Although it’s called a lake, technically, Horsethief Lake is a diked-off cove in a state park on the Washington side of the Columbia River.
Lying between state Highway 14 and the main channel of the river, 85-acre Horsethief Lake is easily accessible and offers a diverse fishing experience including stocked trout and a variety of bass and panfish.
Rainbow trout have been stocked in Horsethief Lake since the 1960s.
In the spring, likely April and May, some 15,000 hatchery rainbow trout are likely to be put into the lake. This is usually done in installments, with the last restocking of the season coming just before Memorial Day.
Spring is the best time for trout fishing at Horsethief Lake, starting in the second half of April after the first stocking truck delivery.
By July, trout numbers have typically been depleted, and trout fishing is poor to nonexistent for the rest of the year and during the winter months.
Bait a hook beneath a bobber to tempt rainbow trout or fish with other baits, including salmon eggs or PowerBait, below a bobber or suspended up from the bottom a few feet.
Flies and lures also will tempt trout.
Bass and Panfish Fishing
While trout season is basically done by late spring or early summer at Horsethief Lake, the lake is home to many warmwater fish species that can swim in from the mainstem Columbia River.
Bass, both smallmouth and largemouth, are favorite targets for anglers here, and local bass anglers keep this lake on their go-to list.
The aggressive and hard-fighting fish can reach good size at Horsethief and will attack lures that look like prey species such as smaller fish and crayfish.
Some anglers have noted that bass are drawn especially to “wounded” prey, so try using one of your beat-up lures and see if you can make it look like an injured fish with your retrieve. It might be irresistible to these voracious predators.
You can also find bluegill, crappie, brown bullheads and possibly even a walleye or two, among a variety of other species.
Walleye are fewer and farther between in Horsethief, but Horsethief Lake does offer an opportunity to find them if you’re lucky and work at it.
However, walleye are more typically chased in the main river. Here’s an article on our site about fishing in this same general area on the Columbia River for walleye, including the best techniques, which you could adapt for the confines of Horsethief Lake.
Where is Horsethief Lake?
Horsethief Lake is easy to find.
Coming from the west, Horsethief is a little more than an hour and a half driving from Vancouver, or roughly a half hour beyond White Salmon, along State Route 14 on the Washington side.
Your trip might be a little bit faster crossing into Oregon and taking Interstate 84 east to The Dalles and then crossing back into Washington on U.S. 197. Horsethief Lake is across the Columbia and just a little upriver from The Dalles in Oregon.
Either way, continue on Highway 14 about two miles east of U.S. Highway 197, take the turnoff toward the river for Columbia Hills Historical State Park.
There are two boat ramps at the state park and ample shore access.
Motorized boats are permitted, although you can’t legally exceed 5 mph on the lake.
There is a modest daily permit that includes vehicle parking.
A Discover Pass is required for vehicle day use at Columbia Hills Historical State Park. There’s an automated pay station on-site where you can purchase one.