For anglers, Lewis County is a study in both contrasting and plentiful fishing opportunities.
It’s a watery crossroads whose rivers flow in every major direction that moving water can flow in Western Washington: west toward the Pacific Ocean, south to the Columbia River or north toward Puget Sound.
The rivers flow with trout and in some cases migrating salmon and steelhead, while the best of Lewis County’s lakes that you’ll learn about here often teem with trout, land-locked salmon, bass and other game fish.
The section of the Cowlitz River in Lewis County easily rates among Washington’s very best salmon and steelhead rivers.
Geographically, Lewis County is the largest county west of the Cascades, but it also has only a bit more than 80,000 people spread across such a big area, making it far more rural than Puget Sound to the north or even Vancouver to the south.
Much of Lewis County’s population is in and around Centralia and Chehalis along Interstate 5. Smaller towns and communities spread farther afield and include Morton, Mossyrock, Napavine, Pe Ell, Toledo, Winlock and Vader.
The county includes parts of two of Washington’s most stunning landscapes, Mount Rainier National Park and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Parts of both Gifford Pinchot and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie national forests also are within Lewis County.
Here is a quick look at some of the better places to go fishing in Lewis County (listed alphabetically):
Lewis County only has a small part of this relatively big reservoir, which is most popularly fished for kokanee salmon in the Pierce and Thurston County sections.
Alder Lake also has fair to good fishing for cutthroat trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, perch and bluegill.
More: Alder Lake Fishing
This 5-acre pond in Fort Borst Park in the center of Centralia is best known among anglers for the thousands of trout stocked here in the winter and spring, when fishing will be best.
The lake also is home to a good population of bluegills, and these sunfish are fun to catch in warmer weather.
More: Fort Borst Lake Fishing
This 20-acre lake on the northwest side of Onalaska (about 25 minutes from Chehalis) is nicely planted with hatchery trout during the spring.
While most of the stocked fish are pan-sized keepers, a few may also be much larger hatchery trout.
Carlisle also is used to raise coho salmon in net pens, and you can keep these under the state’s landlocked salmon rules if caught out in the lake.
Carlisle has a decent fishery for largemouth bass and you may catch other warmwater fish such as bluegill.
This water also has been known as Onalaska Mill Pond, reflecting its historic use.
This is a 15-acre lake 4,400 feet of elevation in the mountains near the Goat Rocks Wilderness nearly an hour’s drive into the forest from the Packwood area on Highway 12.
Chambers recently has been stocked annually with a modest number (about 1,000) of brown trout, which help keep the larger population of under-sized brook trout at bay.
At this elevation, this is mostly a summer fishery. There’s also a campground.
The upper reaches in Lewis County are primarily fished for trout.
A small number of winter steelhead can be caught in the upper river in the Pe Ell area from January into March.
The Chehalis can have pretty good fishing for coho salmon, and part of the river in Lewis County is open for them, but most of the catch occurs downriver.
The mainstem and several tributaries offer fair to good cutthroat trout fishing where you can find the sometimes limited access.
One of the bigger tributaries, the Newaukum River entering at the city of Chehalis, can get a few hatchery steelhead and coho, and also holds wild trout.
This tributary that flows into the Cowlitz River at Lake Scanewa offers moderate summertime fishing for wild trout in its mainstream and several tributaries.
This is simply one of the best salmon and steelhead fishing rivers in all of Washington.
Moreover, the Lewis County stretch of river includes some of the favorite (and most crowded) places to catch these fish below the first reservoir (Mayfield Lake).
There are two fish hatcheries upriver from Toledo to the dam and this part of the river is where larger numbers of migrating fish tend to hold up.
It’s also the area where large numbers of anglers, including quite a few professional guides, will gather during the best seasons.
Bank spots are at a premium and usually crowded but include access at both hatcheries. Drift boats will dot the best sections of river but do have access to more holes.
The Cowlitz has a strong run of spring Chinook salmon that are usually here in force during April, May and early June.
Fall Chinook fishing isn’t as good as it is for springers, but modest numbers are taken, especially in September.
For fall fishing, it might be best to wait until October or November, when coho salmon fishing is quite good when the runs are up.
Spring Chinook and fall coho also are caught in moderate numbers above Cowlitz Falls Dam, where they are trucked to spawn upriver.
The Cowlitz is supreme for steelhead as well.
The summer fish are popular because they arrive in best numbers during the better weather of late spring into summer, peaking in catches in July and August.
The winter run of steelhead into the Cowlitz also is among the state’s best.
These are late arrivals, with the best fishing typically happening in March and April below Mayfield Dam.
The Cowlitz also has opportunities for trout fishing, including sea-run cutthroat below the reservoirs and small numbers of wild fish up above, although some of the tributaries in the upper river are typically better for trout.
This 18-acre lake a few miles east of Morton is stocked with a moderate number of hatchery rainbow trout during the spring, when fishing will be most productive.
There are some resident coastal cutthroat trout here as well, but rainbows provide the bulk of the action.
Anglers also can try to hook resident bass and panfish, which tend to bite best after the water warms up a bit and the trout fishing has faded.
This lake is tough to fish from shore but a small boat or other watercraft will get you to the fish.
This mountain lake in the upper Cowlitz River drainage is most often fished for the moderate number of brown trout stocked here each summer.
It’s located right off Highway 12, and its accessibility means you probably won’t be alone on a summer day.
You also can camp at Knuppenberg Lake Campground.
Little Nisqually River
This river in the Mineral area above Alder Lake is home to wild rainbow and cutthroat trout, but read up on the rules before fishing.
This is a 7-acre lake a little more than a half hour’s drive northwest of Randle is easily accessed from Forest Service roads.
Long Lake (long and skinny as the name implies) is stocked each year with about 1,000 brown trout. (At this writing, rainbow and cutthroat trout aren’t stocked here.)
At 43,800 feet of elevation, it can take a little while for the fishing to get good here. And typically the first planting of the year will help matters quite a bit.
There are lots of downed trees that provide hideouts for lurking trout, and a float tube or other small watercraft should serve you well here.
This good-sized reservoir on the Cowlitz River is heavily planted with hatchery rainbow trout and also was the first lake in Washington to be planted with tiger muskies.
There are a variety of other fishing opportunities here as well, including a fair bass fishery and good catches of yellow perch.
The trout are stocked in tremendous volumes here, starting in the spring and continuing like clockwork throughout summer.
Anglers (especially boaters) can rack up easy limits of rainbows along with the occasional coho salmon that strike similar lures. There also are a few wild cutthroat here, and all wild trout (without fin clips) must be released unharmed.
Trolling is popular and bait-fishing will do the job for trout as well.
Tiger muskies, usually planted to reduce the number of non-game fish including northern pikeminnows in Mayfield, are notoriously hard to catch but can be the massive catch of a lifetime.
Mayfield has fair fishing for bass, both smallmouth and largemouth. Smallmouths prefer rocky structure while largemouths are more likely to be found around weed beds and downed trees in the cove areas.
Yellow perch are present in good numbers and are an excellent eating fish if you find a school with fish large enough to bother filleting.
Mayfield is easy to reach, just 15 or so minutes east of Interstate 5 along Highway 12.
More: Mayfield Lake Fishing
Holy cow, Mineral Lake in the forested hills of northeastern Lewis County sure has lots of trout.
It also is an easy drive from Tacoma and has lots of trout anglers because they know they are very likely to catch fish here.
Read our full article to plan your successful fishing trip to Mineral Lake.
More: Mineral Lake Fishing
The upper river in Lewis County runs very silty whenever the weather is warm enough to melt some of the Nisqually Glacier on Mount Rainier, where this river begins.
There are trout in the upper river, but it’s considered overall a poor to fair fishing prospect.
The lower river dividing Thurston and Pierce counties near Interstate 5 can be excellent for salmon in late summer and early fall.
More: Nisqually River Fishing
This is another of those former gravel pits put to good use by filling it with water … and in the spring filling it with trout!
Trout fishing is best at Plummer Lake in the spring, shortly after WDFW dumps several thousand rainbow trout into this Centralia pond, located along the east side of Interstate 5 near Lakeshore Drive.
Trout fishing will fade quickly into the warmer season, but that’s when fishing for Plummer’s resident population of largemouth bass, bluegill and yellow perch will get better.
There is access at small Brick Wagner Park off Tilley Avenue on the northeast end of the lake and from some trails in other spots, including the west side near I-5.
You can carry a small boat to the water at the park or from the parking area at the end of Lewis Avenue to fish the entire lake.
This small stream is currently the only creek in Lewis County getting regularly plantings of hatchery rainbow trout.
Rainey Creek enters massive Riffe Lake on the upper Cowlitz River system.
The section of creek below Highway 12 in the Glenoma area down to the reservoir is open seasonally, from the Saturday before Memorial Day through October.
That section is stocked starting around the opener and perhaps a few more times during the season.
This massive Cowlitz River reservoir covers more than 11,000 acres at full pool (typically in the spring) and offers two excellent if sometimes under-appreciate fishing opportunities.
The fishing for land-locked coho salmon (with some Chinook in the mix) can produce reliable limits for anglers who know this fishery, especially during spring and early summer.
And the smallmouth bass fishing is better than many anglers appreciate, with some good-sized bass coming out of here.
There also is a smattering of trout and warmwater fishing at Riffe as well, and a couple of big parks for camping and day-use.
More: Riffe Lake Fishing
This is the smallest, newest, and most remote of the Cowlitz River reservoirs, located about a half hour’s drive from Randle in eastern Lewis County.
Scanewa, with a little more than 600 narrow acres, does offer a pretty nice getaway for trout fishing thanks to about 20,000 hatchery trout planted there during a season.
Fishing is now open year round but the best trout fishing here is in late spring and summer, when hatchery trout are the thickest.
Scanewa also is a planting spot for hatchery salmon trucked up from lower down on the Cowlitz River, and there is a modest fishery for them here and in the river above, but be sure to study up on the regulations first.
Siler Mill Pond
This 2-acre pond between Morton and Mossyrock is stocked with a modest number (500 give or take) of hatchery rainbow trout each spring, when fishing is the best.
This major Chehalis River tributary has a good run of winter steelhead and modest fisheries for trout and coho salmon.
South Lewis County Pond
This 17-acre pond near Toledo offers excellent springtime fishing for stocked trout as well as pretty good angling for bass and panfish species, especially during the warmer months.
St. John and St. Michael Lakes
A couple of very high-elevation lakes in the upper Cispis River drainage in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest requiring hikes to reach but notable in that they have periodically been stocked with golden trout.
As of our last check no recent plantings are listed on the WDFW website, though, so we make no promises beyond great scenery!
This is a big pond with big fishing opportunities for stocked trout, largemouth bass and even giant channel catfish.
The pond, located near Riffe Lake, also has very good panfish fishing during the summer months.
More: Swofford Pond Fishing
While not currently stocked with hatchery trout, the Tilton is a pretty darned good place to catch a hatchery coho salmon or two during the fall.
And there are some wild trout to catch (and release).
More: Tilton River Fishing
This is a popular trout-fishing mountain lake near the Goat Rock Wilderness.
Walupt Lake offers good fishing for both wild rainbow and cutthroat trout in its 380 acres, but this is not always going to be as easy as the put-and-take hatchery trout lakes on this list.
At a little under 4,000 feet in elevation, winter hits pretty hard here but the ice tends to melt off by sometime in May most years.
There is good access for a small boat or float tube and also a Walupt Lake Campground in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.