Hooked on Seattle: Urban Anglers Delight in Local Trout, Salmon and Bass Offerings

Seattle Magazine, September 2007
By Roddy Scheer

Those of us who haven’t cast a line since our idyllic youths in places far, far away might not realize that Seattle is indeed an urban fisherman’s paradise. Whether your tastes run to salmon and trout or squid and crabs, sportfishing opportunities abound within city limits–and without the need for a boat. Here we provide a round-up of some of the best fishing haunts in the Emerald City…

GREEN LAKE

Given its location smack dab in the middle of the city and easy access by car, bus or bicycle, Green Lake might just be the most popular fishing spot in all of Seattle.

What: Rainbow and brown trout are the big draw—the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) stocks Green Lake with about 20,000 of them every spring. Year-round opportunities for skilled anglers include largemouth bass, rock bass, yellow perch, catfish and even tiger muskie. Given the pollution and abundant amounts of duck and goose poop, Green Lake is not known for its table fish–but a freshly planted trout that hasn’t been in the water too long might make for good frying every now and then. Local freshwater fishing experts swear by Power Bait for attracting trout, but also use good old salmon eggs, perhaps perched inside a marshmallow. Gear-wise, a simple six-foot pole and a basic small spinning reel as a solid rig for hooking lake-dwellers like trout.

When: March-May for trout. Year-round for other fish.

Where: Anywhere around Green Lake (Aurora Ave and NW 65th St), especially from various wooden docks and piers; trollers might consider renting a paddle wheel boat or kayak from the concessionaire at the north end of the lake.

HALLER LAKE

Wilderness is ain’t, but Haller Lake, North Seattle’s 15-acre oasis, may be the closest thing for freshwater urban fishing aficionados. Just ask the resident bald eagles and great blue herons (Seattle’s official bird) that live there and indulge themselves on the lake’s bounty.

What: Easy pickings on “cookie cutter” (hatchery-bred) rainbow trout planted by the WDFW; patient anglers outfitted with plastic worms tied “drop shot” style might snag a largemouth bass or even yellow perch. Floating a piece of nightcrawler under a bobber is a kid-friendly bait option so that the little ones in tow take part as well.

When: March-May for trout; June-August for bass and perch.

Where: While the majority of the shoreline at Haller Lake (Meridian and N 125th St in North Seattle) is private, public access points on the north and west shores accommodate fishing.

LAKE WASHINGTON

Given its size and connections to upland streams and the sea, Lake Washington provides Seattle anglers with perhaps the biggest variety of fishing opportunities.

What: Big rainbow and cutthroat trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch–and even sockeye, chinook and coho salmon, on a limited number of days as determined by WDFW.

When: Late spring and summer for trout, bass and perch; usually mid-summer for brief salmon fisheries as dictated by WDFW (see http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/sockeye/fishing.htm).

Where: Docks and floats around Washington Park Arboretum on south side of Union Bay (accessible on foot from behind the Museum of History and Industry). Two dozen other parks and fishing docks from Kenmore on the north end to Rainier Beach down south let shore-bound casters get in on the action. Also, renting a canoe from UW’s Waterfront Activities Center (located directly behind Husky Stadium on Union Bay and the Montlake Cut; $7.50 an hour) gets anglers out onto the water where the gettin’s even gooder.

LAKE UNION

Anglers thrilled by the chase are sure to have fun fishing from the shores of Gas Works Park on Lake Union. But per the decree of WDFW, throw it all back: the lake is the state’s most polluted water body.

What: Smallmouth bass are big and feisty, putting even experienced rodmen to the test. Given Lake Union’s proximity to the Chittenden Locks (which connect out to Puget Sound’s saltwater), salmon, trout, and even the occasional flounder can be had as well.

When: Snag a smallmouth May-August.

Where: Shoreline of Gas Works Park (north end of Lake Union near Fremont). Also, trollers can rent kayaks at the Northwest Outdoor Center (2100 Westlake Ave. N; 206.281.9694; nwoc.com; $12–$17/hour) and the Moss Bay Rowing & Kayak Center (1001 Fairview Ave. N., 206.682.2031, mossbay.net; $12–$17/hour).

ELLIOTT BAY

The fact that the odds of hooking a salmon right in downtown Seattle might not be great doesn’t seem to stop dozens of regulars who go their in search of that ultimate Pacific Northwest thrill.

What: Beefy ocean-going salmon are the big draw here, but luck and skill must be on your side. Local salmon fishermen swear by “mooching,” that is, using cut herring as bait, a style reputedly invented in Seattle. Most 7-11 stores around town sell bait-worthy herring. Artificial lures like buzz bombs also work well. Those who feel that salmon fishing is cliché might prefer to join the old Chinese men on chilly fall nights jigging for spawning squid, which are attracted to the bright lights of the manmade waterfront. A homemade or manufactured jigging kit is needed, not to mention a warm, rainproof coat, so come prepared. Some diehards also drop crab traps and hope for the best (but beware that Puget Sound crabs store dangerous amounts of PCBs in their flesh).

When: September-November for salmon. June-August for crab. Squid season runs all winter long, but November is considered peak.

Where: Fishing Pier at north end of Myrtle Edwards Park or the Seattle Aquarium Pier (both off Alaskan Way in Belltown).

ALKI BEACH

No round-up of Seattle fishing spots would be complete with mentioning the saltwater opportunities available just steps from West Seattle’s hoppin’ California Ave.

What: Salmon and panoramic views of the Seattle skyline across Puget Sound.

When: Late Summer through early Fall.

Where: Seacrest Pier (1660 Harbor Ave SW) and Alki Beach (1702 Alki Ave SW).

BALLARD

Thousands of commercial fishermen who run their boats out of Ballard’s Fishermen’s Terminal can’t be wrong. Besides, the area provides anglers with some of the best wintertime fishing around town.

What: Blackmouth (juvenile king) salmon as well as cutthroat trout can be scored by those with good skills and even better timing.

When: Winter, so bundle up.

Where: Shilshole Fishing Pier (7001 Seaview Ave NW) and Golden Gardens (8498 Seaview Pl NW)

GEARING UP

Licenses: To cast a line into any water body in Washington State, anglers need to obtain a license from WDFW. Luckily they can do so online with a credit card at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov. Licenses can also be obtained at tackle shops and at most outdoor recreation stores (such as Big 5 Sporting Goods).

Tackle: Outdoor Emporium (1701 4th Ave S near Safeco Field, 206.624.6550) is well known as the best place around to town to score some fishing tackle. Happy Hooker Bait and Tackle (944 Alaskan Way, 206.281.5289), near the fishing pier in Myrtle Edwards Park, is also a great resource. All Fred Meyer (http://www.fredmeyer.com) stores also stock a good supply of fishing supplies. Fly fishermen might want to check out Patrick’s Fly Shop (2237 Eastlake Ave E, 206.325.8988) as well.

Special thanks to Justin Carder for providing information and insight on urban fishing in Seattle.