Washington Fishing Seasons: The Complete Guide for 2024

Feb 21, 2024 | 10 minute read
Reading Time: 10 minutes

From volcanic mountains and striking valleys to scenic rivers and ocean shores, the Evergreen State is famous for its diverse nature. Of course, Washington is also a fantastic place to go angling. Its waters, whether fresh or salty, are abundant with life. But before you’re ready to explore this incredible fishery, it’s always good to get acquainted with the fishing seasons in Washington.

An aerial view of the evening skyline of Seattle, as viewed from the Puget Sound waters's, with famous landmarks such as the Space Needle visible.

Between the different rivers, lakes, coastal waters, and the open ocean, there’s plenty of fish to catch in Washington. You can cast your line all year round, but what you’ll target heavily depends on when you visit. Below, we’ll provide you with a brief rundown of which fish species are biting throughout the year. Then, we’ll cover the fishing opportunities each season in Washington entails. Let’s get started!

What is the best season to go fishing in Oregon?

Species Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Chinook Salmon Good Good Fair Fair Weak Good Great Great Good Weak Fair Good
Coho Salmon Weak Weak Weak Weak Weak Good Great Great Great Good Fair Weak
Sockeye Salmon Weak Weak Weak Weak Weak Good Good Good Fair Weak Weak Weak
Steelhead/Rainbow Trout Great Great Great Great Great Fair Fair Fair Good Great Great Great
Cutthroat Trout Weak Weak Good Great Great Good Fair Fair Good Great Good Fair
Sturgeon Fair Fair Fair Fair Good Good Good Good Great Great Fair Fair
Bass Weak Weak Weak Great Great Good Good Good Great Great Good Weak
Walleye Weak Weak Good Great Great Good Good Good Great Great Weak Weak
Squid Great Good Fair Fair Fair Fair Fair Fair Fair Great Great Great
Dungeness Crab Great Great Great Good Good Good Good Good Good Great Great Great

If you’re aiming for the most diversity and catching some of the state’s most famous species, visit Washington in summer and early fall. It’s when you’ll get all the variety the Pacific Northwest offers, with all the main targets eagerly biting. These include Salmon, different types of bottom fish, as well as Crabs.

But while the fishing peaks between June and October, there’ll still be something to target if you happen to visit outside of this period. For example, Trout favor colder weather and Perch eagerly bite even during the depths of winter. For a deeper dive into Washington’s fishing seasons, check out our month-by-month breakdown below, or see what’s biting right now.

January

While January is technically the “offseason” in Washington, there are certainly fish to catch if you know where to go. During the first half of the month, some lakes may already be frozen. And in their icy waters, you’ll find hot Trout action, as well as tasty Perch and Crappie. Lake Roosevelt, Rat Lake, and Molson Lake are a few of the most popular spots.

An angler leaning towards the water on a river bank, holding a Steelhead he caught fishing during the winter season in Washington slightly above the waterline, with snow covering the shoreline.
Photo courtesy of CNH Guide Service.

Meanwhile, Puget Sound also features a few opportunities to catch something for dinner. Squid fishing is popular among locals during winter, as well as crabbing. Salmon fishing is closed in most places, except for Marine Area 13. Head there and you’ll get to reel in juvenile Salmon that locals like to call “Blackmouth.”

There’s also good winter Steelhead action along places such as the Skykomish River. But if you opt to fish for Salmon or Steelhead, bear in mind that you can only keep hatchery fish – all wild specimens must be released. So keep an eye out for those adipose fins, hatchery fish will have them clipped!

February

As the winter ice really sets in, Washington’s hardwater fishing season reaches its peak. There’s good angling on small lakes all over the state. But Bonaparte Lake, Patterson Lake, and Curlew Lake fall among the best ice fishing spots for Trout, Perch, Crappie, and Kokanee.

An angler in sunglasses posing with a big Rainbow Trout he caught, the fish's signature pink line and cheeks are clearly visible, while waters and the shoreline can be seen behind the angler.
Photo courtesy of Fishin Electrician.

For winter Steelhead, there’s good fishing along the upper Columbia River. The same goes for the Skagit and Sauk Rivers, both of which are easily accessible if you base your trip from Seattle. Finally, the various rivers on the Olympic Peninsula also feature plenty of action this time of year.

In Puget Sound, especially its southern part, you can often reel in sea-run Cutthroat Trout in February. However, saltwater fishing is – by and large – in a lull until the weather gets warmer.

March

March is a month of change in Washington. Two marine areas in Puget Sound – 10 and 11 – open for Chinook Salmon retention on the first day of the month. With the season opening, you’ll see more and more of Washington’s charter captains on the docks, offering all kinds of adventures.

An angler in sunglasses and a hat posing on a charter boat in Washington, holding a big, dark-colored Lingcod he caught, with waters behind him.
Photo courtesy of Messin’ Around Fishing Charter.

Besides Salmon, you can also partake in what’s locally called “potluck” fishing, which means going for whatever bites. At this time of year, you’ll typically hook into Rockfish, Lingcod, and Flatfish.

With the waters warming up, some insect species will begin hatching, too. If you’re a fly angler, then you know this is an exciting time to hit the rivers. Yakima River is a great choice for Trout, as well as Rocky Ford.

April

Starting in April, the fishing improves just about everywhere in Washington. If you’re looking for Trout, it’s the prime time to hit the state’s lakes and rivers. The same goes for Bass – spring is often touted as the best season to catch these wonderful fish. Look for them along the coastal flats, canals, shallow bays, or dropoffs.

Two Washington anglers posing next to each other on a boat with the angler on the left holding a sizeable Rockfish they caught during the spring season.
Photo courtesy of Messin’ Around Fishing Charter.

In Seattle and its surrounding waters, bottom fishing really picks up. In addition to Rockfish and Lingcod, Halibut season usually opens early in April. When it comes to Salmon fishing, most of the Puget Sound marine areas are yet to open but keep an eye out for regulations! There’ll typically be at least one or two zones where you can catch these prized fish.

Of course, Puget Sound is not the only place to reel in some Chinook. The famous Buoy 10 fishery on the state’s southern border typically opens for retention in March. These amazing waters are among the hottest fishing spots during the spring season in Washington.

May

May brings similar opportunities for freshwater fishing as the previous month. That means you can expect excellent Trout fishing in places such as Lone Lake, Lennice, and Nunnally, as well as the epic Yakima River. Bass fishing is likewise excellent, and it’s really all about figuring out their current pattern. Once you find them, they’ll be biting.

Two anglers in hats and overalls standing on a dock with each holding a Halibut towards the camera, with boats visible behind them.
Photo courtesy of KYS Outdoor Adventures.

In the middle of the month, several more Puget Sound marine areas open for Salmon retention. The peak season is not here yet, but there’s definitely fish to catch. Besides Salmon, bottom fishing remains a solid choice on any given day. Big Lingcod prowl the depths, along with Rockfish. For Halibut, the western end of the sound and the open ocean are often your best bets.

Spring is also a good season to hit Washington’s freshwaters and fish for Walleye and Kokanee. They’re scattered throughout the different lakes and reservoirs. If you’re looking for ideas – Moses Lake is great for Walleye while Lake Roosevelt offers plenty of Kokanee action.

June

With the waters warming up, Washington begins to enter its peak fishing season. In the freshwaters, pretty much everything will be eager to gobble up your bait. King Salmon, summer Steelhead, Walleye, and Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass are just a few of the species you could encounter.

An angler in a white hoodie smiling and holding a Coho Salmon towards the camera with waters and clear skies in the background.
Photo courtesy of A Spot Tail Salmon Guide.

In Puget Sound, June is your last month to reel in Halibut, unless the quotas remain unfulfilled. As we get deeper into the month, you’ll see more and more Salmon show up as they get ready for their summer run. A short Coho retention season usually takes around this time of year.

All in all, whether you decide to hit a river or the sound, starting your trip in Seattle or a nearby town such as Bremerton will put you only a short ride away from some truly exciting fishing. Alternatively, the Olympic Peninsula‘s rivers are also productive, as well as the ocean coast you’ll have easy access to if you choose to base your trip from here.

July

July marks the official start of Washington’s high season. The main reason for this is the huge numbers of Chinook Salmon that race through Puget Sound. So for those who’ve been itching to wrestle with one of the finest fighters on the planet, now’s the time to go for it. Your best chance at reeling in a big one is to pair up with a fishing guide. They’ll clue you in as to where the hottest action is and provide you with all the gear you need.

A smiling angler wearing his hat backwards sitting on a boat and holding a massive Chinook Salmon caught fishing during Washington's summer season, with calm waters and shoreline greenery in the background.
Photo courtesy of Wind Knot.

On the freshwater front, give Lake Chelan a try. It’s a Smallmouth heaven during this time of year, and the fish will typically lurk fairly close to shore. In the deeper waters, you’ll encounter Lake and Rainbow Trout, as well as Salmon, too.

If you’re still looking for some more variety – we have you covered. The Yakima River is another excellent spot to catch your fill of Trout. Or, go to the Skykomish River and there’ll be summer Steelhead to reel in – just make sure to get familiar with the regulations beforehand. Also, don’t forget about all the delicious bottom fish the saltwaters hold!

August

The world-class angling that July brings only continues in August. Chinook, Coho, Chum, and Sockeye Salmon can all be caught in Puget Sound. And every other year, Pink Salmon also join the fray. As is always the case with these waters, you’ll have to keep an eye on which marine areas are open and for what species.

An angler in sunglasses and a hat smiling widely and sitting on a boat while holding a huge King Salmon, with waters and the shoreline visible behind him.
Photo courtesy of Mk Sport Fishing.

To supplement the excellent Salmon fishing, there’s always something biting on the bottom. If the Halibut quotas haven’t been fulfilled, the season typically reopens in August and September. But otherwise, there’ll be plenty of Rockfish to put in the cooler.

Meanwhile, it’s also peak time to fish Buoy 10 on the Oregon-Washington border. Here, you’ll also find fantastic numbers of Coho and Chinook Salmon. So wherever you go, you can rest assured that the angling will be absolutely on fire.

September

While Salmon fishing in Puget Sound is definitely at its best during July and August, September is still a very solid month to hit these waters – it’s just that you’ll focus on catching Coho and Pink Salmon instead of Chinook. Of course, there’ll still be an abundance of Rockfish and Lingcod to drag in from the bottom, too.

An angler in sunglasses and a hat smiling and holding a Coho Salmon while another person to his left is leaning in for the photo with their mouth open wide.
Photo courtesy of Messin’ Around Fishing Charter.

Alternatively, head southwest to the Buoy 10 fishery. It’s still very much the peak time to fish for different types of Salmon here. However, you’ll again have to look out for regulations as Chinook fishing often closes early in the month.

With the temperatures slowly dropping, fly fishing picks up and Bass will begin transitioning towards the shallows. If you’d like to get your hands on some Trout, try rivers such as the Methow, Yakima, and Snoqualmie, to name a few. For Bass, head to places such as Silver Lake, Box Canyon Reservoir, Potholes Reservoir, or Moses Lake.

October

October is often considered the last reliable month for river angling. That’s because Washington’s rainy season begins in November, often getting in the way of fishing plans. However, as long as the waters are fishable, there’ll still be Trout to catch. As for Bass, you can expect them to start transitioning into their winter patterns.

An angler in sunglasses, a hat, and winter jacket holding a Sturgeon he caught fishing on the Columbia River in Washington on a cloudy day.
Photo courtesy of Reel Deal Fishing Adventures.

In the western part of the state Coho Salmon will still be running, though as we get deeper into the month, you’ll see the fishing taper off. Some portions of Puget Sound will also close for bottom fishing around mid-October. Meanwhile, on the Columbia River, you might get a shot at catching some river dinosaurs – Sturgeon.

November

November is wet in Washington, so if you plan on heading out, bring your rain gear. The good news is that the rivers shouldn’t be surging, meaning you should be able to fish them. The Evergreen State’s lakes are an even better option, as they’re not quite as impacted by the rainfall.

An angler in a winter cap taking a selfie while holding a Rainbow Trout in his left hand towards the camera, with misty waters and trees visible in the background.
Photo courtesy of Feral Outfitter.

As for what you can catch – trophy Brown and Rainbow Trout. Brown Trout are not very widespread in Washington, so you’ll need to head to specific lakes to get your hands on them. These include Roses Lake, Black Lake, Dry Lake, and Antillon Lake. For Rainbows, head to Rufus Woods Lake or the upper Columbia River.

Along the Puget Sound’s tributaries, you might still see some Coho Salmon early in the month. And towards the end of November, winter Steelhead will start showing up. There’s also good Squid action in the sound itself.

December

With the year drawing to a close, Steelhead fishing becomes the main draw for anglers who don’t mind the cold. While certainly not as abundant as they used to be, there are still numerous places to catch a “silver bullet.” The Olympic Peninsula’s rivers, such as the Sol Duc, Bogachiel, and Calawah are all excellent choices throughout winter.

An angler kneeling in shallow waters by the shoreline and holding a Steelhead halfway above water with his left hand, and holding his fishing rod in his right.
Photo courtesy of Big Fish Washington.

In the Seattle area, the Skykomish River remains a staple Steelhead fishery. December is one of the best months to get in on the wintertime action here and along its smaller tributaries. In Puget Sound, it’s once again time to reel in young Blackmouth Salmon. Meanwhile, further south, the Cowlitz River should be a safe bet as its tributary Blue Creek receives regular fin-clipped stocks.

Towards the latter half of the month, you’ll also see smaller lakes freeze over. Just make sure to pay extra attention to the ice thickness reports if you decide to try this type of fishing early in winter.

Washington Fishing Seasons: A Smorgasbord of Salmon

A scenic shot of the Skykomish River in Washington during the fall season, with calm waters and colorful trees.

Compared to other fisheries out there, tackling Washington’s waters can be pretty complex. Its saltwaters are divided into sections each with its own rules, while freshwater regulations can vary from lake to lake and river to river. But still, there’s no shortage of excitement or fish to catch, as long as you know what you’re doing. And if you’re new to the Evergreen State scene, there are always fishing guides to lead you to your prized catch.

What’s your favorite season to go fishing in Washington? What part of the state do you enjoy fishing in the most? Let us know in the comments below!

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From a young age, Marko has been a nature buff. His first contact with fishing came through his dad who’d take him to the Danube River. It’s where Marko got his basic angling education, landed his first catch (an Ide), and learned how to cook a mean fish stew. Marko also enjoys hiking, running, traveling, and writing about it all.

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