation. East of the Cascades, nearly 950 lakes lie above 3,500 feet, which qualifies them as high lakes. A small percentage of our high lakes have self-sustaining trout populations, while others are stocked periodically with a variety of trout species. Still others are purposely left barren.
Some lakes are stocked every two or three years, while others may be stocked only once in a decade, dictated by average fishing pressure and lake productivity. These rotating stocking schedules cause a lake’s trout abundance and size to vary from year to year. Finding the season’s hot spots is part of the fun: topographical maps, good hiking equipment and a willingness to get out and explore are as important to high lakes angling success as the right terminal tackle.
The “Leave No Trace” Ethic
Special alpine etiquette is mandatory for these mountain adventures. With approximately 100,000 anglers and a million hikers roaming Washington’s high country each season, care must be taken to minimize human impact. Alpine meadows and shorelines are often extremely delicate. Ill-planned camps or focused foot traffic on fragile near-shore vegetation can easily leave near-permanent scars. Wilderness resource users must educate themselves on the simple, but essential, principles of no-trace camping and hiking. The U.S. Forest and National Park Services offer several excellent brochures on this subject; pick one up at your local USFS Ranger Station or Park Service district office.
Alpine fish populations are often equally fragile. Thoughtful anglers practice catch-and-release fishing (see “Tips for Successful Catch-and-Release Fishing”), keeping just one or two for the pan and releasing the rest for others to enjoy. Often, it’s a long way back to the car on a warm summer day and the fish may spoil on the way out. What would have been a delicious meal in camp or a larger fighting fish for another angler is no better than garden fertilizer by the time you get home.
Although fish entrails are biodegradable, a respectful alpine angler will never discard them in lake shallows where they can be seen by others. Pack out viscera in a zip-lock bag, or dispose of them in water at least 25′ deep. Never bury or try to burn fish parts near the lake; the remains may attract sharp-nosed bears. Burial at least 100 yards away from the lake, trail or camps is an acceptable alternative.
Please remember the following tips for responsible use of our back-country:
Take the time to learn both fishing and land-use regulations for the area you plan to visit.
Pack out everything you pack in; if possible, take out any litter from less-thoughtful hikers or anglers.
Maintain water quality by keeping human waste and waste water away from lakes and streams. If possible, camp at least 200 feet from the nearest lake or stream.
Where campfires are legal and safe, use an established fire ring and only dead and downed wood.
Pack out the offal from any fish kept, or dispose of it in a manner that will not attract wildlife or harm the aesthetics of the area.
Be mindful of damaging fragile vegetation, both along the shoreline and in campsites.
The Fish and Fishery
Most fish stocked in our high lakes are rainbow, cutthroat or eastern brook trout. (“Brookies” are not a true trout, but actually belong to the char genus.) Other trout or char that can be found in some lakes include brown trout, mackinaw or lake trout (another char) and bull trout/Dolly Varden (also char). A few lakes have been stocked with golden trout, Kamloops-strain rainbows, Montana black-spot (a cutthroat sub-species) and Atlantic salmon.
The primary rainbow stock used is Mt. Whitney, of California origin. Cutthroat plants include several varieties: coastal (mostly on the west side of the Cascades), westslope (stock from Twin Lakes near Leavenworth), and Tokul Creek (from the hatchery of the same name near Snoqualmie, and originally from Lake Whatcom).
The Department of Fish and Wildlife continues a long tradition of fish stocking that began around the turn of the century when miners, loggers, woodsmen and the U.S. Forest Service transported fish to lakes in buckets and large milk cans by horse or mule. Stocking became more systematic in the late 1920’s when county governments began managing game fish and wildlife, and has continued essentially without interruption since the Department of Game was created in 1933 (since changed to Department of Wildlife in 1985, and to Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1994).
The stocking program has come a long way from the milk can days. The department now uses airplanes and helicopters to stock up to 20,000 fry at a time in the large, more heavily-used lakes. It’s not all high tech, however. A large percentage of all fry stocked are carried to the lakes on foot, and hand-stocked by groups such as the Seattle-based Trail Blazers or various Backcountry Horsemen of Washington chapters. Considerable effort is spent on accuracy and precision in maintaining the “put-grow-and-take” recreational fishery in order to ensure that these more sensitive aquatic ecosystems are not overtaxed.
Not all high lakes are maintained with fish populations. Many are left fishless to avoid impacts on the aquatic communities found in naturally fishless lakes or tarns. Many of these lakes contain invertebrate and amphibian populations that serve as genetic reservoirs throughout Washington’s subalpine and alpine ecosystems. Fish do not eliminate these species, but they can alter numbers. Thus many lakes are preserved as sites for scientific and educational purposes.
Although there is natural reproduction in some high lakes, most do not have the right conditions for a self-sustaining population. Besides correct timing of sexual maturity, most trout species need inlet or outlet streams that flow over gravel, year-round. This is an advantage for managing a quality high lakes fishery, as fish densities can be controlled by limited stocking numbers and frequencies, resulting in maximum growth to the lake’s potential.
Eastern brook trout and some strains of cutthroat and rainbow are more adaptable and prolific in their spawning habits, sometimes using springs or upwellings. A number of northern and western Cascade lakes have excessive, stunted populations of brookies or westslope cutthroat. Some of these lakes have management regulations that provide for more liberal harvest; others are stocked with predator species to bring these populations under control.
Since attractive, fishable populations can be maintained in most high lakes by stocking small fry infrequently, and at light densities, the high lake recreational fishery is one of the most cost-effective fisheries managed by WDFW.
Regulations allow fishing year-around in nearly all high lakes. (Note: As a general rule, lakes are considered “high” when over 2,500 feet in Western Washington or 3,500 feet in Eastern Washington.) Although some high lakes are ice-free in May, most clear in late June and July. These same lakes begin to freeze anytime from early October on, depending on elevation, exposure and weather.
Fishing vies for attention with Sloan Peak in the Monte Cristo area of Snohomish County.
For the most part, fishing high lakes can be done effectively using the same techniques that are productive in low lakes. One major difference between lowland and high lakes is water clarity. The gin-clear water of high lakes requires light leader tippets (usually 4 pound test or less) and a stalking approach as the fish can see out of the lakes extremely well.
Fly fishing can be very effective in the high lakes under many weather conditions. Back-casting room is often a problem, though, unless you go to the effort to bring in a small raft or float tube. Typical fly rods and reels that you would use in low lakes or streams will work, with the main concern being rod length when broken down while hiking. Medium-weight lines (5-7 wt.) will handle most conditions for casting and presentation, while long leaders (12’+) work better than short ones. Leader tippets should be as small as possible, while maintaining 2-3 pounds breaking strength. Where fly-casting is impractical, tossing flies with a light spinning outfit and casting bubble can be equally productive.
Standard spinning rods and reels can be used very effectively to fish with spinners and spoons or with bait. Light or ultra-light weight tackle is recommended. A vest or small tackle box containing a dozen or more spoons and spinners of different sizes and color patterns will usually be sufficient. For bait fishing you should obtain egg hooks in sizes 10-12, bobbers or bubbles for weight and flotation, and slip-sinkers plus split shot.
Backpacking rods that break down to short lengths to fit within a typical pack are available at most sporting goods or hiking equipment stores. Some backpacking rods will double as spinning or fly rods fairly well. Very little rod effectiveness is sacrificed for spinning or bait-casting, but most combination rods are only moderately good (at best) for fly fishing. Trolling flies can be easily done with these outfits, or casting the fly-and-bubble combination mentioned above.
Trolling requires a raft, float tube or similar device. Medium-priced inflatable vinyl rafts are available at many sporting goods outlets. A one-person raft may weigh about 5-7 pounds and have moderate durability (two to four years). More expensive rafts are available, providing greater durability, carrying capacity and less weight. Be sure to wear additional flotation (a PFD) while in a raft or other water craft, as a puncture in mid-lake creates a sinking feeling and a substantial risk of hypothermia and drowning. This is especially serious as mountain lakes are very cold. Don’t count on swimming far in water that’s typically less than 50 degrees.
Other potentially valuable gear includes: needle-nose pliers, hemostat or other gripping device for removing hooks; line clippers; knife; point-and-shoot camera; sunscreen; insect repellant; first-aid kit; and all standard hiking safety gear. (See the section below titled “Safety.”)
Fishing from shore can be very productive. Most fish feed in the shallower water close to shore where insect activity, both terrestrial and aquatic, is highest.
Bait-fishing can be effective, using worms, eggs, artificial paste baits, or combinations. Bait can be dangled downward from a floating bobber or can float upward from a slip-sinker, both of which provide weight to cast the bait outward from shore.
Bait-fishing should only be done when you plan to keep the fish you catch, since the fish tend to swallow the bait and hook, making injury-free release much harder. This is why fish caught while using bait count as part of your daily limit, whether or not you keep them. Also check to make sure bait is legal where you’re planning to fish; some lakes have selective fishery regulations or other quality rules designed to improve survival and growth of fish.
Lures, mainly spinners or spoons, can be very effective trolled or cast, especially for cutthroat. Treble hooks can be easily replaced with single hooks and remain effective at catching fish. Releasing a fish from a single-hook spoon or spinner is relatively straightforward and easy, while it can get awkward from a treble-hook. To make release even easier and increase liklihood of survival of the fish, pinch or file down the barb or barbs.
Fly-fishing can be nearly as effective as bait-fishing. Use dry fly patterns when fish are surface feeding, and nymph, leech or other subsurface patterns when little feeding activity is apparent. Effective dry patterns include black gnat, mosquito, Adams, blue dun, black ant, and deer-hair caddis. Wet patterns of choice include wooly worms, chironomids (TDC’s), hare’s ears, and carey specials.
Spectacular scenery at Snow Lake in King County
The most effective times to fish are generally early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Midday can be slow, especially in sunny weather. Exceptions are usually related to weather and insect activity. During midday periods, when fish aren’t rising, the more effective approach is to use bait or lures near the lake bottom, 50-150 feet from shore.
Insect hatches can produce visible feeding activity at any time. If there is a single type of insect hatching, trout may be very selective and hard to catch with general fly patterns and lures. At other times, trout may be slurping a variety of insects from the surface film. A general pattern fished dead slow or cast to rises may be effective.
Weather has a significant influence on fish and insect activity. If you are heading into your favorite high lake for fishing, it’s late summer, the lakes have been ice-free for several weeks, but it’s been warm for several days and then cools off (10-20 degrees) just before the weekend, get set for some slow fishing. Insect activity usually rises and falls with temperature, and trout feeding activity seems to do the same. Another bad time is when it has been very warm for several days and the trout have gorged themselves on insects and aren’t interested in another bite, however pretty your lure. If your trip coincides with the second or third day of a warming trend, you are likely to have good fishing opportunity at some of the time on your trip. But if the weather turns foul, the fishing usually does likewise.
The keys to a safe and enjoyable high country fishing adventure are preparedness and a healthy respect for nature. Keep the following in mind when planning your trip:
Solitude is great, but the buddy system is much safer, especially off-trail. Always tell someone where you’re going and when you intend to return.
Mountain lakes are too cold to do much swimming in. Check frequently for leaks in rafts. Use an inflatable sleeping pad as insulation under you and as a backup flotation device. Wear a personal floatation device; some PFD designs, such as slim “horse collar” types and inflatable suspenders, are relatively unobtrusive.
Even for day trips, carry raingear, warm clothes, survival blanket, compass, map, extra food, backpacking stove and flashlight, especially when off-trail.
Never walk on a “frozen” lake. The freezing pattern is erratic, so a lake may have some supporting ice below the surface snow/slush in one spot, but be unsupported in another. For this reason, high lakes are generally unsuitable for ice fishing, particularly in Western Washington.
The high lakes listed below are recommended for hiker/anglers who are interested in experiencing trout fishing in the Cascade mountains and foothills. This list is intended as a general guide only. It is by no means complete–nor guaranteed.
Lakes were selected using the combined experience of members of the Washington Hi-Lakers and Trail Blazer clubs and WDFW professional biological staff. These lakes are on maintained trail systems or have road access, and are considered able to withstand the increased fishing pressure that might result from their listing here. They generally have self-sustaining populations of trout, or are regularly stocked by the WDFW. After the county-by-county listing of hike-in lakes is a list of “drive-to” lakes.
These chunky rainbows are typical of what can be produced with proper high lake fishery management.
Several methods are provided to help locate listed lakes. First, an approximate location based on geographic features or trailheads is given. Next are a page number and map coordinates for locating that lake in the Washington Atlas and Gazeteer (DeLorme Mapping Company). Following that, specific township (N) and range (E or W) data are provided, followed by elevation (in feet above mean sea level), both taken from Lakes of Washington, Volumes I and II (Wolcott, 1973). The latest USGS quadrangle maps for the area you intend to visit are usually the most specific and up-to-date source of trail information. U.S. Forest Service district maps are valuable aids for finding lakes and trails that fall within national forests. Specific county maps, such as those produced by the Metsker and Pittmon map companies, are also helpful.
Lastly, species information is provided. Fish species listed are the latest assessments by the review team (see above), but may not be exact or all-inclusive. Fish species and stocking schedules change occasionally because of various biological reasons.
Material in this document was originally published in SignPost for Northwest Trails, April 1986. It was edited and reprinted by the Department of Wildlife from 1987-1994. This version is adapted from a revision by Gerry Erickson of the Washington State Hi-Lakers, Bob Pfeifer and Susan Ewing of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Where have the Au Sable River trout gone? from The Fishing Wire
Spring ushered into northern Michigan an unwelcomed guest in 2018…an extended winter with an unprecedented snowfall in April. When winter finally relented, and anglers were able to get out and enjoy fishing their favorite spots, the DNR Fisheries Division’s Northern Lake Huron Management Unit started getting phone calls from concerned anglers about their lack of success on the North Branch of the Au Sable River.
The unit receives “there are no fish in my lake” calls on a regular basis, and usually they are based on an angler’s couple of days of poor fishing. This year on the North Branch, however, staff were getting calls from professional trout fishing guides who had never complained about the fishing before. They told local staff they were experiencing extremely low catch rates and weren’t seeing the feeding activity they normally would during insect hatches.The North Branch was scheduled for Fisheries Division to conduct population estimates in the late summer at three different sites. However, with the number of anglers reporting startlingly low catch rates of trout, the division decided to conduct electrofishing spot checks on May 30.
To build on the strong partnership in the Au Sable River, Fisheries Division invited several of the guides who informed the department to come and help conduct the electrofishing efforts. The first round of electrofishing spot checks were at places that are surveyed regularly. Shortly after the survey started, it was readily apparent the trout population was down from levels normally seen in late summer.
“Most anglers understand that trout can move fairly large distances, usually seasonally, so making direct comparisons of the survey results occurring at different times of the year should be avoided,” said the Northern Lake Huron Management Unit manager, Dave Borgeson. “Regardless, the decline in the number of fish surveyed at the sites corroborated the angler reports so we decided to conduct four more spot checks at other locations on June 7, and got similar results.
“For some unknown reason, it became clear the trout population in the North Branch had declined from the previous year. There was a lot of head-scratching and hypothesis-sharing regarding the cause of the apparent decline, and some of the angler’s ideas centered on the possibility of mortality due to toxic substances introduced into the stream.
While trout populations can vary widely from year to year for a variety of reasons, Fisheries Division decided to notify the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality of the angler’s observations and the electrofishing results. A working group of concerned anglers, DEQ staff, and Fisheries Division employees Neal Godby and Borgeson teamed up to discuss the status of the stream and plan a strategy for additional information gathering in 2018.The DEQ planned to do some water chemistry work and conduct aquatic invertebrate sampling in the North Branch, Fisheries Division would conduct trout population estimates at three stations on the river, and the angling groups planned to do their annual quantitative aquatic invertebrate sampling as well as cooperate with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to conduct a contaminant survey using lipid-based collection gear deployed in the stream.
The DEQ’s Water Resource Division conducted three P51 Habitat and Macroinvertebrate surveys in mid-June and found “All three sites surveyed in June 2018 scored excellent for both habitat and macroinvertebrates. All sites had excellent macroinvertebrate diversity with 37 taxa found at Dam Four, 32 at Twin Bridge Rd., and 31 at the Ford. Of these, 20 taxa at Dam Four, 18 taxa at Twin Bridges, and 15 taxa at the Ford were ephemeroptera, plecoptera, or tricoptera (EPT) taxa indicating excellent water quality.
“The USGS organic chemical sampling results are pending. Fisheries Division electrofishing surveys revealed: At Twin Bridges the brook trout density and biomass were at the lowest recorded level in the past 30 years, and brown trout density and biomass levels were on par with the past two years.
At Eamon’s Landing the brook trout density was around the long-term average and biomass was on par with the past two years (but low compared with the long-term average).
At Dam 4 the brook trout density was well below average and biomass was at its lowest recorded level in the last 30 years. Brown trout density was about average, but the biomass was well below its average.
“So, what does all this mean?” asked Borgeson. “Do we know why the trout abundance in the North Branch declined substantially? It appears the aquatic invertebrate populations appear to be in good shape, and that non-trout species are in decent numbers. Because of that, contamination or an acute toxin event is not likely the cause. Additionally, trout species are still present albeit in relatively low numbers. So, what else could it be?
“Sometimes trout populations can be impacted by extreme water temperatures. Since the decline occurred after the DNR’s fall survey, and before this summer, warm temperatures do not appear to be the culprit. Last winter, while long, did not have too many of the extremely low temperatures that can greatly affect trout. So, temperature may not have been the primary force impacting the population in this case.
Also, the area of the North Branch was the recipient of some tremendous amounts of precipitation in the fall of 2017, and in the spring of 2018. Many long-time river residents and users reported they have never seen the North Branch so high, even out of its banks. It is known that high flows can impact trout populations, especially those occurring in the spring. Fisheries Division also surveyed some other streams that had markedly lower trout abundances. For example, division crews surveyed the West Branch of the Sturgeon River and they said it was very clear the trout population had declined since 2017. The department also had reports of another small, shallow tributary to the Sturgeon River that had a much lower trout population. A tributary to the Muskegon was surveyed and the population was down noticeably.
Maybe there was a regional phenomenon that affected certain types of streams disproportionately more than others? Could the high flows have been the primary culprit? We probably won’t know with an ironclad degree of certainty, but we can make some conclusions from this situation: It occurred between early fall 2017 and May 2018. It doesn’t appear to be a toxic event. The relatively large one-year reduction in trout abundance coincided with two extremely high flow events (last fall and this spring). Also, there appears to be enough numbers of young trout in the system that with decent overwinter survival the numbers of catchable fish should improve in the coming years.
“Overall, productivity in the North Branch has declined from the 1960’s and 1970’s, and the trout population reflects that decline,” explained Borgeson. “Perhaps this has to do with the long-term effects of the Clean Water Act. Those of us old timers remember the good ‘ol days when there were more brook trout in the stream. Maybe the rooted vegetation that used to be more abundant in the North Branch provided those young trout enough cover to survive better to older ages. When a trout population begins with more 1 and 2-year-old fish, then it usually ends up with more 2 and 3-year-old trout. In the past 30 years the stream’s trout population has varied around a new lower average biomass.
“This year on the North Branch of the Au Sable highlights the importance of having a suite of streams where status and trends surveys are conducted. They help put the trout population variability of one stream in a greater context. That is, are there regional trends in all sampled streams, in certain types of streams, or is there a stream that had a unique event occur?It also points to the importance of strong working relationships with local Fisheries Division staff, concerned anglers, and other agencies or groups that can bring resources to the table to solve complex problems. Maybe we won’t always have all the simple answers, but collectively we can learn together and that is better for making informed decisions on the resource. With that collective knowledge base, the DNR and its partners will be much better informed in the future, with a greater ability to parcel out those factors that combine to shape the trout populations in Michigan streams.
How Can I Catch Salmon Plugging for the Chetco River’s Giant Salmon
By Buzz Ramsey for Yakima Bait
from The Fishing Wire
If you crave big fall chinook, one that might tip the scales at 50 pounds or more, now would be a good time to plan a trip to Oregon’s Chetco River. Located on Oregon’s southern coast (near Brookings) the Chetco hosts a run of fall chinook that peaks in early to mid November, making it a destination for anglers from throughout the Northwest and beyond.
According to professional-fishing-guide Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing, 206-388-8988, the majority of the salmon returning to the Chetco River consist of 4-year old chinook which average 20-to-25 pounds. However, twenty percent of each out-migrating year class of salmon return as 5-year old fish that average 35-to-40 pounds; with some bouncing the scale at 50 pounds or more. For example, while guiding clients on the Chetco River over the last dozen years Andy has netted at least one salmon at, approaching or above 50 pounds each and every season. His largest to date is a 65-pound monster taken during the later portion of the 2011 season.
Originating in the Siskiyou National Forest, the Chetco flows for 55 miles before reaching the Pacific Ocean. The Chetco is unlike many other Pacific Northwest rivers as there are no dams obstructing the salmons’ pathway to their spawning sanctuary.
The river hosts a strong, self-sustaining wild run of fall chinook that according to ODFW can number as high as 15,000 returning adults. In addition, the Department of Fish and Wildlife supplements the wild run with an additional 125,000 fingerling size chinook that are liberated in the lower river. Being of hatchery origin these fish are fin-clipped prior to release and tend to stage low in the river, where released, upon their return as adults.
The Chetco offers excellent access for bank anglers thanks to the City of Brookings and state of Oregon owning a large section of the lower river. Called Social Security Bar, this nearly two mile stretch offers free public access to bank-bound anglers that plunk Spin-N-Glo lures, sometimes in combination with bait, from shore when the river is running 3,500 CFS or higher, and drift and float fish for salmon when the water is lower.
In addition, the Chetco offers drift boat anglers’ excellent access with several put-in and take-out sites available. The most popular drift is from Lobe Park to Social Security Bar, a 5-to-6 mile float, which according to Andy Martin contains about 15 deep salmon holes. The next launch site is a private, pay-to-play launch called Ice Box. There are two launch sites above Ice Box that are located within the National Forest and go by the name of Miller Bar and Nook Bar. Nook Bar is the upper most launch and marks the upper deadline for the keeping of salmon.
The two fishing methods that dominate the drift boat fishery include back-bouncing bait and back-trolling plugs. Salmon egg clusters rigged in combination with a Corky Drifter are what the back bouncing crowd use. According to Andy Martin, the most popular Corky colors on the Chetco include rocket-red and green-chartreuse. When the water is on the high side those bouncing bait will switch out their Corky for a Spin-N-Glo threaded on their leader above a bearing bead and baited hook. A selection of 1-1/2 to 4 ounce sinkers is what’s needed if you are planning to back-bounce bait on the Chetco.
The other popular fishing technique is to back-troll salmon plugs. According to Andy Martin, salmon size plugs work especially well on the Chetco and account for the majority of the giant salmon taken in his boat. The plugs Andy employs most often are the 4.0 through 5.0 sizes Mag Lip, size M-2 FlatFish, and 5.5 Hawg Nose FlatFish. When it comes to determining what size plug to choose, it’s all about the water conditions.
The Chetco, like other rivers up and down the coast, is heavily influenced by rainfall. It’s the onslaught of storms originating over the Pacific and later hitting the coast that causes rivers to rise and subsequently drop when the rain subsides. Salmon, smelling the fresh water, migrate into rivers from the ocean each time the rivers come up and bite best as water levels drop and clear from each rain storm. A big rain event can make the Chetco River unfishable and not clear enough to fish for four or five days. When the water first drops and clears is when the catching is at its best.
According to Andy, the ideal height for the Chetco is 3,000 CFS (Cubic Feet per Second) and the river is considered low when it drops down to 1,200 CFS or less.
What Andy has learned over his many years of guiding is that he can catch salmon using plugs when the river is as high as 5,000 or at times even 6,000 CFS, providing the water is clear enough to see two feet or more into it. When the Chetco is dropping from a high water event, it’s the clarity of the water Andy closely watches.
This is a time when he employs the large salmon plugs that dive deep like the Hawg Nose or 5.0 size Mag Lip. The fast actions these plugs provide when back-trolled not only catch fish but their frantic action can shake the leaves off that strong winds can sometimes blow into the river. As the river continues to drop and clear, all the way down to 1,200 CFS, Andy reduces his plug sizes down to an M-2 size FlatFish and/or 4.0 size Mag Lip.
Although you can take your own drift boat, fully guided salmon fishing trips are available from guides should you decide to try your salmon luck from a boat. While the number of guides residing in Brooking is somewhat limited, this popular fishery draws professional guides from surrounding towns like Grants Pass, Medford and Gold Beach. There are several guides from California that work the Chetco too, so don’t limit your guide search to just the Brookings area.
The chinook limit on the Chetco is currently one salmon per day, and no more than five per year. Current regulations require you to stop fishing after catching your one adult salmon. And while your daily limit can include up to five jack salmon (salmon measuring between 15 and 24 inches) you must catch them prior to retaining an adult salmon.
Tackle, bait, shuttles, and fishing info can be obtained at Riverside Market, 541-661-3213, which is located along the lower Chetco near Social Security Bar.