Fishing As It Really Is

Stay For the Fish
By Howard Waldrop
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Location: Snohomish County, Washington
Map: Delorme Washington Atlas and Gazeteer 2nd ed P. 95 C-D 7
What it is: Two gravel/mineral extraction ponds in a county park, 8 acres each, connected by a shallow channel. Park has restrooms (chem-can at edge of south parking lot in winter), ranger office, a few drink and snack machines, phone.
Season: Open year round. (Park hours 6 a.m. to dusk—day use only.)
Special regs: Statewide rules, except only two channel catfish.
Species: rainbow, cutthroat trout, largemouth bass, yellow perch, channel catfish, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish (chum and coho salmon every 30 years or so—see story).
Equipment: a 5wt flyrod will handle everything there; that is, if you can handle the occasional 7-pound largemouth on a 5 wt.
Recommended flies: the usual dries plus a few big stoneflies (there are caddis and mayfly hatches on the ponds), foam beetles and spiders, poppers in sunfish and bass sizes (which occasionally big cutthroat will hit); small bright streamers for cutthroats in fall-spring. (Sometimes everything works, often nothing does.)
Directions: Take Exit 206 Smoky Pt./Lakewood (also marked for Wenberg State Park) off I-5. Go west, but only about 300 yards to the end of the service stations/shops. Take a left (it's something like 27th Ave NE but it changes names twice), following it back toward the Interstate, where at the big nursery on your right the road becomes Twin Lakes Avenue. You come to the north lake and parking lot first, then the south ones. (You can't go from one parking lot to the other without going back out onto Twin Lakes Avenue for 60 feet or so.) The lots are gated—the ranger usually makes a circuit of both lakes on foot or in the truck to tell you to get the hell out at dark, before he locks them.

More on Gissberg

I've fished the ponds four years and I have yet to catch a perch there (and I've never tried for a channel cat on a fly here, although it can be done). I looked down at my feet on the bank while using a popper for some fat bluegills. A moth fluttered in the grass a few inches from the water. A perch came out of the water six inches, in a sort of evolutionary quarterback-sack dry Australian crawl, ate the moth, backed into the water and swam away. If somebody told me that, I wouldn't believe them either.

December 1998: high water everywhere. Though the ponds are less than two miles from the Stillaguamish, they drain via a couple of 12-inch culverts and a 2-foot-wide ditch, an unnamed creek, to Quilceda Creek, which reaches Ebey Slough, part of the Snohomish River, just before it dumps into Possession Sound on the Puget.

It had rained hard, then turned cold. I was at Gissberg on the 3rd cold day, trying to catch a big cutthroat. I had on a small Russian River coho, orange-red and white, the kind big trout like.

A monster grabbed it.

Imagine my surprise when what I finally brought in was a 7=-pound coho salmon.

I started looking around. There were about 100 big chums and 50 variegated-sized cohos in Gissberg that had made it all the way up to the culverts to get there. (They made it through the inlet, too. US Fish and Wildlife people were counting the dead ones in the ditch past the Interstate three weeks later.)

At some point in its past, before the ponds were dug, there was a tiny stream that ran through the area. A cordial old geezer who'd lived at the nearby trailer park for 40 years told me there used to be salmon in it in the '50s, every five years or so.

These things of course do not happen every day. What does is mixed-species fishing that can be good or bad, depending on your mood, whether the crowds in the middle of summer are in a nasty mood or not, what hatches are or are not on, who spawned when. In other words, the usual Western Washington flyfishing hijinx.

The two ponds (North and South we call them) connect by a narrow channel that slopes deep to the north one, shallower to the south, and is about a foot or less at its shallowest. (WDFW used Gissberg to determine stocking size on channel cats—there was a net in the channel with only 2-inchers on one side and 4-inchers on the other. They found out something when they surveyed the results in 1996; the net came down and now fish can move back and forth between the lakes again.)

The south lake is more heavily stocked; the north pond has fewer, but on the average, larger fish, of all species. (At one time in the 70s, I'm told, they threw walleye in to see what would happen. Answer: nothing.)

In the fall, winter, and early spring you have a shot at a 20-inch cutthroat and some hungry bass; the holdover rainbows run 13 or 14 inches—they grow well here if they live past the first summer they're stocked.

This year's been atypical: heavy snowpack in the hills but a long cool spring and early summer, punctuated by three or four days at a time of sunshine and high temperatures. Everything's off schedule. The bass spawned just a little after they should; the bluegills still had not moved onto the nests a couple of weeks ago, and this is July.

People do use tubes, canoes, and boats, but you don't need to. Waders either. A tree-shaded path goes completely around both lakes; on the east end of the peninsula formed by the channel are the restrooms and ranger house (trailer); on the west are some picnic tables. Both lakes are shallow on the east ends (the swimming areas in the summer); there's a shallow part at the west end of the north lake, too.

If you're there in a less infested time, park in the south (bigger) parking lot. There's a berm between your car and the lake on the north one, so you can't keep an eye on it.

So. Why am I telling you to go to a place that's sometimes crowded with yahoos, sometimes with fishing yahoos, where you have to watch your backcast in the open areas and have to make a low rollcast in the brushy ones AND you stand a chance of being fishless and having everything you own stolen from your car?

Because: when the fishing is good it's very good; when it's bad, you can't find worse. For a Mom/Dad/Kids/ Retiree lake, it has some monsters. Smart monsters. It's better than it has any right to be. And you could find yourself, after a carefully planned trip to the Stilly or the Sauk or Skagit, facing the highest, muddiest water in 19 years. And I'm not sending you there so I can go off to someplace better and leave you to the dysfunctional families (Snohomish County standard: parents, one alcoholic, one moron, so they don't notice; 2.5 ADD kids the parents try to calm down with massive doses of sugar; a one-eyed pit bull off the leash) who are swimming/fishing/killing ducks there, or worse.

Go anytime but summer weekends and you might have a quality fishing experience. And you might catch some fish.

And I guarantee I'll be there: I'm the guy in a pair of Farmer Alfalfa rubber boots with a homemade fishing bag instead of a vest. I'm the one you'll see throwing a size 16 Royal Wulff at a big cruising bass, for a reason you can't begin to fathom.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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