Curlew Lake Fishing: Catch More Trout, Perch and Huge Muskies

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There’s a lot of fishing going on at Curlew Lake.

Named for a common wading bird, Curlew Lake is stocked with popular game fish like rainbow trout, kokanee, and the highly prized and potentially record-breaking tiger muskie.

The lake also holds a very large population of yellow perch, which were illegally introduced to the lake in about 2011 and have exploded to dominate the catches here. Curlew also features fine bass fishing, particularly in high summer when this lake is a welcome camping retreat.

The nearly 900-acre lake itself is long and narrow, running north-south.

Curlew Lake is believed to be a remnant of the Ice Ages, along with the rest of the Curlew Valley.

The lake also is home Curlew Lake State Park, on the lake’s southeastern shore.

The downside — or, perhaps, upside, depending on your perspective — of fishing at Curlew Lake is that it’s well off the beaten path. Republic, a town of about 1,000 people, is a few miles to the southwest in lightly populated Ferry County.

The closest city of any size is Penticton, British Columbia, with all of about 34,000 residents, about two hours to the northwest.

Spokane is at least a two-and-a-half-hour drive, 120 miles or so southeast of Curlew Lake State Park.

The area is gorgeous, though, and the weather in summertime couldn’t be better.

Winters are cold and snowy, and when the lake freezes over, ice fishing becomes a popular activity at the state park, which offers year-round access.

Curlew Lake Trout Fishing

Curlew Lake historically was a trout-fishing destination.

These days, rainbow trout may not always be the biggest attraction in a lake that’s teeming with perch and bass and is one of a handful of Washington lakes stocked with the famous tiger muskie, but Curlew Lake still can be a pretty good spot for trout even if they play a smaller role than in the good old days.

The beauty of rainbow trout is they can be caught with a variety of approaches, and by anglers of many skill levels.

Rainbows will respond to most common fishing techniques, from still fishing to trolling to fly fishing, and put up some decent fight on the line.

Trout don’t like the summer heat and will be tougher to find when it’s hot out.

Look for trout to be feeding near the surface and in the shallows in the spring and again by about mid-fall, but they’re likely to be seeking out cooler water, perhaps closer to the lake bottom, in the hottest months. Adjust your techniques accordingly.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in recent years was stocking about 160,000 to 185,000 juvenile trout at Curlew each fall, but plans are to reduce those numbers going forward.

The perch simply gobble up too much of the lake’s food chain.

Given the winter to grow, look for catchable trout fishing to peak in May and June.

Fall is also a fine time to fish for trout, with October a particular standout. Trout can also be caught by ice-fishing in the winter months on the frozen lake.

There are no lake-specific restrictions on Curlew Lake, so follow the state’s standard bag limit of five for rainbow trout.

More for you: Learn all about the best trout fishing techniques and tips.

Curlew Lake Bass Fishing

Curlew Lake has resident largemouth and smallmouth bass. Of the two, the largemouths often offer better fishing prospects.

As the trout and kokanee become harder to catch in the summertime, it’s the height of bass fishing season.

Prospects for largemouth bass are excellent in these months, and from May to October more broadly, both largemouth and smallmouth bass aren’t hard to find.

Bass follow a distinct pattern of behavior: They’re at their most active in the morning and evening, doing much of their feeding during these times to avoid the bright light and the heat of midday and the afternoon. 

While bass don’t disappear into the ether between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. or so, they’ll often retreat to deeper waters, or perhaps in shady areas, moving and eating less until it cools off again, meaning it takes some effort to coax them into a bite during this “down time.”

However, deep-water tactics using soft plastic presentations will still be worth your while.

Largemouth bass in particular favor weedy, vegetated areas.

Curlew Lake has four islands, around which vegetation can get pretty thick. There also are very shallow (sometimes too shallow) areas at both the far north and far south ends of the lake.

These are good spots to fish for largemouth bass, as well as smaller coves, points, docks and other fish-holding structures.

While largemouth bass will eat pretty much anything, smallmouth bass aren’t as readily equipped for prey like amphibians and birds.

But smallmouths make up for their smaller size by being more aggressive and acrobatic, attacking spinners, jerkbaits, and other lures. Pound for pound, smallies are some of the hardest-fighting fish in freshwater.

Compared to largemouths, smallmouths often prefer rocky cover like boulders, rocky points, and underwater humps and shelves.

Bass fishing from December through March is typically poor, improving just slightly in April, with the Curlew Valley’s long winters.

Sometimes bigger bass will be the first to start biting as water temperatures rise into the mid-to-upper 40s and they start thinking about preparing for the spring spawn.

More: Pick up a bunch of helpful bass fishing techniques and tips in our simple angling guide.

Yellow Perch Fishing

Yellow perch are not native to Curlew Lake (and nor are several other species found there), but you’ll nonetheless find them in incredible abundance there.

Perch are relative newcomers, after someone illegally planted them in the lake in 2011 or so, putting pressure on the trout fishery.

Despite state fishery managers’ efforts, the perch population has blown up at the lake.

All of this is to say, if you’re looking for an excuse to go fishing, look no further: It is your patriotic duty to fish up as many yellow perch as you can fit in your ice chest on Curlew Lake.

Anglers are actively encouraged to catch perch and not release them.

That said, perch make very good eating fish, so this isn’t a tremendously heavy lift, although most aren’t big. There are no bag limits or size restrictions.

Indeed, perch fishing prospects range from good to excellent year-round, except in July and August, when catches might slow down a bit.

Ice fishing is popular, especially for the perch, when there is safe ice in the wintertime.

Perch travel and feed in schools, so once one perch bites, the chances that more will follow are good.

Two-pole fishing is allowed on Curlew Lake, so purchasing that endorsement can increase your perch yield as well.

More: Learn how to fill your freezer with fillets with our yellow perch fishing techniques and tips.

Kokanee Fishing

There’s almost nowhere for fish to go from Curlew Lake, which is fed by meltwater and mountain streams, and the only salmon to catch here are landlocked sockeye known as kokanee.

However, after a flurry of kokanee stocking for a few years, WDFW seems to be reducing its emphasis on landlocked salmon, at least for now. Recent plantings have been cut and none were in the 2023 stocking plan, so at this point we’re not sure whether the kokanee fishery here will continue to be worthwhile.

If you can find some, kokanee are great fighters and perhaps even better on the table. I like them better than trout, and smoking or pan-frying these pan-sized salmon is just about perfection.

Trolling for kokanee is generally regarded as the most reliable method to catch them, although jigging and bait-fishing can work as well at times when you really have a school of kokanee pinpointed.

Trollers typically use attractors such as dodgers or flashers to draw their attention to your erratically moving and brightly colored lures, and you’re often in business.

The best time to fish for kokanee is spring and early summer.

Like trout, they’re not particularly comfortable in the summer heat, so they’ll seek out cooler parts of the lake.

Kokanee will gather in schools to feed. If you find one of these groups, jackpot! They can be tricky to spot, especially when they’re deeper in the water. Try using a depth finder to locate them.

There’s plenty of deep water in the wide central part of the lake, north from Zipphel Island up to the area around Fisherman’s Cove and Tiffany’s resorts, including holes dropping to well over 100 feet deep.

Farther south, there’s a wide hole to about 95 deep just north of Wiseman Island, a short boat ride north around the island from the state park.

Look for schooling kokanee on your fish finder to locate the right depth.

More: If you don’t want to miss out on these spunky and delicious little salmon on your next trip, pick up some great kokanee fishing tips in this article.

Tiger Muskie Fishing

And now we come to the big kahuna.

Tiger muskies, a sterile crossbreed between the true muskellunge and the northern pike, are big, predatory fish introduced to manage Curlew Lake’s population of northern pikeminnow. And they’ll also hopefully put a dent in the yellow perch numbers.

Fortunately for the angling community, population control isn’t the only thing tiger muskies are good for.

By a small but devoted bunch of anglers, tiger muskies are often regarded as the pinnacle of freshwater fishing.

And Curlew Lake grows them big. At last check, Curlew Lake still had produced the Washington state record tiger muskie weighing nearly 38 pounds.

Tiger muskies can grow more than 4 feet long, they’re very powerful when hooked, they have sharp teeth that can inflict lacerations if you’re not careful handling them, and they are extremely difficult to fool.

All of that adds up to a big fish that’s very hard to catch. The average tiger muskie expedition will conclude with little to no action, but if you catch one you won’t ever forget it. Patience and skill alike are put to the test.

Make sure to pack the right gear. A very large landing net or cradle is recommended, as are long-handled pliers to safely extract your hook from the fish’s mouth before you toss it back. (Bag limits are extremely restrictive on tiger muskies, and most anglers let them go to fight another day.)

You’ll also need a strong, sturdy rod and a line that can handle up to 30 pounds or more.

At Curlew Lake, April through October offer the best prospects for tiger muskie fishing.

Ice fishing for tiger muskies is possible, although at that time of year, most anglers on the ice will be looking to help out with the lake’s perch problem and maybe bag the occasional trout.

Tiger muskies are considered “trophy fish.”

Snap a picture with your catch quickly. While state regulations do allow a specimen more than 50 inches long to be retained, most tiger muskies should be promptly released, so they can resume their critical place in the food chain.

More: Read up more about techniques for fishing for tiger muskies at select Washington lakes.

Planning Your Visit

For most anglers, Curlew Lake will involve a time commitment and perhaps an overnight stay, but the variety of excellent fishing options, along with a beautiful setting and nice state park, is likely to make the effort worth your while.

Where is Curlew Lake?

Curlew Lake is in the Curlew Valley in north-central Washington. This is a remote area with few population centers and no big cities within a quick drive.

The closest major city is Spokane. From Spokane, take Interstate 395 north. Upon crossing the Columbia River just past Kettle Falls, you’ll reach a highway junction and turn left onto State Route 20, also signed as the Sherman Pass Scenic Byway.

Follow the byway west toward Republic and then head north on State Route 21 to Curlew Lake State Park. All told, expect a three-hour drive or so.

Curlew Lake may have enough fishing opportunities to also attract Canadian anglers, at least when the borders are allowing easy crossings.

Washington’s SR-21 turns into British Columbia Highway 41 at the border; it’s the shortest numbered highway in the province, basically linking the state route to the Crowsnest Highway, or British Columbia Highway 3, which runs east-west from the Rocky Mountains to the Fraser Valley.

It’s a farther drive from Penticton, at two or more hours. Don’t forget your passport.

Camping and Amenities

Many anglers access the lake through Curlew Lake State Park, which offers a campground and day-use areas, bank and boat fishing access, and other amenities including hiking and biking trails and a swimming beach.

There also are several private resorts at the lake with facilities that will appeal to boaters, RV’ers, and other overnight guests.

Find more fishing spots in Ferry County

Washington Resources

WDFW Fishing and Stocking Reports
WDFW Fishing Regulations
National Weather Service forecasts