Most anglers don’t think of Washington State as an ice fishing destination. Especially since lakes seldom freeze in the mild, west coast winters. Yet, for the intrepid few, finding superb ice fishing is just a quick drive over the Cascade Mountains to Eastern Washington.
The snow capped cascades are the dividing line of the state. Temperate lowland lakes lie to the west and a winter wonderland on the east. Skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing draw thousands of visitors each year to Eastern Washington.
Drive east from Seattle on Interstate 90 for only a few hours and you are immersed in lake country. Countless lakes offer ample opportunities to try your luck at ice fishing.
If the Seattle rain has you itching to see blue skies and winter landscapes, you are sure to enjoy this list of 5 awesome lakes for ice fishing this year.
- Patterson Lake
- Fish Lake
- Moses Lake
- Roses Lake
- Fourth of July Lake
There are many more lakes that provide winter fishing and most have a nice thick layer of ice by January. These 5 are among the best producers, so grab your gear and go ice fishing in Washington.
1. Patterson Lake
A 4 hour drive from Seattle through picturesque mountains over I-90 brings you to a spot just west of the idilic town of Winthrop.
Rainbow Trout, feisty Kokanee Salmon, Black Crappie and good sized Yellow Perch await.
About the Lake:
Lying in the revered Methow River Valley in Okanogan county, at 160 acres, is Patterson Lake. Outdoor enthusiasts flock to the Methow area for all kinds of winter activities and the lake has developed a cult following for ice fishing. There is a fair chance you won’t be the only one drilling holes during your visit, but good shoreline access allows anglers to spread out. Although, you may find yourself alone during weekdays.
The lake offers a diverse winter fishery with some decent sized perch (up to 12 inches) and nice sized trout and kokanee. Occasional hold-over trout reach 14 inches or better. The kokanee seldom exceed 11 inches but they are a tasty treat all the same.
Good, solid ice starts to cover the lake by the end of December. The sub-zero temperatures during January and February are most suitable for developing a safe, thick layer of ice. Check with the locals to get an ice report before planning your trip.
Lakeside cabin rentals make for a cozy getaway and plenty of winter lodging is available in the nearby town of Winthrop.
Perch fishing really heats up in the winter. Large schools can be found at depths of 25 feet or so. A good ice fishing fish finder is a big help in locating groups of fish. If you don’t have one, it only takes a few test holes to start dialing in a pattern. Drill a hole at a promising location and fish for at least 20 minutes before moving on.
Good baits for perch include small jigs tipped with wax worms.
Most trout are caught about a foot off the bottom in 15 feet or more of water. The lake drops off fast to 50 plus feet, so stick to areas around land points. The north and south ends are good bets for finding schooling fish. Traditional baits for trout work in the winter as well.
You can find kokanee in water from 20 to 60 feet deep. They cruise in schools, so a fish finder is essential. Just like in open water, add a small dodger above a small jig tipped with corn to get their attention.
If you want to try your luck on some black crappie, move to the shallow, weedy sections of the lake. A small spoon or jig tipped with maggots does the trick. Target these fish in about 10 feet of water.
2. Fish Lake
Fish Lake is situated only 16 miles outside the bustling town of Leavenworth, near the neighboring Lake Wenatchee. From Seattle, you can expect a drive of just over 3 hours.
Mainly a Yellow Perch destination with good opportunities to catch some Rainbow Trout.
About the Lake:
Talk to anyone about ice fishing in Washington State and you are likely to hear about Fish Lake. This 492 acre lake boasts a strong winter perch fishery and its proximity to the tourist-friendly Leavenworth adds to the draw.
At just shy of 2000 feet of elevation, a good cap of ice usually forms by late December. Historically, the best fishing is the last week of December through early January.
Most anglers access the lake via Cove Resort on the southwest end. They supply ice fishing tackle, lodging and up-to-date information on the ice and fishing conditions. Limited shore access on the north and south shores is possible from two forest service roads, NF Rd. 6202 and Chiwawa Rd.
The lake sees a good turnout of devoted perch anglers most weekends after the ice forms. When the bite is hot, a steady stream of 8-9 inch perch get pulled through the ice. These delicious fish fry up nice and with a daily limit of 25, you can eat to your heart’s content.
Perch are definitely the target species during the winter months, but there are some decent rainbows to be had as well. Finding trout involves locating good underwater structure.
I enjoy visiting Fish Lake for summer bass fishing. While there, I scout out areas with ideal underwater topography for winter trout fishing. I mark the areas on my GPS and return to the coordinates once the lake freezes. You will probably find a few honey holes using this method.
Trout are usually caught within a foot of two of the bottom and a simple dropper rig baited with power bait or worms has been very successful. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks this lake annually with over 2500, 10 to 12 inch, trout.
Perch are caught mostly on small jigs or micro spoons tipped with maggots or nightcrawler chunks. They school up, so once you find one, there will be more.
3. Moses Lake
Get to Moses Lake and its namesake city from Seattle via Interstate 90. Moses Lake offers some of the closest ice fishing available to westside residents. A straight shot over Snoqualmie Pass with less than a 3 hour drive, is all it takes.
A healthy population of Rainbow Trout and Yellow Perch get the most attention. Occasionally, walleye are pulled through the ice as well.
About the Lake:
Moses Lake is the heart of summer and winter time recreation in Eastern Washington.
Situated dead center in one of the best fishing regions Washington has to offer, it is definitely a lake to test your ice fishing skills on.
This 6728 acre man-made lake formed as part of the huge Columbia Basin Water Project and has everything anglers love; good fishing with lots of public access.
Ice fishing on Moses Lake primarily focuses on the bountiful perch population that schools up each winter.
Keep in mind though, ice formation is not consistent from year to year. Occasional mild winters sometimes prevent safe ice from capping the water. When the lake does get a good ice over, the fishing can be good for both trout and perch.
This huge body of water makes finding fish a true needle-in-a-hay-stack situation but reliable perch catches are best near Blue Heron Park.
Jumbo perch are frequently caught as well but it takes good ice to get to where they are. The window of opportunity is often very short and in some winters, the lake goes un-fished.
Traditional trout baits and a variety of winter perch tactics work well. Fat perch get lethargic in the chilly water and bite softly. A spring bobber added to your rod tip helps to detect these bites.
I found that getting good information about this lake from locals can be a challenge. Local tackle shops are your best source for ice updates, so ask around before making the trip. As ice fishing popularity in the region grows, better information and ice fishing tackle will become more readily available.
4. Roses Lake
Located 10 miles outside the small city of Chelan, Roses Lake is a worthwhile drive from the rainy westside. Make a weekend trip out of it and the 4 hour drive from Seattle won’t seem so bad.
Great opportunity for chubby perch and fall-planted rainbows pushing 20 inches are possible.
About the Lake:
Roses Lake is one of three lakes situated a mile north of Mason. Wapato and Dry lakes are its neighbors but at 178 acres, Roses Lake is the place to be for ice fishing.
Good ice starts forming by the end of December and can persist until mid-March if the weather is right. It is a good option for late season ice fishing when you are still itching to get on the ice.
If seclusion is your goal, then Roses Lake is the spot. The great fishing has yet to make this lake a crowded fishing spot and you are sure to find your own spot. Weekends see a fair number of anglers but late-season weekdays are lonesome on the ice.
A public boat launch and parking area is located on the south shore and provides excellent access onto the ice.
Rainbow Trout fishing can be excellent in January and February in somewhat shallow waters. Keep your bait about a foot off the bottom to entice last season’s holdovers. I have the most success in about 15 feet of water.
The perch fishing is steady throughout the season. Locate schools in deeper water. Patience is key because the featureless bottom of Roses Lake means schools are always on the move looking for food.
25 feet or more is a good place to start. A fish finder helps alert you to passing schools. Get their attention with a maggot tipped spoon or jig. Swedish pimples are a fine choice.
Without a sensitive rod setup, you will miss half the strikes from subtle bites. Braided line and a spring bobber tip really boost your hookup rate. Jig your spoon right on the bottom to stir up sediment and draw in hungry schools.
Once a school comes through, the action can get lively for a bit. After hooking a fish, reel it up and get your gear back in the water for more before they continue on.
5. Fourth of July Lake
It is a long drive from the westside of the state but if you call Spokane, Washington home, the 1 hour drive to Fourth of July Lake is worth every minute.
Superb fishing for high quality Rainbow Trout in excess of 20 inches.
About the Lake:
Fourth of July Lake is a winter-only fishery. The 100 acre lake opens on “Black Friday” after Thanksgiving, which offers a great alternative to visiting packed shopping malls.
Open water persists into early December most years. Late December through February provides some of the best opportunities around to go after large rainbows through the ice.
The lake is long and narrow, so a bit of walking may be required to reach prime spots. Once you arrive at your location, expect to catch trout that average 12 to 14 inches. On a good day, it is not unreasonable to catch several trout pushing 24 inches.
This lake is narrow but long. You may need to walk a ways to get above deeper water. Trout tend to hold in 12 to 20 feet. The southern most end is generally said to produce the best catches. Bring along a sled to carry your gear during the long trek.
Most anglers find consistent bites on small spoons or bare hooks with meal worms or nightcrawler pieces. Powerbait and salmon eggs are used as well.
Fish your gear near the bottom and occasionally jig your bait to get the fish’s attention.
When, not if, you hookup with a hog, make sure to fight patiently. The water may be cold but the rainbows have plenty of play in them. Most fish over 20 inches are lost right at the hole when you try forcing them up too quick.
More opportunities for ice fishing are possible in the great state of Washington than you might have believed. It takes some exploration and time finding your spot but the effort is well rewarded. If you are antsy to escape the winter doldrums of Seattle rain, then get ready to go ice fishing.
Want to learn more about ice fishing and the gear you’ll need? Take a minute to read our guide to ice fishing. It’s great for novice and experienced anglers alike.