Washington state has long been known as a trout fisher’s paradise. Whether you’re seeking a coastal rainbow trout or a basin red band trout, there is no shortage of locales that can offer you a chance to make a big catch. With that said, location is everything. Knowing when and where to catch trout in Washington state means doing your homework before heading out on the water.
While every lake in Washington state is fully stocked with a myriad of trout varieties, finding a location that isn’t overfished or too popular can prove challenging. Well-known lakes tend to boast lower levels of large-sized trout. If you want that elusive trophy-fish, you’re going to need to head to some less popular lakes. After all, you want a trout with some heft, a fish worth reeling in and showing off.
Below, we’ve used years of experience to round up the best locations for catching trout in Washington state. These lesser-known lakes often prove a valuable resource for anglers looking to make their next big catch.
Trout Fishing Basics: Location
Before we dive into the best places to reel in a big fish in Washington, let’s touch on some trout fishing basics. Whether this is your first outing as an angler or your 1,000th, there are a few things to keep in mind. For starters, trout are frequently found in the coldest waters. While they can be commonly found in moving water, they also live in brisk lake waters.
Of course, the more under-populated and secluded, the river or lake, the higher the likelihood that you’re going to reel in a larger than average trout. Trout are seriously abundant in many of the deeper lakes of Washington state. Here, they can grow to enormous sizes. Many times, they’ll put up a fight so vivacious you’ll swear you were fishing in the ocean. Why do lake trout grow to be so big?
They feed on the smaller fish that reside in the depths of a lake. With that said, follow our guidelines for catching trout in Washington state and keep up to date on the stocking schedules for each. Generally, fishing a week or two after the stock is a great way to get started.
The Best Locations for Catching Trout in Washington State
Now that you know a few of the basics on where trout like to hide, let’s dive into the best locations for actually taking home a big catch.
1. Potholes Reservoir – Columbia Basin
The Columbia Basin has long been deemed a mecca for anglers seeking numerous species of fish. As part of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project, the Potholes Reservoir was formed by the O’Sullivan Dam and is located in Central Washington just 7 miles shy of Moses Lake. While many anglers head to this 28,000-acre reservoir in hopes of landing warm water species such as bass and walleye, many are also catching on to the prevalence of large trout in the Potholes waters.
It isn’t uncommon in the deep waters of the lake to snag a trout that hits 10 pounds or more. In our experience, around 3 to 5 pounds is average. The best time to frequent this lake is in the early spring or late winter, as trout tend to prefer colder water temperatures and will move to deep into the lake by the time summer rolls around. At the Potholes Reservoir, anglers have the option of fishing from a boat or along the east shore at Medicare beach. MarDon Resort also proves an efficient fishing spot, especially with the right sliding egg sinkers and a few worms.
2. Rock Lake – Whitman County, WA
Located in Whitman County, Rock Lake is often the stuff of legend among local anglers. Rumor has it, there are some seriously record-breaking fish calling these waters home. While some say these rumors are nothing more than tall tales of giant-sized trout and hearty bass, others can attest to having phenomenal success. As the deepest and largest of all the scabland lakes left in the wake of the Missoula Floods, there are depths that reach beyond 360 feet. What does that mean for trout fishing? Plenty of over-sized fish (Giant Browns, Rainbow, etc.) and little in the way of over-fishing. This Eastern Washington lake is truly where an angler’s fantasy can quickly turn into reality.
It isn’t uncommon for anglers to document reeling in brown trout that exceed 10 pounds, with many coming in at around 15 pounds. Just for reference, average brown trout run at around 5 or 6 pounds. If rainbow thought is more your thrill, Rock Lack frequently boasts large rainbows that run as big as 24 inches long. Many have a girth so impressive you’ll wonder what those fish are eating down in the depths below. In terms of technique, most anglers find that just about any style you like will garner a big catch. With that said, many do prefer the art of trolling, especially when looking to bring in some big Browns.
Fishing at rock lake is best from late February through March. The waters are cold, which means the trout will have not yet retreated to deeper waters. Late spring can also prove successful, though the weather at this time can be quite unpredictable. Summer fishing is possible, but as the temperatures rise the trout will often move too deep into these lakes already mind-boggling depths for a cool-off. If you want to make a big catch, stick to the rock-drop offs and the steeper edges of the lake. This is where most anglers find success. Just stick to the center of the lake if you’re traveling at higher speeds.
3. Yakima River – Central and Eastern Washington
Let’s diverge from lakes for a moment and touch on a great place to find oversized trout in Washington State: the Yakima River. As a tributary of the Columbia River in South Central and Eastern Washington, this renowned region is home to some of the biggest trout in the state. This 214-mile long river cuts through the basalt canyons in the valley, passing by Mt. Daniel and Mt. Stuart along the way. Every winter, these mountains receive a thick blanket of snow, which eventually melts to fill four distinct reservoirs along the Yakima. These rivers interrupt springtime flow, meaning anglers can still fish the Yakima in the snowiest of winters.
What makes the Yakima river ideal for trout fishers? Aside from the nice cold temperatures, the Yakima is home to a rather large population of Chinook Salmon. These giant salmon lay eggs in their beds in the river each year and the trout population takes full advantage. Most will gorge themselves on any and all leftover salmon eggs. The result? Brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout varieties grow to exceptional size. In fact, the Yakima River is home to some of the largest trout in the entire state.
As a tailwater fishery, the Yakima can fluctuate in size. Parts of the year, anglers are able to wade comfortably in the water. However, in late spring and summertime, you will likely need a boat to fish. In the fall and winter months, the Yakima River is easily fished on foot, as the lower flows will allow you to get right into the river and fish from deep runs or pools.
4. Omak Lake – Greater Omak Area
Located in the greater Omak area, Omak Lake is a pristine saline endorheic lake that covers a whopping 3,244 acres and sits at an elevation of 950 feet. The lake is fed by three small creeks and has an overall volume of 705,000 acre-feet and a top depth of 324 feet. With crisp Caribbean blue waters, Omak lake is a promising place for anglers to catch massive Lahontan cutthroat trout. What makes Omak a haven for this special species of trout? The very high salinity.
While other species cannot tolerate the saline in the waters of Omak, Lahontan trout thrive in these salty waters. In fact, they tend to reach some rather gargantuan sizes. Right now, the record stands at around 18 points, though it isn’t uncommon to reel in a Lahontan that weighs around 10 pounds. Despite being renowned for boasting some rather large fish, Omak remains relatively calm and underpopulated in terms of other anglers. Your fishing experience will be quite calm and serene, with limited interruptions from your fellow trout lovers.
For the most part, the fishing season at Omak lake is catch-and-release only until June. At this point, you can hold on to three fish, with just one being over 18 inches. In terms of bait, rules state that anglers may only use artificial flies and lures at the lake. Additionally, only barbless hooks are permitted year-round. You can use large trolling plugs, spoons, and spinners while fishing. In our experience, it is best to stick to the shoreline in early spring and full. This is where most cutthroat will hang out near the rocks in depths under 20 feet.
5. Bonaparte Lake – Okanogan Highlands
Nestled at the base of the 7258 foot Mount Bonaparte sits Bonaparte lake. A relaxing and serene lake that is halfway between Tonkaset and Republic. There are currently six distinct types of fish that call this lake home, making it the ideal place for anglers, especially those seeking monster trout. This is where the state record tiger trout was caught back in 2015, weighing a whopping 18.5 pounds and coming in at an astounding 32.5 inches long. Though his record-breaking size isn’t the norm, it isn’t uncommon for anglers to pull in trout that are at least 20 inches long.
In terms of actual fishing, Bonaparte Lake is largely private and free from an overabundance of anglers. A few feet of ice do cover the lake from January through March, though it is possible to trout-fish through the ice and still pull in fish weighing at least 5 pounds. While you can fish at any time at Bonaparte and still yield a big catch, most anglers agree that spring and early fall will garner the best results. This is when most trout will seek shallow waters to munch on minnows, insects, and other hatching bugs. Because of this, anglers can find great success along shallow edges using imitation lures like cranks, spoons, and flies.
The best time of day to fish at Bonaparte Lake is typically early morning or late evening, especially if you’re planning on utilizing shore tactics or bait. Keep in mind, in the summer months, lead weights measuring 1 and ½ inches are not permitted to protect the loon population that heads to the lake in the warm water.
Catching Trout in Washington State
As you can see, there are plenty of great locations for catching trout in Washington state year-round. However, it is important to keep an eye on the temperature, as many trout will retreat to the greatest depths of water during the warmer months. With that said, you should be able to reel in a big catch by simply following a few simple guidelines and getting to know trout behavior as a whole.