Winter Fishing in the Inland NW

By Sam Lavigne

When most of us think of fishing, we think of warm summer evenings with low wind and the promise of a beer next to a campfire after the sun sinks below the peaks. Once the snow begins to fall, most folks put away the rod and reel, but, with the right amount of patience and a little bit of luck, a determined fisherman can catch a variety of species in the winter months.

Winter fishing can be a fickle beast. From frozen rod guides to leaky waders, there is a laundry list of reasons to stay inside and drink hot toddies. But, for the brave few who are willing to withstand the punishment, the payoffs can be plentiful.

Generally speaking, all of the species of fish that we chase in the summer can also be caught in the winter. Bass, pike, trout and even pan fish are on the menu for an unfettered few. The trick is getting them to bite. When the water gets cold, fish school up in deeper water in lakes and large, deep pools in rivers to conserve energy.

In the winter, fish do everything they can to expend as few resources as possible to feed, so on rivers and streams the presentation of your fly or lure needs to be slow and deliberate. Search for deeper pockets of slow-moving water where the fish can hold up without having to fight currents. You will want to size down your lures and flies, as the fish will be more inclined to strike a small, easy meal. Slowly moving your hook across their face can take time and patience, so don’t let mother nature send you home early. The advantage of winter fishing is that you will have virtually no competition for good spots, and the fish are congregated in the pools and eddies, so take your time and be persistent.

There’s nothing worse than being wet and cold, so make sure you are prepared for all types of weather. Warm clothes and good footwear are essential. While you can fish from the bank without waders, it may make sense to wear them anyway. They will keep you dry and work well as an outer layer to help keep you warm.

If you decide to give winter river fishing a shot this year, there are several places along the lower North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene river that will likely hold some fish. Sections around Albert’s Landing and Freeman’s Eddy are always worth a try. And don’t be afraid to try some of your other favorite summer spots.    

Where to Go

While winter weather conditions will dictate whether these local lakes and rivers are ice-free or not, these spots were recommended by fish biologist from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as the best spots to give winter fishing (not ice fishing) a go.

Big local lakes such as Lake Roosevelt and Lake Spokane are great areas to try, as well as Rock Lake, which is a popular winter fishery. Smaller lakes that may accrue ice but remain open for fishing in winter include Sprague Lake, Curlew, Fourth of July, Bead, Hog Canyon, Newman, Silver, Jumpoff Joe, Waitts and Williams lakes.

Winter fishing includes the lesser-known season for lake whitefish, which can be found on the Little Spokane River from highway 291 upstream to Chain Lake, as well as on the Kettle River and Moses Lake. The daily catch limit is 15 fish of any size, and whitefish gear rules apply: one, single-point hook, maximum size 3/16-inch point to shank, hook size 14. Scan the QR code for additional local species info and a month-by-month graph of catch success rates.

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