One of relatively low number of lakes in Washington that is regularly stocked with brown trout, Cranberry Lake at Deception Pass State Park offers year-round fishing opportunities and some stunning scenery.
Deception Pass is Washington’s most-visited state park, according to state data.
Spanning the north end of Whidbey Island and the south end of Fidalgo Island on the east side of Puget Sound, the park has camping and family-friendly amenities in addition to the stocked trout lake.
Cranberry Lake itself is on Whidbey Island, almost due north from Oak Harbor. (This Cranberry Lake is not to be confused with the lake of the same name not far away in Anacortes.)
The Whidbey Island Cranberry Lake occupies about 130 acres of the 3,854 acres or so in Deception Pass State Park.
Boating is allowed on Cranberry Lake, but combustion motors aren’t. The only boat ramp is a bare-bones gravel launch on the northwest shore of the lake. Access is maintained by the state of Washington.
Two of Cranberry Lake’s four notable fish species are resident, and the other two are stocked.
The latter two are species of trout planted in the lake.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife puts both rainbow trout and brown trout into Cranberry Lake, generally outside of peak fishing season, although fishing is open year-round.
Brown trout are stocked in modest quantities. At last check, the state scheduled some 7,500 fry and fingerlings to be planted in November.
The best months to fish for brown trout at Cranberry Lake are April and May. The rest of the year is a mixed bag, as trout are less active in the summer.
Winters on the Sound are relatively mild but can be rainy and windy, although breaks in that weather pattern can allow for some fairly productive fishing.
Rainbow trout are put into the lake at a more mature stage in their development.
The annual stocking schedule typically calls for about 10,000 catchable rainbows to be planted in about, and 4,000 “jumbos” to be planted in November. Some of the smaller stocked trout also will survive long enough to reach up to about 20 inches.
The peak for rainbow trout fishing on Cranberry Lake is slightly longer than brown trout, with April through June recommended as the best time of the year to fish for rainbows.
The fall stocking will bring another round of action for the newly arrived larger fish and the survivors from earlier plants that will bite more actively in the cooling water.
Anglers use a variety of methods to catch trout, ranging from simple still fishing with a baited hook under a bobber to somewhat more advanced fly fishing or trolling techniques.
Try fishing from the pier on Cranberry Lake’s eastern shore. Or, if you have access to an unpowered watercraft, fish out on the open water, using a worm-baited hook or an attractive lure.
Brown trout can grow to 5 pounds or more at Cranberry.
These bigger fish may be convinced to strike larger lures that imitate smaller fish, one of their favorite meals. Fishing in lower-light conditions is often best for brown trout.
For more ideas of how to catch these fish, read our simple guide, Trout Fishing: Basic How-To Techniques and Tips.
Bass and Panfish Fishing
Largemouth bass and yellow perch are the notable sport fish that reproduce on their own in Cranberry Lake.
Bass fishing really picks up in May, with prospects remaining good through September.
Bear in mind that while bass are generally considered to be at their most active in the summer, that doesn’t mean they tolerate the heat and bright sunlight well, even in a cooler area.
By midday in the summer, bass will have typically retreated to deeper waters or found a shady spot near the shore to relax, stay cool and conserve energy for feeding time in the evening.
While many bass anglers like to fish after sunset, Deception Pass State Park is only open from 6:30 a.m. to dusk in the summer months, so if you’re a day user only, your best bet is to fish in the morning before temperatures warm up.
We recommend you fish for bass with lures rather than bait if, like many bass anglers, you plan to release your catch. Largemouth bass will frequently swallow a baited hook whole, which can cause fatal internal injuries.
The shallower south end of the lake, where there are more weed beds, can often be good for bass once the water warms up a bit in the spring and summer.
Yellow perch can often be found in schools, at times in deeper water.
Try fishing for perch near the bottom with a baited hook. Pieces of earthworm are attractive offerings for these relatively smaller fish, and smaller hooks are best.
Perch are smaller than bass, but a patient angler can get a lot of strikes by staying put for a little while once the fish start biting. And if they are big enough to bother filleting, perch are an excellent eating fish.
The best season to fish for perch is typically summer. May through September offer good prospects, although perch are native to the upper Midwest where they are popular ice-fishing targets, so you can expect they also will bite in colder water if you find them.
Where is Cranberry Lake?
Cranberry Lake is on the Whidbey Island side of Deception Pass State Park. There is a campground on the lake’s north shore, as well as public restrooms.
A swimming area is designated in the lake’s northwest corner, not far from the boat ramp. Be cautious and watch out for swimmers.
To reach Cranberry Lake, there’s really only one notable access road: state Highway 20, which runs north-south through Deception Pass State Park and just to the east of the lake and campground.
It’s about an hour and a half’s drive from Seattle, or 45 minutes from Bellingham. Follow the signs for Cranberry Lake.
Deception Pass State Park is worth several days of adventure, in addition to catching lots of fish at Cranberry Lake.
There are more places to fish, for starters.
If you like fly fishing, plan to try your hand at Pass Lake, in the park but on the north side of Deception Pass in Fidalgo County.
There also is some good saltwater fishing, crabbing and clamming in the park and nearby areas, including a saltwater pier at the pass. Boaters can get out on the Sound from several saltwater launches.
There are about 300 campsites at Deception Pass State Park, including basic tent sites as well as lots with RV hookups.
Other activities include kayaking, sailboarding, biking, hiking, swimming, and bird and wildlife watching, among other fun stuff.