Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission OK's year-round fishing on Deer Lake

Feb. 16—Deer Lake will soon be an option for ice fishermen.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday approved a year-round season for the lake south of Chewelah. A bag limit of five lake trout with no more than one being larger than 26 inches was also approved.

Under current rules, the lake closes to fishing on Nov. 30 each year and there is no bag limit on lake trout.

The change will go into effect on July 1.

The vote came in response to a petition from an angler who argued extending the season would provide a new ice fishing opportunity in Eastern Washington and a chance to catch big lake trout through the ice.

The commission voted to accept the petition in December and draft a rule. Public comment was gathered in January.

Chris Donley, the eastern fish program manager for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, told commissioners that commenters raised concerns that a year-round season could lead to the overexploitation of lake trout, which are also called mackinaw.

That led to the bag limit of five, and setting a size limit. Donley said the agency initially proposed a 30-inch size limit but reduced it in response to public comment.

Requiring anglers to keep just one fish over 26 inches is meant to keep some trophy fish in the lake.

Deer Lake is about 14 miles southeast of Chewelah. It's a popular fishery in the area, and it offers anglers a chance to catch rainbow trout, smallmouth bass and other warm-water species in addition to lake trout.

It once had a robust kokanee salmon population, but predation by lake trout and smallmouth bass cratered the kokanee numbers, according to commission documents.

The rainbows are stocked, but the lake trout are not. Donley said the lake trout population is self-sustaining and more dense than in other lakes.

WDFW considered extending the season to year-round in 2018 but scuttled the proposal after landowners raised concerns that summer homes along the lake could be at risk for theft and vandalism in the winter, according to commission documents.