Lake Samish Fishing: How to Catch Kokanee, Bass and More

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If you’re looking for a kokanee fishing expedition near Bellingham, you’ve come to the right place.

Lake Samish is only about six miles southeast of Bellingham, and this 800-acre body of water is stocked every year with nearly 100,000 kokanee fry and fingerlings.

The fishing gets good for these landlocked salmon — sometimes known as silver trout — in the late spring and summer.

Lake Samish also supports resident populations of both largemouth and smallmouth bass, as well as coastal cutthroat trout and yellow perch.

Kokanee Fishing

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife typically stocks Lake Samish with large numbers of juvenile kokanee late in the year, and they grow into keepers at the lake.

The best time to fish for kokanee at Lake Samish is from May through August. The worst time is December through February.

Kokanee are entertaining quarry, especially for an angler with some experience who is looking for a challenge.

Although they don’t grow to nearly the size of their oceangoing relatives, kokanee are genetically sockeye salmon, and just as oceangoing sockeyes will put up a battle on the line, so will kokanee.

Expect most kokanee to grow up to about a foot in length, although they can be larger or smaller depending on their age and the quality of their habitat. The typical kokanee you’ll catch will weigh about a pound.

Get kokanee’s attention using a dodger or set of trolling blades. Filling the water with lots of flash is nearly a surefire way to provoke kokanee.

Plan on keeping a tight line but don’t get too aggressive as you reel in a kokanee.

Not only are they good fighters for their modest size, they have notoriously soft mouths, so consider using a snubber to reduce the risk of losing your catch.

Schools of kokanee will often move into deeper and cooler water during the hot summer months.

At Lake Samish, the small upper lobe on the northwest end, west of the Lake Samish Drive bridge, is by far the deepest section with a hole near the center at 140 feet deep or more.

The middle of the main lake is about half that depth but provides a large area for kokanee trolling, if you find them there.

Trout Fishing

The good news is that trout fishing is open and viable year-round at Lake Samish. The bad news is that since the trout aren’t regularly stocked, fishing prospects are fair at best.

Although more numerous in the majority of Washington’s trout lakes, hatchery rainbow trout aren’t stocked at all at Lake Samish, so the trout you do catch are almost certainly going to be native cutthroats.

Trolling or casting with lures and bait can catch cutthroat trout.

Fly fishing is another popular way to fish for cutts.

Cutthroat trout feed on insects dwelling from the bottom to the surface, so if you find feeding trout and “match the hatch” with imitation flies and nymphs that resemble natural prey, you may find some good success.

Trout don’t love temperature extremes, so expect to find them foraging closer to the lake bottom during the summer months, and perhaps again during the coldest winter periods. Try fishing off the bottom using an attractive lure or an earthworm as bait.

Spring and fall are likely to offer the best odds for catching cutthroats. Fall in particular is a nice trout time as many bass and kokanee anglers have left the lake and the trout are feeding heavily to prepare for winter.

Note there is a daily limit of two good-sized cutthroat trout when fishing on Lake Samish. Anglers are not permitted to take trout smaller than 14 inches.

To brush up on your skills, read our easy guide, Trout Fishing: Basic How-To Techniques and Tips.

Bass Fishing

The bass at Lake Samish come in Washington’s two primary varieties: largemouth and smallmouth.

The prime months to fish for largemouth bass are May through September., while the smallmouth bass often begin biting in earnest about a month earlier.

Both species can be caught outside of these peak months, since fishing is open all year on Lake Samish, but those warmer seasons offer the best prospects.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass have some similarities and some differences.

Both bass are at their most active during the warmer part of the year, but neither are particularly active during the brightest and hottest part of summer days.

Morning and evening fishing expeditions are most ideal, as bass will lounge in shady areas or deeper parts of the lake and not expend much energy during the heat of the day.

Largemouth bass can grow bigger and have those namesake wide mouths that will gulp down just about any living creater it can fit inside.

Their diet relies a fair bit on eating other fish or crustaceans such as crayfish, but they will gobble down frogs, mice and even the occasional baby duck. Lures that mimic large prey work well for the biggest largemouths.

Smallmouth bass are less voracious when it comes to big meals, but they’re very aggressive, especially in warmer water. Try convincing them to strike with plastic grubs, jerkbaits, spinners and other lures. Be ready for them to put up an impressive fight for a fish of their size.

There’s a bag limit of 15 for smallmouth bass and 10 for largemouth bass per day on Lake Samish.

Lake Samish’s fishing regulations prohibit taking more than one smallmouth bass larger than 14 inches as part of that daily limit.

For largemouth, the daily limit includes bass under 12 inches with the exception of a single largemouth bass longer than 17 inches. Many anglers choose to release all larger bass.

Note that state health officials suggest that women of childbearing age and children limit their consumption of some fish species caught here, including bass and perch, due to naturally occurring mercury. Read the state fish consumption advisories for details.

The shallow south end of the lake would be a good place to start for bass. Docks, points and small coves provide other nice bass cover.

Want to learn how to catch more bass? Read our Bass Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips.

Perch Fishing

Yellow perch also inhabit Lake Samish. These brightly colored schooling fish can be caught in droves by a patient angler.

Perch can be encountered year-round, but the best months to catch them in volume are April through August.

Try fishing off the bottom with small hooks baited with pieces of earthworm or salmon eggs to get perch to nibble. Once they’re invested in the meal, set the hook and pull them up one or two at a time (two-pole fishing is OK on Lake Samish, with the additional state endorsement).

Perch feed in groups, or schools, so once they start biting, stay with them until they move on. If you don’t get bites fairly quickly, you can move until you find them.

Patience is the key to catching perch, and you can end up filling your boat with these little fish with a little luck in finding a school.

Where is Lake Samish?

Lake Samish is in Whatcom County, right along Interstate 5 just south of Bellingham. From the campus of Western Washington University, it’s less than a 15-minute drive.

State game authorities maintain a concrete boat launch on the east shore of the lake. Take exit 242 and head north on East Lake Samish Drive to reach it. There is no shoreline access from this spot.

Whatcom County maintains Samish Park on the north shore of the lake. The park has a fishing pier, and canoes, kayaks and more are available for rent from the lodge.

Restroom facilities are available on-site at both the state’s boat launch and the county park.

As you would expect from a port city, Bellingham proper has no shortage of sporting goods and marine supply stores, so if you forgot to pack something or you want to try something new, it’s a short drive into town to gear up.

Find more fishing spots in Whatcom County

Washington Resources

WDFW Fishing and Stocking Reports
WDFW Fishing Regulations
National Weather Service forecasts