Youth Fishing
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What to Catch

Washington offers dozens of freshwater and saltwater fish species, but some stand out because they’re easily available or most likely to bite. See below for descriptions and methods.

Freshwater Species

Rainbow Trout: Stocked by the millions in our lakes and reservoirs, this native Northwest fish is found throughout Washington and is the state’s most popular game fish. As their name suggests, rainbows can be recognized by the red or pink stripe down both sides from the gill covers to the tail. Although rainbows measuring over 30 inches and weighing 20 pounds have been caught here, the average size is 9 to 12 inches.

These trout can be caught on a wide range of baits and lures, including worms, salmon eggs, marshmallows, insects and artificial baits (such as Power Bait), wobbling spoons, spinners, diving plugs and artificial flies. Information on where and how many rainbow trout and other species are stocked is available on WDFW’s fishing stocking website

One particular kind of rainbow trout, known as steelhead, starts life in a freshwater river or creek, migrates out to the ocean for one to four years, then returns to freshwater as an adult. A full-grown steelhead may weigh 5 to 25 pounds and is one of the most-prized of all sport fish among Washington anglers.

Steelhead are caught on clusters of fresh salmon or steelhead eggs, leadhead jigs, wobbling spoons, spinners, artificial flies, small tufts of nylon yarn, and an assortment of small, brightly colored balls of plastic, foam or cork that are known as “bobbers.”

Rainbow trout
Rainbow Trout
Cutthroat Trout: Three kinds of cutthroat are found in Washington waters, and all three are fairly cooperative biters. The coastal cutthroat is most common in western Washington, and is found in hundreds of rivers, creeks and beaver ponds west of the Cascades. The west-slope cutthroat is more common in eastern Washington lakes and streams and is also stocked in many high-country lakes. Lahontan cutthroat are stocked in a few eastern Washington lakes and often grow larger than coastal and west-slope cutthroat, sometimes reaching weights of 5 to 10 pounds or more. Cutthroat trout get their name from the slashes of red or pink under their jaws. Cutthroat trout
Cutthroat Trout
Kokanee: Found in dozens of Washington lakes, the kokanee is a sockeye salmon that lives its entire life in fresh water. They feed on plankton (small organisms in the water), but can be caught on maggots, kernels of white corn, or small pieces of worm. These baits are either still-fished on a colored hook or trolled behind a beaded spinner or small flasher (attractor blade). Kokanee typically grow to 12 or 13 inches and are among the best-eating of all freshwater fish. Kokanee

Yellow Perch: These panfish are abundant throughout Washington, and provide good angling opportunity 12 months a year on many of the lakes and reservoirs open to year-round fishing. Perch are easy to identify by the dark bars down their sides and by their orange belly fins.

They’re commonly caught on leadhead jigs and other artificial lures, but all you really need to catch them is a lively worm fished a few feet below a small bobber. Perch are often found in large “schools,” so where you catch one, you’ll usually find many more. A dozen 10-inch perch, either filleted or cleaned and skinned, provides a great meal for the entire family.

Yellow perch
Yellow Perch

Crappie: Pronounced “croppy,” it’s a favorite of Washington panfish anglers. With green-gold sides and black spots, the crappie is among the prettiest of our so-called warmwater fish, and is also among the tastiest.

The best places to fish for these 8- to 12-inch panfish are around submerged trees, stumps and brush. Small leadhead jigs with plastic or feather bodies work well for catching crappies.

Sunfish: Three species of sunfish - bluegill, pumpkinseed and green - are found in Washington waters. The bluegill is the biggest and most popular with anglers. This hard-fighting, good-eating fish may grow to a pound or larger and is fond of shoreline areas with overhanging limbs and brush. Pumpkinseed sunfish seldom grow larger than 6 inches, but they’re easy to catch on just about any bait, lure or artificial fly small enough to fit in their tiny mouths. Green sunfish are most common in the northeast corner of Washington. Sunfish
Brown Bullhead Catfish: This is the most common member of the catfish family found in Washington waters, and is available in hundreds of our lakes. Brown bullheads average about a foot long and are most active at night, especially from mid-spring to late-summer. A nightcrawler fished just off the bottom is a deadly catfish-getter. Brown bullheads are fun to catch, good to eat, and there’s no limit on how many you can catch here in Washington. Brown bullhead catfish
Brown Bullhead Catfish

Largemouth Bass: Sometimes growing to 8 pounds or more, the largemouth is prized by thousands of Washington anglers and millions throughout the country. Although not native to this part of the country, they are found in many lakes and reservoirs throughout the state. Like perch, crappies, sunfish and other “warmwater” species, largemouths bite best from spring to fall, when water temperatures are higher.

Soft-plastic lures, such as imitation worms, lizards and curly-tail grubs, work well for largemouths, as do baitfish-imitating “plugs” and bladed wire lures known as spinnerbaits. Washington has special fishing rules that require anglers to release all bass between 12 and 17 inches long.


Smallmouth Bass: Although somewhat smaller and less abundant than the largemouth, the smallmouth bass is very popular with Washington’s serious freshwater anglers. This hard-fighting fish sometimes grows to 6 pounds, but half-pounders are much more common. The Columbia-Snake River system contains our largest smallmouth bass population, but several lakes and reservoirs on both sides of the Cascades offer good smallmouth fishing.

Leadhead jigs rigged with three- or four-inch plastic grub or worm bodies work well for these aggressive fish, but they’ll also take spinners, small wobbling plugs and other lures. Check the regulations pamphlet for size restrictions.

Walleye: This larger relative of the yellow perch is abundant throughout much of the Columbia River and in several central Washington lakes and reservoirs. A typical walleye measures 14 to 20 inches and may weigh a pound or two, but these fish sometimes grow to 15 pounds or more. Washington has special size limits for walleyes. They'll bite nightcrawlers, leadhead jigs rigged with plastic grub bodies and minnow-shaped diving plugs. Walleye

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Saltwater Species

Flounder and Sole :Starry flounder, Dover sole, English sole, rock sole, sand sole, Pacific sand dab, speckled sand dab and other flatfish species are found in many areas along the Washington Coast, Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound.

Most can be caught from public fishing piers, private docks and floats or from small boats in protected bays and river mouth areas. All are good eating, and all can be caught on a wide range of baits and lures. Whether you fish for them with leadhead jigs, metal baitfish-imitating jigs, small pieces of herring, mussels or some other bait or lure, remember to keep it near the bottom at all times.

Saltwater Perch: Pile perch, striped seaperch and shiner perch are common around piers, docks, floats and jetties in all of Washington’s saltwater areas. Shiner perch are fun to catch but too small to eat, while pile perch and striped seaperch often grow to 12 inches or larger and are very good eating. Check the tide tables and fish the incoming tide; these fish work their way up rocks and pilings as the water rises over them. Small pieces of clam, mussels, shrimp and other tiny baits work best for these fish.
Sculpins: Red Irish lord, staghorn sculpin, buffalo sculpin and great sculpin all are available within casting range of anglers on piers, docks, jetties and some beaches on Washington’s coast and inland saltwater areas. Catch them on whole herring or anchovies, small chunks of herring or anchovies, ghost or sand shrimp or even nightcrawlers, as well as leadhead jigs or metal jigs like those used for salmon. Although they’re not much to look at and are commonly referred to as “bullheads,” sculpins provide a pair of thick, white-meat fillets that are excellent on the dinner table. Sculpin

Greenling: Kelp greenling are common throughout Washington’s saltwater fishing areas, and we also have fair numbers of white-spotted and rock greenling. All can be caught from jetties, piers and docks, in water as shallow as 10 or 12 feet. Areas with rocky bottoms provide the best greenling fishing, and kelp beds can be especially good. Leadhead jigs, metal jigs and small herring baits work best for greenling, which are usually found within a foot or two of the bottom. Unlike most saltwater bottomfish, greenling have soft fins and small teeth, so they’re safe to handle and easy to clean or fillet. Because of their soft fins and trout-like shape, they’re sometimes called “sea trout,” and they provide excellent eating.


Rockfish: Many species of rockfish are found in Washington’s marine waters, some of them within range of pier and jetty anglers. Copper, brown and black rockfish are the three most likely to be found near shore, and all are most plentiful around submerged rock piles, boulders and at the base of rock jetties.

Small herring or anchovy baits, as well as artificial lures that resemble these baitfish, work well for rockfish, as do plastic “grub” bodies fished on leadhead jigs. These fish grow very slowly, so special fishing rules are in effect. Check on daily limits and other rules before you go fishing!


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Freshwater and Saltwater Species

Salmon: Washington has five species of Pacific salmon, all of which start their lives in freshwater, migrate out to spend most of their lives in saltwater, then come back to their freshwater “home” stream to spawn and die. Because of their life cycle, salmon provide fishing opportunities for both saltwater and freshwater anglers.

Chinook: The Chinook, or king, salmon is the largest of the five, sometimes growing to 60 pounds or more. Popular saltwater fishing methods for this trophy salmon include trolling or mooching (still-fishing) with herring, trolling flashers (attractors) with streamer flies or plastic squid and jigging with baitfish-imitating metal jigs. In freshwater, Chinook are often caught on large wobbling plugs, metal spinners, clusters of salmon eggs and ghost shrimp. Chinook salmon
Coho: The Coho salmon’s most popular nickname is silver salmon, and adult silvers may weigh 6 to 20 pounds. Many of the same saltwater baits, lures and fishing methods that take Chinook will also take Coho, but Coho are usually found closer to the surface and are more willing to chase down a faster-moving meal. Coho salmon
Chum: Chum salmon are also known as dog salmon, and most of the chums caught in Washington are taken from freshwater rivers and creeks. Usually the last to come back from saltwater, they’re readily available in November and December. These 10- to 20- pound fish are tough fighters and are most often caught on artificial flies, small tufts of fluorescent yarn on a hook, and little balls of plastic, cork or foam above a hook. Chartreuse is the most popular color lure for Washington chums. Chum salmon
Pink: Pink salmon are nicknamed “humpies” because of the pronounced hump behind the head of the spawning male fish, and they’re the smallest of our Pacific salmon, rarely topping 10 pounds. Pinks return to Washington streams only during odd-numbered years, but during those years they often provide excellent fishing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and northern Puget Sound, as well as in several Puget Sound rivers. Saltwater fishing methods for humpies include trolling with small herring or anchovy baits or small wobbling spoons in pink, orange or red. Pink salmon
Sockeye: The sockeye, or red, salmon is the least abundant of Washington’s five salmon, but considered by many anglers to be the best-eating of all. Our best-known sockeye fishery is in Lake Washington, where anglers catch them on a bare, red hook trolled behind a large attractor blade.