Washington State is home to a vast variety of fishing opportunities; from thousands of lowland and high alpine lakes to miles of rivers and streams, plus the option to fish for additional ocean species. While rainbow and cutthroat trout along with steelhead are the most abundant, expect to find large and smallmouth bass, five types of salmon and kokanee in good numbers, with bull trout, walleye and catfish found in certain waters as well. Thirteen marine areas on the west side of the state offer ocean fishing, adding lingcod, halibut, shellfish, crab and squid to the mix. Here are a dozen great spots to cast a line throughout Washington!
The Columbia is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest, flowing all the way from the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia through the entire state of Washington and into the Pacific Ocean in Oregon. While heavily dammed, it is known for its salmon fishing, with chinook, coho and sockeye salmon making their way as far up river as the Chief Joseph Dam southeast of Omak. Other species found in the river include sea-run cutthroat trout, steelhead, smallmouth and largemouth bass, catfish, walleye and whitefish.
Fish Lake is found about 16 miles north of Leavenworth with access to the lake primarily through the approved private concession Cove Resort (coveresortatfishlake.com). Additional walk-in access is also possible from Chiwawa River Road and Forest Road 6202. The lake is stocked with brown and rainbow trout, best caught on the fly in the spring and the fall, and patient anglers may also be able to find trophy-sized brown trout. Spring and summer also afford some nice largemouth bass action, while ice fishing in the winter can be great for yellow perch.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake
Stretching for more than 150 miles after the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam, this Columbia River impoundment is the main fishing destination in eastern Washington. The season is open year-round, with the exception of special restrictions on sturgeon, and that fish along with kokanee, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass and walleye are the main attraction here. Additionally, anglers will find stocked rainbow and populations of burbot, whitefish and yellow perch. There are 35 waterfront recreation areas along the 660 miles of shoreline, all operated by the National Park Service, providing numerous access points.
Located in north central Seattle, this urban lake is regarded as one of the best trout fisheries in western Washington. The lake, best fished March through October, is stocked with brown trout, rainbow trout and channel catfish and is also home to common carp, largemouth bass and rock bass. Green Lake Park surrounds the lake, offering excellent shore access as well as several fishing piers.
Flowing out of Olympic National Park and into the Pacific, the Hoh River offers fishing for generously planted winter steelhead smolts and a self-sustaining summer run of steelhead, with March usually the top producing month. Chinook salmon also make for good angling from May through September and sea-run cutthroat enter the river in July and stick around until November, hiding around downed trees, bush piles and other cover. There is good bank-fishing on both sides of the lower Hoh and off the road along the north side of the upper river.
This large lake, found just east of Seattle in King’s County, is Washington’s best bass lake but due to its popularity, catching one can be a challenge. Smallmouth are the more abundant bass species, but anglers will find largemouth in smaller numbers along with wild coastal cutthroat, yellow perch and, to a lesser degree, kokanee and steelhead. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout in May and Lake Sammamish State Park offers excellent access at its southern shore.
Sitting between Seattle and Bellevue, this large lake hosts dozens of fish species but of most interest to anglers here are the black crappie, coastal cutthroat trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, rainbow trout and yellow perch. Additionally, there are runs of steelhead in the spring and, at times, chinook, coho and sockeye salmon can be fished, depending on numbers. There are four boat ramps along with numerous fishing piers and ample bank access along the shoreline.
Originating in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, the Sauk River flows into the Skagit River just below Rockport. The river is known for its steelhead fishing for both wild and hatchery fish, with March and April producing the largest specimens but the clear glacial waters turn murky after heavy rain, offering additional challenges. Dolly varden and whitefish can also be found here, and the occasional sea-run cutthroat, chinook, coho and sockeye salmon as well.
San Juan Islands
Consisting of the islands and marine waters south of the Canadian border, the San Juan Islands offer good summer fishing for bottom fish and returning chinook, sockeye and pink salmon on their way to Puget Sound and the Fraser River. Some of the most productive areas for salmon fishing are Eagle Point/Salmon Bank, Hein/Middle Bank, Lawrence Point, Point Roberts and the Rosario Strait. In addition to salmon, those fishing these waters will find blackmouth, halibut and lingcod. Those looking for shellfish will find multiple destinations throughout the islands to dig for clam, mussel and oysters.
South Puget Sound
Encompassing all the waters south of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, South Puget Sound is well protected from the weather so small boat fishing is excellent and there are plenty of shore fishing and pier fishing opportunities as well. This is the only body of water in the state where you can fish for salmon year-round and use your two-pole endorsement plus the area boasts the best location for sea-run cutthroat trout, either from a boat or shore between March and May. Great destinations include the Kennedy and Minter Creek mouths, Nisqually Head, McNeil Island and the Tacoma Narrows. Depending on location, anglers will find chum, coho, pink and summer chinook salmon along with starry flounder and sand sole in the mudflats.
Willapa Bay is a perfect small boat fishing destination if you are looking for large chinook salmon, especially in August and early September before the start of the commercial fishery. Coho can also be found here, with trolling and mooching being the preferred methods. Additionally, bottom fish such as dogfish, perch, cabezon and flatfish can be caught here by jigging, mooching or using a weighted bait. Those looking for clams, mussels and oysters can visit Hawk’s Point, Pinnacle Rock and Diamond Point on Long Island and the Nahcotta tidelands.
The Yak, as it is known to locals, slowly meanders for 215 miles from its headwaters atop Snoqualmie Pass through the fertile Yakima Valley to eventually drain into the Columbia. The river is famous for its fly-fishing opportunities, offering some great catch-and-release action for wild rainbow and, in its upper reaches, native westslope cutthroat trout. Largemouth and smallmouth bass, catfish and whitefish are also reported to be found in the river. A couple of great places to cast a line are just below Lake Easton and Yakima Canyon.
Before you cast a line, check local regulations and restrictions at wdfw.wa.gov
If we forgot one of your top Washington fishing holes, let us know in the comments below, or pick up a copy of the Washington State GPS Maps for hundreds more detailed descriptions of fishing spots across the state. And keep your eyes peeled for the Washington State Backroad Mapbook, coming soon!