OLYMPIA - Two small lakes in southwest Washington are about to become regional hotspots for steelhead fishing.
During the past two weeks, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) stocked 486 hatchery-reared steelhead in Kress Lake, a popular fishing area near Kalama in Cowlitz County.
At the same time, employees of Tacoma Power stocked the South Lewis County Park Pond near Toledo with 355 hatchery steelhead transported from state hatcheries on the Cowlitz River.
It is expected that hundreds more steelhead - weighing an average of 10 pounds apiece - will be trucked to the 30-acre lake and the 17-acre pond from the Cowlitz River in the weeks ahead, said Craig Burley, WDFW regional fish manager.
Anglers may catch and keep up to two steelhead per day as part of their five-trout limit in those waters, Burley said. Anglers are not required to record steelhead caught in Kress Lake or South Lewis County Park Pond on their catch record cards.
"Returns of early winter steelhead are expected to far exceed our hatchery broodstock needs at the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery," he said. "These are high-quality fish, and we want to maximize opportunities for anglers to catch them."
Burley noted that WDFW has already increased the catch limit on the Cowlitz River below Mayfield Dam to six hatchery steelhead per day. Even so, he estimated that up to 2,000 surplus fish may be available for stocking in lakes or distributing to food banks.
Burley said the anticipated surplus of hatchery steelhead at Cowlitz River facilities is largely due to new provisions in Tacoma Power's dam-licensing agreement with the Federal Energy and Regulator Commission that took effect this year. Those provisions call on the power company to end "recycling" hatchery steelhead downriver pending genetic studies on the effect of that practice on wild steelhead.
In past years, Tacoma Power has transported excess hatchery steelhead downstream to give Cowlitz River anglers another chance to catch them.
Burley said fish managers decided to plant surplus steelhead in Kress Lake and South Lewis County Park Pond because they are both popular fishing areas relatively close to the Cowlitz River.
"We want anglers to know that these fish are there and available to be caught," Burley said. "That's the whole point."