A primer for winter fishing

Fishing during a typical Northwest winter can be a rewarding experience. South Sound anglers have a remarkable selection of opportunities close to home, or within an easy drive. We’ve talked to some local experts to get their recommendations for anglers looking for a quick trip or the chance to catch the fish of a lifetime.


A quartet of rivers will hold the interest of Jim McDaniel over the next two months. The Tumwater Sports owner will try his luck for steelhead on the Cowlitz, Satsop, Wynoochee and Skookumchuck.

“There’s no real trick to fish those waters; you have to put your time in,” McDaniel said. “If you wait to hear it’s good before you go, it will be over before you get there. You just have to go.”

He likes the Cowlitz from Blue Creek down to Interstate 5. On the Satsop, he fishes from the mouth of the East Fork to Highway 8. Schafer State Park is a good spot for bank anglers.

On the Wynoochee, McDaniel targets the Black Creek area on the lower river.

There is plenty of bank access at the fish hatchery right below the reservoir on the Skookumchuck, he said.

What to use: McDaniel said the standard set ups work on these rivers, including eggs and sand shrimp. He also likes using jigs under a float or corkies and yarn in orange, red, pink and dark purple.

What to remember: “Make sure you keep your eye on the flows. If you are in a heavy rain period, the flow can change pretty rapidly if they open the dams,” McDaniel said.


A number of lakes are open year- round. During these colder months, a few stand out:

American: While this Lakewood lake is big, anglers can hook a large rainbow cruising the shallows, said Clark Jennings of Puget Sound Fly Co.

Black: This Olympia lake offers a variety of fish – rainbow and cutthroat trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, perch and crappie. The fish tend to go deep during the winter, so get your bait close to the bottom.

Spanaway: This is one of the most consistent winter lakes. Boat anglers find trout in the south end and dock anglers stand a good chance of landing rainbows.

Spencer: At this lake, northeast of Shelton, anglers can chase rainbow and cutthroat trout, said Ron Adams of Verle’s Sports Center. He likes trolling or casting close to shore.

What to use: Power Bait, worms, Roostertail lures. Fly anglers should start with dark woolly buggers or dark Carey specials.

What to remember: With flies or lures, use a slow retrieve. The fish are sluggish in the cold water and are less likely to chase your offering.


For South Sound residents looking for salmon, this is the closest action. Marine Area 11, from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to the northern tip of Vashon Island, opens Monday. Marine Area 13 reopens March 1.

While winter fishing the Sound might sound daunting, there are plenty of good days to be on the water, said Scott Knox, manager of the Point Defiance Boathouse Marina.

“We’re protected by Point Defiance. We recommend our customers stay within that wind shadow,” Knox said.

“It has been a popular fishery for a number of years. There are a fair number of resident fish year-round. The guys who put in the time – spending a few hours one day or getting out there day in and day out – come back with fish,” Knox said.

Anglers have a choice of methods: trolling, jigging or mooching.

“In early February and into March, I think mooching is best because you get those early springers (chinook) in and they’re kind of temperamental,” said Tacoma angler Bill Campbell.

Winter blackmouth are typically found by Quartermaster Harbor, Point Dalco, near the Ruston Way grain elevators and around the mouth of Gig Harbor.

What to use: You’ll need a boat. The boathouse rents motor boats for $60 a day during the winter. Trollers can use a Coyote spoon or Coho Killer in fluorescent white or white/chartreuse behind a glow-in-the-dark flasher. Jiggers will use a 31/2-inch Point Wilson Dart. Herring is the bait used by moochers.

What to remember: Watch the weather, especially if the wind direction changes and starts coming out of the north. That will whip up the waves quickly.


While trout fishing amid the falling snow doesn’t make a lot of sense, the Yakima is the exception. River flows are much lower during the winter, making the river easier to wade. Anglers will find plenty of places to wade along off Highway 821 in the Yakima Canyon.

“Flows are typically super low so the fish concentrate in specific water,” said Steve Worley of the Worley Bugger Fly Co. in Ellensburg.

“The bigger fish are very territorial and take the prime lies so they get to the food first. Without a doubt the winter fishing is fantastic. Some of the biggest fish are caught in January, February and early March.”

Worley said to look for slower pockets of water.

“There is plenty of oxygen in the slower water. That’s also where the food is, so that’s where you’ll find the fish,” he said. “Our fish are very presentation sensitive. It’s not a matter of what you use, but how you present it.”

What to use: Small nymphs, such as brassies and WD-40s in size 18 or 20, size 8 stone- fly nymphs, or midge dry flies in size 18.

What to remember: Because the high canyon walls block the early and late sun, riverside rocks can be icy. As for the fishing, the action picks up in the afternoon, once the water warms up some.


Olympic Peninsula river names read almost like a hall of fame of steelhead waters. Anglers chase these large, powerful fish on the Hoh, Calawah, Sol Duc and Bogachiel.

But as good as the fishing can be, the weather can be equally bad. It will be cold, it will snow, it will rain. This is, after all, the place that measures annual rainfall in feet.

I remember one January morning. The combination of huge snowflakes hitting the water, riverside branches streaking by and the motion of the boat nearly gave me vertigo.

The prospect of hooking a 10-pounder that peels line from the reel makes anglers ready to overlook the weather.

What to use: Gear choices are as varied as the waters. Gear guys will use floats and jigs or pull plugs such as Tadpollies or small Kwikfish, said Bob Gooding at Olympic Coast in Forks. Fly anglers will use egg patterns or swing streamers.

What to remember: River conditions change quickly. Be aware if you are wade fishing so you don’t get stranded by rising water.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640