Washington State and other parts of the Pacific Northwest are dotted with many deep lakes and reservoirs, several exceeding 400 feet in depth. Lake Cle Elum is one of those reservoirs about 90 minutes from Seattle. Water from the lake gets filled up in the spring by melting snow from the surrounding mountains. In the summer water is gradually drained from the lake into the Yakima River providing a water source for farmers around the state. By fall, the lake will have dropped so low that most boaters have trouble accessing the lake.
I’ve always been attracted to Lake Cle Elum - not just for its beauty but undoubtedly because it doesn’t receive a lot of fishing pressure. In the summer, the number of jet skis and pleasure boats will outnumber fisherman. While early fall can be deceiving with sunny skies, the water temperatures at Cle Elum hover in the mid to upper 40’s. Cle Elum is also known for unpredictable winds that can come up suddenly and capsize the inexperienced paddler. Protecting yourself with the immersion gear and a PFD is a must. My Kokatat Gore-tex Angler Paddling suit kept me warm and protected on days like these and I’m always prepared in case of the inevitable.
For most anglers, Cle Elum is a large deep lake and can be difficult to figure out where the fish are hiding. I have spent hundreds of hours trolling the lake from my Hobie kayak with limited success catching the odd rainbow trout, brown trout and Kokanee salmon. I have marked numerous fish on my fish finder that I have passed over because they were well out of reach of the depth I was trolling. A good fish finder is essential to reading depth, structure and the rare site of a fish that might be hanging off the bottom. What were these marks? In shallower areas old growth tree stumps scatter the bottom of the lake and could also act as cover for resident fish. I knew the lake held both Mackinaw Lake Trout and Burbot (a freshwater member of the cod family). Perhaps I needed to forget trolling all together and focus more on getting my lure down deeper.
I began experimenting with a variety of different jigs that could get down to 50, 100 and 150 feet deep. It was only a matter of time, and I was pulling a few of these lunker Mackinaw Lake Trout from the deep to the surface. I return to the lake regularly, scouting out different areas each trip. I shared my secrets and successes only with a handful of fellow kayak anglers.
Last summer I got a call from YakFish TV host Robert Field. I had been following him on social media for quite some time. He was planning a month long trip to the West Coast targeting different species of fish from his kayak along the way. His last stop was going to be in Seattle. With a little twist of the wrist I agreed to show him my hotspot on Lake Cle Elum. If we were lucky, we might give him a glimpse of a couple of fish he might never get to see.
Our day started with a magnificent herd of elk crossing in front of our vehicles just before arriving to the lake. I had a feeling that the day would only get better from there. We made the drive through the near drained reservoir’s soft sand down to the water’s edge, each of us taking in the breathtaking view of the lake. Robert commenting, “I think this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever kayak fished.” We loaded up our kayaks and pedaled the long stretch to get to the right spot. Light tackle fished out of a kayak makes for a great day targeting these bottom dwellers.
It wasn’t long before I would hook into the first fish. Like clockwork each of us took turns hauling in nice sized Mackinaw Lake Trout and Burbot from the cold depths below. The highlight of the day was looking over to see Robert having caught his third fish for the day and talking to one of the four GoPro cameras mounted on his kayak. The expression on his face looked like a kid on Christmas morning.
What a great end to his three and a half week adventure, and the results could not have been better. If the photos aren’t enticing enough, have a look at Episode #12 of Field Trips and decide for yourself!