Riffe Lake Trout / Landlocked Salmon Fishing 




Link to Cowlitz River / Tacoma Power Website :  Cowlitz Fish.net     For information not available at this link, call 360-888-502-8690, this gives you options to listen to, one being the pool heights of all the Tacoma Power impoundments and the boat launches that are usable.  However about January of 2015 they have now a link on their website for River Levels/Lake Levels.   This is updated periodically so may not be exact, having a lag time, but a great help non the less.

Here is a photo of the dam at full pool height

 This lake was formed when Tacoma City Light completed the Mossyrock Dam in 1968.     By the way, the name of Tacoma City Light has now been changed to Tacoma Power.  This lake is a large 23 mile long reservoir that stretches along US Highway 12 east of Mossyrock which has a shoreline of 52 miles.  It is located about 90 miles south of Tacoma Washington.   Riffe Lake can be reached from I-5, turn east onto US Highway 12 and go about 20 miles to the town of Mossyrock.   At the stoplight on Highway 12 at Mossyrock, turn right (South) on Williams St. and go into town.  Go 4 or 5 blocks and past the school you will come to a Tee intersection, take a left and go east through town.  Keep going on this (the old highway) which leads directly into the Mossyrock Park Campground.

When full at a pool height of 778' it has 11,830 surface acres of water.    NOTE -- as of 2017 Tacoma Power has lowered the summer maximum pool height to 749'.   They say for downstream SAFETY sake that in case a A MAJOR EARTHQUAKE HAPPENS there may be a possible breach in the downstream dam pillars .   So don't be lulled into thinking the lake will be at full pool height when you read their web that it is at 745' of 749', where the old pool maximum height was 778', as now they are maintaining summer height 30' lower than it was originally.

As of February of 2019, the water level was dropped dramatically low because of all the snowfall, but not a lot of rain, (679') in anticipation of a lot of snowmelt.  An aerial view looked more like a river than a lake.  And all boat launches are closed even into mid May.

If you don't mind hiking in mud, there is a good chance of refilling your tackle box with lost fishing lures.

Here these guys drug their boat a considerable distance at  Mossyrock Park boat launch on 4-20-19 with a lake height of 698', and fishing was worth the effort for them

At the original full pool height, the water depth in places can reach  360'.   It initially was named Davisson Lake after an engineer overseeing the project, but local pressure prevailed and it was soon changed to the name of Riffe Lake in favor of the small town that the upper end of the lake flooded out.

This lake is an impoundment that of course is a power generation dam, but also is basically a catch basin used for flood control of the snow run off from the higher elevations around Packwood and Randle.  With this in mind, the lake is lowered in the late fall in preparation to the estimated winter rains.  Then in the early summer (anywhere from the 1st of April to about the middle of May) when the rainy season and any possible flooding appear to be over with, the lake is allowed to raise again for storage during the summer months.

For a link to Tacoma Power's web-pages for this area CLICK HERE.  They finally listened and are now posting the daily lake height CLICK HERE.  Also here is a link to a NOAA website that has a lot of information CLICK HERE.

Boat Launches

The The Mossyrock Park is located at the lower end of the lake is run by Tacoma Power that has slightly over 200 family RV campsites, with many more individual tent sites.  Phone number for Mossyrock Park, 202 Ajlune Road, Mossyrock WA 98564 is 360-983-3900, which has two boat launches.

Old Highway Launch ; (1) From Highway 12 at Mossyrock, turn south, at the Shell service station, (Williams St.) and go into the town of Mossyrock.  About four blocks (and past the school) you will come to a Tee, (either right or left).  Turn left onto State Street, and continue past the business district and out of town where State Street becomes Mossyrock Road East and then farther out yet it becomes Ajlune Road.   At about 2 miles, go straight ahead at the intersection of Swafford Road and another mile you will come to Riffe Lake Campground, you need to turn right into the park, maybe talk to the ranger if on week-ends and/or pay the fee, then hang a immediate left behind the gate shack to the old road, then a right onto the old highway.  The distance to the launch at full lake height, is only about 300'.  

This launch is on the old blacktop highway 12 that is now covered by the lake.  This highway gently slopes down into the lake behind the dam.  There is small parking lot on the north side of the road /launch with a turn around into the lot above the wooden floating docks.  At full lake height during the summer the dock provides access.  Depending on how many others are using this launch and the lake's level, there may be some distance to back down.  At a lower lake height when the lake is drawn down, you might want to walk this old road before launching to locate possible debris and or mud.   This launch is usually used by smaller boats and not recommended for larger trailered boats because of the shallower sloping road/launch.  There is a Sani-Can here at the edge of the parking lot along with a couple of garbage cans.

After a hang-glider from dog Mountain on the south end of the lake went down during the winter of 2019, along the steep west side of the lake, and the  Mossyrock ramp was inaccessible for a Search and Rescue boat, Tacoma Power removed the debris off this old road to facilitate that rescue by boat.  Now they have agreed to keep this old road open, so even if the newer extended Mossyrock launch is unusable, maybe the recreational fishermen will have winter drawdown access.

The old highway launch just behind the Mossyrock Park entrance shack

  Mossyrock Park ; (2) Go as described in the #1 above but when you come to the entrance to Mossyrock Park, go straight ahead.   The office/gatekeeper is open during the camping season, if it is open, stop and tell them you are going to the boat launch if they are there and on week days.  This road is on the right and slightly above the campgrounds with the launch located on the SE end of the campgrounds.  The upper launch is blacktop with four lanes, with concrete slabs below, and has a nice slope which enables you to back in and launch with a car, pick-up or even a motor home.  It has a floating dock of about 100 ft. long on the south side of the ramp, and a longer one in the center for passenger loading into the boat when the pool is full height.   This launch area has ample striped individual paved parking, restrooms, picnic tables, a fish cleaning station and very nice toilet facilities. 

Mossyrock Park launch in the summer with a full pool height of 778' Mossyrock Park launch in early March with the lake lowered to 736'. 

This launch was upgraded in 2007 to make it usable most of the year, even when they draw the water down in the fall and winter in anticipation of the winter/spring rains.  If the water was at the end of this dock (RH photo above) the pool height would be 751'.  'To use the dock, it will have to be about 760', anything lower than that, the NW dock will be high and dry, the ramp is however still usable until the water level reaches approaching 725 feet.  Even at a pool height of 735' you might want to walk the ramp before launching to locate possible debris and or mud as shown in the above RH photo.  

Tacoma Power had planned on finishing it to the lower level of about 705' but not sure that happened as they did extend the Taidnapam Park ramp to 720' and do use a floating dock, but it is a lot longer drive to get there.

Day-use parking and usage of the boat launch free except, weekends and holidays only, Memorial weekend through Labor Day weekend, which is then $5.00 per vehicle.  This day use permit is hard to miss as it is printed on a bright colored 8 1/2" X 11" sheet of paper, which is color coded for the days.  Other than the above time frame, no fee is charged.

The park also has a store near the launch area with limited amounts of baits.  But a word of advice, get bait and supplies before leaving Mossyrock.  There is an outdoor store (NOW CLOSED) in town past the Tee on the right that carries tackle and can offer advise.   But there is a gas station / convenience store next door that carries worms and some tackle if you forget them.  Also there is no gas available at the launch or park areas.

The current water level height and reservations for the parks can be obtained by calling Tacoma City Lights fishing hotline at 1-888-502-8690.   Or it is now (Feb 2015) available on the internet, CLICK HERE.

On April 18th 2015, with the pool water height at 769', the water as just at the lower end of the south end docks.  

 Riffe Lake Campground ; There is another park nearby,  Riffe Lake Campground is close by which offers more private wooded sites near the lake (no beach or launching access however).   It is a more private location than the Tacoma Power's Mossyrock Park, while still near Riffe Lake.  This was privately built by lifetime resident John Hadaller and now owned/operated by his daughter.  This campground was there before the lake was created, it also offers an experience more akin to camping rather than a small city on a lawn.  This campground is a clean and well kept campground, each spot with a picnic table and fire pit.  Do not expect to be on the lake, you will however be overlooking it and close to Swoffo

rd Pond.

The directions are the same as to Mossyrock Park, except before you get to the park, the road Ys, stay Right onto Swofford Rd which turns into Green Mountain Rd., Go 2 Miles.  Turn Left onto Osborne Rd.  The destination is about 1/2 a mile at the end of the Osborne Rd.  For a link to it CLICK HERE.

  Kosmos ; (3) This launch is on the east side off Highway 12 past Morton on the Kosmos road.  This is located in Sand Creek bed, and again if the water is too low in the fall it has its problems.   There is ample blacktop parking, however at times of heavy use in the summer I have seen it full.  This one is used mostly by fisherpersons who fish the upper end of the lake, trying to avoid the water skiers who seem to concentrate nearer the Mossyrock Park launch.  The picture below it is looking across the lake toward Taidnapam Park on the left hand point.

When the pool height gets low in the winter, the steel gates are closed and locked on the road leading into this launch, as the small creek that is left in the channel is about non-existent below this ramp at this time.

Kosmos Boat launch at full pool height 

Taidnapam North Launch ; (4) This was proposed by Tacoma Power to be completed by the spring of 2007.   As of April, 06, some work had been started and it was completed the summer of 2008.  It is constructed just northeast and near Taidnapam Park, and is to be more of a year around launch for the upper lake with the ramp extending to about the 720' level.  It will start at about 25' above maximum pool height.  It is a LONG launch, with pull-outs stationed at intervals to facilitate turn-arounds at different pool heights instead of making boaters back a LONG distance at low water.

I was there 10-20-07 and took the photos below, but construction is not yet complete. Apparently because of the flooding that took place the winter of 2006/07.   There is a large parking lot, nice restrooms, a prep area on the right at the top of the ramp with a blacktopped loop to the right for pulling in and then heading back south to line up the trailer to the ramp backing north.  The upper section is poured scored concrete, with a lot of large pre-poured interlocking sections apparently to be used for the lower section stored in the edge of the parking lot.    The smaller white hand written sign says "boat launch unusable" with a date of 10-15-07 as there is a lot of mud on the ramp at the water level.

Now they have added a movable dock, that is raised/lowered to the water level by a cable laying up the middle of the ramp.  At a low pool height, there may be underwater obstacles, like stumps or gravel bars if you were accustomed to fishing this at a high pool height which you were never aware of.

Sign at the entrance This launch is loooong & has some turn-arounds part way down.  Here the pool height is 726' of a total fill of 778'

Taidnapam Park South Launch; (5)  The other ramp is located in Taidnapam Park, which is another Tacoma Power facility.  Phone number 360-497-7707.  Go to the entry gate and pay the parking fee if applicable for that time of the year.  This has a concrete ramp, fish cleaning stations and restrooms.  The one thing on this ramp is that there is a major drop-off off the end.  It has a concrete bumper at the lower end to stop a trailer from dropping over.  There is about a 50' drop off beyond this bumper.   THE BUMPER IS IT.   If the lake level is being lowered, DO NOT ALLOW A TRAILER WHEEL TO DROP OVER THIS BUMPER.  The end of the ramp and bumper is at about 6' beyond the end of the floating dock.  Under these circumstances I would not recommend trying to launch a large boat here unless you check it out completely first as the drop-off beyond the bumper stops is considerable if you view it at a low pool height.  

This ramp is generally usable late May to mid September, depending on lake level.   Parking for the boat launch free EXCEPT, it is $5 per vehicle, weekends and holidays only from Memorial weekend through Labor Day weekend.   This ramp of course would also be not usable at a real low water level in the late fall or winter.   The park rangers post signs as to the ramp being closed and they close and  lock the steel gates at the top of the ramp under these conditions.

Fishing Regulations :  Your trout (or landlocked salmon) combo limit here is 5 fish total, and this lake, like all waters of the state have a restriction whereby if you use bait, any that you catch will be counted toward your limit regardless if your keep or release them.  However if you are using lures, with no scent, you can cull or release them all day.  For this lake, WDFW has designated it as a 2 pole lake if you purchase that endorsement.  And for some reason you do not need the Columbia River endorsement ???

Fish ;  Many of the fish that are in the lake are named silver trout, (essentially a landlocked Coho), with a size from 12" to 16" and even an occasional one up to 20+.  With the best fishing for them starting in the early spring.  This fishery is because of the inability for downstream migrating smolt to be effectively trapped at the Cowlitz Falls dam above this impoundment.  You may even catch a landlocked Chinook in the mixed bag.

There also seems to have been an increase in what some people consider Kokanee here.  However if you ask Tacoma Power biologists, they say there are no Kokanee there, however this is a little beyond their interests as Riffe Lake seems to be "No Mans Land", kind of between two other dams and the fish population not really looked at that much.  He did say that there may be a possibility however of a few surviving and thriving from the first year's plants.   Many may confuse Kokanee with the landlocked Coho, however look for SMALL scales and large eyes and a forked tail for the Kokanee.  About the only true way of telling the difference is to look at the gill rakers.  Salmonid type fish eat other fish and have shorter rakers spread out about the length of them, while Kokanee have longer and closer together rakers designed to filter in the plankton and water out.   But the limit is the same for either or a mixed bag under the landlocked salmon designation so no one really cares.

It has also been originally planted with some landlocked Chinook salmon, Kokanee, brown trout, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, a few largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, and perch.  And there has been some of the planted catfish from nearby Swafford Pond take up residency here also.

The local bass club puts on a smallmouth bass derby here every May.  It seems that the bass like it when the water is raising as they move up on the freshly inundated shallow shoreline searching for food.

This refilling of the reservoir usually is not that good for the trout fishermen for a few days as much of this new water is coming off snow melt and is considerably cooler, forcing the trout down deeper.

Boat Fishermen :  These fisherpersons usually troll.   A sonar/depthfinder is usually needed to locate the depth of the fish, and then troll at that depth.  As the summer progresses, the water temperature rises, the fish usually go down.   Usually this depth is around 50 to 60 feet.  You may be able to do this with a weight on your line or a diver.   However many times if you need this depth, you may need a down-rigger to achieve your desired depth.

It has been experienced that when the lake is being filled in the late spring/early summer, that the fishing is great, but the catching is not.  Possibly this could be due to all the new colder water being retained, that the fish may need some time to acclimate.  ???

If the wind is blowing enough so as it is hard to control the boat at a trolling speed, it is usually best to troll with the wind until you find fish, then power up and make a run back to start a troll over again.  Many times the wind in the morning comes from the SW and by 10 AM dies down, then changes and comes from the NW.  If the wind is enough as to hinder trolling, you can simply shut it down then drift with the wind, letting your lure either down to the depth you suspect them to be or attach a bobber, let it float with you and the wind.   Basically you are bank fishing from a slightly moving boat.  Or move over to the north shore and troll in the couple of the protected coves and down to the roped off floats above the dam.

Lures & Rigging :  for the trout, silvers and Kokanee if you think they are there include --

             Wedding ring or Double Whammy spinner
             Rooster Tail, or #1 Vibrex spinner in gold/orange body
             Flatfish, Rapella
             Heidebrandt double blade spinners in size 6 or 7 with a rudder and Flatfish, Power Bait and shrimp or small worm about 12 behind   
             Pop Geer gang troll spinners with the above bait combinations

             Small dodger, or Fish Flash with a Apex Kokanee Special plug, either red or chrome, or a small plastic squid and scent
            3 to 4 oz. sinker is enough for fishing the top 20 feet of water
            6 to 10 oz. cannonball sinker is enough for getting you down to 40' or 50' feet of water
             Dipsy Diver or similar devices to achieve fishing at depths of 30' to 50' 
             Don't forget to bring along scent as an added attractant for your lures

The Pop Geer gang trolls are made in length sizes of 17", 28" and 36" and they come with their own keel.  Other spinner attractors  are the Ford Fender and Doc Shelton.

The best seems to be a diver or sinker capable of achieving 30' on bright days, a small dodger and a small Apex or Shasta Tackle Pee Wee wriggle hoochie.  And about any color hoochie as long as it is UV.   Use your sonar to locate algae/krill, and fish, then concentrate on that area.  

Some fishermen use a small snubber on the line ahead of the dodger when using the downrigger.   This snubber is then pierced a few times on the rear, then injected with a scent.  The thought here is the snubber acts as a scent reservoir and leaks the scent out over a long period of time.   Don't be bashful when using worms in trying scent also.  Sometimes just adding herring scent to worms will make the difference between a fishy smelling boat or not.  Cocktail shrimp work good by themselves or in addition to worms.  Just remember if you use bait, you have to retain all that you bring in.  If you cull and throw the small ones back when using bait, the ones thrown back count against your limit.

Don't put one gear type on and troll it all day.  Change lures or combinations until you find what works.  Troll in zig-zags, slow down, then speed back up, use scent.  These fish seem to travel in schools, so if you have a hit, don't just keep on trolling, turn around and try for a bite (if the wind allows you to do that) from another fish from a possible school that you may have went thru.  Try different trolling depths.  Try close to a protected cove or shore that may have a pocket of food.  Also the wind may be your friend as it may push bait/krill into a protected area.  What worked yesterday may well not work today.

One friend uses a Jet Diver about 12" in front of a Medium or Mini-Fish Flash and then a Flatfish in a watermelon or fire tiger color about 3' behind the flasher.  He trolls with about 30' of line out.

Nice late May day with limits of 15" fish for two, plus a renewed experience with a rebuilt steelhead rod bought new in 1955 Example of nice 15"  landlocked Coho available here.  These fish were somewhat descaled with a garden hose prior to cleaning,
so you can see the spots one's back

Spiny-ray fishermen will concentrate in the shallower south-eastern end areas.  Baits can include crawfish colored crankbaits, grubs, jigs and any of the conventional tackle.
Bank Fishermen :
There are many places to bank fish on this lake, but probably the 2 most popular are at the upstream side of the dam right off Highway 12 as shown below and at the fishing bridge at the upper end of the lake near Taidnapam Park.   This fishing bridge is a footbridge paralleling a logging bridge.   It is reached by turning into Taidnapam Park and then taking an immediate left to the dead end at the bridge.  You need not go thru the registration office area to get there.    

Most of the bank fisherpersons use a bobber about 30" above the bait at these locations.   Many still-fishermen use cocktail shrimp with a bit of Power-Bait.  The shrimp are put in a micro-wave for a couple of minutes to toughen them up so they will stay on the hook better.    Some fisherpersons use a boat and anchor, then they have a choice of the water column, but usually the bait is about 2' off the bottom.   The use of a bobber would at the fisherpersons discretion.

Now remember that these waters are covered by a WDFW statewide rule for trout.  "In lakes, ponds, and reservoir ;  No min size.  Daily limit 5.  When fishing with bait, all TROUT (except STEELHEAD) equal to or greater than the minimum size are counted as part of the daily limit whether kept or released."  Landlocked salmon are lumped into and classified as trout under these circumstances.

Fishing in front of Mossyrock Dam The lady just landed a nice one that he is holding ready to put it in the cooler

At the SW (upper end) of Taidnapam Park is a "Fishing Bridge".   This bridge spans the upper end of the lake as it narrows down and becomes a river again.  This is high above the lake even at a full pool stage.  The fishing that is done here is mostly a bait under a bobber. bait can be about what-ever the angler decides, however PowerBait or a small jig tipped with shrimp are popular.

No vehicle traffic allowed, but just upriver from this bridge is a logging bridge which is open to the public traffic.  For those boaters that feel the need to fish upstream of this bridge, be aware of all the potential lines in the water if you pass under.  It may be best to stay close to a shore as it seems most bridge fisherpersons tend to prefer the middle/deeper water.

Fishing bridge at near full pool height It can get crowded on a nice spring day


Here is a boat trolling above the fishing bridge (shown in the background) & near Goat Creek at near a low water draw down

You will many times see eagles and ospreys on this lake, with deer along the shore.  And those large lofty birds that depart from Dog Mountain, which are known as hang gliders can be seen if the weather cooperates.

Here are examples of 3 different fish taken from this lake.  Top fish is a 9" landlocked Coho.  Middle is a 13" rainbow/steelhead & the bottom is a 14" landlocked Chinoook

You will notice on the above fish that they all seem to be very fat.  They were feeding on an algae of some sort, and caught on downriggers from 30' to 60' down.

Here are examples of the algae / zooplankton stomach contents of the above fish

Best Time :  From information gathered from fishermen who fish this lake a lot, it seems that the best fishing occurs from mid/late May to early August.  However if you have the time, even up into November can be productive for those who may brave the weather and you will not have any crowding problems.

I was there in mid April 2015, just before the pool was at total height. Fishing was great, but catching was non-existent.  What I found was water temperature on the mid/lower north shore was 49.7 degrees, but on the south shore upstream of the shallow water markers it was 52.8 and (on the south shore area) there was a debris rip line with the water a more murky color, indicating the flow in the lake tended to be pushed into that location.  The previous year, but 3 weeks later, the water temp as 58 to 61, and there was a lot of plankton feed in the water, not so earlier, and probably because of the water temperature.

However after thinking about it for a while, instead of fishing our normal summer areas, we should probably have moved over onto the shallows, (over the mud flats) and fished there, where more food could have been present.  This is where the bass fishermen concentrate that time of the year, so why would the trout not be feeding there also.   It would mean a change in fishing methods, like casting spinners, OR using a Walleye "Bottom Walker" to keep from loosing your trolling gear on the submerged stumps.

Swafford Pond ;  This is a man-made 240-acre lake (dammed off swamp) that is open for fishing year around.  It has a dam at the outlet and empties into Riffe Lake.   It is only 3 miles from the Mossyrock Park Campground area as the crow flies, but is not accessible from there as you would think.  Turn right off Ajlune Road onto the Swafford Road which will be before you get to the Mossyrock Park campground, and go down the hill and south across the valley.  Stay on this main road, but take 2 LH turns at intersections.  Go past the Green Mountain Rd. which will be on your left (leading uphill to the Riffe Lake Campground).  Stay straight ahead, which will take you to the dam and pond.   It is stocked with rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout.  The pond also has largemouth bass, channel catfish, bullhead catfish, yellow perch and crappie.

Internal combustion engines are prohibited here, however electric motors can be used.   The gravel boat launch is generally used by car-toppers only, or boats up to about 16' as the launch area was not really that good the last time I was there.  Pontoon boats can be launched from many places along the shore.  There are lots of bank-fishing areas here next to the road.


Copyright 2001 - 2019 LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

Back to Ramblings

Originated 06-05-01, Last Updated 05-12-2019*                                                      
Contact the author