Fishing at Silver Lake in Cowlitz County: Bass and Panfish Mecca

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Who wants to catch some big bass? If you do, then Silver Lake is for you.

Southwest Washington’s Silver Lake is near the top of almost every Western Washington angler’s list of best largemouth bass fishing lakes, and it has a fantastic population of crappie and other panfish to boot.

Let’s back up a little bit though.

Was your first thought, “Wait, which Silver Lake do you mean?” Good question. Walk into any tackle shop from here to North Carolina and ask how the fishing is at Silver Lake, and they’ll tell you.

Here in Washington alone there certainly are more than a few Silver Lakes, and some of them are excellent fishing holes in their own right. (One of the fairly close ones is Silver Lake in Pierce County.)

This particular Silver Lake just happens to be down the road from Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, which showcases one of the most beautiful and destructive mountains in the country.

But scenery aside, Cowlitz County’s Silver Lake is an exceptional bass fishery. At an average of just five feet deep and fish-holding structure in every direction, bass can be holding about anywhere.

You can say about the same for crappie, yellow perch and several other popular game fish. 

Formed from a much older eruption of Mt. St. Helens that dammed Silver Creek (hence the name) long before the famous 1980 blast, the lake has over four miles of shoreline.

A portion of the bank is within Seaquest State Park, which offers excellent lake access as well as incredible views of the mountain from the shore of Silver Lake.

There are dense Douglas fir forests around the lake, and Mt. St. Helens is just up the road.

Castle Rock is down the road to pick up any essentials that you can’t find right at the lake, where there are several small businesses catering to visitors.

Take some time and do some sightseeing, then it’s time to go fishing.

Largemouth Bass Fishing in Silver Lake 

silver lake bass fishing
Photo courtesy of the Oregon Bass and Panfish Club

Want the opportunity to catch a 10-pound bucket mouth? Who doesn’t!

There is a better possibility of catching a bucket list bass here than perhaps any lake in Washington. While the big boys are pretty wary of anglers, they are in there. Somewhere.

Standard largemouth techniques work here, and with the depth of the lake, you can search them out wherever you find submerged cover.

During the spring and summer, try during the week to avoid the crowds. The lake fills up with actual and would-be bass tournament anglers on weekends, so it’s best to avoid the crowded conditions.

Also, try using your longer casts, as the savvier big bass in the lake have seen it all and can practically tell the make and model year of a bass boat parked too near.

Search out the lily pads and toss some topwater lures before the day gets too hot. You may pull in a giant.

There are also submerged logs and trees in the water around the east and northeast sections, and there are plenty of docks and pilings where bass lurk in the shade, waiting for a meal to pass by.

Your best bet to finding decent-sized largemouth bass is by working the coverage along the southern end, then along the eastern bank up to the northeastern end of the lake.

The western side gets more pressure from shore, so if you are on foot, try to get away from the crowds.

Plastics work well, with the season coming into full swing in April. Also hit them with crankbaits and various topwater lures.

When the bite slows, switch to a more finesse approach. Senkos in pumpkinseed or watermelon flake colors should bring a few of the more wily bass to your net.

Hit the east side and north bay of Walden Island, and you’re sure to get good numbers. The piling rows found in this area are great to cover earlier in the year. 

When the bass move into shallower water, fish the shoreline bushes. Target the small bays along the north side of the lake as well.

Think like a bass, and you’ll be successful. They just want to ambush their prey and hang out all day. Look for baitfish, and you’re sure to find them.

Want to improve your odds at catching a Silver Lake lunker? Read our simple guide to the best bass fishing techniques.

Silver Lake Crappie Fishing

A nice crappie an angler caught at Silver Lake in Cowlitz County, Washington.
Photo courtesy of the Oregon Bass & Panfish Club

Black and white crappie are both prolific in Silver Lake. They can grow into some great slabs, too. Who wouldn’t want to catch a cooler full of crappie for a cookout?

Crappie populations are so impressive here that Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (and fishing helpers) have been known to gather crappie here and truck them in tanks to lakes where anglers want to establish better populations.

Both black and white crappie can be targeted with the same approach.

They are going to hold in cover much like bass do, though they also hang out in schools and sometimes suspend farther out in the lake.

The best part of their schooling up is that when you catch one, more are sure to follow. 

The southern shore east of Timber Point and the canals on the northeastern portion are great areas to target crappie.

If fishing from a boat, try a trolling approach. Watch your electronics and once you find them, stop and try jigging with crappie jigs that imitate the minnows they love to eat.

Some crappie anglers also use natural baits, like nightcrawlers or other worms, mealworms or crickets, but remember that live fish are not legal bait anywhere in Washington state.

The boat docks, including at the local resort, can hold crappie as well. There may be a small fee to fish resort docks, but the crappie action here can be excellent.

Bank fishing works well, as there are several docks and floating structures for you to target.

Keep in mind that you can likely lose your bait quickly due to the other panfish and perch that are around the same areas. Check your bait often.

Some crappie will smack your bait hard. Others take a much softer approach.

Remember, crappie have very soft, thin mouths, making it easy to overpower them and lose them when trying to land them.

Use the lightest line you can for the situation.

If you’re primarily in the deeper water of the lake (relative to the shoreline), you can get away with a six-pound test, while in cover, you’ll want to bump that up to an eight or 10-pound test.

Use small hooks and small lures.

Crappie are often caught in the best numbers in the spring and fall.

In the spring, crappie move into shallow waters in numbers to spawn, and they are concentrated and aggressive if you can find their holding spots.

In the fall, wise Silver Lake anglers know that crappie often move into certain spots around the lake to hold as the water cools.

The canal areas at the east end of the lake are the prime target into the fall and sometimes stretching into the winter.

This fun fishery gets some chatter online and among fishing clubs, so you’ll find you’re not alone when the bite is on and there’s a break in Western Washington’s notoriously rainy fall and winter weather. But panfish anglers are typically a friendly bunch that welcomes others.

Crappie also can be caught all summer long, when they are actively hunting but may be spread out quite a bit and harder to find. Look for the cover of docks, fallen trees and branches, pilings and similar spots to help narrow your search.

Or try the trolling approach we mentioned to cover lots of water until you locate a school, then switch to more targeted methods like jig fishing.

Crappie are one of the favorite white-fleshed freshwater fish for eating, although some anglers will tell you that spring and fall crappie have firmer meat and taste better than summertime slabs.

Learn how to catch more crappie with these simple techniques and tips

Silver Lake Trout Fishing

Trout fishing is fairly good in the spring, mostly soon after WDFW stocks it with catchable-sized rainbows.

If trout are your goal, hit the lake after it’s planted and for the few months afterward. Begin thinking about it in March and you might catch reasonable numbers into May or early June.

These hatchery reared trout aren’t particularly hard to catch, IF you can find them.

They do get some fishing pressure in the spring before the survivors seek out the coolest water and largely lay low for the summer.

You may find a small number of holdovers in the fall and winter that could have some size to them.

The southwestern end of the lake is the deepest portion, with a few holes over 10 feet deep. As you fish, keep in mind that there are lots of spots where the water is only 4-5 feet deep.

Trolling the deeper southwestern end up to Pete Moore Island (if the water level is high enough), and then across to Walden Island and back with the standard trolling gear set at five to seven feet deep can be productive.

An attractor such as dodger or set of lake trolls can help bring in the fish to your lure or nightcrawler from such a vast expanse of water.

There are some bank-fishing spots where anglers can catch a few trout, but boaters will have the clear advantage by trolling shallow-running lures and bait across a lot more water.

If you are fishing from the bank, still-fishing with bait is often the top choice.

Berkley PowerBait, nightcrawlers, and marshmallows tipped with a bit of worm all work well here.

Bear in mind that if you are fishing with natural baits in particular, you are likely to catch a few of the numerous crappie and bluegill in the lake while fishing for trout. There’s hardly a fish in Silver Lake that can’t resist a worm!

This lake is pretty warm during the summer for decent trout fishing, so if you want trout in July or after, we suggest you hit some of the colder lakes in the region, including heavily stocked Mayfield Lake in neighboring Lewis County.

More: Find a bunch of simple trout fishing tips and techniques in this how-to article.

Yellow Perch

Who doesn’t love a fish fry? Along with crappie, yellow perch are one of the most prized of the local species when it comes to bringing home a pile of delicious fillets.

Perch, like crappie and other panfish, also are fun to catch, and once you find a few, you can have some fast action. The kids will love catching these guys all day.

Once you find them, stay on them, and you can literally fill a bucket or cooler without having to move the boat very much at all.

Perch sometimes school with other perch of similar sizes, so if you are only catching small perch (which are common here), try a few new perch and see if you can get into some 10- or 12-inchers.

Perch fishing is easy.

At its essence, you pretty much can bait a smallish plain hook or jig with a section of nightcrawler or whole redworm, or similar bait, and chuck it out and fish on or near the bottom, where perch typically hold.

There you will either catch some perch or some of the other species in the lake, whether a brown bullhead, bluegill or another fish.

While searching for schools of perch, one tactic is to cast along the edge of the weeds if fishing from shore and keep moving until you find them. But perch also can be out in open water, so it’s best to keep moving.

Honestly, perch will bite (and quickly) if you drop a nice morsel of worm in front of them, so it’s best to cover water quickly if you’re not getting bites.

Use light tackle and line for perch. Four to six-pound test should do fine. Anything tipped with a bit of worm should do the job.

Find even more perch fishing tips and techniques to catch a bucketful.

Panfish Fishing at Silver Lake

Bluegill and other sunfish are spread throughout Silver Lake, but they can be most found near some type of cover, such as the many docks and lily pads, very often within casting distance of shore and sometimes literally a few feet from your feet.

You’ll often find several panfish in one area, although they don’t school as much as crappie and perch. If you’ve caught several and the bite turns off, simply move down to the next likely looking spot.

Bluegill and warmouths are also favorite meals of the largemouth bass in the lake, so there can be some crossover here. It’s not unheard of to catch a bluegill and have a largie smash it on the retrieve.

Bluegill and warmouths often readily bite on bits of nightcrawler, mealworms, crickets and similar natural baits, like the other panfish here.

Flies and small surface poppers are fun ways to catch sunfish as well, whether with a fly rod or using a spin outfit and casting bubble.

Bluegill are battlers for their size. Ultralight rod and tackle can make these fun to target.

These guys are great for kids since the action can be pretty fast and reliable. It also teaches newer anglers how to feel the bite and set the hook without ripping the fish’s lips off.

More: Learn how to catch bluegill and sunfish

Common and Grass Carp

If you’ve always thought of carp as a nuisance fish or a trash fish, you may want to rethink.

Carp not only weigh quite a bit, but they can fight like crazy! They aren’t nicknamed “freshwater tarpon” for nothing.

In fact, targeting carp with a fly rod is becoming more and more common in the states every year.

Grass carp were stocked in the lake over the years, so there may be a holdover or two, but there may not be enough of them to target.

Common carp are everywhere in the lake, and in the early morning, you can find them feeding on the surface. Land a woolly bugger ahead of a cruising carp and it will likely suck it up.

Here are some tips when targeting carp with a fly rod at Silver Lake.

Cast ahead of the fish, let your fly sink a bit, then start twitching slightly. The carp aren’t going to smash your fly. Instead, they are likely to slurp it, so set the hook when you feel a gentle pull of the fish moving away.

A sturdy 6/7 wt. rod with some good backbone is also recommended. Make sure you have backing on your line, or you’re likely to get spooled. 

For conventional anglers, traditional carp baits like bread balls and corn will bring in carp all across the lake.

Coho Salmon

There are some coho that arrive at the lake, though they aren’t very prevalent and under statewide regulations must be released here if they are caught. Don’t mistake them for kokanee, which aren’t present at Silver Lake.

Make sure to check the adipose fin when trout fishing. If they are planters, the fin will be clipped. No clip = no keep.

If you want to catch coho salmon in a lake, there’s a great option just to the north at Riffe Lake.

Silver Lake Catfish

There are a lot of brown bullheads here.

These ubiquitous catfish don’t usually attract a lot of attention at Silver Lake, certainly not like the bass and crappie, but they can grow pretty big here, with decent numbers of them in the 12-inch range.

If you’re fishing a worm or other bait near the bottom, say while targeting perch, you’re almost bound to catch some bullheads as well. Bullhead are widely spread and often hanging out in the same areas as other fish.

Learn about the best baits and techniques for catfish fishing.

Planning Your Trip

Silver Lake is a unique destination for Western Washington. It’s not your typical Northwest trout or kokanee lake.

It is shallow, warm and full of bass and panfish. There are so many places to see and activities in the area that you may find it hard to even fit in a fishing trip … but that would be a mistake!

Where Is Silver Lake?

Silver Lake is located less than 10 miles east of the Castle Rock area, easily reached from Interstate 5 and State Route 504.

It’s an hour or a bit more heading north from the Portland-Vancouver area and roughly two hours driving south from Seattle.

There are several places to stop for food, lodging, and anything else you may need either at the lake, or about 15 minutes away in Castle Rock. 

It’s just west of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and a couple hours from Mount Rainier National Park, so it makes an incredible combo trip for the whole family when you’re trying to sneak in some fishing.

Bank and Boat Access

There is a public boat launch, along with a few resorts and Seaquest State Park. Bank access is available at multiple points around parts of the lake, but there’s also a lot of private property marshy banks.

Where to Stay

Silver Lake has several campgrounds and resorts around its shores, with more up the road toward Mount St. Helens.

There are also several hotels and a variety of vacation rentals of all types on the lake itself and throughout the nearby area. The state park offers camping and a boat launch right at the lake.

There are several restaurants and stores around to keep you well fed or have a nice fish fry at camp after catching a cooler of crappies.

Silver Lake has something for everyone in the family. You’re sure to have a great trip.

Washington Resources

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