8 Best Lakes to Catch Channel Catfish in Washington State

Fishing for catfish in Washington seems to always be on the back burner for most anglers.  In most cases, catfish conjure images of docile bottom dwellers not worth the effort.  

Well, for the savvy anglers among us, this is your chance to get in on one of the most underutilized fisheries in Washington State, channel catfish.  These voracious predators are anything but docile.  Even a heavy rod and tough line is put to the test after hooking into a big channel cat.  

According to the WDFW, there are 45 known ponds, lakes and rivers that contain catchable channel catfish in Washington; 29 of which were stock 10 to 20 years ago and are now producing huge channel cats.  

As the only catfish species in Washington with a forked tail, channel catfish are easy to distinguish if size alone doesn’t convince you.  Catfish can live 15-20 years, exceed 30 inches long and weigh over 30 pounds.  The state record, caught on Lake Terrell in August 2019, weighed 37.70 pounds.

To get you out on the water and fishing faster, we’ve narrowed down the list to our top favorites.  Not all lakes on this list will produce the next state record but they will give you a stringer full of delicious catfish.

Here are our 8 favorite channel catfish waters in Washington State: 

  1. Roses Lake
  2. Green Lake
  3. Lake Wallula
  4. Lake Terrell
  5. St. Clair Lake
  6. Liberty Lake
  7. Sprague Lake
  8. Bear Lake

1.  Roses Lake

178 acres of fine channel catfish water lies tucked above the northern shores of Lake Chelan, less than 2 miles from the town of Manson.  Roses Lake has a public access boat launch, dock and large parking area on the southwest side of the lake off Green Avenue.  Due to private property and reeds that line almost all the way around the lake, bank fishing is pretty much impossible.    

We suggest heading toward the north end of the lake.  Work your way along the edges casting out away from the weeds.  Stink Creek exits Roses Lake 1,000 feet from the boat launch and passes through Dry Lake on its way to Lake Chelan just over the hill.

Fish in 15-20 feet of water in late summer and early fall as the cats are going to be below the thermocline in cooler water.  As darkness approaches, progressively move your bait into shallow water.  These opportunistic feeders cruise shallow reed-lined edges looking for forage at night.

Channel catfish are stocked in this lake and you can expect 2-5 year old fish to be in the 16-24 inch range with fish up to 20 pounds possible.  There is a 5 fish daily limit with no minimum keep size. 

The channel catfish in Lake Roses fight hard and are exciting to catch.  Be careful when you go to grab and hold these fish as they have three sharp spines that will leave nasty cuts.  Hold them tightly near the head to avoid the spines on the front of each pectoral fin and the leading edge of the dorsal fin.  The smaller fish are more dangerous since they tend to flip around more.

2.  Green Lake

Green Lake is the only lake stocked with channel catfish in King County.  Situated next to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Green Lake offers much more than just fishing opportunities.  The 2.8 mile path that encircles the 250 acre lake is a busy exercise spot for locals and provides excellent shoreline access for anglers.  

Non-motorized boats that can be launched from shore are allowed.  There are also three fishing piers located around the lake on the northeast, east and south shores.

Open year-round, expect good fishing for channel catfish May through September.  November through March is poor as the water temperature drops drastically making these warm water fish sluggish.  This weedy, shallow lake has lily pads lining the west shore which provides the only surface cover for fish.  Park your boat just along the edge or a few feet in and simply drop your setup straight to the bottom or cast along the edge.  

A sliding egg sinker above a three way swivel with one short and one long leader tipped with an octopus circle hook is as simple as it gets.  Baits of choice include worms, shrimp, liver, hotdogs and anything else smelly as catfish are scent-driven predators.    

Avoid the northeast corner which is the lake’s public swimming area.

While on the hunt for channel cats, you also have the opportunity to catch carp, rainbow trout, rock bass, brown trout, brown bullhead, largemouth bass and pumpkinseed sunfish.  Increase your odds with a two-pole endorsement.  The daily limit for catfish is 5 with no minimum size.

3.  Lake Wallula

Lake Wallula, also known as the McNary Pool, is the first portion of the Columbia River that creates the border between Washington and Oregon.  Starting at Priest Rapids Dam, the 26,273 acre reservoir stretches south to McNary Dam and also includes 8 miles of the Snake River until Ice Harbor Dam.  The Yakima and Walla Walla River confluences also join the Columbia within this region.

Water levels fluctuate in this reservoir to meet irrigation needs which consequently influences fishing.  March through June is the best time to catch warm water channel cats.  It is possible to catch these naturally reproducing catfish year round in the lower Columbia, Snake, Yakima and Walla Walla Rivers but the prime season really begins to taper off as fall approaches and water temperatures cool.  

Good places to start fishing for channel cats include the Walla Walla River estuary, Casey Pond-Burbank area and up river on the Snake above the Highway 12 bridge.

The mouth of the Walla Walla River is a well-known channel cat hot spot.  

Many anglers fish at night with smelly meat baits and 20 pounders are common.  There is no size or catch limit for channel catfish in Lake Wallula or any of the tributaries feeding into it.

Between McNary Dam and the city of Richland there are several nice boat launch facilities on both the Washington and Oregon side. The Hood Park and Columbia Park Marina launches give you central access and are a great starting point.  Most launches have bathroom amenities as well.  North of Richland, more primitive launch sites are located at Ringold, Parking Lot 7 of the Hanford National Monument and Vernita Bridge on Hwy SR-240.

4.  Lake Terrell

Far north, toward the Canadian border, is Lake Terrell which produced the current state record in 2019.  If you are interested in catching the next channel catfish record, make sure to read our article on catching a record fish so when the time comes you know what to do!  

Just 5 miles west of Interstate 5 and the city of Ferndale, this 321 acre lake is part of the Lake Terrell State Game Refuge.  As such, it has an undeveloped shoreline but large lily pad growth keeps shoreline anglers at bay except near the WDFW boat launch and dock on the west side. 

Open year-round for fishing, the best time for channel cats occurs May through August, tapering off as fall arrives.  Catfish are easy fish to catch and the gear and bait required is easy on your wallet.  Smelly baits on the bottom work best but cats are known to strike bass gear, spinners, plugs and top-water baits since they are opportunist/forage feeders.  Get 5, eater-sized cats on your stinger and you can call it a good day. 

5.  St. Clair Lake

Situated in Thurston County, St. Clair Lake is one of the most uniquely shaped lakes on this list.  A satellite view from GoogleMaps reveals 233 acres of long skinny channels with numerous inlets, coves, and points.  Make sure you remember which direction the boat launch is or you could be searching long after dark trying to find it.  

Almost entirely surrounded by homes, shoreline access is limited to the WDFW boat launches and parking area.  A Discover Pass is required.  Exit Yelm Hwy SE onto Rehklau Rd SE and drive 0.9 miles to the St. Clair Boat Ramps.  The main boat launch and parking area is on the left side of Rehklau Road and allows access to the lower and left channels of the lake.  

Directly across the street is another ramp with access to the northeast finger of the lake.  Choose the appropriate ramp to decrease travel time on this curvy lake. 

At more than 110 feet deep, this lake is mostly known for its stocked trout and kokanee fishery.  Fishing is open year-round on St. Clair Lake and, unlike others on this list, targeting channel catfish is good year round, especially along some of the undeveloped shoreline!  Again, the daily limit is 5 so go ahead and catch enough for a fish fry.  

6.  Liberty Lake

This lake and its namesake city, Liberty Lake, sit almost on the Idaho border directly east of Spokane.  Fishing is only open from March 1st through October 31st.  Brown trout predominate the catch in March but as warmer weather arrives bass, yellow perch, brown bullhead and channel catfish take over.  Plan to specifically target cats in June, July and August.      

The Liberty Lake Boat Launch is located at the northern end on East 3rd Avenue and has 2 pit toilets.  The parking area is small, with only 6 regular vehicle and 8 boat trailer spots.  Arrive early to guarantee a spot. 

To the southeast, on the other end of the lake, is Liberty Lake Regional Park.  The park has a campground, multiple restrooms and a public beach with swimming.

Speedboats are allowed so we suggest working your way along the edge of the lake to stay out of the way of the faster boats and big wakes. The south end of the lake contains the most undeveloped shoreline with weed lined edges yielding good catches of channel catfish. 

 7.  Sprague Lake

Sprague Lake is one of the largest lakes on our list with 1,760 acres of water to explore.  The entire length of the lake parallels I-90 and is only 2 miles from the City of Sprague.  

The lake is open year-round except the waters southwest of the southwest tip of Harper Island is only open May 1- September 30 and the marsh at the southwest end of the lake, including Cow Creek to Danekas Road, is closed waters for all species.  Make sure to check the current fishing regulations for any updates and special rules.

Expect to catch channel catfish April through October with June and July being the peak of the season.  Rainbow trout, largemouth bass, bluegill, sunfish and brown bullhead also occupy these waters and offer amply fishing opportunities.  

Sprague offers a good mix of weed lined banks with numerous small islands and points perfect for ambushing catfish.  

The Sprague Lake Public Access boat launch and dock is located directly across from Harper Island.  At the northeast end of the lake, Sprague Lake Resort offers RV and tent camping.  Stay overnight to gain access to their boat launch and shore fishing areas.

8.  Bear Lake

The last of the lowland lakes on our list is Bear Lake.  Located in between Chattaroy and Milan on Hwy 2 in Spokane County, this small 29.5 acre lake is part of Bear Lake Regional Park.  There is no boat launch but portable boat such as kayaks are allowed.  Most of the lake is accessible for shoreline angling.  

The day-use area with parking, bathrooms, a playground and beach access is located on the west side of the park.  

Please note that special rules apply to this lake.  Only children under the age of 15, senior anglers and anglers with a disability and designated harvester companion card can fish.

Bear Lake is stocked annually and provides an excellent opportunity for those special anglers to catch not only channel catfish but rainbow trout, largemouth bass and perch.

Final Thoughts

Channel catfish are spread far and wide across the state of Washington so finding a spot close to home should not be difficult.  For the entire list of 45 channel catfish locations, please visit the WDFW’s website.

We hope you will participate and enjoy this fun and easy fishery as much as we do!