We are truly fortunate to live in Washington state, where we are not only surrounded by beautiful land but also beautiful water, which means abundant opportunities to fish! I have been fishing in Washington since I was about 6 years old. This article will highlight the many fishing opportunities available in the greater Seattle area year-round! Fishing in Washington is a tradition that has been around for as long as the indigenous people have lived here. Today, rod and reel fishing remains the most sustainable way to fish and is a great way to appreciate our local nature and even feed yourself!
One of the best parts of living in Seattle is the close proximity to Puget Sound. In the summer, abundant salmon species gather to begin their yearly or semi-yearly spawn. Five species of Pacific salmon can be found in Washington: Chinook (also called Kings), Coho (also called Silvers), Chum (also called Dogs), Sockeye (also called Reds), and Pink (also called Humpies). Salmon have a fascinating life cycle! Most of them are born from eggs laid in late summer and fall in local river systems. Throughout fall and summer, these large fish swim upstream, mate and lay eggs in nests called “redds”. Pipers Creek, the Duwamish, and the Cedar Rivers are all great places to watch salmon come upstream even in the heart of the city!
Saltwater fishing is best in the summer when the Chinook and King Salmon seasons open. Both salmon can be caught right in downtown Seattle, even from the docks. The dock near Salty’s on Alki Beach is another great spot, but for the best success, get out in a boat and troll with a flasher and a squid jig at a depth of about 100 feet. Most fishermen use a heavy downrigger to bring their lure down to the bottom where the salmon are. Using a fish finder sonar system to find schools of baitfish can also help you locate salmon as you travel back and forth across Elliot Bay or the beach just outside of Golden Gardens in Seattle. The King Salmon in this picture was caught right in the heart of downtown Seattle!
In addition to salmon, every October and November, millions of market squid descend upon Puget Sound, starting in Everett and working their way down to Tacoma. Squid can be caught using a simple squid jig with upward spikes from many of Seattle’s public fishing piers. The secret is to use glow-in-the-dark jigs and slowly lower your rod down and bring it up sharply. If you feel a little bit of extra weight on the line, that will be the squid! Daily limits can be as much as a bucketful which you can then turn into some tasty calamari!
Other Saltwater Fish
If squid isn’t your thing, how about massive 2-4 foot long Lingcod? These massive fish have a season that only lasts during the month of May and they can be caught in Elliot Bay in rocky areas. Use a live flounder or plastic jig to attract a bite! Speaking of flounder, the Northwest supports a very healthy population of bottom fish including Starry Flounder and other flatfish that taste just like halibut. Put a little bit of squid or other fish meat on the end, bring your bait to the bottom, and you are almost sure to get a bite! Sandy bottoms are the best for flounder. I have caught them at the Edmonds Fishing Pier and right next to the Great Wheel in downtown Seattle.
We also have sharks here and occasionally you may catch a dogfish (mud shark) like the one pictured here. These spiny dogfish are in fact edible, but be careful! In front of each fin is a venomous barb so don’t get poked!
Are you feeling adventurous? Put on your waders and stand in the surf and waves in Long Beach, Washington. Get a big rod, some shrimp as bait with a heavy weight, and cast out as far as you can. Hungry and beautiful surfperch will bite on the shrimp as they see it land among the waves. Cook it up with some butter and maybe a couple of geoducks or mussels — which you can also dig and collect from the beach — and you will have yourself a hearty meal!
In addition to coastal cutthroat trout, many salmon can be caught in the summer and fall in our local rivers. Check local fishing reports and regulations, as salmon fishing in rivers is highly regulated, and bring a pair of waders. You are sure to make new friends, as many fishermen and fisherwomen line the banks of rivers like the Duwamish to cast their jigs upstream using a bobber. Cast your line in the upstream direction and let it float downstream. If you are facing forward and imagining the river as a clock, reel your line in when your bobber hits 11 o’clock. Don’t be afraid to give your line a light twitching action from time to time to entice a bite! Enjoy a day in the sun as you make repeated casts and be mindful of not crossing lines with your neighbor!
In the winter, many of our river systems (including the Skagit River) support a steelhead run. These picky fish are the ultimate bragging right as they are not only phenomenal eating but are also a real challenge to catch — whether from the bank or in a drift boat! In November and December, head on down to the Columbia River where you can catch massive dinosaur-like Sturgeon, a prehistoric bottom feeder fish. Even though the area has been intensely developed, these gentle giants (up to 15 feet long!) persist and will give you quite an arm workout! These fish can be found throughout the Columbia River, all the way to Idaho. I prefer to fish for them out of a kayak — there’s nothing like having a giant monster fish pull you around! Lastly, there are great fly fishing opportunities here as well, especially along the Yakima River and at the alpine lakes and streams in the nearby Cascade Mountains!
Lakes and Ponds
Lastly, Washington has a phenomenal trout stocking program as well as opportunities for bass, panfish, carp, catfish and even crawdads! Many of the major lakes are stocked multiple times a year (even in the mountains!) with large trout which can be caught using Powerbait, live worms, or plastic jigs. Seattle’s Green Lake, Lake Union, and Lake Washington all feature abundant populations of Rainbow or Cutthroat trout, giant carp, bass, striped tiger perch, and pumpkin sunfish like the one I caught by the Space Needle on Lake Union. Live worms have proven to be the most successful bait for me, but for carp, you will need to use corn! That’s right, regular old sweetcorn on a hair rig! These fish can get massive and will give you quite a fight once hooked!
Bass, Catfish and More
If you are a bass enthusiast, your time will be best spent on Lake Washington where Senko worms, Chatterbaits, and plastic frogs draw a good bite in spring as male largemouth and smallmouth bass are cleaning their beds for breeding. Salmon can also be caught during their summer migration in Lake Washington. Popular piers to fish off of are quite abundant in Kirkland, Bellevue and Renton! Bullhead and Channel Catfish can be found in multiple lakes including Lake Washington, Green Lake (where the state record was just broken!) and Roses Lake in Eastern Washington. Washington state even has Tiger Muskies (think of a freshwater barracuda that feeds on other fish, small ducks, and your hopes and dreams as it’s one of the most elusive fish to catch).
Bored of being inside during the winter? We even have ice fishing! If fish aren’t your thing, try your luck at making or using a premade crawdad trap! All you need is some fish or hotdogs to use as bait. Let your trap sit at the bottom of almost any lake here for a couple of hours and you can have local, edible Signal Crayfish or introduced Southern Crayfish!
To be honest, almost any body of water in Washington state is probably fishable! The possibilities are endless. And by enjoying this pastime you are participating in a historical tradition that is truly unique to the Pacific Northwest.