With tens of thousands of trout stocked annually, as well as self-sustaining populations of other popular game fish like kokanee, lake trout, largemouth bass and yellow perch, Deer Lake north of Spokane is a good seasonal fishing spot in Eastern Washington.
While there are several Deer Lakes across the state, this one in Stevens County is by far the largest and overall has the most trout.
Stocked trout include rainbow trout and Eastern brook trout, while most of the other fish take care of themselves but also can be good to anglers.
Along with a state access area on the lake’s westernmost finger, there’s also a private resort on the north side of the lake, which includes a boat launch and a campground.
The fishing season opens March 1 and runs through the end of November, making it about two months longer than many seasonally managed fishing lakes in Washington.
Note that state health authorities have issued fish consumption guidelines for bass and some trout here, due to naturally occurring mercury that tends to build up in longer-lived fish.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s stocking plan called for more than 50,000 smallish rainbow trout to be planted in Deer Lake during the early spring, allowing them to grow into keepers sometime during the season and potentially large fish in future years.
The lake also is stocked with several thousand trout that already are catchable size and often with a couple hundred “jumbo” fish to boot.
Besides all of those rainbow, WDFW also has been stocking quite a few thousand smaller brook trout, which like the rainbows finish growing at the lake.
Spring is the best overall time to fish for trout, and anglers will flock to Deer Lake as soon as the season opens.
The summer months see a decline in catch rates but a good number of people still trying in nice weather.
Trout don’t love warmer temperatures and tend to be less active and work their way into deeper waters.
Rainbow trout can be fished near or right on the surface at peak times when the water is still cool.
Fly fishing is a popular method, but nearly every method can work well, including still fishing with bait under the classic red-and-white bobber.
During warmer months, it’s harder to entice trout onto the line, but you can try fishing closer to the bottom in deeper water.
Besides bait fishing and fly fishing, trolling is a hugely popular way to catch rainbows, either pulling bait or lures (or a combination of both) along to cover lots of water.
Running a set of lake trolls or dodger ahead of your offering can increase your odds of bringing trout to your hook.
Brook trout also tend to be easy to catch.
For simplicity, try using a salmon egg affixed to a small hook. Virtually any lure will work, as brook trout are greedy and not very discerning.
Like rainbows, brookies eat plenty of insects, so fly fishing with a traditional fly rod, or with a spinning outfit using a casting bubble, or even trolling a wet fly (and perhaps a pinch of weight) very slowly behind your boat or float tube are all proven methods.
Like rainbow trout, or even more so, brook trout favor cold water, so fishing will be best during the spring and fall and slow down a fair bit during the heat of summer.
Lake trout, also known as Mackinaw, are somewhat different beasties.
While rainbow and brook trout mostly eat insects, lake trout feed principally on smaller fish, including their trout cousins.
Lake trout, which are a non-native species of char, as are the smaller brook trout, are self-sustaining in several big, deep Washington lakes, including Deer Lake.
These “macks” can get quite huge, even over 30 pounds and several feet in length, far larger than your typical rainbow or brook trout.
Lake trout also are most active when temperatures are cooler, and finding them in the summer when they’re way down in deep water is tough.
In cooler weather at the very beginning or end of the season, they’ll cruise in shallower water while hunting smaller fish.
Trolling is popular for lake trout, but you’ll likely need a down-rigger or plenty of weight to get to them with lures that imitate smaller trout or other fish.
Jigging with bright metal jigs imitates injured prey and also can result in hooking up with a big mack or two.
Deer Lake has plenty of mid-depth water, from 60 to 75 deep, across much of the main part of the lake, with shallower water in the northern finger and coves.
Lake trout aren’t a high-numbers fish, and they tend to attract more seasoned and well-equipped anglers willing to work all day for the shot at one or two big trout.
Anglers can take up to five trout per day, a bag limit that at Deer Lake includes brook trout.
How to Catch Trout
While not present in great abundance, Deer Lake’s kokanee have a self-sustaining population, meaning state game authorities don’t need to restock them every year to keep the fishery alive.
Kokanee are landlocked sockeye salmon that generally reach about the same size as typical trout, roughly about 12 inches when caught by anglers.
Kokanee fishing here blooms in April and can hold up fairly well in the summer, although anglers will likely need to fish deep to catch these cold-loving fish when the dog days of summer reach northeastern Washington.
Kokanee fishing does tend to fall way off in the fall, unlike the trout fishing which may pick back up. The reason is that kokanee start transforming for their life-concluding spawning runs up tributary streams.
While kokanee aren’t great to eat once they start turning red and get the characteristic sockeye hook jaw, they can be aggressive as they near spawning condition. It’s best to let them go once they take on spawning colors.
Kokanee are famous both for their excellent table fair (while still the bright color that gives them the nickname silver trout) as well as for putting up a frenetic fight once hooked.
The most reliable way to catch kokanee is trolling, typically with any number of a variety of lures fished behind some kind of attractor, much like many anglers will also fish for rainbow trout.
Small spoons, spinners and hootchies in bright colors are among the top lures for kokanee.
Bass and Panfish Fishing
Deer Lake has a fairly standard array of warmwater fish species for Eastern Washington.
Largemouth bass are always popular, and fishing prospects for them reliably pick up just as rainbow trout and brook trout are becoming scarcer sights.
While bass are at their most active during the summer months, they’ll still try to beat the heat and bright light, doing most of their feeding in the morning and evening while spending midday in the shade or in deeper waters, conserving energy.
We will teach you the best-known bass fishing techniques in our easy guide.
Yellow perch can be caught at Deer Lake for the entire fishing season, and they can be caught in numbers.
Although smaller than most popular game fish in Washington, perch travel in schools, and a patient angler can fill his or her ice chest just by staying in one productive fishing spot.
Black crappie are also schooling fish, but they are more seasonal.
Crappie fishing is likely to start slow with the opener but fishing can get quite excellent later into the spring, when they spawn in shallower water, often in fair numbers around cover.
Crappie may move into somewhat deeper water during other times of the year, but they’ll still look for cover if they can find it.
Crappie jigs are the go-to bait for many crappie anglers, although other small lures that imitate minnows will fool them into striking as well.
Learn all you can to catch these fish with our simple techniques and tips for crappie fishing.
Where is Deer Lake?
Deer Lake is about a 45-minute drive due north from Spokane. The closest town of note is Chewelah, a few miles to the north.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has an access point off North Deer Lake Road, just about a block east from where it splits off from West Bay Road.
This WDFW access has a public boat launch, but shoreline access is fairly limited.
There are a number of RV parks and self-described resorts around the lake’s perimeter. The most notable is Deer Lake Resort, which is further north on North Deer Lake Road from the state access area.
The lake itself is just off Interstate 395. Follow North Deer Lake Road east from the interstate. It’s a straight shot to the lake.