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2012 Washington Fishing Prospects: Where to catch fish in the Evergreen State
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2012 Washington Fishing Prospects: Where to catch fish in the Evergreen State

Category: Fishing / Shellfishing - Guides and Tutorials

Date Published: April 2012

Number of Pages: 144


The Fishing Prospects publication has been replaced with our new website Fish Washington! We invite you to check it out at


2012 will bring several changes to be aware of in the Washington State Fishing Regulations. These rule changes are described in the front section of 2012/2013 “Fishing in Washington” regulations pamphlet (available on or before May 1, 2012) and online at for the actual regulatory language and rules. For a complete text and a listing of the changes made by the WDFW Commission at the February, March and April 2012 meetings, please refer to


In the past, statewide rule changes have been included in Fishing Prospects for the benefit of the anglers accessing this document. Unfortunately this will no longer occur due to the timing of the publication and regulation change/approval timelines. Currently all salmon marine water rules are negotiated under the North of Falcon committee process. The outcomes will be announced just prior to the release of the “Fishing in Washington” sport fish regulations pamphlet. Refer to this pamphlet and to the agency web site for all changed, new, and for those updated throughout the season. The web site is

Please make sure that you return/report your catch record information for fishing and crabbing. The information on these cards is vital to providing accurate fish and crab harvest numbers. Remember that early crab, late crab and fish catch-record cards are three separate documents and that means there is the potential for three separate fees being imposed. If you are a Master Hunter, please be aware that failure to report these on time can result in the loss of that certification for up to five years. Again, check the web site and rules pamphlet for more information regarding this change as it will be noted in the “new rule changes” section for all to be aware of.


Washington State continues to provide good to excellent marine fishing and shell-fishing along more than 500 miles of Pacific coast shoreline, and over 2,000 combined miles of Puget Sound, San Juan Islands, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Hood Canal shoreline. Sport fishing opportunities also abound in our 4,000 rivers and streams (stretching over 50,000 miles), more than 7,000 lakes (over 2,500 at alpine elevations), and 200+ reservoirs. Many lakes in the state are now open year-round, but the spring lake fishing "opener" on the last Saturday in April signals the traditional start of Washington's most intense freshwater fishing activity. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) estimates that as many as 300,000 anglers are out looking for a "bite" on that weekend alone. Other waters are managed in shorter seasons, often to protect nesting waterfowl or for other biological reasons. To meet fishing demand, WDFW hatcheries stock about 19 million trout and kokanee fry annually that will grow to catchable size in time for the spring opener. Another three million catchable trout are planted in lakes and streams in the late winter through spring. In addition, a number of lakes throughout the state will receive "bonus" plants of sterile triploid rainbow trout that can grow to impressive size. For a list of lakes and streams that are planted, along with their scheduled allotments of fish, visit Phone numbers and web site address information can be found at the front of this publication.

Rivers and streams generally open the first Saturday in June, after trout have had a chance to spawn and most anadromous salmonid smolts (juvenile salmon, steelhead, sea-run cutthroat, and char) migrate to saltwater. Most rivers and streams are now managed to produce wild trout, coastal and westslope cutthroat, salmon, and steelhead. Consequently, few are stocked with hatchery reared trout. Open seasons for marine fish, anadromous fish, and shellfish vary according to species and sometimes are set or adjusted during the year. Some rules and seasons may seem complex or restrictive, but are necessary to protect fragile populations of animals and, in the case of shellfish, sometimes are set to protect people. In addition to more publicized fish planting programs, WDFW also manages stocking programs designed to enhance fishing opportunities for species such as clams and oysters.

Shellfish beaches and regulations are listed on WDFW's web site. Winter storms sometimes have a negative impact on fisheries. Excess silt coupled with strong stream flows can present serious problems for egg and juvenile fish survival, and excess turbidity hurts survival and growth of fry. Road washouts can make access to some waters difficult due to lowered water levels or stream blockages, and can also have a negative effect on egg and juvenile salmonid survival. The County-by-County listings later in this publication attempt to note any issues that may be caused by weather. Remember that this year the winter snowpack is significant and at lower elevations. As spring melt occurs, additional hazards may be uncovered and cause road and trail closures for public safety reasons. Be sure to contact state and national forest/land managers to be sure of access and safe passage. Here are some fishing highlights to consider each year:

  • Even though many lakes are open year-round and are stocked with hatchery trout as early as mid-March, they don't get much angling pressure until the traditional "opener" on the last Saturday of April. Anglers may be missing a good bet for some early season trout success in late March and early-middle April. For fish stocking information on specific waters, go to the following web site: and look under "Fish Plants and Stocking Reports." Look for the March 1st and April 1st opening lakes and give these a try for some outstanding early fishing action. Lakes opening later in the year will be stocked according to the stocking plan that can be found at, be sure to check this out. Dates for stocking are generally listed in a two-week time frame. Some bodies of water are not stocked until right up to the day of the lakes opening due to fish predation issues by waterfowl.
  • Planted trout tend to remain in the top 3-5 feet of water for up to a week after planting. Anglers can improve their success rate by shallow-trolling small lures or baits during this period.
  • Trout fishing, especially for rainbows in lowland lakes, is usually best in spring and fall when the water is cool (but not frigid).
  • Larger, deeper lakes can be good for trout all year. Fishing shallow waters in the spring and fall and deeper waters in the summer months will add to the success of a fishing adventure, especially when fishing for warmer water species.
  • May, June, and July are usually best for kokanee (a landlocked or non-anadromous sockeye salmon).
  • Many alpine or high elevation lakes are stocked with cutthroat, rainbow, and golden trout between June and October. A few lakes have naturally reproducing populations, while some are purposely left barren. Introduced eastern brook trout, lake trout, tiger trout, and brown trout add diversity to the program. Stocked fry generally reach harvestable size in a year or two, depending on a lakes nutrient and food levels. The shorter high lake-growing season often limits the size of the fish.
  • As temperatures rise, warmwater species such as bass, sunfish, and catfish provide yet other angling prospects.
  • Walleye fishing in Columbia River reservoirs is mostly a year-round opportunity, with most trophy class fish caught in late winter and early spring months.
  • Mountain whitefish are popular stream catches in winter when they gather in schools to spawn. Some streams have special "whitefish-only" winter seasons. Please be sure to review the special gear rules that apply to this fishery. These can be found in the Fishing in Washington regulations pamphlet in the green section under definitions.
  • Angling opportunities for anadromous fish such as steelhead and salmon can vary widely according to area, time of year, and conservation status of the particular run or species. Due to the variable nature of these returns, salmon seasons are sometimes limited and/or opened and closed to help assure escapement for spawning in addition to catch allowances, or the season may be curtailed all together. Check the latest regulations pamphlet, and be sure to review all subsequent changes as the season continues throughout the year on WDFW's web site, or contact your nearest WDFW regional office for details. The web site address and phone numbers can be found in the front of this publication.
  • North Coast and Puget Sound fisheries for smelts such as surf and longfin will vary with the run size.
  • Watch the media and agency web sites for up to date information on salmon and steelhead returns statewide.
  • Shad runs in the lower Columbia River generally peak in late May through early July, with several million shad passing Bonneville Dam annually. Large runs and little pressure on this hard fighting, non-native fish make chances of success high.
  • Sturgeon fishing on the Columbia River is growing more popular each year, requiring more restrictive measures to protect its future. Harvest quotas, which are set before the season, are often reached earlier than anticipated, requiring changes or early closures. Check the WDFW fishing hotline (360) 902-2500, the Vancouver regional office (360) 906-6700), or WDFW's web site for the latest information. Effective starting January 1st 2009 a new method of measurement for legal retention size was put in place for all sturgeon fishing in Washington. Please see the Fishing in Washington regulations pamphlet section on definitions (green section) for this new way of measuring your catch to determine if it is legal to keep. Daily limits continue to remain at one (1) fish per day, five (5) fish annually. Catch record cards are required and must be marked immediately upon landing your legal catch. Check the WDFW fishing hotline (360) 902-2500, the Vancouver regional office (360) 906-6700), or WDFW's web site for the latest information. Based on the continued decline in sturgeon abundance, the 2012 white sturgeon harvest guideline has been reduced nearly 39% from 2011, which followed a 30% reduction from 2010 and a 40% reduction from 2009. Don't forget to turn in your catch record card at the conclusion of this year's season.
  • The steelhead catch record card reporting system has been changed to allow for the purchase of additional catch record cards. While the only one-wild fish retention per year on selective streams and rivers is still the rule, read the regulations to become familiar with this new opportunity. Anglers are reminded that the annual bag limit remains one wild steelhead, from a limited list of streams or rivers, even if an angler purchases more than one catch record card. This is NOT per stream or body of water. Read the regulations pamphlet for more information.
  • In an attempt to protect some marine populations of lingcod, halibut, and yelloweye rockfish; open seasons for these species vary among the 13 marine areas, so be sure to check the regulations pamphlet specific to the marine area you plan to fish. Other marine bottom fish are generally available year-round. Again, check the regulations pamphlet for special closures and seasons in some areas to protect these additional species: cabezon, sturgeon, and various rockfish.
  • Oysters, clams, shrimp, and crab harvest opportunities are abundant in the spring during daytime low tides on Puget Sound and Hood Canal beaches. In 2012, we will again see some record low tides at the end of the month of May and the first part of June. Many different species will be out in the open for all to see and experience. Make sure if you are harvesting these species, you are familiar with species identification and the current harvest regulations and have checked on any health advisories that may be in effect at that time. There are many different issues that can affect shellfish health and it is important to familiarize yourself with these in advance of harvesting these species. The Washington Department of Health web site at can help you in learning about current health advisories. You can also contact the shellfish hotline by calling 1-800-562-5632, for current information.

Whatever kind of fishing you enjoy, always remember that many factors influence how good it will be on any given day. Both air and water temperatures, water levels, wind, natural predation, food availability, and the balance of species in a waterway can change widely, even within a single season. Check the listings that follow, by sport fish species and by county waters, for where and when best fishing can usually be expected.