Alder Lake is a big Nisqually River reservoir most often fished for kokanee, which are stocked here in good numbers every year.
The Tacoma Power impoundment, at nearly 3,000 acres when full, is open all year and also offers a variety of lesser-appreciated fishing opportunities.
Alder isn’t stocked with hatchery trout but is home to self-sustaining numbers of coastal cutthroat trout as well as warmwater fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, black and white crappie, and brown bullhead catfish.
The majority of Alder Lake is located on the boundary between Pierce and Thurston counties and close enough for an easy day trip from the Tacoma and Olympia areas. A smaller part of the upper reservoir is in Lewis County.
The lake isn’t exactly at a high elevation (about 1,200 feet), but its water remains cool thanks to the Nisqually, which originates in the snow packs and glaciers on the slopes of Mount Rainier and the high Cascade Mountains.
The best water conditions are in the spring and often well into summer, but at some point in the late summer or into fall (depending on the year), water levels can get pretty low here, which throws the fishing off and will potentially limit boat launch use.
It’s best to check ahead with Tacoma Power’s water level web page.
Also, the Nisqually River includes glacier melt, which tends to be milky and colors up the reservoir during warmer weather.
We’d suggest bringing an assortment of lure colors to find the right lures for fishing the day you go.
The cold water and good depths, more than 200 feet deep in the river channel in the lower half of the reservoir, is ideal for kokanee.
Earlier in the season, especially May and June, kokanee will be relatively shallow and could be just anywhere in the reservoir.
As the surface water warms in mid- through late summer, the schools of kokanee tend to head to deeper and cooler waters.
Tacoma Power suggests that some of the best kokanee fishing at Alder occurs in the main lake off Alder Lake Park and near the dam, and up into the Little Nisqually Arm.
Part of the Little Nisqually Arm on the west side of the lake is subject to a no-wake zone, which can make fishing more pleasant than in the main body of the lake, where the water skiers and other power boaters play.
Many kokanee anglers troll small lures such as spinners, spoons or hootchies (squid). Tipping the hook with bait such as corn, maggot or piece of worm is popular.
Trollers typically run their offerings behind some sort of attractor blades or dodger to bring in the kokanee.
When fish are relatively close to the surface, the gear or maybe a little extra weight may be enough to sink the lure to the right depth. Later on you’ll need an ounce or more of weight, weighted line or down-riggers to reach these fish.
Simple bait-fishing rigs with the same baits used for trolling also will catch kokanee.
A fish finder is a significant advantage in kokanee fishing, to look for schooling fish as well as the right depths.
A good quarter million young kokanee per year are stocked into the lake, where they filter out small organisms and grow into pan-sized salmon.
This lake doesn’t show up on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s stocking report, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t trout here.
In fact, trout anglers can do quite well here, and five-trout limits are within reach for people who know what they’re doing or hit the lake when the bite is good.
Most of the trout caught here are cutthroat trout that are native to the Nisqually River system and have adopted the reservoir.
Trolling bait and lures (or a combination of the two) is a solid bet for catching trout.
Still-fishing with natural bait, slow-trolling flies, or casting flies or lures will also catch trout.
Lake-based trout often will stage near the cooler and food-rich waters around river and creek mouths but are well dispersed around Alder.
Bass and Panfish
You probably won’t catch a state record largemouth or smallmouth bass here, but you might catch fish to several pounds and have fun doing it.
Largemouth are more likely to be found in coves and around woody structure, including logs and stumps at Alder.
Smallmouth really like rocky structures and are expanding their population to the point we’ve recently included the reservoir among the best smallmouth bass fisheries in Washington.
Soft plastics, crank baits, spinners and other lures that imitate smaller fish, crayfish or other forage will catch bass.
Anglers also have been known to get pretty good stringers of panfish here.
Anglers recently have shown off pretty fair catches of crappie, bluegill and yellow perch. Some reports suggest the yellow perch can reach nice filleting sizes here, but that the crappie aren’t always slab-sized.
Smaller natural baits including worms, crappie jigs, and small lures and flies are popular ways to catch panfish.
Fishing with worms and other bait near the bottom also might catch bullhead catfish here.
Access and Location
Alder Lake is located about 10 minutes south of Eatonville and is about an hour’s drive south from Tacoma along Highway 7. It’s only a little farther heading east from Olympia.
Alder Lake Park is a hub of activity and access here, including bank fishing and boat launches.
This Tacoma Power park includes lots of camping and day-use areas and other amenities in a couple locations.
The main park is close to the dam, off Highway 7 close to the dam on the north end.
The Rocky Point area four miles southeast on the Highway 7 also has camping and a boat launch, although the launch there is more likely to be inaccessible during low-water periods.