The forecasted heavy rain and wind had not arrived when we launched the boat in the predawn half-light.
The lake was placid, and there were just a few rain drops falling gently. The banks were busy with anglers, many who were camping, and about a dozen boats already graced the water.
Along the lakeside families were finishing up breakfast around the fire, and the parents were busy helping the little ones gear up for the day.
The spring trout opener is not the huge event it was in years past, but to look at the numbers of anglers fishing Rowland Lake in the Columbia River Gorge at dawn last Saturday there did not seem to be any lack of enthusiasm.
A festival-like atmosphere held sway, with family groups parked around the lake’s perimeter bank fishing, while other families and groups of friends trolled around the lake in boats both big and small.
Most families and anglers were also keeping a safe distance between themselves and others, and following COVID-safety guidelines.
My host for the day, Buzz Ramsey of Klickitat, rowed us out a short way and we began tossing Rooster Tail spinners, and throwing Berkley trout worms to the fish.
At first the bites were short, and we lost a few trout. But eventually the fish began to hook themselves better, and we began the process of filling our stringers with rainbow trout.
Everyone else seemed to be doing the same.
April 24 was the statewide trout opener, and anglers all across Washington were taking part. In Southwest Washington the lakes had been stocked heavily with catchable rainbows, trout in the 8-to-12-inch size, as well as some much larger fish.
After last year’s COVID closures and belated fishing openers, most anglers were just happy to be fishing.
Stacie Kelsey of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Inland Fishes Program said that even though many trout lakes are now open year-round, there were plenty of trout anglers that enjoy the holiday atmosphere of opening day trout fishing.
“There are still families that treat opening day as a family tradition thing,” Kelsey said. “Even though there is a push to make all lakes open year-round.”
Kelsey also said the WDFW Trout Derby, which has only been around for a few years, is getting more notice.
“The Trout Derby is continuing to gain in popularity,” she said.
The WDFW tags trout and stocks them out in lakes across the state. The tags can be redeemed for prizes and gift certificates donated by local stores and companies.
Some participants are franchise stores, such as Cabelas, but many are just mom-and-pop shops that carry fishing gear.
In Southwest Washington, most lowland lakes received about 7 to 10 tagged fish each. These include, but are not limited to, Rowland, Horsethief, and Spearfish Lakes in the Columbia Gorge, Klineline Pond, Battle Ground Lake, and Lacamas Lake in the Vancouver Area, Sacajawea Lake in Longview, and Mineral and Carlisle Lakes in northern Lewis County.
No registration is necessary. If you catch a tagged fish, you can check the WDFW derby website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/contests/trout-derby for information on what you have won, and where to redeem your prize.
The tagged fish were stocked into 100 lakes across the state, and there are over 1,000 tags, with a total value of over $38,000 in prizes.
The state did stock many of their broodstock rainbows out, too, with some nearing ten pounds.
Anglers fishing Carlisle Lake may end up fighting big trout raised and stocked out by the Onalaska High School Aquaculture Program. Kelsey described the fish as “huge”, even larger than some of the state’s brood stock rainbow trout.
That morning at Rowland Lake, we fished for a couple hours, releasing some smaller fish and eventually keeping a limit of the nicer ones, including a brooder rainbow trout caught by Ramsey that went at least three pounds. Most of the fish fell to a trolled Yakima Bait Spinfish in 2.0, but a few fish bit yellow Rooster tails.
Other anglers were doing very well, and few fishermen were unable to catch their limit. George Barnes of Goldendale had also been lucky enough to catch one of the big brooder fish.
“I was trolling a wooly bugger,” Barnes said. “I’ve always caught a lot of fish with those flies.”
Most bank anglers were doing well with baits fished just off the bottom, but some of them were taking their fish by casting spinners.
WDFW Region 5 biologist Matt Gardner arrived at the lake as we pulled the boat in, and we chatted about the great turnout.
“I counted about 125 anglers,” Gardner said, “and about 20 boats.”
He said the lake had been stocked with close to 10,000 catchable rainbow trout.
More anglers were arriving as we left the lake, and all of the fishers seemed to be having a good time. The trout opener is all about having fun, and there seemed to be plenty of that getting around.
Look for the fishing to continue to be good at the local lakes until the hot weather of summer drives the trout to the depths, and slows the bite.
A Discover Pass and a WDFW Parking pass are required when parking and fishing at Rowland Lake. Remember to always check the regulations before fishing.
Anglers are reminded to follow safety guidelines to protect themselves and others amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
For more information, call the WDFW Region 5 office at 360-696-6211, or check the WDFW news release at: https://wdfw.wa.gov/news/trout-fishing-season-kicks-april-24-hundreds-lowland-lakes-open-trout-derby-gets-underway