If it’s true that variety is the spice of life, fishing at Liberty Lake is where the flavor’s at.
The lake is renowned as one of the best spots in Washington state to catch brown trout and catfish, two of Washington’s less prominent but nonetheless prized game fish.
Liberty Lake also has robust warmwater fisheries, with both largemouth and smallmouth bass having resident populations.
The ubiquitous rainbow trout are stocked here as well, of course. State game authorities have also planted walleyes, although they can be tricky to find.
The 700-acre lake is seasonally managed. The fishing season opens March 1 and continues through Oct. 31.
Liberty Lake is immediately south of the small city of the same name, and immediately north of the Liberty Lake Regional Park, which is maintained by Spokane County. They’re just west of the Idaho state line.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife operates a concrete boat launch at the north end of the lake (“toward town”).
Shoreline access is available from the “town side” on the lake’s north shore as well as from the “park side” on the south shore.
Much of the lake’s perimeter is developed into its own community, with residential houses backing up to the lake. Be sure to observe the lake’s “no wake” zones and other local restrictions.
Rainbow trout are stocked in numbers at Liberty Lake, and they provide one of the area’s most consistent trout fisheries.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in recent years has planned to stock roughly 4,000 keeper-sized rainbows at the start of the season, as well as about ten times that number of fry and fingerlings in spring and fall.
Conventional wisdom dictates the best time of year to fish for rainbow trout is in the spring, after the lake thaws and while temperatures remain in a comfortable range for these cold-water fish.
But while trout fishing prospects typically drop off during the high summer, September and October can be excellent months for rainbow trout angling as well.
The fish that survive this long are excellent eating quality after feeding for many months on a natural diet.
Still-fishing with a bobber is a classic technique that works well for rainbow trout.
The bobber may draw their attention to the surface, where they already are probably watching for insects, and entice them to bite on your bait. Try sinking that bait off the bottom when warmer weather drives trout to cooler depths.
Casting or trolling lures, fly fishing and other usual trout-fishing tactics also will catch trout at Liberty Lake.
The best advice one can give when rainbow trout fishing is to try different things. Rainbows aren’t especially picky fish, they’re relatively easy to hook and reel in, and they’re often willing subjects for trying new techniques.
But while rainbow trout are plentiful here as at many other fishing lakes in Washington, Liberty Lake is perhaps best known as a top spot for brown trout.
Brown trout often are considerably more difficult to catch than rainbow trout.
While rainbows are beginner-friendly, brown trout pose a challenge even for experienced anglers, as lunker browns can be both elusive to hook and difficult to land once you do. They’re powerful, they can be large, and they will often put up a great fight.
One of the best times to catch brown trout is early in the fishing season, as soon after the ice comes off the lake as possible.
At that time, the browns will be extra hungry and less wary than they tend to be for most of the season.
Also notable with brown trout is that they have a higher heat tolerance than most other trout varieties. Summer mornings and evenings can be among the best times to fish for brown trout.
Overall, brown trout feed more at night than other trout species. Targeting them in the low light of dawn and dusk can increase your odds of hooking a big one.
During the spring and fall, they’re likelier to be found feeding in the shallows, even at times during the day.
Brown trout tend to include more fish in their diet than rainbow trout, especially when they grow to larger sizes of 18 inches or longer.
Spoons and Rapala-like crankbaits can work well, mimicking prey fish. Live baits, especially worms, are also taken.
Spin casting is a popular technique for catching brown trout, although trolling can be effective as well.
Liberty Lake is also home to a small resident population of brook trout.
Like brown trout, brook trout are a non-native char. They are often smaller and easier to catch than the browns, though.
Brook trout will take a wide variety of baits and lures, and since they feed heavily on insects, fishing with artificial flies either with a fly rod or conventional rod and reel is very effective.
Brook trout and brown trout are cross-bred to create tiger trout, a sterile hybrid known for feeding mostly on smaller “forage fish.” While tiger trout aren’t regularly planted at Liberty Lake and don’t frequently occur outside of the hatchery, natural hybridizations have occurred.
Tiger trout can be easily identified by their distinctive coloration (although the pattern more closely resembles that of a leopard or ocelot than it does the fish’s namesake, the tiger).
Tiger trout behave similarly to their brown trout parents, especially in their preference for eating small fish.
Learn more tips and techniques for catching trout.
Liberty Lake is renowned as one of the best places to fish for brown bullhead catfish in Eastern Washington.
Brown bullheads are most readily available in May and June, around the time they spawn.
However, prospects are strong throughout summer and into early fall, dropping off as temperatures cool off.
Channel catfish also inhabit Liberty Lake and are much more prized than the bullheads, though not as numerous.
Channel cats can grow much larger than brown bullheads, which are a smaller type of catfish, but they behave similarly in many respects.
Channel catfish spawn in June and July. As with brown bullheads, spawning season is a good time to target channel cats.
Catfish of all kinds are bottom feeders, where they hoover up live and dead prey.
Catfish are famous omnivores that will eat pretty much anything they encounter, including insects, crustaceans, plants, smaller fish, amphibians, reptiles and more.
Many anglers swear by the use of smelly baits to catching catfish.
Catfish have an unusually well-developed sense of smell, which they use for sniffing out things to eat on the bottom. Chicken livers are one of the “classic” baits for catching catfish.
That being said, as mentioned above, catfish will eat pretty much anything. So check and see what’s in your fridge or use the guts or skins of other fish you catch and clean while at the lake.
Hook more whiskery fish with out simple catfish fishing techniques and best baits.
Liberty Lake Walleye
You may find it easier to fish for walleyes either before or after their spawning period. June and July are usually good months at Liberty Lake.
Like catfish, walleyes like to stay on or near the bottom of the lake, and they are often best caught at night, or at least at first or last light, since they will do much of their hunting in low-light conditions.
Walleyes are somewhat more particular eaters, but worms are a tried-and-true bait for these tasty fish.
Rubber-tail jigs, crankbaits and other lures that imitate smaller fish and crayfish also will catch walleyes.
Use very sharp hooks when fishing for walleyes, or else the hook may fail to set and you’ll just have given your quarry a small meal with nothing to show for it.
Pick up more walleye fishing methods in this how-to article.
Bass Fishing at Liberty Lake
Liberty Lake supports largemouth and smallmouth bass populations.
Along with the aforementioned catfish, bass provide much of the summer catch at Liberty Lake.
Both bass species are best fished in the mornings and evenings, especially during hotter months.
Although at their most active in summer into early fall, bass tend to retreat to deeper water or hiding out in weedy, shady parts of the lake.
Largemouth bass seek out larger prey species, so lures that look like bona fide dinners such as frogs or other fish can be very effective.
Smallmouth bass have a bit of a “Napoleon complex.” While they can’t always take prey up to the sizes that their largemouth cousins favor, they are quick to anger, something clever anglers can exploit by using spinners to agitate the water.
Pound for pound, smallmouth bass are exceptional fighters, especially on light tackle.
Learn the best techniques to catch both types of bass.
Yellow perch are another a popular fishery at Liberty Lake.
Perch are particularly beloved in the angling community because they can be caught in numbers all season long, and they taste great.
Try fishing off the bottom with pieces of worms.
Perch don’t grow very large, but they can make up for it in sheer quantity. If one perch bites, odds are good that more will follow, because they travel and feed in schools throughout the year.
While perch can be encountered at any point in the open season, the summer months (after spawning) are typically considered the high point.
Additional panfish you might catch at Liberty Lake include black crappie, bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish.
Where is Liberty Lake?
The city of Liberty Lake is a suburb of Spokane. It’s located immediately east of Spokane Valley, Spokane’s largest suburb, and about a mile from the Idaho state line.
Liberty Lake itself is just south of the eponymous city.
The boat launch is on East Third Avenue. Take Molter Road south past the golf course and then make a left turn onto Third Avenue to reach it.
The third prominent local entity of the same name, Liberty Lake Regional Park, extends from the lake’s south end.
The park has a public beach, restrooms and shoreline access for anglers. There’s also an off-road vehicle area within the park, as well as a campground.