The Complete Guide to Fishing Lake Roosevelt

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Are you looking for a fishing lake with some big, aggressive trout?

Maybe you’re more interested in bagging a bunch of kokanee, scoring multiple meals worth of walleye, battling bass all day long, fighting a giant sturgeon, and still find even more fish biting after that?

Lake Roosevelt, a reservoir on the Columbia River in northeastern Washington, practically has everything you could want.

One reason this lake offers so much is simple: It’s absolutely huge.

Lake Roosevelt (it’s formal name is Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake) stretches southward for more than 150 miles from Canada and meets its end at one of the largest concrete structures ever built: the Grand Coulee Dam.

With that much water, there’s plenty to do in the area.

Built during the Great Depression under FDR’s New Deal legislation, there’s a chance that you may find a sturgeon in there that’s been around since before the dam was built.

The Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area covers a portion of the lake and offers excellent camping, shore fishing and boat launching in several places. 

While trout are one of the biggest draws to this iconic reservoir, more than a few favorite fish species call this massive lake home. At times the reservoir has simply excellent fishing for kokanee, walleye, smallmouth bass, sturgeon, burbot, and even more.

Read on and we’ll help you make the most of all of Lake Roosevelt’s best fishing opportunities.

There are triploid and red band trout throughout the lake, though in 2006, the stocking plan changed to stocking only triploids still stocked today.

The decision has had the desired effect, with triploids showing up in huge numbers, with quite a few looking like footballs. 

A note about launching boats here: during the summer and fall, water levels are drawn down for irrigation purposes.

This can make launching boats difficult, though warnings are found on websites to alert you to low water levels.

See the boat launch chart included below to find a usable ramp in lower water.

Whether you are visiting Lake Roosevelt for fishing or hunting, make sure you are familiar with local regulations.

First, verify where you are, whether that’s on tribal, private, state or federal land, and be prepared to know the regulations there.

In an area so vast, and often remote, it’s also always good to familiarize yourself with emergency contact information based on where you are.

You know there are fish in Lake Roosevelt, but you may wonder how to catch them.

Let’s take a more in-depth look.

Lake Roosevelt Trout Fishing

There are several trout species in Roosevelt. Rainbow, brown, brook, bull and cutthroat can all be found here, to various degrees.

Bull trout are pretty rare and are protected, so don’t target them and let it go unharmed if you do catch one.

The bulls may wash down from Canada, where they are more common in colder waters. 

Rainbow trout are the biggest draw to the lake, though browns and brookies can be found in some of the inlets.

Anglers rave about the rainbows here, which often are delicious with dark red meat.

Rainbow Trout

You are going to find good rainbow fishing throughout the year along the length of Roosevelt.

Cooler water temperatures will find bows holding near the surface in spring and fall. Both bank and boat anglers can find action in those cooler months.

However, once it warms, you may be fishing 100 feet deep in the summer heat.

Every year there are around 750,000 rainbows released from the net pens used to raise them. They move throughout the entire lake system from there.

When you target rainbows in this lake, watch for the clipped adipose fin. These are the planted fish. They can grow big, with 22- to 25-inch hogs being caught fairly often.

When targeting rainbows in the winter and spring, bank fishing with standard trout baits works well.

Use a light action rod equipped with an 8- to 10-pound test line. Attach a slip sinker above your swivel, then add 24 inches of 6-pound leader.

PowerBait or worms work great for still-fishing. 

There are ample shore fishing opportunities available around the reservoir.

Hunters Campground area, near Fruitland, has good shore access, a boat launch, and is worth a try. Just up the road from Hunters, there are several spots right off the road, nearer Gifford Ferry.

Another go-to area is Lincoln Mill. A quick drive from there will put you at Seven Bays, which has excellent shore access.

A little further on is Ft. Spokane, which has beaches very close to the parking lot. Boat launches are available at each of these spots as well.

Keller Bay is another great area to target.

Trolling works extremely well for boaters chasing rainbows, with anglers catching limits pretty fast.

There are some deep drop-offs within a few hundred yards of the bank—fish along the shelves at the edge of these drop-offs.

Start around 1.5 mph and go up from there, varying your depth as you move along the shelves. Trout may be holding just off the edge watching for baitfish. 

Once the water warms, the ‘bows typically go deep. Use the same trolling techniques and speeds but drop your lures significantly deeper.

A big perk to this fishing style is that once you mark the proper depth, you can have some incredible days on the water. 

A few things to keep in mind when targeting rainbows is that they love shiny, flashy lures. Use some flasher blades attached ahead of the leader and pull a Wedding Ring or a bait hook setup with worms. 

Trolling through the southern end of the lake up to the Spokane confluence is consistently productive. Work different depths from 10 to 20 feet when the water is cool and 30 to 50 feet after it warms a bit.

Brown Trout

Some browns are found in the areas where the Colville River and the Kettle River join the lake.

While there aren’t huge numbers of browns, there are some fairly big fish in there. You may luck into some 4- to 5-pounders, but most likely, it’ll happen when you’re targeting a different species.

Browns will rise to a worm or flies.

They call the Colville, Kettle and Spokane Rivers home, so a few washing down into the lake are common.

The vegetation around the river inlets provides them with ample cover. They also eat the baitfish that congregate in these areas.

Lures and spinners work well, along with streamers if fly fishing.

Brook Trout 

Brookies are more prevalent the farther north you travel in the lake.

Brook trout hold in the same areas as the brown trout, so target areas with a fair amount of vegetation. Worms and spinners work well and brook trout also respond well to fly fishing.

River inlets are the best and most likely places to find them, so if they are your goal, hit these areas with a light or ultra-light action rod.

Some brook trout will grow to a decent size, but you’ll mostly be contending with smaller versions here. 

Bull Trout

Often washed down from Canada, bull trout are protected throughout Washington. If you catch one, put it back.

Bull trout are rare but can be seen on occasion while searching for other species.

Some anglers confuse them with other trout species (especially brook trout), so study up on your fish identification before fishing anywhere with bull trout.

How to Catch Trout

Pick up more pointers with our simple guide to trout fishing techniques and tips.

Lake Roosevelt Walleye Fishing

Walleye fishing can be fantastic here.

The main lake can be a bit daunting, but once you find a few on the fish finder, you should be able to hone your tactics and start picking up more fish in no time.

The typical walleye rigs will work at Lake Roosevelt, with jigging being the top draw.

Find structure that shows fish on the electronics and drop a chartreuse/flake, white tube, red/black or perch color to the depth they are holding.

Jig slower in colder water and speed up slightly when it warms up. 

You can find walleye holding in shallower depths around deeper shelves and along rocky structures in cooler water.

In warmer water, walleye go deep here. Look for fish in 80 to 130 feet of water. 

Other techniques that work are the standard worm harness trolled slowly and close to the bottom. You’re also likely to connect with a few burbot or other fish while searching.

The Spokane arm holds significant walleye numbers, and a common strategy is to fish the arm headed west, then moving north along the main channel of the lake.

Anglers have reported catching big numbers. A 30- to 40-fish day isn’t uncommon, but neither is getting skunked. They are walleye, after all. 

If trolling isn’t working, find some deeper structure on your electronics and hit it with a jig. You’ll probably find them.

The spring and early summer offer the best walleye fishing.

At this time they move out of the Spokane River and head north to the areas around Colville River and Singers Bay.

The Kettle Falls boat launch is a great place to put in as long as the water levels are high enough.

The walleye here can grow enormous, with fish weighing over 18 pounds having been caught.

Learn more about how to catch best walleye.

Lake Roosevelt Kokanee Fishing

Kokanee are another major draw on Lake Roosevelt.

The amount of forage in the lake for kokanee provides anglers the opportunity to catch big fish that taste fantastic. They are known to put up a great fight as well. 

Most of the kokes in Roosevelt are caught on hootchie-style flies and small lures trolled behind a dodger setup. Troll deeper water throughout the lake and start at 0.6 mph, speeding up slightly until they start hitting. 

Several areas on the lake hold good numbers of kokanee.

Start out around the Hunters and Whitestone Rock area. Trolling from Whitestone Rock to the dam is likely to get you onto good numbers and a possibility to catch some larger freshwater sockeye. 

Jigging for kokes with spoons and lures works well under the right circumstances. Pinpoint a school with your fish finder and drop your lure to their depth.

Closer to the dam and around the Whitestone Rock areas are perfect for jigging. Use a metal jigging spoon with a lot of flashiness to it.

Catching and eating kokanee is a blast. Hone your skills with this easy-to-follow kokanee fishing guide.

Lake Roosevelt Bass Fishing

The lake holds both largemouth and smallmouth bass. While they aren’t as heavily targeted as trout, they are quite abundant and fun to catch. 

Smallies are found throughout the lake, though during summer months, try near any creek entering the Spokane River, and you’ll almost certainly catch something.

Quite a few big fish live pretty close to the dam and hold in the rocks for cover. 

Search the areas around the steep cliffs and target rock structures. You’re bound to get quite a few, and some of them will be above the cookie-cutter norms.

Take the kids out for these guys. Smallmouth bass can provide fast action and a lot of fun for a young angler.

Crankbaits, finesse rigs, and lures work well, especially from the Spokane River confluence down to the dam.

Largemouths can be found hiding in the weeds around the confluences of the Spokane River and the Colville River. Kettle Falls is always worth a try as well.

While not as plentiful as smallmouth, they do hold their own here.

Largemouth bass put up a memorable fight, and targeting them with top waters and poppers is a great time in warmer weather.

Crankbaits, buzz baits and all kinds of soft plastic lures work as well.

There are so many great ways to catch bass. Learn the best bass fishing techniques in our simple guide.

Sturgeon

Sturgeon have been replanted in Lake Roosevelt through a cooperative hatchery program for some years now.

The fruits of those labors are now showing up and the legal-sized white sturgeon population is starting to make a strong comeback.

The first sturgeon harvests in decades resumed in 2017, and suddenly Lake Roosevelt became one of the better sturgeon fishing areas on the Columbia River.

Note that sturgeon fishing at Lake Roosevelt is technically closed under permanent regulations but in recent years have consistently been opened through emergency regulations.

The regs have often been released in about June so check the WDFW for official rules.

Read up on the rules very carefully before heading out to catch these big fish.

And believe us, targeting these ancient dinosaurs can be a great time.

The Kettle River area and Marcus Flats are some of the more productive sites on the lake.

Kettle Falls offers a boat launch and all the amenities you may need to get you ready for a day of battling these giants. 

There are several ways to target sturgeon, but one of the best in Lake Roosevelt is with fresh squid.

Drop it down once you find an area holding sturgeon, and get ready.

The regulations on these can change at any moment, so make sure to check the current regs before heading out. 

The lower lake has several great spots for these monsters, but watch out for seasonal closures often set above the China Bend boat ramp on the upper reservoir, where the big ones go to spawn.

More: Learn how to catch sturgeon

Chinook Salmon 

There are Chinook salmon in the lake, though they are mostly washed down from Coeur d’Alene Lake, where they are planted.

Coeur d’Alene Lake uses them to keep the local kokanee populations in check. 

There are also Chinook that have been released in the lake to attempt to create a local spawn above the dam.

The local tribes have been introducing more each year in the hopes of re-establishing the area as a Chinook water.

Salmon other than kokanee count toward the trout limit here.

Lake Whitefish

Look for these tasty but bony fish from near the Hawk Creek area down to the dam. The deeper waters here hold many of these guys, though they don’t face very heavy fishing pressure.

For most of the year, they keep to deeper water, suspending near the bottom. Look for them in deeper pockets in 75 to 130 feet of water. 

Lake whitefish spawn in the winter, making them easier to catch then.

They’ll hang out just offshore, making them easy targets for bank anglers and boats alike. Once you’re on a school, you’re going to have pretty fast action.

Vertical jigging for these is often the go-to approach. Use a smallish hook and worms, wax worms, salmon eggs or shrimp.

A ¼ to ½ ounce weight will get your bait to them in the summer, and a jig will do fine in the winter.

Panfish

Black crappie, pumpkinseeds and yellow perch are found throughout the big reservoir, with sunfish in particular seeking cover close to the shoreline.

There aren’t too many big panfish in there, either because of lack of accessible habitat or because they are actively fed upon by the other game fish in the lake.

There are better crappie fisheries around the area, including Potholes Reservoir near Moses Lake and Eloika Lake and Newman Lake near Spokane.

Learn more about how to catch crappie.

Burbot

Burbot can be found in several areas throughout Lake Roosevelt, which is one of the best burbot fisheries in Washington.

In the winter, when burbot move out of extreme depths into more modest ones, the Colville River confluence is a popular area, as is the Spokane River Arm. 

Burbot hold on the bottom and can be caught using a jig head with a plastic grub tipped with a worm.

Drop straight down to the bottom and slowly jig until you feel one smack your bait. It will either be a burbot or a walleye.

Use a medium action rod with a 10- to 12-pound braided line and send your bait deep.

If you’ve never caught a burbot, you’re in for a treat. They might be ugly, but they taste excellent.

Northern Pike

These newcomers aren’t supposed to be in the lake, and efforts are underway to stop them from spreading farther down into the Columbia River system, where some fear the hungry predators will interfere with efforts to rebuild salmon and steelhead runs.

If you catch a northern pike, take note of the area and report it to the fisheries department so they can record it.

If you target them, cut the heads off, and the Colville tribe pays $10 each as a reward to remove northern pike from the lake.

Planning Your Trip

Lake Roosevelt has some pretty great activities for anglers and non-anglers alike.

There is something for everyone here. From laying out on the beach to renting a houseboat, the family is sure to find something to do.

Where is Lake Roosevelt?

Lake Roosevelt is located in northeastern Washington.

From Spokane, you can get to the Spokane River Arm area in roughly an hour, while it’s a significantly longer drive to either end of the giant reservoir.

It’s about four hours driving to Grand Coulee (near the dam) from the Seattle area, and about 2 ½ hours hours from the Yakima or Trip-Cities areas. Heading farther up the lake will add significant travel time.

Bank and Boat Access

There are public and private boat launches throughout the lake.

The Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area has access for boat and bank fishing throughout its many park sites.

Boat Launching Levels

The table below shows the major boat launches and the necessary water elevation to be able to launch.

Use it in conjunction with current information from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s water level gauge for Lake Roosevelt.

Hawk Creek1281’ Crescent Bay1265’ Porcupine Bay1243’
Marcus Island1281’ Daisy1265’ Kettle Falls1234’
Evans1280’ French Rocks1265’ Hunters Camp1232’
North Gorge1280’ Hansen Harbor1253’ Keller Ferry1229’
Napoleon Bridge1280’ Bradbury Beach1251’ Seven Bays1227’
Snag Cove1277’ Gifford1249’ Spring Canyon1222’
China Bend1277’ Fort Spokane1247’   
Jones Bay1268’ Lincoln Mill1245’  
 

There are places to stop and fish from shore all around the lake.

Several spots along the Spokane River Arm and the upper lake are right by the road, saving you a long walk to the shore.

Where to Stay

Within the National Recreation Area, there are 32 campgrounds, although some of these are boat-in access only.

Kettle Falls has hotels and restaurants and is about two-thirds the way up the lake.

Closer to the bottom, you’ll find plenty of food and lodging in both Electric City and Grand Coulee.

Just up the lake from the dam is a campground with a boat launch and a fun beach, so if you’re on the southern end, it may be worth a try. 

Further up the lake, you’ll have your pick from several campgrounds and RV parks. Some have full RV hookups, and others have none.

Check the map before you head to the lake and contact the campground you’re planning on staying at to ensure availability.

Lake Roosevelt offers such a diverse fishery that it’s possible to pull a 5 or 6 species day without trying too hard.

You’ll be able to catch several species just off the bank here.

Hiking and wildlife watching opportunities are everywhere, and water sports are almost a must.

Want learn more about all of the gamefish species in the entire river system? Read our Columbia River Fishing overview.

Washington Resources

WDFW fishing and stocking reports
WDFW fishing regulations
National Weather Service forecasts