Waitts Lake Fishing: Catch Big Rainbows, Browns in NE Washington

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Here’s a fine year-round fishing spot in Northeastern Washington, within a reasonable drive of Spokane.

The not-quite-500-acre Waitts Lake is generously stocked each year with rainbow trout and brown trout, and it’s a top spot for ice fishing when it freezes over in the winter.

Waitts Lake also has resident populations of largemouth bass and yellow perch, so the fishing opportunities aren’t limited to the spring and fall months.

Trout Fishing

At last look, more than 45,000 smallish trout the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife calls “put, grow and take” size were on the stocking schedule for April at Waitts Lake, along with 200 really big trout.

Additionally, WDFW was scheduled to plant some 25,000 brown trout, mostly smaller fish but with about 800 browns already in the trophy-sized category.

A net pen project helps keep these fish from getting eaten before they reach catchable sizes, and holdover trout can grow large in this rich lake.

Rainbow trout are among the most recognizable and popular game fish in the Pacific Northwest.

Rainbows are a great fish for nearly any anglers, since most fishing techniques in the book are viable for catching them, from simple still-fishing with bait to complex fly fishing.

The very fishing is best for rainbow trout starting in late March or April. As the weather warms up into the summer, rainbow trout will spend less of their time in shallow waters and more time in the lake’s cooler depths.

Often the fishing will pick up again in the fall as the water cools and trout instinctively know it’s time to eat more aggressively to prepare for the long winter.

The smart angler will fish where the fish are.

That means using surface and shallower fishing techniques, like still fishing with a bobber or fly casting, during the spring and fall months, and fishing deeper in the summer, when you might need a bit more patience to find and catch fish.

The lake has moderate depths, with a good part of the middle at 50 to 65 feet deep.

Waitts Lake has been known to produce some rainbow trout of remarkable size, including a 22.5-pound specimen that held the state record from 1957 to 2002.

Most rainbow trout won’t grow into the double-digit weights like that, but there’s always the chance you’ll encounter a rare giant and fish over 20 inches are definitely possible.

Brown trout are a non-native species originally from Europe and are more closely related to Atlantic salmon than the rainbows.

The diet of brown trout is highly variable, as is their size, which can be substantial. The largest ever caught in Washington weighed 22 pounds.

As a general rule, larger brown trout feed more predominately on small fish, while smaller brown trout are mostly insectivores.

With their larger size, powerful and picky brown trout are generally considered to be a step or two up from rainbow trout in terms of difficulty.

Spoons and Rapalas-type lures are popular to catch bigger brown trout, since they mimic the appearance of prey fish, including smaller trout and other species.

Brown trout are night feeders, and they will often come out of the depths where they spent their daylight hours to hunt for smaller fish in shallower water.

Casting or long-line trolling for browns along the shoreline can be very effective near dawn and dusk. You probably won’t catch many, but you might catch the fish of a lifetime.

Like rainbow trout, brown trout are likely to feed more eagerly and in shallower water in the spring and fall, when the water is cooler and they are fattening up.

More: Easy Trout Fishing Techniques and Tips

Bass and Panfish Fishing


Pumpkinseed sunfish are probably the most heavily populated non-trout game fish at Waitts Lake and offer a chance at easy catches when other fish are being finicky.

These brightly colored, beautiful fish can be caught year-round but are most plentiful in late spring and summer, particularly as they begin to spawn.

In warmer weather, pumpkinseeds may be found in fairly shallow water. Try along weed edges and in the shade of boat docks.

Sunfish may not be tackle-busting big (and in fact they are usually quite small), but they are fairly simple and fun to catch and are a good choice for fishing with kids.

Ice fishing for pumpkinseed sunfish also can be a lot of fun. These small fish travel in schools, so if you get one hit, you might well have just hit jackpot.

Perch and trout also will bite through the ice fairly regularly.

If you plan to go after pumpkinseeds, read through our Fishing for Bluegill and Sunfish: Simple Techniques and Tips.

Yellow Perch

The same is true of yellow perch, which anglers appreciate because they are often caught in cooler weather when so-called warmwater game fish like bass tend to be hard to catch.

The perch fishing at Waitts Lake isn’t always as predictable, but these pan-sized fish can still be caught in good numbers and are among the tastiest of white-meat fish around.

Waitts Lake can offer up some pretty good-sized perch, which for this species is similar in size to catchable trout, often in the 10- to 12-inch range.

Perch tend to school in more open water areas than sunfish or bass, and sometimes in fairly deep water, but once you find one there’s a good chance you can catch enough for a meal.

Learn how to make the most of perch fishing with easy techniques and bait ideas.

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth bass also have a fairly decent resident population at Waitts Lake, and bass to about 5 pounds are a real possibility, although smaller bass are more common.

The best bass fishing is in late spring and summer, when mornings and evenings are the best time to find bass on the lake, and bass will often move into shallower water in low-light conditions to hunt.

Target areas with cover, drop-offs and other ambush points where bass will wait for passing prey, such as smaller fish or crayfish. Docks on Waitts Lake are likely to hold some of these fish, which like to duck into the shade.

Lures that imitate those species tend to be effective when fished near bass-holding water.

Find lots of simple bass fishing techniques and tips.

Where is Waitts Lake?

Waitts Lake is about an hour’s drive northwest on Interstate 395 from Spokane.

Take Bulldog Creek Road west to Highway 231, north to the town of Valley, and then due west on Waitts Lake Road.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife maintains a public access area.

This area has actually undergone some fairly recent improvements, so if you haven’t been to Waitts Lake in a while, you may find it to be a better experience now.

The access area is on the southeast side of the lake. Keep left on Waitts Lake Road as you approach the lake. It’s south of Winona Beach Resort, which offers RV and tent camping sites and a handful of cabins

Other options include Waitts Lake Resort on the north end as well as some other types of rentals on the lake.

Much of the north and eastern sides are part of the lakeside community of Waitts.

Find more fishing in Stevens County

Washington Resources

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