This trio of trout lakes sits along the boundary between Kitsap and Mason counties and offer some very reliable early season trout fishing in western Washington.
Tiger, Panther and Mission lakes are similar in size, not too far on either side of 100 acres apiece, and offer comparable fishing experiences primarily for stocked trout. If you can catch fish at one, you can do it at any of the three.
The three lakes all open to fishing on the fourth Saturday in April and stay open through October, but fishing in them will be far better in the spring as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife tends to stock each with thousands of trout in April and then adds another dose in May.
Our only complaint is that someone long ago missed a naming opportunity when another excellent trout hole much closer to Bremerton was given the name Wildcat Lake, so all the big cats aren’t right together.
The usual trout-fishing approaches will work here.
Still-fishing with bait is the easiest approach if you land yourself a spot to fish on the bank. Prepared doughs, egg and marshmallow baits will almost always catch lots of stocked trout, but so will natural baits like a half a big nightcrawler strung on your bait hook.
Anglers can fish their baits below a float, especially if trout are active near the surface, or set them to float a few feet off the bottom.
All three lakes are ringed with lakeside homes, which limits bank-fishing access primarily to boat launch areas, so if you or your fishing buddy have a boat, it’s a good idea to bring it along.
Boat anglers often turn to trolling, another of the most popular ways to catch stocked trout. You can troll your favorite lures, baits, a combination of both, or even slow-troll a sinking fly like a wooly bugger or leech pattern.
Many anglers who troll for trout will run their terminal tackle behind a set of lake trolls or a dodger to help attract trout to the lure or bait.
You may need just a bit of weight to fish deeper, if that’s where most fish are holding, but to be honest most of the water you’ll be fishing is no more than 20 feet deep so you won’t need a lot of lead and down-riggers aren’t necessary unless you like to fish with them in shallower water.
Casting lures and flies is also a reasonable way to catch trout, although a bit less common than the other approaches at put-and-take trout lakes like these three.
If you’d like some more information about these approaches, read our simple guide: Trout Fishing: Basic How-To Techniques and Tips.
Fishing is by far the best during the spring and will start to tail off quite quickly in June, due to warming waters and fewer fish after all those limits went home in late April and throughout May.
Some anglers have reported that surviving trout will perk up again in the fall and bite readily, even though the trout numbers will be far lower than in the springtime. There also will be far less pressure at that time of year, so it might be worth the adventure of checking it for yourself before the lakes close after Halloween.
Trout are certainly the main show here, but the lakes can have modest warm water fisheries as well.
Likely all three lakes have decent populations of brown bullhead catfish, which are easily caught on a worm, cut fish, a piece of chicken liver or smelly prepared catfish baits.
There likely will be other warmer weather game fish as well, including largemouth bass in at least Panther and Tiger lakes and some panfish.
Users of the Northwest Fishing Reports website have posted photos of largemouth bass caught in Panther Lake, and all three lakes have docks and other decent bass cover where you might find these green meanies are present.
The lakes are west of the Gorst community and north of Belfair. You can reach the lakes by getting off State Route 3 at either of these communities and taking Belfair Valley Road/Old Belfair Highway to Bear Creek Dewatto Road and head west.
Your total drive will only take a half hour or less from Bremerton, and more like 45 minutes coming from the Tacoma or Shelton areas.
WDFW maintains gravel boat launches at all three lakes, and each area has restrooms and a little bit of parking and little bank access.
None of the lakes have public camping or major day-use parks, so it’s mostly about the fishing and particularly focused on boat fishing.
If you are planning to stay in the area overnight, a nearby option is Belfair State Park on Hood Canal, which has lots of camping, access to saltwater activities and is only 15-20 minutes from these three lakes.
Here’s a bit more specific information about each of the three lakes.
By just a little, this 107-acre lake is the largest of the three and also has the deepest water, which helps improve trout survival.
Tiger Lake is one of the two that are bisected by the line between Mason and Kitsap counties.
It’s a long and narrow lake with depths to about 40 feet in an area slightly north of the midpoint.
The WDFW boat launch here is on the north end of the lake, immediately off NE Tiger Lake Road W, which connects to Bear Creek Dewatto Road.
Besides the stocked rainbows, Tiger reportedly has fishable populations of largemouth bass, yellow perch and even resident cutthroat trout, so this might be a top choice for anglers hitting the lake after the peak for stocked trout fades into summer and fall.
This 100-acre lake also straddling the counties’ boundary line was once derided with the nickname “No Fish Lake.”
Not these days, since this lake is full of trout by opening day every spring.
An April 1978 issue of the Shelton-Mason County Journal cheekily notes, “In spite of the rain and cold that greeted opening day of fishing on the area’s lakes and beaver ponds, fish stories are circulating. Best to surface, as yet, comes from Panther Lake. […] With the new plant of eight- and nine-inch rainbows, there were many limits taken from Panther Lake which pretty well blasts its former nickname, ‘No Fish Lake.’”
Now as then, state game authorities stock the former “No Fish Lake” with thousands of rainbow trout at the start of each season, including at times with “jumbo” trout much larger than eight or nine inches.
This is a fairly shallow lake, with only a small area as deep as 25 feet although a larger area north of the boat launch toward the center is about 20 feet in depth.
The Panther Lake boat launch is on the south end, just off NE Bear Creek Dewatto Road, west of Tiger Lake.
This is the smallest of this triple threat of trout lakes, at a bit under 90 acres, and the only one entirely in Kitsap County.
Mission Lake is just north Tiger Lake and is likewise stocked with thousands of springtime trout before the late April opener and boosted with a smaller load of fish again in May.
Like Panther Lake, this lake’s deepest area is about 25 feet. It’s located in the northwest part of the lake.
The launch is located on the east side of the lake.
To get there from NE Bear Creek Dewatto Road, just before arriving at Tiger Lake turn north on NE Tiger Mission Road. Stay on this road straight north until reaching W Mission Road N that curves to the right to access the east side of the lake.