Pass Lake history


Staff member
My belief is that the potential for catching large (trophy) fish results from a combination of the following:

Diverse planting
Catch & release only
Easily monitored (likely discourages poaching)
Great structure (for trout, not for trolling)
Great food sources for large trout & salmon

Come on Curt, where are you when we need you.


Active Member
I think that it grows large trouts cuz it has lots and lots of chironomidges, minnows and leaches. Not sure on the history but I have heard that the insect life used to be more diverse; mayflies, caddis and the like.


Active Member
Trout -
The history of Pass Lake management pre-dates even me. However I did find some reference to early fishing/management of Pass lake Enos Bradner's "Northwest Angling", 1950.

On page 56 he reports
Rainbow plants in the late 1930s/early 1940s ? "...which grew phenomentally. It was discovered by a few anglers and the rush was on. Then in 1942 it was opened to fly fishing only, and for a few years it provided superalative angling for prime two to five-ound rainbow trout. Then it started to go down, and soon you were luckly to take a couple of 14 inchers. Its fishing grew so bad that in spite of some objections it was decided to poison the lake in the spring of 1946. Although 1,500 trout, mostly small ones were killed, close to 500,000 undersized perch were destroyed. These perch, present in such great numbers, explained the poor fishing."

The late was replanted with cutthroat trout and left closed until the 1948 season. Enos reports that the lake recieved heavy pressure when it re-opened and during the 1948 season 2,348 anglers caught 3,080 cutts that averaged 13.9 inches or 1.32 pounds plus 5,370 cutts that averaged 7.5 inches. The average catch was 2 fish/angler in the spring and 1.5 large fish and 4 small trout in the fall.

By the 1970s the lake was managed with rainbow trout only. As I recall cutthroat were reintroduced to the mix in the 1980s?. Around 1990 (give or take a year or two) brown trout were added to the fisheries mix. During the 1980s the forage minnows (fatheads) found their way into the lake. The longer lived cutts and browns were added to the mix in the hope that they would take advantage of that forage base and reduce the need to rehabilate the lake again (it is interesting that fishing held up nearly 40s following the "rehab" in 1946.

Over the decades as angler interests change the bag limits on Pass has chagned a number of times. Note that in 1948 the anglers evidentally kept what they caught. A decade or so ago the limit was changed to a "trophy limit" - 1 fish over 18 inches and more recently it when to catch-n-release. I don't remember the exact dates of the changes and don't have the old pamphlets here. An interesting progresion of changing angler interests.

Those changes illustrate changing management by WDFW to respond to angler interest. As I recall that the driving force behind the first fly only designation was the Washington Fly Fishing Club out of Seattle. Obviously that interest has broaden considerably since then.

I'm sure that some of the other "old timers" can fill in many of the details that I missed.

Tight lines

Ron Olsen

Active Member
Fished Pass many times when it was a "quality lake", which meant it had the same season as other lowland lakes, but the limit was 3 over 12", single hook and no bait. Pass was fly only, as it had been for years, and no motors. It was always unique. Many happy days of releasing a dozen 11 1/2" fish when a cold winter kept the numerous planters from getting to 12” by the opener.

Good now that it has evolved to year around, mixed 'bows and browns and ? and C&R.

Pass remains a treasure.



Active Member
I'm surprised the history given didn't list the planting of Atlantic Salmon. I believe those plants occurred in the late 60s and through the 70s.


Active Member
Pete -
Good catch.

As I recall the Atlantics were planted in several lakes around the state in the mid-1970s to early 1980s. While they profermed decently in some of the alpine lakes (were they were the only fish) in waters like Pass and Chopaka lakes were they were in competition with trout they did very poorly- slow growth and poor conditions.

Tight lines
You can still get some at Atlantics from Lake Koneman down by Purdy/Vaughn area, I don't know if they are recent plants or not. I forget when the planting started after the "radiation experiments".

If you haven't read the book Curt was referring to, I highly recommend finding a copy of "Northwest Angling". I love that book, nothing like reading stories about some of your favorite spots with descriptions of how they fished 50 years ago or more. I think the great history adds to places like Pass Lake.
It was mentioned that pass lake has a lot of minnows which would explain the large fish, so why dont we plant fatheads in other lakes. they would provide great forage for trout because if there size and theyll take to almost any lake.
As I helped a very older gentleman load his boat a few years back, he told me about being on the CCC crew that built the dam at Pass Lake. The Dam is now the parking lot. There's still a small outlet at the left edge of the lot that goes under the road and down to the bay. When I started fishing pass back about 1990 people were still reporting the odd Atlantic on the census, never saw one myself though.


Active Member
When I was in High School (early 80s), I use to catch the Atlantics a lot. (At least I believed they were Atlantics, I'm not a biologist.) The technique to catch them was a little different. I would pause my rowing, row like a madman, then stop suddenly. After a pause, I would do it again. They would often hit while the fly was dropping during the pause or right as I started again. I enjoyed them because they would go airborne a lot. They were slender and long without a lot of girth, but they were fun.


Zen Piscator

Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.
trout990 said:
It was mentioned that pass lake has a lot of minnows which would explain the large fish, so why dont we plant fatheads in other lakes. they would provide great forage for trout because if there size and theyll take to almost any lake.
Generaly introducing non native species into a watershed is frowned upon, because in most cases it can damage the native fish.
Contact the Fidalgo Fly Fishers club. Pass Lake is their baby. I am sure an email or letter to them would get you a great deal of info. Perhaps attend one of their meetings and talk to them. Jim.