A dad having a great time getting out to fish on Langlois Lake east of Carnation in King County with his two daughters and wife and kissing a bass they caught before they set it free! Bass fishing improves throughout the spring as waters warm and fish move onshore, peaking during the spawn. (Photo by Evan Sylvester)

Introductory guide to trout fishing and many other warmwater fish species


As the weather warms up more fish species can be caught in a variety of statewide waterways, and we’ve got plenty of helpful tips to lead you toward a successful day on the water

If you’re itching to go fishing, then spring and early-summer is one of the best times to take advantage of the many lakes, ponds and other waterways filled with trout and other warmwater fish species.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) hatchery staff have been busy the past few months stocking rainbow trout, and as the weather warms up look for action to build for several warmwater fish including smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, yellow perch, channel catfish, brown bullhead, crappie, and bluegill.

“The spring and early summer opportunities allows someone to get out and have fun,” said Steve Caromile, inland fish manager for the WDFW. “It’s also a great way to introduce someone new to fishing especially families and children.”

The statewide opening day of trout fishing occurred in late April, and hundreds of lakes spread across 39 counties are still teeming with catchable-size trout averaging around 12- to 14-inches. This large-scale springtime trout stocking plan is meant to generate fishing opportunities and is an easy way to introduce someone new to fishing.

“People enjoy the many different types of fisheries, and every year we stock a lot of trout in lakes across all six regions,” Caromile said. “By spreading out trout plants across certain time periods, it creates a buzz of excitement throughout most of the year.”

A successful limit of trout for Kayden and Parker Wiles and mom Amanda Wiles aboard their father’s boat at Lake Wilderness near Maple Valley in King County. (Photo by Amanda Wiles)

The type of fishing gear to use for trout is a simple lightweight, limber rod in the 6- to 8-foot range, and a medium-sized spinning reel with 6- to 8-pound test monofilament fishing line.

Add one or two size 8 or 9 egg sinkers to the mainline with a round rubber bumper attached above a small barrel swivel. Then tie an 18- to 30-inch leader with 3- to 8-pound test monofilament fishing line to a size 8 or 10 egg or worm hook. Some anglers avoid the inexpensive store-bought leaders and prefer to tie their own.

The most popular bait is soft, moldable dough baits, which come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. The best fail-safe choices for bait or lures are live worms or maggots, and salmon eggs, scented marshmallows or small spinners, jigs, and spoons.

From a boat try trolling a gang-flasher with a bait laced to a piece of scented dough bait or salmon egg or a single yellow corn. You can also use a small spoon, spinner, or a weightless marabou fly.

From the shoreline cast a bobber and just under the bobber, place a couple split shot weights to your leader and bait. Adjust the bobber setup to the proper depth depending on where the fish are congregating. Casting and slowly retrieving a small spoon or rooster tail from the bank also finds its share of trout. If the fish are deeper then don’t use a bobber and let the bait hang a few feet off the bottom.

Freshly stocked trout often stay just under the surface in 3 to 5 feet of water and tend to stay in the same vicinity of where the hatchery trucked unloaded them into the lake. It usually takes a week or two before they eventually spread out and move to deeper sections of a lake.

Refer to the list of year-round lakes planted in the spring with catchable-sized trout by going to the 2024 WDFW statewide hatchery trout and kokanee stocking plan webpage. You can view the statewide trout stocking schedule, by going to the WDFW fishing and stocking reports webpage.

Anglers can also participate in the WDFW Trout Derby through Oct. 31. Through the third week of the derby, 864 prizes have been claimed. In 2024, around 100 businesses have donated more than 864 prizes worth a total of $42,000. For nearly a decade now, the derby has seen close to 50 to 55 percent of the tags on fish turned in for prizes. Refer to the WDFW trout derby webpage and for youth fishing events, go to the WDFW youth fishing events webpage.

A proud five-year-old caught this bass while fishing on the Snake River. (Photo by Kellie Armstrong)

Warmwater fishing is fun for everyone

While others are fishing for trout, many statewide waterways also provide decent catches of warmwater fish species especially as the weather and water temperatures heat up.

“The trout fishery is just one of the many diverse tools we have in our toolbox,” Caromile said. “We’ve also got many statewide rivers, lakes and ponds that offer good warmwater fish species to catch.”

The WDFW’s Warmwater Fish Program began in 1997 at the request of fishing organizations. This program is now funded from a portion of freshwater fishing licenses sold to people participating in warmwater fishing.

The goal is to increase opportunities to fish for and catch warmwater game fish. To do so, the program conducts fish community assessment surveys in select lakes and identifies management strategies to improve the quality of fishing. In fact, last week, WDFW staff began an assessment on the bass population at the Potholes Reservoir located about seven miles south of the City of Moses Lake.

Because bass and other non-native gamefish such as perch and walleye prey on juvenile salmon and steelhead, in anadromous waters we follow Commission policy and state law by removing or liberalizing catch limits on non-native gamefish to reduce their impacts — though many quality fishing opportunities remain, from the Columbia River to Western Washington including Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish.

As the morning sun was rising over the trees there was no containing the excitement as he proudly shows off a yellow perch caught at Curlew Lake in Ferry County. (Photo by Luke Peterson)

One of the most abundant of the warmwater fish species is the yellow perch, which also has the highest contribution to the annual catch than all other warmwater fish species. The best period to target yellow perch begins around June and July when the water heats up and will peak in August through October.

Lake Washington in King County is one of the top locations to catch yellow perch and has a very stable population. What makes the lake even more appealing is the fact that there are so many locations accessible by boat or from the shoreline and public docks. The lake has a diverse ecosystem, and you can also catch cutthroat and rainbow trout, catfish, carp, brown bullhead, smallmouth and largemouth bass, and black crappie.

Anglers who catch a northern pike — an invasive species illegally introduced into Lake Washington — are asked to kill the fish immediately and report it to WDFW by calling 1–888-WDFW-AIS, email at ais@dfw.wa.gov, or use the Washington Invasive Species Council reporting form or mobile app at invasivespecies.wa.gov/report-a-sighting/. WDFW crews removed two northern pike from Lake Washington in March and April of this year during ongoing efforts to monitor non-native predatory fish species and reduce their impacts on salmon. At least six pike have been removed from Lake Washington since 2017, and the Department believes the invasive fish were illegally introduced into the large lake in recent years. For additional details on northern pike, refer to WDFW news release.

Other viable yellow perch lakes are Sammamish near Issaquah; Whatcom near Bellingham; Sawyer northwest of Black Diamond; Goodwin northwest of Marysville; Harts southeast of Yelm; Stevens east of Everett; Beaver and Pine near Issaquah; American near Lakewood; Kapowsin southeast of Puyallup; Angle south of Sea-Tac Airport; Desire in Renton; and Meridian in Kent.

East of the Cascades, yellow perch can be found in Curlew in Ferry County; Moses and Potholes Reservoir in Grant County; Leader, Palme, Whitestone and Washburn Island Pond in Okanogan County; and Roses and Wapato in Chelan County.

Yellow perch like to school in shallow water, 15 to 35 feet, and you’ll find them close to the shoreline or on the edge of drop offs. They tend to hunker down shaded spots along the cover of weed beds, milfoil, aquatic weeds, and lily pads or under docks or overhanging trees and brush.

Fishing gear is a light-to-medium-action trout fishing rod with a spinning reel attached to 4- to 6-pound test main line. Attach a piece of worm on a 15- to 24-inch leader with a small salmon egg-style hook to a drop-shot egg-style weight. Once you catch your first perch, you can use a small chunk of the meat or even an eyeball. Colorful tiny 3-inch plastic worms or small-skirted crappie jigs and lures tipped with maggots, wax worms, shrimp will also catch their fair share of fish.

When you first feel the perch nibbling at your bait don’t set the hook hard and let them play with the bait. Wait for your rod to bend before you gently reel them up. Yellow perch like to steal bait so don’t be fooled when you occasionally reel up bare hooks. There is no daily catch or size limit on yellow perch in statewide lakes but check the WDFW regulation pamphlet for specifics. You can find an informative WDFW You Tube video on yellow perch and read this blog post for additional information.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass are another popular warmwater game fish in Washington. Bass can be temperamental and pack a voracious appetite and they commonly feed on fish, crawfish, and insects.

Lures to catch bass include surface plugs that jerk, sputter, splatter and pop, diving plugs with or without a built-in sound chamber, rubber, plastic and hair-adorned lead-head jigs, an assortment of spinners and spoons, pork rind, and soft plastic lures such as worms, grubs, leeches and crawfish. For a smallmouth bass use a smaller lure to match their small mouth. A largemouth bass will even grab hold of a fake frog, mice, and snake-type lures.

Look for bass along shallow, weedy shorelines, around cover such as lily pads and stumps. Most are commonly found near cover, either aquatic vegetation, stumps, docks, rocks, or on the bottom near obstructions or changes in depth.

Significant smallmouth bass populations can be found in the Columbia, Snake, Yakima, Okanogan and Grande Ronde rivers, and in Lake Washington, Lake Sammamish, Lake Whatcom, Palmer Lake, Riffe Lake, Lake Goodwin, Lake Stevens, Lake Osoyoos, Banks Lake, Moses Lake, Potholes Reservoir, and several other smaller lakes on both sides of the Cascade mountains.

A nice largemouth bass caught in a Central Washington waterway by a daughter and father duo. (Photo by Reed Foster)

Largemouth bass waters include all the major reservoirs of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project, plus Moses Lake, Silver Lake (Cowlitz County), Long Lake (Spokane County) and Sprague Lake (Adams and Lincoln counties). They can also be found in both free-flowing and impounded parts of the Columbia River, and in hundreds of smaller lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams throughout the state.

Read our “Beginner tips for catching bass from the shoreline” blog for tips and tricks to get starting fishing for smallmouth or largemouth bass.

Crappie are another fun fish to catch, and you can find them in the waters of the Columbia Irrigation Project, Banks Lake, Moses Lake and Potholes Reservoir. Sprague Lake, Lake Washington, the Columbia and Snake rivers, and many smaller lakes and ponds around the state are also popular crappie fishing spots.

A few of the better-known and more productive bluegill fisheries are Moses Lake, Potholes Reservoir, Sprague Lake, and Silver Lake (Cowlitz County). In addition, hundreds of smaller lowland lakes and ponds provide an abundance of fishing opportunities for these sunfish.

Channel catfish can be found in many statewide waterways and spring and summer are a productive time to catch them such as this nice-sized fish that came from a Central Washington waterway. (Photo by Tyson Willard)

Channel catfish are another warmwater fish that anglers like to target during the warmer months, and the brown bullhead is the most common and are excellent table fare. Others within the catfish family are the brown bullhead (most abundant in statewide waterways), yellow bullhead, black bullhead, and the channel catfish.

Popular catfish fishery locations are Moses Lake, Lake Terrell, Liberty Lake, Lake Washington, and Cowlitz County’s Silver Lake. The Lower Columbia River still has its share, especially in slough areas, and many other slow-moving streams.

Must-haves or to do’s when you go fishing

· Remember a new fishing season is underway, so make sure to purchase your 2024–2025 recreational hunting and fishing licenses. Licenses can be purchased from WDFW’s licensing website, and from hundreds of license vendors around the state. The 2023–2024 fishing licenses expired on March 31. Anyone age 15 and older must have a valid license. A Discover Pass is required to park a vehicle at many state lands, including the state park system, WDFW lands, and the Department of Natural Resources lands.

· Angling etiquette can go a long ways when spending time on the water, whether you’re new to fishing or have been doing it for decades. Make the most of your time by following guidelines in this blog post.

· There are more than 7,000 lakes, ponds and reservoirs in Washington, and hundreds of WDFW-managed water-access areas, including some with areas accessible for people with disabilities. Other state and federal agencies operate hundreds more. Details on water-access areas can be found on WDFW’s water access areas webpage.

· The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission Boating Program would also like to remind angler to take a boater safety education course, if you haven’t already, to be prepared for spring and summer. In Washington, boaters who operate a vessel with a 15-horsepower engine or greater must carry a Boater Education Card to prove they passed an accredited boating safety education course.

· Keep in mind that wearing a flotation device saves lives. Drowning is one of the leading causes of fatalities, especially among young children.

Pouring down rain didn’t stop this young angler from catching a smallmouth bass in Lake Washington. (Photo by Calvin Tsai)

· Keep invasive species out of Washington waterways by taking the few extra steps to clean, drain, and dry your boat, jet ski, kayak, or other watercraft, you’re helping to reduce the chances of spreading aquatic invasive species (AIS) to lakes and rivers in our state. Learn more about preventing the spread of AIS on the WDFW website.

· Before heading out, anglers should also check WDFW’s fishing regulations webpage for permanent regulations and emergency rules webpage for rule updates affecting fisheries.

· Anglers can find an informative WDFW warmwater fishing opportunities in Central Washington summary.

· WDFW has an excellent fishing resource website where you can get additional tips. For lowland lakes information, go to WDFW places to go fishing webpage and the Weekender Report.

· Whether you are an experienced angler or just getting started, the WDFW Fish Washington app should be on your mobile device. The free mobile app is designed to convey up-to-the-minute fishing regulations for every lake, river, stream, and marine area in the state.

Venturing out for the first time, luck was on his side as he reeled in two stocked trout, then caught this yellow perch all by himself at Duck Lake near Ocean Shores. (Photo by Jesse Smith)



The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.