Best Fishing in Washington
Best Smallmouth Bass Fishing in Washington
There are hundreds of places in Washington where fishing for smallmouth bass can at times be outrageously good, but we’ll attempt to call special attention to a handful of the very best in locations across the state.
Smallmouth bass can be caught year-round, if regulations allow, but fishing for these hard-fighting bronzebacks tends to really ramp up in early to mid-spring and can be quite good from late spring through summer and on into September and October in many waters.
Check the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) link at the bottom of this article for additional information, including fishing regulations.
These fish are aggressive predators, and lures that imitate favorite foods including crayfish and forage fish will often get the job done. Sometimes the old axiom of big lure equals big fish is good advice for trophy seekers. Bait including nightcrawlers also will catch plenty of smallmouth, but this method may result in smaller fish and also fatal hookups.
Smallmouth are often associated with hard-bottom structure and rocks, including boulders, outcroppings, islands and submerged humps, as well as easily identifiable man-made structures including rip-rap, dam faces and piers and pilings.
It’s also worth noting that Washington has issued statewide consumption advisories for smallmouth bass (as well as other freshwater bass), with specific suggestions on the amount of these fish it is considered same to eat. There also are local consumption guidelines related to contaminants in certain waters, including some for the spots listed below. We suggest you review guidelines here before keeping fish to eat.
In alphabetical order, here are some of the state’s most celebrated places to catch these bronzebacks.
This is a giant reservoir stretching some 30 miles south from around Grand Coulee Dam in central Washington. And it has absolutely tons of smallmouth bass throughout its nearly 27,000 acres.
Since they have become established here, the number of smallmouth has never been a problem. At times there aren’t as many trophy-sized fish as there are in other top waters around the state.
The best smallmouth fishing typically gets rolling in about April and holds up well through summer and into the early part of fall.
There are several good access points, including the large Steamboat Rock State Park on the northeastern side and Coulee Playfield in Electric City.
Banks Lake also has a lower but decent population of largemouth bass, but these green cousins can grow even larger. There also are other thriving fisheries here, including for walleye found in much of the Columbia River system.
The West’s largest river is well known for salmon, steelhead, walleye and other species, but it’s wise to note that this river very often makes the national best bass fishing lists, thanks to its abundant and often big smallmouth bass spread out over hundreds of miles. Taken as a whole, there are very few bodies of water across the United States with as many smallmouth bass.
The river’s size is both a strength and a weakness. On the positive side, you’ll have tons of prime bass habitat to yourself in just about every section of river, maybe without a lot of travel. And the smallmouths are really well distributed here, with good numbers and larger specimens located in most spots from below Vancouver clear up to northern Washington. The modern river is largely divided into reservoirs formed by a massive system of hydroelectric and irrigation dams, but there are several free-flowing sections as well.
On the down side, though, this big water can be challenging for those unfamiliar with the best holding spots, so it takes some effort to get to know the very best spots to cast. Also, there are dangers here, including whipping wind and tricky currents in some locations, so respect the river.
All of those huge pools behind the dams hold excellent populations of smallmouth worthy of your attention (and those of tournament organizers), but Lake Wallula (McNary Dam Pool) stretching from the Tri-Cities area down to the Oregon state line is often considered among the very best. If you’ll be near Spokane, Lake Roosevelt is a good bet in the northeastern part of Washington.
If you’re looking to fish in free-flowing water on the Columbia, the Hanford Reach above Tri-Cities is chock full of smallmouth bass. But definitely do your homework before floating this untamed section, or better yet go with an experienced guide, at least on your first trip.
Way downriver, smallmouth bass fishing is good to excellent but fairly lightly tapped near the population center around Vancouver (across the river from the larger Portland). Look for natural and man-made rocky structure below Bonneville Dam from the Columbia River Gorge down into these cities, especially along the shorelines, islands and other places outside the main channel, and you’ll find bass.
If river smallmouth are your thing, we will note that you also will find really good fishing for them in the Snake, Okanogan and lower Grand Ronde and Yakima rivers. (Including the Columbia River and other waters within driving distance, find more great smallmouth bass fishing in Eastern Oregon and in Western Oregon.)
It might be hard to believe, but this sprawling lake stuck between Seattle and Bellevue in the heart of Washington’s largest population center is nationally known for smallmouth bass.
Smallmouth bass fishing can be quite good in this nearly 22,000-acre lake throughout spring, summer and into early fall, with the very best angling typically occurring around May and June.
While there is lots of bank access, a boat will come in handy. Good public launches are available, and the WDFW lists ramps at Kenmore, Magnuson Park and Gene Coulon Park in the Renton area and Rainier Beach Park in that community. You’ll find fishing piers in Waverly, Marin and Old Ship Museum parks in the Kirkland area, Gene Coulon in Renton, Seward Park on the southwest side and Luther Burbank Park on northern Mercer Island.
Lake Sammamish not far east of Lake Washington is another large lake that can produce some excellent smallmouth bass fishing, and there are several other excellent smallmouth bass lakes in King County and the greater Puget Sound area. Farther north, Lake Whatcom near Bellingham can be superb for smallmouth.
This is another big reservoir in central Washington, near the city of Moses Lake and south of the previously listed Banks Lake.
Potholes is at the very top of many a Washington angler’s list of best bass lakes and also gets some love nationally, in large part because it has excellent numbers of big smallmouth and largemouth bass, in addition to several other thriving fisheries. It’s a destination spot for many Pacific Northwest warm water anglers.
If you’re targeting smallmouth here, look for hard-bottom areas and rocky habitats. Generally speaking, there is more of this good smallmouth habitat at the open southern end of the reservoir, including along the face of O’Sullivan Dam and elsewhere, while largemouth tend to favor the shallower north end, which is chock full of sandy little island and shallows.
Crankbaits, spinnerbaits and soft plastics will often do the trick for smallmouth bass; crayfish imitating lures are a pretty good choice to mimic one of their most important food sources.
Here are some sources of information on this topic: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bassmaster’s Top 100 Bass Lakes, ESPN’s 5 Best Bass Lakes and Moon Outdoors’ Washington Fishing guide book.