Trout season opens Saturday

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More than 100,000 rainbow trout have been stocked in the six Southwest Washington lakes and reservoirs opening for fishing on Saturday. For the uninitiated, the six spots are Kidney, Rowland, Northwestern, Spearfish and Horsethief lakes in the Columbia Gorge, plus Swift Reservoir.

What’s left of the April “trout opener’’ is mild. I miss the carnival atmosphere of three decades ago when the final weekend in April was huge, with almost every low-elevation water in Washington opening at the same time.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the state transitioned to having more year-round waters, with trout stocked periodically.

And while the change eliminated the circus of opening day, the event had a certain charm marking the passage of winter and arrival of spring. It’s OK to go to the circus once a year.

I think the old mass-opener was good for fishing. Remember, back then spring chinook fishing in the Columbia closed March 31.

By late April, there was lots of pent-up zeal to get on the water again, and trout in lakes were the recipient of that warmth.

Now, we go out with our hard-core fishing friends to the Columbia, or Wind River or Drano Lake in April for salmon. Back then, we took our children, our neighbors or our spouses to a local lake for trout.

Instead of expensive lures, we all shared from a cheap jar of Pauztke’s Balls of Fire salmon eggs or Berkeley Power Bait. Everybody generally caught at least a few trout, because the state had stocked the lakes well.

It was the biggest day of outdoor recreation in Washington, a good time, and if the lines were long at the launch ramp, or the shore of the lake crowded, oh well, we had until November to fish in peace.

State fish biologist John Weinheimer of Carson said he has similar feelings.

“I miss the old days of the lakes opening together,’’ he said. “There certainly was a lot of excitement building up to it from the public and internally.’’

Now, having vented about the good old days, here’s a lake-by-lake outlook for Saturday:

Lake-by-lake outlook

Swift Reservoir — The 4,500-acre reservoir on the North Fork of the Lewis River has been stocked with 60,000 catchable-size rainbow trout this week. The water elevation on Wednesday was only eight feet below full pool, so launching at Swift Forest Park will not be a problem.

Weinheimer said Swift is a good bet for Saturday. A lot depends on water clarity. The clearer the reservoir, generally the better the fishing. Early in the season, catches tend to be best at the upper end of the reservoir, within sight of the boat ramp.

Swift also provides a nice fall fishery in September, October and November, after the fish have spent all summer feeding in the reservoir. The reservoir will be open through Nov. 30.

Swift power canal has been stocked with 1,000 rainbow trout.

Kidney Lake — Near North Bonneville, the 12-acre lake has gotten 3,700 rainbow trout for Saturday plus 224 large (1-pound) trout. Sixty-eight broodstock (5 to 8 pounds) rainbow were stocked in January.

“The broodstock planted in January recover from being spawned at the hatchery, start actively feeding in the lake, and continue to grow and put on weight,’’ Weinheimer said. “People are really excited to catch them.’’

A car-top boat often helps at Kidney Lake.

Another 1,500 rainbow trout will be stocked in May.

Northwestern Reservoir — This is the 97-acre reservoir behind Condit Dam on the lower White Salmon River. It straddles the boundary of Skamania and Klickitat counties.

Northwestern was stocked with 5,200 catchable-size trout in March, plus 256 of the large (1-pound) trout in April. The reservoir also got 68 broodstock in January, plus 20,000 fingerling rainbow last summer. Those fingerlings will be about 10 to 11 inches now.

Northwestern also has some nice wild trout that drop down from the White Salmon River upstream of the reservoir.

“It is never crowded and a beautiful place to fish,’’ Weinheimer said. “The regulars do very well off the shore and in boats. I would recommend a boat for being able to move around.’’

Condit Dam is scheduled for removal some time in the next few years to open the upper White Salmon River watershed to recolonization by salmon and steelhead.

PacifiCorp, operator of Condit Dam, does not yet have the necessary permits to blow a hole in the dam this fall, so removal is not anticipated before fall of 2011 at the earliest.

Rowland Lake — The 85-acre lake is along state Highway 14 just east of Bingen. It is a backwater of the Columbia River.

Split by the highway, only the north portion is stocked. It has been planted with 9,700 rainbow for the opener and will get another 2,200 for Free Fishing Weekend in early June.

Rowland also got 928 large rainbow trout recently. In January, it received 190 broodstock rainbow. In February, the lake got 292 2-pound rainbows and 31 4-pounders.

“Rowland is a good bet and will have lots of boats on it,’’ Weinheimer said.

Horsethief Lake — A backwater of the Columbia inside Columbia Hills State Park, the 97-acre lake is a popular spot and has been planted with 12,000 trout for the opener plus 100 large rainbows.

Another 5,800 trout are scheduled for release in May.

The lake has a boat ramp with a small fee.

Horsethief often gets buffeted by the Columbia Gorge winds.

“It can blow really hard sometimes and chase people off the water,’’ Weinheimer said.

Much of the Horsethief shoreline is productive smallmouth bass habitat. Yellow perch, bluegill and a rare walleye add variety.

Spearfish Lake — The 15-acre lake is just north of The Dalles Dam. It is getting 5,500 trout for the opener and almost 4,000 more in May. It also got 124 broodstock rainbow in January.

Spearfish has a small boat ramp, but often is windy for boaters. Overnight camping will be allowed at Spearfish Lake Park from Friday through May 2. The park normally is a day-use only area.

Allen Thomas covers hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation topics for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4555 or al.thomas@columbian.com.