By Hannah Pennebaker
With the snowy weather in our rear view mirror at last, now is a great time to dust off those fishing rods and head out to your local lake for some late winter trout and kokanee fishing. While many lakes are closed until opening day in April, there are a few lakes open year round that produce yellow perch, crappie, kokanee, cutthroat trout, and rainbow trout. Fishing in the winter can be trickier than in the summer and spring. Most fish will go deeper and become more lethargic as their metabolism slows. Your patience will be well rewarded if you're willing to put in a little time to locate the biters. Holdover trout and kokanee tend to be larger and more delicious than their freshly stocked counterparts since they've had time to grow and eat a more natural diet. Yellow perch and crappie are especially voracious in the winter once you locate them. Here are 5 west side lakes you can fish before the opener in April, starting from north to south.
Lake Saint Clair
This is a more urban lake, located in the Olympia/Lacey area. This is a great lake for both shore anglers and boaters. There is ample shore access at both WDFW boat launches. Soaking power bait and power eggs works well here. The lake is fairly shallow and narrow throughout the residential areas, but the south end of the lake opens up and gets 80 feet deep in the center. The larger open area is a fantastic place to troll, with beautiful views. In the more channel like residential areas, it may be more beneficial to drop anchor and toss lures and bait. Gold Panther Martin's and blue Kastmasters are killer here. If you don't have any luck at this lake, Long Lake is just a few minutes away.
This lake is located near Yelm and Eatonville. Famous for its massive channel catfish, this lake also puts out some nice holdover rainbow trout during the winter months. There is a pay to fish dock and small store right next to the boat launch, perfect for stocking up on more worms if you run out! If crappie are your target, look no further. These fish are deeper during the winter months, but if you put your time in you'll score some nice 10+ inch fish. This is a fairly small lake; try fishing on the west side for crappie and the south side for rainbows. If you don't catch fish in one area, don't be afraid to move on. Watch your fish finder carefully for submerged trees and weed lines, as these fish tend to hold close to structure.
Located just south of Graham, this lake also has a pay to fish dock and tackle shop called the Rainbow Resort. WDFW stocks this lake with thousands of trout every year, and the resort also grows their own stocker trout. If the trout aren't biting, it's always worth it to switch over to yellow perch. You can easily locate schools of them on your fish finder. Once you catch one, you can cut it up and use it for bait to catch more! This is a very shallow lake, so down riggers are not necessary here and may just end up getting snagged in the lake weeds. Instead, my preferred way to troll this lake is with leaded line or a sliding weight. Wedding rings and Apex lures work very well here. WDFW stocked this lake with 300 cutthroat trout last month. The limit is the same for rainbow trout, and they will bite on most of the same presentations.
Although this large, deep lake is more well known for its land locked coho, there are plenty of large rainbow trout to be had for shore fishermen and boat fishermen alike. There are several boat launches around the lake. A word of caution though, the water level is lower in the winter which makes launching larger craft more difficult. You can find the current water level of the lake on the Tacoma Power website. If you don't want to risk launching, there is great shore access at Mossyrock Dam. The ticket to success here seems to be bobber and bait. Small pieces of prawn, worms, and corn all work. Trolling this large lake can be intimidating, especially when those infamous Riffe Lake afternoon winds kick up. Make sure to bundle up and bring a reliable motor in the winter. Downriggers are a must at this lake; the fish can be anywhere in this 300+ foot deep lake. You'll need to try various depths and speeds until you find out what the fish like that day. I usually start faster and with larger presentations to target the more aggressive fish in the morning, and as the day progresses I'll go slower and smaller.
This rural lake is famous both for its beauty and for the kokanee and crappie fishing. It's just south of Eatonville and has an amazing view of Mount Rainier. WDFW stocks this lake regularly with kokanee fry, and they quickly grow to a catchable size. There are a few boat launches around the lake, but, similarly to Riffe Lake, the water level fluctuates throughout the year and launching in the winter may be difficult. If you're able to launch, try trolling by the public beach and work your way south. Kokanee corn recipes works wonders at this lake. Kokanee during this time of the year like a slower troll, smaller presentations, and a longer leader. Try starting at 1.3 MPH, and tie 18 inch or longer leaders. Wiggle hoochies, Assassin lures, and God's Tooth spoons work well. Crappie can be had near many of the fallen trees along the shore line. There are so many crappie in this lake that I've caught them while trolling for kokanee! At this time of year I usually use a bobber and crappie jig. Play around with your leader length until you find the biters.
Although fishing in winter time can be daunting, don't be afraid to bundle up and try fishing these year round lakes. There's no need to wait until April to get a nice limit of kokanee for the smoker, or crappie for the deep fryer. What better way to shake off those winter blues? Just make sure to bundle up, grab your family, and check your regulations before heading out!