I didn’t realize how much I missed catching brown trout until I hooked a 14-incher that immediately launched out of the water three feet into the air. Tough, hard fighting, and beautifully colored, brown trout are a true treat to catch, whether you hook them on the Jefferson River in Southwest Montana where I was catching them last week, or here in Washington State.
My love affair with brown trout started when I was attending Eastern Washington University. My roommate, Steve Ronholt, and I got permission to park on a rancher’s property and hike to Rock Creek where it flowed into Rock Lake in Whitman County. Spring fishing with spinners in April often got us into 12- to 16-inch brown and rainbow trout there. Curiously enough, Steve, like me, later became an outdoors media professional, co-hosting the long running fly-fishing television show, “Fishing with Ladin.” But that is another story.
Since our forays to Rock Lake opportunities to hook into brown trout, at least in Washington, have been limited to a few chance encounters. That’s why I decided to find out where a person could still catch a brown trout in the Evergreen State, where the rivers generally yield rainbows or cutthroat trout.
The German brown trout was introduced to the United States in 1883 and to the famed Madison River, flowing from Yellowstone National Park through Montana to the Missouri River, in 1889. Checking the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website, I found the state record is a 22-pound fish, caught by R.L. Henry out of Sullivan Lake in Pend Oreille County in 1965.
Brown trout are still found in Sullivan Lake and Rock Lake as well as a good number of other lakes around the state, a total of 75 lakes in 24 counties, though some of these stockings occurred years ago and remnant populations could be slim at best. A list of those lakes can be found at wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species/salmo-trutta#locations.
Wanting to learn more, I reached out to Chris Donley, WDFW’s Regional Fish Program Manager in Spokane, to get more information about brown trout in Central and Eastern Washington. I asked him for some suggestions on where to go for bigger brown trout.
Donley replied, “In order by preference but not a definitive list would be Rock Lake, Waitts Lake, and Clear Lake in Spokane County.” Donley continued, saying, “Pretty much any water that receives them has trophy potential. Browns are difficult to catch and tend to survive to older ages in most lakes where they are stocked.” Donley says the agency “stocks them in lakes to provide a trophy opportunity because they can grow to such large sizes. It isn’t uncommon to come across a five- to 10-pound brown trout in lakes that are for the most part known for producing 12-inch rainbow trout.”
One thing not mentioned on the WDFW website are the rivers or streams where one can fish for brown trout. Asked about this, Donley replied, “The best streams for brown trout are the Colville River, Rock Creek, and Crab Creek. Occasionally, when it has water, Wilson Creek is a sneaky little sleeper, too. For the most part these are on private land, and people need to seek permission [to gain access]. In addition to this, anglers should check trout stocking reports because there are some brown trout stocked in wastewater drains in Region 2 that can provide flowing water action.” Region 2 encompasses Okanogan, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Adams Counties.
Now that you have some ideas about where to look for brown trout, rig up your fly rod or spinning rod and take a trip to a body of water that has them. You just might fall head over heels for them like I did.