Tired of catching trout after trout after trout? Bored with battling bass? Looking for a real challenge?
Well, don’t say you weren’t fairly warned: Fishing for tiger muskies is not for the faint of heart. But if giant tiger muskies are your quarry, Mayfield Lake is one of Washington’s best places to find them.
The lake — or, more properly, reservoir — is within easy reach in Lewis County, just west of the community of Mossyrock. It’s a straight shot east on U.S. Highway 12 from Interstate 5 and within a few hours of everywhere from Seattle to Portland to Yakima.
Mayfield Lake was formed by the damming of the Cowlitz River. It’s a large reservoir at more than 2,000 acres in size, with a serpentine shape that includes a northern spur into Ike Kinswa State Park.
Mayfield Dam was completed in 1963 to generate hydroelectric power for the region. Its nearby sibling, Mossyrock Dam, forms the giant Riffe Lake just upstream, past the town of Mossyrock.
Just downstream in the Cowlitz River is some of the best salmon and steelhead fishing in Washington.
While Mayfield Lake is known for its somewhat unique fishing opportunities for tiger muskies, much of the angling traffic here is generated by the fact that the reservoir is one of the most heavily stocked rainbow trout lakes in the entire state.
Mayfield Lake anglers also have the potential for catching coho and Chinook salmon in the fall, when these fish are moved up from the hatchery below the dam.
Anglers may also try for warmwater species including moderate numbers of largemouth and smallmouth bass and lots of yellow perch.
The fishing season is open year-round for most types of fish at Mayfield, with salmon being the notable exception. Two-pole fishing is not permitted.
Tiger Muskie Fishing
Tiger muskies have been stocked at Mayfield Lake since 1993.
They were introduced to control the population of one of their favorite foods, the northern pikeminnow, which had been putting a major dent in the lake’s popular rainbow trout fishery.
As you might expect from a fish that eats a fish that eats (or outcompetes) a fish that people eat, tiger muskies are big, powerful and dangerous hunters.
The largest yet caught at Mayfield Lake tipped the scales at 31 pounds, and they can top out at a few pounds heavier than that.
Tiger muskies favor shallow waters with plenty of shade, whether from aquatic vegetation, trees, logs, or structures like docks and piers, all hiding places that are plentiful at Mayfield.
They tend to be at their most active in the summer months.
It’s not just the size of tiger muskies that makes them such a famously difficult fish to catch.
It’s certainly true that tiger muskies are big, strong fish. It’s also true that they have teeth large and sharp enough to cut most fishing lines, not to mention puncture skin.
But tiger muskies are also meticulous — some would say maddening — in how they select prey to attack. A muskie may spot an angler’s lure and follow it but never actually strike. When they do, they will often wait until the lure is close to the fishing boat.
The best advice possible is to come prepared — both in terms of your gear and your mindset.
It’s not just possible but common to go a full day of fishing in an ideal spots, under ideal conditions, see tiger muskies in the water appearing to covet your lure, and yet never actually hook one, much less land one.
While some people call steelhead a fish of 1,000 casts, tiger muskie anglers have reported their quarry to be a fish of 10,000 casts.
In other words, tiger muskies are patient; you have to be patient, too.
How to Catch Muskies
As for gear, a sturdy rod and tough line are a must. Try using a 7-foot-6 medium-heavy rod with fast action and pair it with monofilament or braided line that’s rated to handle at least up to 30 pounds of weight.
Wire or fluorocarbon leader is also strongly recommended with these toothy predators.
While the northern pikeminnow is often its meal of choice, tiger muskies will feed on a wider range of prey, especially other fish ranging from as large as walleye or as small as perch. When they don’t have fish to eat, they’ll chow down on frogs, crayfish, birds and even mammals.
Although many anglers will recommend a larger lure for tiger muskies, smaller lures can be effective as well, and anglers may find them easier to use in the weedy, shallow waters that tiger muskies prefer.
Spinnerbaits are one popular lure for tiger muskie fishing, although by no means the only viable type.
Note that some bass anglers may be in for a surprise by hooking a monster tiger muskie, as these two predatory fish tend to lurk around similar types of cover.
Although uncommon, tiger muskies have been known to attack humans, and they can deliver a nasty bite if you aren’t careful reeling them in. It’s recommended to bring a large landing net and a set of long-handled pliers for safe hook extraction.
Statewide limits apply on tiger muskie fishing at Mayfield Lake. Anglers can’t take a fish smaller than 50 inches, and the bag limit is one per day.
Many sport anglers release these magnificent fish to fight again, even when they are legal-sized.
Tiger muskies are a sterile hybrid of the true muskellunge and northern pike, both native to the upper Midwest and into Canada, so unlike the pike cousins posing problems in the upper Columbia River system, the tiger muskies can’t establish breeding populations.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks them in a half dozen other lakes, which we feature in Best Tiger Muskie Fishing in Washington.
They’re a worthy trophy fish due to their size and power, not to mention difficulty to catch.
Even if you don’t try to catch them, tiger muskies are and also valued because their varied diet often favors “nuisance fish” like the northern pikeminnows that can decimate more popular fisheries, including the rainbow trout that Mayfield Lake has been known for since the reservoir’s creation.
Maybe tiger muskie fishing isn’t for you after all?
Mayfield Lake is stocked every spring and summer with rainbow trout in vast numbers, as one might expect with such a large and accessible fishing lake.
At last check, WDFW had planned to put 72,000 “catchable” (pan-sized) hatchery rainbow trout into Mayfield Lake between April and August. It’s one of the state’s most heavily stocked lakes for keeper-sized trout.
Rainbow trout do face a battle for survival in Mayfield Lake. A big northern pikeminnow can take down smaller trout, and tiger muskies will feast on the new arrivals as well.
But that still leaves literally tens of thousands of trout for anglers, and they come in good numbers to catch trout here.
When to Catch Trout
Trout limits are common in the spring and early summer and possible into late summer, although warmer weather can slow the bite.
Your odds of catching lots of trout fade somewhat outside the stocking season, but don’t ignore fall fishing here, when trout typically go on the bite again as the water cools.
This is one of those places you can pick up trout any month of the year, even in the winter during decent weather breaks, but expect to work harder for them.
Mayfield Lake also supports a modest resident population of coastal cutthroat trout. However, wild trout (not fin-clipped) must be released if caught.
Mayfield Lake is very popular with boaters, who often troll with lures or bait (or combos) trailing behind some sort of flashy attractor, such as a dodger or set of trolling blades.
Bank anglers often turn to bait fishing, which can be effective under a bobber when the trout are near the surface or fished closer to the bottom when the fish move deeper.
Casting flies or lures is also an option.
If you’re just getting into trout fishing or looking to brush up on your skills, read our simple guide, Trout Fishing: Basic How-To Techniques and Tips.
In addition to the regularly scheduled rainbow trout stocking events, surplus Cowlitz River hatchery salmon — both coho and Chinook — are also sometimes planted in Mayfield Lake.
While most fishing is open year-round on Mayfield Lake, salmon fishing is only permitted between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31. The daily limit is six fin-clipped hatchery coho or Chinook salmon, but only two of those salmon may be adult-sized fish. (WDFW also trucks in smaller jack salmon that return to the hatchery early.)
Coho salmon are most often 6 to 12 pounds, although larger fish are occasionally caught.
Coho are aggressive and tend to move in pods.
Keep your lure in front of them and try using something like a spinner or wobbling plug with lots of action to get their attention.
Chinook salmon are bigger on average than coho salmon.
While you’re unlikely to encounter the really big Chinooks in Mayfield Lake, mature salmon often weigh in north of 10 pounds — and potentially much larger.
Fish the Cowlitz River itself below Mayfield for excellent spring Chinook and fall coho salmon fishing.
How to Catch Salmon
Many veteran Chinook anglers swear by a bait that may seem a little, well, cannibalistic.
Chinook salmon love to eat cured salmon eggs. A big cluster of eggs can be virtually irresistible to a hungry Chinook salmon and are often fished beneath a bobber.
Try just letting the fish eat on your bait for a little bit, then set the hook but good.
Make sure you have a strong enough rod and line to reel salmon in. The adults are bigger and stronger than many common game fish (like trout) and can put up a fight good enough to overpower the unprepared angler.
Chinook salmon in particular can be quite comparable in size and strength to the aforementioned tiger muskie.
Some of these salmon work their way up into the Tilton River, which flows into Mayfield Lake on the north end near Ike Kinswa State Park. Tilton River has a fishery for the hatchery-marked coho, with decent catches typically around October and November.
Bass and Panfish Fishing
Not to be forgotten, of course, is the humble largemouth bass — North America’s most popular sport fish.
The lake also produces some catches of smallmouth bass, though not as many as Riffe Lake just upriver to the east.
Bass aren’t available at Mayfield in as high of numbers as they are at some lakes, including Silver Lake a bit farther south, but they can make a fun fishery here when looking for a variety, perhaps after boating a trout limit or getting tired of trying to find muskies.
Bass fishing can bring anglers to a paradox: They favor the summer months, but they dislike the bright heat of the day.
When to Catch Bass
The best months to fish for bass here are June, July, August and early September, but in those months focus your fishing in the early morning or in the evening once the temperature drops.
Earlier spring and fall can also be decent for bass fishing.
At the most favorable hours, you’ll find bass to be more aggressive in their feeding habits. They aren’t always that picky about what they will eat, as long as it resembles some sort of prey and fits in their wide mouths. Or, some lures like spinnerbaits simply provoke the naturally aggressive predators.
As mentioned above, bass anglers might just hook into one of Mayfield Lake’s monster tiger muskies. It won’t happen often, but it could up your game when it’s time to tell fishing stories.
By early afternoon, bass typically retreat to deeper waters or find a shady spot, and they won’t be as active in feeding, as they’ll be looking to conserve energy while avoiding even larger predators like tiger muskies.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass are dispersed around the lake and may be found in all types of cover.
Broadly speaking, largemouths prefer muddier bottoms and cover such as aquatic vegetation, fallen or overhanging trees, and shady docks. They often are in the backs of coves.
Smallmouth bass often are more oriented to rocky structure, including submerged boulders, points, ledges and underwater humps.
Most anglers release the larger bass they catch. While perfectly edible, they’re not considered among the best-eating fish, and they’re more typically taken as trophies, although a photo is the best way to preserve this memory.
Catch-and-release anglers often avoid still- or slow-fishing with bait such as nightcrawlers because bass tend to deeply swallow a baited hook. This often leads to serious internal injuries or death of the bass.
Note that Mayfield has special bass bag limits to help preserve this fishery, so just one larger bass may be retained. Releasing bigger bass also makes sense because they are slow-growing and the bigger ones produce the most offspring.
We have plenty of bass-fishing trips in our easy online guide.
Yellow Perch Fishing
Yellow perch are another top fishing opportunity at Mayfield Lake, especially if you don’t mind catching smaller but very tasty fish.
Perch typically travel in schools, so what you lose in size, you can make up for in quantity with a ready supply of bait.
Perch like pieces of earthworm, among other small-size natural baits and jigs.
Use a small hook — they have small and somewhat delicate mouths — and once they start biting, stay put until they stop.
Fishing with worms or other baits, especially near the lake bottom, might also result in catches of brown bullhead catfish.
Planning Your Trip
Where is Mayfield Lake?
Mayfield Lake is easy to find in southwestern Washington.
From Interstate 5, take exit 68 in Napavine, south of Chehalis and Centralia. Follow U.S. Highway 12 about 15 miles east to the reservoir. It’s only about an hour from Olympia and likely closer to two from the Seattle area, and more with traffic.
Highway 12 runs east to Yakima. If you’re heading from Yakima or points east, just follow the highway west to Mossyrock. That trip is a bit over two hours.
From the north, taking Highway 7 south from the Tacoma area offers an alternate route.
Mayfield Lake also is within a reasonable drive for many Oregonians. It’s about an hour and a half drive from the Portland-Vancouver area.
There is excellent boating and good bank fishing access at the reservoir.
Mayfield Lake Park, maintained by Lewis County, is a good place to start. The park, just off Highway 12 on the east side of the lake, has an improved concrete boat launch.
Boating access is also available from Ike Kinswa State Park, with a boat launch on the northwest side of the lake.
Shore access also is good at the state park.
Another popular bank-fishing spot is around the Mossyrock Fish Hatchery. It’s recommended to call Tacoma Power’s fishing line at 888-502-8690 first.
Where to Stay at Mayfield Lake
Lots of campers will head to Ike Kinswa State Park, where you’ll also find plenty of other recreational activities, including a swimming area.
A good number of visitors also use the private Lake Mayfield Resort and Marina as their home base on the lake. There’s a boat launch and nice marina to keep your watercraft ready to go fishing, plus a bit of bank fishing access and a small fishing pier available to guests.
The resort includes a variety of overnight options, such as a motel, cabins, and RV and tent camping spots. There is general store and small restaurant.