Lake Chelan – Washington’s Mackinaw Superfishery


In north-central Washington, lies what may be the best mackinaw fishery in the United States. Although Lake Chelan only averages about a mile wide, it stretches for 55 miles and despite is rather narrow configuration, it is our country’s third deepest lake at 1,486 feet deep – and 26th deepest lake in the world. Appropriately, the Salish indian word, chelan, means deep water.

Lake Chelan sits at an elevation of 1,098 feet, has an average depth of 474 feet, has 109.2 miles of shoreline and covers 52.1 square miles – or more than 33,000 surface acres.

Lake Chelan is best known for its incredible mackinaw or lake trout fishing with limits, or near limits, the norm when fishing with one of the guides that fish the lake. Although the average mackinaw will weigh between three and six pounds, much bigger fish have been caught. Lake Chelan has held the Washington state record for mackinaws for a number of years and that record was broken in early February of this year with a 35 pound 10 ounce lunker. Most of the Macs are taken between 100 and 200 feet – but macs have been caught recently as deep as 348 feet.

The Stehekin River is Lake Chelan’s major tributary entering the upper end of the lake, but the upper half of the lake is pretty much limited to boat access – although there are plenty of facilities available on the lower end of the lake. The city of Chelan, with a population of about 4,000 is the largest city near the lake.

Although Chelan’s lake trout dominate fishing interest, the lake has a surprising variety of fish species available for anglers. The few bull trout in the lake are protected, but triploid chinook salmon have been planted in the lake for years and the lake, and state record, for the landlocked chinooks is well over 30 pounds. Rainbow and cutthroat trout, while not often pursued, are capable of reaching at least two or three pounds and the lake also has a kokanee fishery as well as burbot, or freshwater ling which is best taken at night. However, Lake Chelan’s sleeper fishery is for smallmouth bass.

The bass are most common is the shallow areas of the lake and a few anglers sight fish for them. Smallmouths to at least seven pounds have been pulled from the lake and the numbers of smallies in the two to four pound range is surprisingly high.

The photos following this article were submitted by Joe Heinlen, a fishing guide, who operates Lake Chelan Fishing Adventures (509-393-9665).JH-Chelan (Feb)-5

Lake Chelan in February 2013

Lake Chelan in February 2013

About Pete Heley

Writes and self-publishes Oregon and Washington fishing books.

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