Washington’s Best Fishing Spots

Get hooked on the state’s prime fishing grounds.

Whether you have an appetite for salmon, perch, walleye, tuna or trout, you can plan to snag your favorite catch in Washington’s rivers and lakes. Below, writer Anne Larkin recounts her adventures exploring the state’s year-round fishing opportunities.

Hooked on Washington Fishing

On a brisk October day on the Chehalish River, the banks on either side are dressed in bright yellow leaves, and the water below is full of migrating coho salmon. Carl Burke, who has been fishing in Washington for longer than I’ve been alive, is spin-casting from a jet boat into the brush at the water’s edge where coho salmon like to hide.

I’ve hooked dozens of logs and branches already, each time imagining the tug to be a fish, yanking my rod with a jolt of adrenaline, only to realize my catch’s definite lifelessness. Finally, something feels different—it’s clear this is no rotting log.

“Hook ’em, hook ’em!” Burke shouts as a silvery dorsal fin emerges from the water.

Then he reaches down with the net and grabs the gorgeous fish, lifting it into the air where it thrashes wildly.

“That’s a coho for you,” Burke says. “He’ll fight you like crazy.” After that we’re on a roll, and by the end of the day our boat is heavy with salmon cargo.

Washington’s King Salmon

A week—and many salmon dinners—later I depart Anacortes for the San Juan Islands with seasoned guide Derek Floyd, owner and operator of Anglers Choice Charters. At Eagle Bluff on Cypress Island, a tried-and-true fishing spot, we set our lines, weighted to sink to 100 feet where king salmon are feeding.

The San Juans are the ultimate place for this kind of anticipatory wait. As the morning fog lifts, it’s beyond pleasant drifting past pines clinging to rocky islands like overgrown bonsai.

By noon, the sun is out and we’re trolling back and forth along James Island. We’ve been keeping our eyes trained on the rods, and finally one jumps up, giving the fish at its end away. A fervent reel brings a 24-inch king to the surface, its scales glinting in the sun. Floyd has caught far more fish in his lifetime than I, but we’re equally thrilled as we pull the fish aboard.

Halibut, Rockfish, Lingcod and More

The rush of snagging a fish from Washington’s waters doesn’t seem easily diminished; each catch is as heady as the last. And, there are a whole lot to be caught—the list of species is a long (and tasty) one. Westport, on the Pacific Coast, lures with the opportunity to fish deep waters and haul in chinook and coho salmon, as well as albacore tuna, halibut, rockfish and lingcod.

All Rivers & Saltwater Charters runs express tuna trips July through Halloween, halibut trips during that season in May, and steelhead and salmon excursions in the rivers inland from the coast.

Close to a million pink salmon return to the Skagit River each year, while rivers farther in are known for their spirited steelhead. That’s especially true in the Heller Bar area of the Snake River, near Clarkston, where thousands of the feisty fish pass through from August to March, and on the nearby Grande Ronde, where fly-fishing is popular.

Fully Stocked Washington Lakes

And there’s trout fishing—many fishers’ first childhood catch—in lakes across the state.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks many lakes, such as Williams Lake, 30-miles southwest of Spokane, plus a handful of high alpine lakes. Come winter there’s even ice fishing for perch, walleye and trout out on the Lind Coulee arm of Potholes Reservoir, near Moses Lake.