Eight square miles in size, forming a natural boundary between the Seattle suburbs and the less intensely developed areas well east of the city, Lake Sammamish has trout and salmon but also one of Washington’s finest fishing spots for smallmouth bass.
Smallmouth bass can be fished up year-round at Lake Sammamish, although the prime fishing opportunities are from mid-spring to late summer.
Yellow perch and coastal cutthroat trout are also popular year-round attractions. And while the lake is closed to most steelhead and salmon fishing, hatchery-reared coho can be taken during the season.
While the lake itself is quite large, virtually the only public access is via Lake Sammamish State Park at its southern end. Some private resorts also offer access, but most anglers will be either fishing from the shoreline at the state park or, more often, by launching watercraft from the multiple boat ramp lanes at the park.
Fishing is open year-round. However, two-pole fishing is prohibited on the lake.
An annual launch permit or a Discover Pass are required to launch a boat from Lake Sammamish State Park.
Lake Sammamish isn’t the kind of suburban fishing hole stocked with truckloads of hatchery rainbow trout. However, trout fishing here can be quite good and stack up with those stocked lakes, thanks to a natural population of wild coastal cutthroat trout, which you can catch all year long.
Although often caught under 12 inches, cutthroat trout here can grow a fair bit longer than a foot given ideal conditions, and Lake Sammamish provides lots of space and forage for them to thrive.
Where you find them will depend somewhat on the season.
In general, anglers should expect trout to feed near the water’s surface in cooler conditions, but they may retreat to deeper waters or move toward cooler incoming streams during the hot months.
Lake Sammamish anglers use the typical trout-fishing methods.
Since boating is very popular here, many anglers turn to trolling lures, bait or a combination of the two in an effort to cover more water and encounter more trout in this vast lake.
Both bank and boat anglers often employ bait-fishing approaches, including fishing with a bobber when trout are active near the surface or casting into cooler waters when trout are running deeper.
Casting lures and flies are other popular ways to catch trout.
For more on this type of fishing, read our simple guide, Trout Fishing: How-To Techniques and Tips.
The only kind of salmon fishing allowed at Lake Sammamish under the permanent rules is for hatchery coho salmon, which are raised and released at a hatchery in Issaquah Creek and pass through the giant lake on their way to and from the Pacific Ocean.
Any other types of salmon you might catch here, including kokanee, must be released unharmed if caught at Lake Sammamish, unless the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife decides to open a fishery under emergency rules.
Anglers are permitted to take up to four coho salmon in season, which starts in October and November, when the larger salmon are in the lake.
Check the regulations for when coho count toward your trout limit in the winter and spring, when coho in the lake are more likely to be trout-sized fish that haven’t migrated to the ocean.
Also note that there is a seasonal closure near the mouth of Issaquah Creek, at the state park, where the larger salmon gather before returning to the hatchery.
Coho, also known as silvers, are like all salmon closely related to trout.
But coho that go to the ocean and return grow significantly larger than your typical pan-sized trout, with mature adult silvers typically measuring anywhere from two feet on up and sometimes weighing 10 pounds or more.
In the Pacific Northwest, many coho anglers will use spinners. These lures are designed with one purpose: to catch a coho’s attention and spark its naturally aggressive nature.
Other lures including plugs and spoons, as well as bait presentations, also are common ways to catch coho in lakes.
Make sure you come prepared with a salmon rod equipped with at least 10-pound line, or greater. These are big, muscular fish that can and will put up a fight, so you need to have equipment that will stand up to a little hostility.
Steelhead (or actually any rainbow trout over 20 inches) must also be released at Lake Sammamish.
More information: Salmon Fishing: Simple Techniques and Tips
While trout and salmon fishing may be king in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps the marquee attraction at Lake Sammamish is not for either of them.
Instead, many anglers launch their boats here to indulge in another of Washington’s angling favorites: bass fishing.
Unlike many fishing lakes in western Washington, Lake Sammamish is much better fishing grounds for smallmouth bass than largemouth bass, although both species are present.
Smallmouth bass can be encountered year-round, with fair prospects even during the wet, chilly Seattle winter.
But clearly the best fishing opportunities for smallmouths kick off as the water starts to warm up, beginning in about April. They are particularly aggressive in the spring, when larger bass are guarding nests in shallower water.
While the smallmouth will tend to move back into somewhat deeper water after nesting, they will feed actively and provide good action through summer. Early fall can be quite good as well.
Although they don’t on average grow as large as their largemouth cousins, smallmouth bass are dogged fighters. They aren’t known as frequent jumpers when hooked, but pound for pound they have some amazing strength.
A general rule of thumb for bass fishing is that they’ll get more lethargic and prefer deeper water, when it’s hot out.
During the mid- to late summer, you likely will have more success targeting them in the early morning and late evening, they’ll be more active and may move into shallower water to hunt. Adjust your fishing methods accordingly.
Most types of lures, hard or soft, can be effective, especially those that imitate favorite prey species such as crayfish, smaller fish and so on.
Smallmouth will definitely eat worms and nightcrawlers, but be wary of still-fishing with natural baits as bass tend to swallow those deeply, often resulting in fatal injuries. Many anglers practice catch-and-release fishing for bass, especially the larger ones.
There’s a daily limit of 15 for smallmouth bass on Lake Sammamish. Only one bass longer than 14 inches can be retained.
Although they are generally not as abundant as smallmouth bass in the lake, you also can catch largemouth bass.
Your best prospects are likely to be roughly from May through September, although they are generally not as abundant as smallmouth bass in the lake.
November until about March typically offer poor prospects at best.
Largemouth bass, as their name would suggest, are distinguishable from smallmouth bass by their wider mouths. They tend to grow larger than their smallmouth cousins, sometimes up to 20 inches.
The diet of largemouth bass is quite variable but tends to correspond to their size. It includes the same prey species that smallmouths eat, but largemouths also have been observed eating ducklings, swimming rodents, snakes and other animals.
As you might expect, larger baits tend to be more attractive to lunker-sized largemouth bass looking for a big meal.
Regulations limit anglers to 10 largemouth bass per day. One bass above 17 inches can be retained. Fish between 12-17 inches must be released.
Yellow Perch Fishing
Lake Sammamish is also a high-quality fishery for yellow perch, and unlike salmon or bass, you have pretty good chances to catch perch here pretty much all year long. While April through September is often the best time to catch them, these Midwest transplants will bite all year.
Not nearly as big as bass, salmon or even most trout, yellow perch are nevertheless a popular game fish because they are very tasty to eat and can be caught in great numbers by a patient angler.
Perch tend to move and feed in schools, meaning once you get one perch on the line, chances are good that more will follow.
Try using small pieces of natural bait on a small hook. Worms out of the garden or compost pile are an easy choice, or use sections of nightcrawlers, whole mealworms or other baits.
Perch anglers will often start fishing in a spot just off the bottom of the lake, gradually working toward the surface if they don’t start getting strikes.
The most important trick for having a good day of perch fishing is to go with what you’re getting. Once perch start biting, stay put — there’s no guarantee you’ll find a more productive spot if you move on, and chances are good that the perch won’t move on until they’ve had their fill.
Being patient and understanding the behavior of these little fish is key to filling your ice chest with enough perch for a fine meal.
More information: Yellow Perch Fishing: Simple Techniques and Tips
Where is Lake Sammamish?
As the even larger Lake Washington divides Seattle from its major eastern suburbs like Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland, Lake Sammamish separates that busy suburban area from the more rural and exurban areas on the outskirts of the metro area.
Public access is through Lake Sammamish State Park. The park has an impressive many-laned boat launch area located off East Lake Sammamish Parkway in the area of Jensens Cove, at the south end of the lake.
The state park itself is just north of Interstate 90, outside the city of Issaquah.
Take exit 15 onto 17th Avenue Northwest, then take a right onto Northwest Sammamish Road before a left onto East Lake Sammamish Parkway.
From Seattle, it’s about a 20- to 30-minute drive, depending on exactly where you’re coming from. It’s a straight shot on I-90 from Seattle to Issaquah.
Expect close to a three-hour drive from Portland or Vancouver, or about an hour and a half from Bellingham.
Boaters will need a Discover Pass or an annual permit to launch from the state park. Also be on the lookout for swimmers, with multiple popular beaches at the lake’s south end.