By Hannah Pennebaker
Two weeks ago, Washington state governor Jay Inslee announced the re-opening of state parks and hunting. Fishermen all over the state held their breath, and cheered as he announced re-opening recreational fishing on May 5, albeit with some restrictions still in place on coastal fisheries. A few days later, WDFW announced the release of over 400,000 triploid trout into Riffe Lake. This is exciting news for anglers with cabin fever!
Triploid trout differ from other trout because they have 3 sets of chromosomes and are therefore infertile. Some fishermen believe they grow larger than other trout because the energy normally used for reproduction is instead used for eating. Many trout die from the stress of reproduction, triploids may live longer and grow larger. Triploids are created when trout eggs are exposed to a heat or pressure bath, causing a chromosome to split. The state record rainbow trout was a 30 pounder out of Rufus Woods Reservoir. This is a great opportunity to net yourself a huge trout in Riffe Lake!
Here is some background on Riffe Lake and its unique fishery, for those unfamiliar. Riffe Lake is a 13 mile long reservoir formed by Mossyrock Dam. There are 3 boat launches, 2 of which are not accessible during low water conditions. The launch at Mossyrock Park is usually a good bet year round. It's a good idea to call Tacoma Power or check their website for current water levels. For shore bound anglers, there is access on both sides of the dam as well as at the fishing bridge near Taidnapam Park.
While you can catch a variety of species at Riffe Lake, such as bass, crappie, and bullhead, most anglers visit for the opportunity to fill their coolers with landlocked salmon. This is a very special fishery, and one of my favorites. While the salmon may not be as large as those caught in saltwater or in rivers, the limit is generous and they are a blast to catch. There is no need to wait for fall salmon runs if you're craving some smoked salmon! Leftover hatchery chinook and coho salmon are stocked in this lake once quotas have been met for the nearby Cowlitz River. There are no Kokanee (landlocked sockeye salmon) in this lake. This is a deep, cold lake, perfect for temperature sensitive salmon. My fishfinder has measured spots as deep as 300 feet! Caution must be used when fishing from a boat here. The infamous Riffe Lake afternoon winds can be quite dangerous, whipping the smooth, blue morning waters into jagged white caps. Because of this lake's size, changing water levels, and dangerous winds, this is not a beginner boater's lake.
Trolling for Coho and Chinook
Because this lake is so deep, downriggers are almost necessity here, although deep divers might make a good alternative. This is a massive, 13 mile long lake, so finding the fish is the most time consuming part. It is well worth the effort to learn the lake. Once you've keyed onto the fish, try trolling in a circle, always changing up speed and depth to find the largest school. Some days the fish are at 40 feet, other days they are as deep as 90-100 feet. It can take some work to find the schools, but easy limits can be had in less than an hour once you've found them. Try starting out by the dam and keep a close eye on your fishfinder. If the winds pick up enough to make controlling your boat difficult, try trolling with the wind.
Trolling for these land locked coho and chinook isn't too different from trolling for Kokanee or rainbow trout. Use your favorite Kokanee flasher and a pink or chartreuse wedding ring or spoon. Rooster tails, flatfish lures, and small pink hoochies are great options. Make sure to bring a variety of options to see what the fish want that day. Many fishermen argue over the best bait to use. Some swear by cured shoepeg corn. Others use yellow corn or a piece of shrimp. I've found the most success with a worm and a piece of shoepeg corn cured pink. Try playing around with herring and shrimp scents on your lures. Troll a little faster than you would for rainbow trout, and make sure those lures and flashers are spinning. It's a good idea to check your bait if you haven't had a bite in some time, or if you lost a fish. Speaking from experience, these salmon are expert bait stealers.
Bank Fishing for Coho and Chinook
The most popular shore fishing here is at the deep waters on either side of Mossyrock Dam or the fishing bridge at Taidnapam Park. Tie on a slip bobber and fish about 40 to 60 feet deep and you'll be on a salmon in no time. There are a tremendous amount of options for bait. The famous Riffe Lake cocktail is a combination of a piece of corn, a worm, and a salad shrimp. If none of these work, sometimes cured coon shrimp or even a small piece of herring is the ticket.
If you're looking to catch yourself some of the 400,000 triploids freshly stocked in the lake, typical rainbow trout methods will apply, but be prepared to catch a 6+ pound football! Fish at any of the aforementioned shore access areas using a worm, power bait, or power eggs. Still fishing and trolling are both good options for boaters. Since these fish were just stocked, it's likely they will be hanging out in shallower depths than normal. These triploids will be a blast to catch on light tackle!
With fishing opening again on May 5th, and with 400,000 freshly stocked triploid trout, this is the perfect time to try fishing Riffe Lake. There is a 5 fish limit on both triploids and landlocked salmon. If you use bait, each catch will be counted towards your limit even if released. This restriction does not apply if you only use lures, and no scent. These fish are easy to fillet and delicious when smoked, almost like candy. Many fishermen agree that these fish are most active from May to August. This is a great time to take your family outdoors and reel in fish all day on the water. Remember to keep 6 feet away from other fishermen, and fill that cooler!
Hannah Pennebaker graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with a degree in Environmental Studies. She enjoys both freshwater and saltwater fishing adventures in the Puget Sound area with her fishing group, the Straw Hat Fishermen.
Editor's Note - this article was first published in 2020