Best Washington Fishing
The Evergreen State’s waterways offer a year-round playground for freshwater anglers. Read on to learn about some of our favorite spots.
There’s little denying the addictive jolt you get when a fish hits your hook. And the Evergreen State offers no shortage of opportunities for freshwater anglers hoping to land a big fish, whether that be a wily trout, a fierce-fighting salmon or even a monster sturgeon.
You’ll need to do a few things before heading out on your freshwater fishing adventure, however. First, check the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) website to ensure that you are going to an open fishing spot. Plus, make sure you have an up-to-date license for the region and species of fish you hope to catch. With a license and gear, it is time to get hooked on fishing in Washington.
Lake fishing is an option in every corner of the Evergreen State, but in Western Washington the season really kicks off with the annual Trout Derby, which typically runs from late April through October. Each year, the WDFW stocks over 100 lakes for the Derby from south of Olympia to Bellingham. Fish marked with orange tags attached to their fins show that they are eligible for the Derby.
Some good Derby fishing haunts south of Olympia include Battle Ground Lake, Horseshoe Lake and Deep Lake. Lakes farther north include Seattle’s Green Lake, Lake Padden near Bellingham and Lake Erie by Anacortes. In Grays Harbor, Lake Aberdeen and Lake Sylvia also make for memorable Derby fishing destinations.
Hoping for a larger lake away from the Derby? Lake Washington is open to fishing year-round, giving ample opportunity to land coastal cutthroat trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, black crappie and even chinook, coho and sockeye salmon.
Lake Wynoochee is another gem on the south side of the Olympic Peninsula. At more than 4 miles long and 175 feet deep, the lake is wrapped in towering timber and is known for its coastal cutthroat trout.
In Eastern Washington, find one of the best fishing lakes in the state on Lake Roosevelt near Grand Coulee Dam.
Lake Roosevelt, a reservoir formed by dams on the Columbia River, is a fantastic spot to catch kokanee or landlocked sockeye. The areas near Spring Canyon and the ferry dock are great in the winter, with sockeye weighing 3 to 4 pounds and measuring around 2 feet in length.
Down the Columbia River near Brewster, you can land sockeye salmon in Lake Pateros, which is also known as Brewster Pool. The sockeye numbers have increased in recent years, with the best fishing found near the old river channel between the airport and downtown Brewster. Other good spots in Eastern Washington for many species of fish are Fish Lake near Lake Wenatchee, Lake Chelan, Potholes Reservoir and Banks Lake.
There is nothing quite like landing your first sturgeon and no place better to do it than the lower Columbia River. The white sturgeon is the largest of all freshwater fish in North America. The average sturgeon typically caught is around 7 feet long and weighs hundreds of pounds, making it a rush — and a chore — to reel in. Although you can fish for sturgeon on your own, it is best to go with a guide until you know how to do it properly. Guides not only know the best spots but also have the right equipment and know rules and regulations for the area.
Once out on the river, the most sturgeon are found along a 100 mile stretch of the Columbia from Astoria, Oregon, to the Bonneville Dam. Near the dam, find a productive fishery for these ancient river monsters, which are commonly caught in the spring and fall. In June and July, the action heads downriver toward Astoria.
Guide Ken Burns of 2 Net Fishing say that Tongue Point near Astoria and the area near Rooster Rock are productive locations. Find sturgeon in shallow water and within pools upwards of 80 to 90 feet deep. Because the challenge lies in locating good spots — and the gear and skills needed to land this ancient monster — Burns advises beginners to find an experienced guide to have a successful day.
Olympic Peninsula salmon
The Olympic Peninsula is a renowned destination for anglers, serving as the perfect environment for trophy-sized salmon that can be caught off fern-flanked river banks and under trees dripping with rainfall and moss.
In the fall, the rivers are transformed with rainfall and the return of the salmon. Guide Jim Babcock has been fishing the Olympic Peninsula since the mid-1970s and watched with dismay declining salmon numbers. Recently those numbers have been increasing thanks to measures to protect native salmon runs. Although the salmon have yet to return to historical numbers, the runs are still far bigger than those found in the rest of the state.
As with sturgeon fishing on the Columbia, the surest course is to hire a guide who knows the best spots. If you go on your own, however, Babcock suggests fishing the Satsop River near Elma and the Wynoochee River near Montesano in eastern Grays Harbor, as well as the area around the Humptulips hatchery on the Humptulips River. He also recommends the aptly named Salmon River near Queets as a good spot for novice anglers.
In September and October, anglers catch chinook as they swim upstream to spawn. In mid-October through November, the coho and chum make their runs upriver. As December rolls around, hatchery steelhead head upstream, followed in January through March by the trophy-sized, wild winter steelhead for catch and release.
–Written by Douglas Scott, last updated in October 2022.
–Top photo is from Cavan Images/Alamy
–This article appeared in the 2022 spring edition of AAA Washington member magazine, Journey.