May 24, 2024

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Lake Chelan: The Complete Guide

Birds eye view from a drone in Chelan, WA.

Reading Time: 9 minutes

If reveling in baiting a hook, casting a line, and reeling in stunningly beautiful fish is your idea of fun, a Lake Chelan fishing adventure is a must. Washington’s largest natural lake is a wonderful expanse of crystal blue and pristine waters. But it’s not just the clarity and cleanliness of the water that captivates anglers, though. Just wait until you see the extraordinary variety of fish that call it home!

Surrounded by vineyards and mountains, the lake has a true small-town charm, offering a fishing backdrop you won’t find anywhere else. It’s a place where every catch is a story in the making. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, Lake Chelan allows you to enjoy beauty across all seasons.

In this guide, we’ll navigate through Lake Chelan’s fishing intricacies. From the abundant Kokanee and elusive Cutthroat to the best fishing spots and effective techniques for each season, we’ve got you covered. Ready to find out what fishing Lake Chelan is all about? Let’s dive in!

Top Lake Chelan Fish Species

Lake Chelan is big, deep, and full of fish. And what fish! This 50-mile-long wonder of Washington state is renowned for its trophy-sized catches, including a record-breaking Lake Trout weighing in at a staggering 35.63 pounds! Let’s talk about the most sought-after species:


Three small Chinook Salmon lying on the floor of a white boat with planer boards and jigs visible next to them
Photo courtesy of Messin’ Around Fishing Charter

The Pacific Northwest is synonymous with Salmon fishing. Here, elusive Chinook stand out. Also known as King Salmon, they’re cherished for their size, often tipping the scales between 10 and 20 pounds. A unique fish around these parts, Chinook are less about following bait fish and more about prowling the depths, feasting on the lake’s abundant freshwater shrimp.

Then, there are Kokanee, the absolute superstars of the lake. Abundant and delicious, these landlocked Sockeye Salmon are a favorite target from April to October. They dive deep in spring and stay there through summer, before getting into their pre-spawn rhythm come fall.

Trolling is the name of the game when it comes to both Salmon species. Deep-water trolling works best for Kings, while slow and steady wins the race with Kokanee. The ideal setup includes a light, sensitive rod to ensure a soft touch due to Kokanees’ notoriously tender mouths. These fish demand a gentle approach. A sudden jerk can mean a lost fish and a story of the one that got away!


A man in a wooly hat holding a Trout on a foggy day early in the morning with trees in the background
Photo courtesy of Feral Outfitter Kayak Fishing Guide

The shimmering depths of Lake Chelan boast a healthy population of Cutthroat Trout, along with mighty Mackinaw – aka Lake – Trout and the elusive Rainbow Trout. All of these are prized catches – and for good reason.

Cutthroats thrive in the cooler, shallower waters, particularly towards the northern reaches near docks and in areas with abundant vegetation. Known for their aggressive feeding habits, they can be tempted with standard Trout lures and baits, including worms and spinners.

Lake Mackinaw are the larger cousins of the Trout family. These deep-water dwellers favor the lake’s depths, often patrolling depths of 125–200 feet. Trolling with glowing lures or bait like needlefish, along with squid tipped with pikeminnow can lure them from their deep haunts. The areas around Bar and Manson Bay are the most productive.

And, finally, Rainbow Trout also offer a rewarding challenge, especially in the southern portion of the lake. They’re not as abundant as their Cutthroat or Mackinaw relatives, but that just makes landing one that extra bit special!


An angler in a baseball cap and sunglasses holding a large Smallmouth Bass on a sunny day on a lake with trees in the background
Image courtesy of World Class Smallmouth Bass WI

It’s not just about Salmon and Trout, though. There’s also good news for Bass lovers! Largemouths lurk in the shallower, weedy parts of the lake, while Smallmouth Bass hunt rocky shorelines and structure.

The key to success lies in understanding both fish’s seasonal patterns and adapting your fishing style to match. Largemouth anglers often go for topwater fishing, while the cooler months call for more subtle approaches, like drop-shot rigs or deep-diving crankbaits.

The prime time for Smallies is also during the spring spawn when they move closer to shore. Come at dawn or dusk for your best chance. Meanwhile, you’ll want to employ techniques that mimic their natural prey. Crankbaits and spinnerbaits are particularly effective, for example.

Northern Pikeminnow

A native species of the Columbia River basin, Northern Pikeminnow present a pretty interesting opportunity in Lake Chelan. These fish are known for their predatory habits, often preying on salmon and trout fry. And they can be quite challenging to catch thanks to their elusive nature.

Locals target Pikeminnow during the late spring and early summer, as water temperatures rise and their feeding activity increases. They like to hang out in areas with rocky substrates and fast currents, near dams and stream mouths.

The unique challenge of fishing for Northern Pikeminnow in Lake Chelan lies in their cunning nature and the need to outsmart them. They’re known to prey on the juveniles of other fish species, so by landing one you also contribute to maintaining the ecological balance in the lake. It’s a win-win for everyone!


An angler in a winter hat on an icy lake at night holding a large Burbot caught while ice fishing
Photo courtesy of Kick Ass Outdoors

Burbot – often referred to as “Freshwater Cod” or “Ling” – provide another unique fishing experience in Lake Chelan. These bottom-dwelling fish are known for their nocturnal habits and preference for cold, deep waters, making them an intriguing target for anglers. They’re also delicious, thanks to their delicate, white flesh.

The most effective method for catching Burbot is jigging near deeper parts of the lake. They’re primarily caught during the winter months, but you can also find them during other seasons with the right techniques.

Your weapon of choice when fishing for Burbot is a medium-action rod with a braided line of around 10-12 pounds. As for bait and lures, jigs tipped with worms or fresh fish pieces like sucker meat are effective in attracting these elusive fish. The key is a slow and steady jigging motion close to the lake bottom.

Top Lake Chelan Fishing Types

Lake Chelan’s deep, glacial waters are a haven for trophy catches and its tributaries are perfect for fly fishing. But there’s more than one way to catch a fish. Let’s explore the most popular techniques anglers employ on Lake Chelan…

Lake Chelan Shore and Dock Fishing

A view from a residential shoreline of Lake Chelan with docks stretching into the lake and a single boat moored at the front of the photo on clear blue water on a sunny day with mountains in the backdrop

Shore and dock fishing in Lake Chelan offers a relaxed approach to fishing – ideal for families, casual anglers, or those who prefer the stability of land under their feet. The lake’s extensive shoreline and numerous public docks provide multiple opportunities for catching Rainbow Trout, Kokanee, and Perch.

Some of the lake’s public parks and docks are equipped with amenities like picnic areas and restrooms. Areas like Manson Bay, Chelan Riverwalk Park, and Twenty-Five Mile Creek State Park are good spots to start. However, the key to successful shore fishing in Lake Chelan is mobility Move along the shoreline to find active fish for the best results.

Lake Chelan Fly Fishing

An angler holding a large Chinook Salmon in his hands and balancing a fly rod in his mouth against a gray backdrop
Photo courtesy of A Spot Tail Salmon Guide

Fly fishing in the tributaries of Lake Chelan is a peaceful and entertaining way to get your hands on Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout. The lake’s feeder streams and rivers, with their clear, cold waters, provide ideal conditions for fly fishing, especially in the spring and fall. You can find a variety of hatches, ideal for dry fly and nymph fishing.

Areas like the Stehekin River and its tributaries offer secluded spots for fly fishing, away from the busier main lake. These waters are known for their healthy populations of native Trout. Streamers, nymphs, and dry flies are all effective in the Pacific Northwest, with tactics varying depending on the season and water conditions.

Lake Chelan Charter Fishing

A fishing guide in orange overalls standing jubilantly next to a happy woman holding a Salmon on a boat on a sunny day
Photo courtesy of Messin’ Around Fishing Charter

Booking a Lake Chelan fishing charter is your gateway to a premium fishing experience. Professional local guides provide not only a boat and top gear but also invaluable local knowledge. Charters usually focus on the deeper parts of the lake where trophy fish thrive.

That means trolling year-round, targeting Lake Trout, Chinook Salmon, and Burbot, primarily. Your boat will surely be equipped with downriggers, which are essential to get your lures down to the depths where big fish lurk. Popular lures include needlefish squids, apex lures, and herring rigs, often combined with flashers or dodgers to attract the fish’s attention. Fish on is all but guaranteed!

Top Lake Chelan Fishing Spots

A view of the very clear, shallow waters of Lake Chelan on a sunny day with rocky shoreline visible to the left of the photo, a dock further away, and mountains in the distance

With such a big lake, there’s a lot of water to cover to land that dream catch. So where to go? Well, the southern end is just an hour from Wenatchee and a scenic 3-hour drive from Seattle or Spokane. For those seeking a more secluded experience, Stehekin at the northern end is a remote gem, accessible only by ferry or plane – or simply by foot.

Here’s a quick list of some of the top fishing spots in Lake Chelan for you to consider:

  • Manson Public Ramps. Heading north along the lake, the Manson area provides several public boat ramps. These launches are perfect for boat fishing enthusiasts and those looking to get in on the Trout and Salmon action.
  • US Forest Service Lands. The upper end of Lake Chelan, mostly under the US Forest Service’s jurisdiction, offers numerous shoreline fishing opportunities. This part of the lake is ideal for anglers looking for a quieter fishing experience. The pristine waters here are home to a variety of fish species, including Trout and Pikeminnow.
  • Lake Chelan State Park. Located on the southwestern side of the lake, this state park is a popular spot for both shore and boat fishing. With easy access to deep waters, anglers can hunt for Kokanee, Trout, and Bass. The park’s amenities make it a great family-friendly location for a day of fishing and relaxation.
  • The Memorial. Just up the road from Lake Chelan State Park, the Memorial offers shore fishing with the potential to cast into deep waters. It’s a great spot for those targeting Kokanee, as the lake’s depth quickly exceeds 100 feet close to the shore.
  • Party Point. This is another accessible spot for shoreline anglers, known for its Cutthroat Trout and Smallmouth Bass. It’s less crowded compared to more popular areas, offering a more intimate fishing experience.

Lake Chelan Fishing Seasons

When’s the best time to go fishing on Lake Chelan? The short answer is, anytime! As the first signs of spring emerge, Lake Chelan begins to buzz with activity. This is when the waters start warming up, with Kokanee and Cutthroat Trout closer to the surface. The clear, cool waters of spring make for ideal conditions, especially near the Narrows and around Stehekin.

As the days grow longer and warmer, Lake Chelan comes into full swing. Summer is prime time for Smallmouth Bass along the rocky shores. Meanwhile, the lake’s depths provide a cool retreat for Lake Trout and Chinook. Locals fish for a mixed bag at the south of the lake, especially around Minneapolis Beach and Lakeside.

Fall offers some of the best fishing opportunities, with Cutthroat Trout starring. These fish feed aggressively in preparation for winter. This is also a great time for Smallmouth Bass fishing. Areas like Manson Bay and deeper parts of the lake near the Bar are great spots for fall anglers seeking larger catches.

And, finally, with the arrival of winter, the lake’s Northern Pikeminnow and Burbot become main targets in the deeper, colder parts of the lake.

Lake Chelan Fishing Rules and Regulations

An infographic featuring the flag of Washington state, a vector of a boat, and the FishingBooker logo, along with text stating "Lake Chelan Fishing Regulations: What You Need to Know" against a blue background

All anglers in Lake Chelan must possess a valid Washington state fishing license. This includes both residents and non-residents, with specific permits available for different age groups and fishing types. You can purchase a license online at the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) website or at various licensed dealers.

While Lake Chelan offers year-round fishing opportunities, certain species have specific open seasons. Plus, there are area-specific rules that anglers must follow. For example, Bull Trout are strictly off-limits. Check the latest WDFW fishing regulations pamphlet for updates on seasons and restrictions. It’s also never a bad idea to consult with your guide.

Lake Chelan Fishing: A Glacial Adventure

A single yellow boat floating on the lake in the middle of the photo, against a forested mountainous backdrop, with the clear water reflecting the boat and pointy mountains

Fishing at Lake Chelan offers an unparalleled angling adventure in Washington’s pristine natural beauty. From the thrill of landing a record-breaking Lake Trout to the serene experience of fly fishing for Cutthroat, every cast is a chance to create unforgettable memories. It’s time to grab your gear and set out to Lake Chelan for an angling journey like no other!

Have you ever been fishing on Lake Chelan? Was it Salmon or Trout that got you hooked? What’s your favorite spot? Let’s chat in the comments below!

The post Lake Chelan Fishing: The Complete Guide appeared first on FishingBooker Blog.

By: Lisa
Title: Lake Chelan Fishing: The Complete Guide
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Published Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2023 11:54:35 +0000

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