Steel Lake in Federal Way is probably best known as the home of “Family Funland,” a large play area designed to be accessible for children of all abilities, including those who are mobility-impaired.
The 46-acre lake itself also is a solid fishing spot, with good opportunities for multiple species of fish from the start of the season in the spring through October when it ends.
Family Funland and the lake access are both located in Steel Lake Park, which is managed by the City of Federal Way. The park is centrally located and convenient to both Seattle and Tacoma.
Every spring, state game authorities stock Steel Lake with thousands of rainbow trout. A recent stocking plan, for example, called for 8,000 catchable rainbow trout to be planted in the lake.
The fishing season at Steel Lake opens the fourth Saturday of April.
Trout fishing is at its best at the opener and into May, with good prospects in June and perhaps July as the trout fishing fades into the hotter part of summer.
Fishing remains open through October, but trout aren’t considered warmwater fish, and by fall, the population has typically been winnowed by months of sport fishing.
Hatchery-raised rainbow trout aren’t much of a match for even an amateur angler.
They’ll eagerly bite on most hooks and lures and take most baits.
A good way to get their attention, and a fun way to “see” them bite, is by using a red-and-white bobber with bait dangling underneath.
Eye-catching lures or flies also will do the trick. Fish these near the surface if trout are actively feeding on floating insects, which you’ll see from the dimples and leaping fish.
If the trout are running deeper, anglers will often fish their bait or lures closer to the bottom.
For more details on catching these fish, we have a simple guide to the most common methods in Trout Fishing: Basic How-To Techniques and Tips.
Bass and Panfish Fishing
The two other notable fisheries at Steel Lake are largemouth bass and yellow perch.
As a general rule of thumb, bass season picks up right around the time trout season begins to decline.
Bass are a warmwater fish; however, they don’t necessarily enjoy high daytime temperatures and bright sunlight.
On a hot summer day, bass will often retreat to deeper waters or find a shady spot near the shore during midday and afternoon.
Largemouth bass will eat just about any animal, vertebrate or invertebrate, that fits in their wide mouths.
They have a tendency to gulp down whatever they can fit their maw around, so if you’re planning to throw back your catch, you might skip still- or slow-fishing with natural baits. Bass will often deeply swallow the hook along with the bait and suffer devastating internal injuries.
Try fishing with specialized bass lures, including a wide variety of jigs, crankbaits, swimbaits, topwater plugs and spinnerbaits designed to either look like prey or to provoke an aggressive response.
Common bass prey in area lakes include smaller fish, crayfish and frogs, although a big bass will even eat baby ducks and swimming rodents. Basically, if you can present it so that it looks good to eat, a bass is likely to take it.
Yellow perch are smaller and typically move and feed in groups, and they are a better eating fish than bass.
Perch often bite most agreeably in warmer water but are a species that can be caught even in colder water near the beginning and end of the season at Steel Lake.
Because they are a schooling fish, once you catch one, stick with that spot until you stop getting hits because there likely are more biters around.
Perch have much smaller mouths than largemouth bass. Use small hooks baited with natural baits, such as pieces of earthworm.
Prospects for perch are often best from April through September, overlapping largely with bass and also with trout.
Other fish that have been reported here include pumpkinseed sunfish, crappie and brown bullhead catfish.
Where is Steel Lake?
Steel Lake Park and Family Funland are located off South 312th Street in Federal Way. The park is administered by the city.
The lake is just to the west of Interstate 5, although the nearest exit is south: exit 143 onto South 320th Street. Take this exit from the freeway, head west and then take a right onto northbound Highway 99. At the intersection of 312th Street, take another right. The park will come up on your left after four blocks.
From the heart of Seattle, Steel Lake Park is about a 25- to 30-minute drive, but of course longer in traffic. Although it’s in King County, it’s closer to Tacoma, about a 15- to 20-minute drive.
Family Funland is a great play area for children with disabilities.
The park also features a skate park, a swimming area, horseshoe pits, beach volleyball, picnic shelters and more. There is on-site parking and restroom facilities.
There is a public fishing pier and small boat launch. Motors are prohibited on the lake. Rowboats, paddleboats and canoes are allowed.
There are no lifeguards on duty at Steel Lake Park, so take special caution and look out for swimmers at all times when fishing.