Washington likely isn’t the first state that comes to mind when ice fishing. The state offers so many fantastic other types of fishing opportunities that you can’t blame anglers for overlooking its ice fishing. But Washington has some epic ice fishing if you know where to look.
The Cascade Mountains divide the state into two weather regions. The eastern side is an ice angler’s winter wonderland, while the warmer western side has plenty of lowland lakes that offer good year-round fishing.
Head east of Seattle for a few hours, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by lakes in the mountains and high desert. They are often safe to fish by the end of December.
Let’s jump into the best ice-fishing lakes in Washington. After all, what better way to beat the rain than freezing your butt off on a chunk of ice?
Gear and Tactics
Ice fishing is a little different than traditional approaches. First off, you’ll need to find a way through the ice. An axe works in a pinch, though an ice auger works much better.
An ice rod with the proper line is almost a necessity. Trying to fish through a tiny hole with a 7-foot rod is challenging at best.
Bring along a few wax worms, nightcrawlers, and glow-in-the-dark soft plastics. Tip your jig heads with them. You’ll catch far more fish with bait than without it.
Layers of warm clothing are better than a thick coat and a t-shirt. Several layers allow you to take one off or put one on without freezing while sitting on the ice.
An ice shanty is nice but not necessary. It’s possible to fish year after year without having one, though it does make things more pleasant.
You’ll find a link to our complete ice fishing guide below.
Great Ice Fishing in Washington
There are so many smaller lakes that offer good to excellent fishing that you’ll have no issues finding somewhere to wet a line. Most are in higher elevations and across the northeastern end of the state.
We’ve narrowed down the lakes on this list to the ones that offer consistently great fishing and typically ice up completely.
Patterson Lake is west of the idyllic tourist town of Winthrop and close to Sun Mountain Lodge. Plenty of recreation opportunities await you and your family in this beautiful slice of Washington just east of the North Cascades.
While your family takes in the sites of Winthrop, wet a line in Patterson Lake. Ice fishing for black crappie, yellow perch, rainbow trout, bluegill, and kokanee can be fast and furious.
Mornings and evenings are the best times on the lake, though any time you can get on the ice can be productive.
Patterson Lake typically starts to get safe ice conditions in late December and can fish well through March. Call ahead to one of the resorts to get a current ice report.
Kokanee fishing can be good to excellent, though the typical catch is around 10 to 12 inches. Trout can get into the 15-inch range, though smaller 10- to 12-inch catches are more common.
Target the trout in 15 to 20 feet of water, holding your bait a foot off the bottom. Typical trout baits will do the trick.
Kokanee are a little deeper, often holding in 30 to 60 feet. Use a small jig tipped with corn and add some flash or a dodger above it. Once you locate a school, the action should be fast.
Yellow perch are very healthy here and often go to 12 inches. Target them with jigs tipped with wax worms in 20 to 25 feet of water.
Closer to shore, you’ll find the black crappie. Locate weedier sections and drop some maggots down about 10 feet. Jig them slowly until the crappie hit.
There are plenty of places to stay in Winthrop, including cabins along the lakeshore. Patterson Lake is not to be missed.
Want to catch a lot of yellow perch? Curlew Lake is the place for you. Located just outside Republic, it’s a 5 ½ hour trek from Seattle to get to this far-northern lake, or about half that from Spokane.
Wherever you’re coming from, you’ll be glad you made the drive. Resorts dot the area and offer guided trips to make your ice fishing adventure a success.
More than a decade ago, somebody illegally introduced yellow perch into Curlew Lake. So by now, they’ve made themselves at home and are flourishing. And they have gotten fat and lazy.
There’s no size or limit on perch here, so head out and load up on these tasty fish. Catching 50 in a day is commonplace. Tip a small jig with a wax worm, and you’re in business.
You can catch rainbow trout throughout the lake in 15 to 25 feet of water. Typical trout baits will do the trick, though trout are not the main draw at this lake come wintertime.
Also, know that there’s an outside chance that a giant tiger muskie will grab either your lure or the wiggling perch on the end of your line. Curlew Lake is one of Washington’s best places to catch tiger muskies.
More: Curlew Lake Fishing
Bonaparte Lake is the epitome of ice fishing. Epic fishing for rainbows, tiger trout, brookies, kokanee, and lake trout awaits the angler that braves the conditions to get to this less-traveled fishery.
The lake is about five hours northeast of Seattle, near the Canadian border in giant Okanogan County, which has many of the state’s ice-fishing lakes. The Bonaparte Lake Resort states that they get about three feet of ice by late December.
The state record tiger trout came from here in 2015, weighing 18.5 pounds. The lake’s packed with tigers, and there’s a high likelihood there are bigger ones out there.
Anglers catch most tiger and rainbow trout fishing in 10 to 20 feet of water. Jig traditional trout baits tipped with red wigglers or wax worms. PowerBait also will work.
Vertically jig a small Tasmanian Devil or Kastmaster for a chance at the tigers.
The deeper waters are full of kokanee. Jig the middle of the water column for your best chances of catching them.
Check in with the resort’s bait shop for any updates.
Fish Lake is full of nice-sized rainbows and plenty of yellow perch to keep you busy. So bring the family to Leavenworth to experience the lights and Bavarian-style town while you catch perch and trout. Lake Wenatchee is only a short drive from here.
Stop by Cove Resort for any bait and tackle you need. They offer excellent access to the lake, so it’s a great place to start.
Trout fishing can be hit-and-miss, but the perch are very active. Spend the day with some small jigs tipped with wax worms, nightcrawlers, or small glowing soft plastics.
The perch are typically in the 8- to 9-inch range, though bigger fish are common.
Trout hold close to the bottom wherever there’s structure. Send down a dropper with worms or PowerBait, and you will surely catch a few. If they aren’t playing along, go after the abundant perch.
Focus your efforts on the south side. There are plenty of structures and some nice drop-offs throughout the area, and they’re full of bigger fish snacking on red shiners.
Fish Lake is a great spot all year, but fishing gets hot on the ice in January and February.
If you’re in the Lake Chelan area, head to Roses Lake. The season runs from late December through March.
Roses Lake near Manson has a few great things going for it. First, it has a lot of trout and yellow perch, as well as some surprisingly good crappie fishing. Secondly, it gets less crowded than most of the lakes on the list.
Access is easy from the public boat launch on the south end. Since it’s not a particularly large lake, walking to a spot is simple with a sled for your gear.
Roses Lake has little happening as far as structure goes. The bottom is pretty featureless, so fish keep moving to find food.
Rainbow trout fishing heats up here in January and February. For your best chances, fish in roughly 10 to 15 feet of water a foot or two off the bottom. The typical trout baits work great here. They particularly like Swedish Pimples, so bring along a few of those lures.
The yellow perch catches can be fast and furious once you find a school. They’re typically deeper than the trout, starting in 20 to 30 feet of water.
Tip your jigs with wax worms or maggots. Small Kastmasters work well, as do those fantastic Swedish Pimples.
Fourth of July Lake
Fourth of July Lake is an hour outside Spokane, making it a trek for the west side folks. The lake is only open during cold months, officially opening on “Black Friday.”
The trout here don’t get bombarded with bait throughout the summer and fall, so they are eager to take your line. The average catch is around 14 inches, though don’t be surprised if you catch a few football-sized 24- to 26-inch monsters.
Ice forms in late December, giving you access to deeper parts of the lake.
The only issue here is access. You’ll need your sled to drag gear along the lake to your preferred spot. It’s a long, skinny lake with parking at one end, and the best fishing is often at the other end.
Trout are going to be holding between 15 and 25 feet of water. If you want the big boys, rig up some salmon eggs on a small spoon. Mealworms, wax worms, and PowerBait work as well.
For lures, Swedish Pimples, Rapala Ice Jigs, and anything with some glow should do the trick.
Don’t rush the fish to the hole. Be patient playing it. These feisty trout haven’t been messed with all year and are full of energy. Don’t lose it at the hole.
Moses Lake is one of the closest options to Seattle. You can take I-90 and be there in under three hours.
Rainbows and yellow perch are the primary targets during the winter. Moses Lake also has some of the best walleye fishing in Washington, with fish over 10 pounds landed throughout the year. However, the best time for walleye fishing here is in April (after ice-out) for these toothy critters.
Access to the lake is easy, and the place is enormous, so there’s plenty of room to spread out. Bring along your flasher to have the best chance of finding the fish. If you don’t have one, try your luck around Blue Heron Park. Perch seem to like that area.
Moses Lake has less consistent ice fishing conditions than other lakes on this list. Mild winters cause unsafe ice, so the ice might be unsafe unless it stays consistently cold. Call one of the local tackle shops for a current ice report before making the drive.
Trout will take the usual baits like wax worms, red wigglers, and PowerBait.
Set up a spring bobber on your rod tip. The fish in here tend to be less aggressive, so they don’t smash your bait. The spring bobber will let you detect the softest of nibbles.
You’ll likely be one of only a handful of anglers on the lake, but don’t let that discourage you. Most anglers target Moses Lake in warmer months for those walleye and epic bass fishing.
More: Moses Lake Fishing
Potholes Reservoir is a fantastic walleye, trout, black crappie, bluegill, and yellow perch fishery in the winter. Warmer months add some of Washington’s best bass fishing to the list.
Potholes Reservoir doesn’t completely freeze over every year, though there’s usually great ice on the Lind Coulee Arm on the southeast side.
Trout are found throughout the lake and will take jigs tipped with red wigglers, wax worms, or cut baits. Try small silver/gold Kastmasters or Swedish Pimples and fish a foot or two off the bottom.
You don’t need to jig constantly. Instead, move the bait occasionally to remind the fish it’s still there.
Walleye inhabit the same areas as the yellow perch throughout the lake. Use a second line on a tip-up with cut bait while jigging for perch. The Lind Coulee Arm is a great area to target.
The perch will aggressively hit small jigs with wax worms. When hooked, the wax worms release more of a scent, and the yellow perch can’t turn it down.
If things at Potholes Reservoir aren’t working out, Moses Lake is just up the road.
Ice Fishing Tips & Techniques
Check out our starter’s guide to ice fishing, including the gear, bait, and tactics that catch the most fish on the hard deck. We also cover ice fishing safety.