Goose Lake was just too crowded.
It was a free fishing weekend in Washington, and folks had turned out in force at the heavily stocked, drive-to high country lake.
It was time to seek quieter waters.
We headed to the Forlorn Lakes, a small collection of high elevation lakes just a few miles north of Goose Lake. There we found sweet solitude on a lake surrounded by rugged scenery, as well as a few nice trout.
However, the big boy, a giant tiger trout that chased my son’s lure, refused to bite in the end. Just the sight of such a trout, possibly over 10 pounds, can make the day for most anglers. But the real reward was the peace and quiet of a picturesque mountain lake.
High country lakes across southwest Washington are now open for those anglers who are looking for relief from the crowds at the stocked lakes.
These gems are scattered by the hundreds across the Indian Heaven Wilderness, and while a few are fishless, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife does stock most of them periodically with fingerling trout. They grow up wild, and act more like wild fish than the trout raised to catchable size in a hatchery.
And, while we chose to drive to the Forlorn Lakes, most of these waters are only reachable through leg power. That is the draw that pulls many anglers to them.
In summer and fall there can be few fisheries that blend solitude, high country scenery, beautiful trails, and hungry trout, as well as these alpine lakes do.
Jesse Miller, the manager of the Goldendale Hatchery operated by the WDFW, is an avid hike-in angler that loves to fish the Indian Heaven lakes. He raises many of the trout stocked out in the lakes, and often hikes in to sample the trout he helped produce. He recently talked about the opportunities to be had in the wilderness, as well as the tiger trout hybrids that now lurk in many of these waters.
“The tiger trout are a cross between brook trout and brown trout,” Miller said. “They are kind of finicky to raise, but once you get them raised up, they are really nice fish. They are beautiful, and they have those real pretty spots. People like to see them. They are a very desirable fish.”
They also grow big very fast, by feeding on mostly smaller fish. The lake we fished that afternoon had been full of 5-to-6-inch rainbow trout about three years ago. We had also caught a tiger trout that was about 13 inches long. I had heard tigers grow really fast, and I wondered how big they might have grown in three years’ time.
We got our answer when that giant trout swam into view. Would we have landed that fish on light trout gear?
Miller said the tigers have been planted into many of the high lakes, including the Chain of Lakes, Horseshoe Lake, Mosquito Lake, Steamboat Lake, the Forlorn Lakes, and many others.
The rainbow trout in the lake were larger this year, too, averaging nine to 10 inches. The tigers had obviously thinned the population so that there was more food available for the remaining fish, and they grew larger because of that.
In fact, the department now tries to plant young trout into the lakes in numbers that are better balanced to prevent overpopulating the small waters, which causes fish to be stunted for lake food. Miller said the idea is to ensure the right balance to the numbers of trout in each lake.
He likes to take day trips in to the Thomas Lake area, because almost all the other options across the wilderness area require an overnight trip. For instance, coming in from the north, along the Pacific Crest Trail, offers a number of good fishing options, but it can’t be done in a day.
Going in from the Thomas Lake trailhead off Forest Road 65 offers a number of lakes that can be fished in one day. In addition to Thomas Lake, there is Dee Lake, Eunice Lake, Little Rock Lake, and others.
The prize in these waters are cutthroat trout. According to Miller, the cuts grow slower, but they eventually grow into really nice sized trout, larger on average than the usual rainbows and brook trout that are in most highland lakes.
While conventional gear anglers will toss spinners and other lures, the lakes are very popular with fly anglers. Miller throws flies for these trout, and he said you have to experiment with fly choices. However, he reported that he always carries some ant patterns, and since the lakes have plenty of mosquitos, those patterns work well, too.
Yes, there are mosquitos, so bring your repellent.
If you want to backpack in and camp, other areas offer more solitude, and less-pressured fish. You can hike south on the Pacific Crest Trail and fish Wood Lake, Snow Lake, and eventually, Elk Lake, Deer Lake, Clear Lake and Blue Lake. The trailhead is located off Forest Road 24.
There are options for anglers that do not like to hike in. These include the Forlorn Lakes, and the Surprise Lakes at the Berry fields interpretive site off FS 24. Both options offer camp sites.