'Seep' lakes offer splendid trout fishing

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The last Saturday in April is the traditional opening of lake trout fishing in our area, but there are places nearby to fish before that day. Trouble is, it is often too chilly for a day on the water or an overnight camp in the typical March and April weather of Lewis County.

There is an absolutely wonderful fishing alternative in early spring, and it involves some of the best trout lakes in the entire Northwest.

Every year we extol the virtues of the little Quincy Lake group of lakes, and will continue to do so. It happens to be a personal favorite, and it will be revisited in the next couple of weeks for those who have begun regular spring visits. But there's even more.

This week you might consider a spring fishing trip to any of the four-dozen "seep" lakes that developed in the dry hills of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge south of Moses Lake. When the giant Potholes Reservoir was filled, the rocky, porous soil of the scablands allowed water to flow underground into low spots. That created hundreds of ponds, coulees, lakes and causeways that became some of the best fishing in the nation.

Some of the lakes are year around, some managed on the statewide April-to-October schedule, while others open in early March, early April or some other date. It depends on the target species and fish populations.

You need to check the fishery regulation pamphlet carefully; the seasons may change on a popular lake since the last time you were there. The photo this week was taken when Upper Hampton Lake opened on March 1. It is now an April 1 opener, so check the regs with care.

The big Potholes Reservoir is famous for lunker trout, walleye and tons of perch and other spiny rays, but a great many of us vastly prefer the smaller lakes in the area for camping, more concentrated angling and an overall wonderful spring experience.

One of the favored waters in the seeps is Soda Lake, a 180-acre spread that holds a lot of perch and is simply dynamite for walleyes in the spring.

It was here I took my very first one and learned the value of a freshly filleted walleye, a campfire skillet and a steaming mound of country-fried potatoes. It is truly an experience I shall never forget; perhaps you understand now why I urge everyone with an outdoor interest to plan a visit to these warm, productive lakes in the spring!

Up near state Route 17 south of Moses Lake and along the eastern perimeter of the Wildlife Refuge is the Warden and South Warden Lake complex.

We first discovered those on an April opening weekend after some fairly decent fishing earlier on Corral and Upper Goose Lake. It was a bank fishing show for my party, but we released a couple of dozen trout in the 14-18 inch range and kept a carryover supper trout of 24 inches and several pounds. It was delicious!

If you were to set up a camp or anchor your trailer anywhere in the refuge, you could spend two weeks fishing this collection of rich waters without giving any one a fair test.

It is, however, great fun to try. Those who make repeated visits generally settle in on a handful of favorites, and devote their subsequent fishing and camping pleasure to those familiar spots.

If you've a mind to, you could set aside a week or so to visit the Pothole seeps, catch a lot of fish, have a lot of fun, see an unthinkable array of shore and song birds, enjoy comfortable spring camping, and go back for a second helping as the temperatures warm. You could still be home in time for the traditional opening of Mineral Lake at the end of April.

Get a good map, stop and talk to anglers and tackle shops in the Moses Lake area and at Potholes Reservoir, and then begin exploring one of the fishing treasures of Washington.

It's cold and rainy this morning as I write this report and reminiscence. At the potholes this morning it is above 50 degrees and sunny. The fish are biting. Think about it.