North Cascades National Park

Fishing and Boating
Diablo Lake in North Cascades National Park
Diablo Lake in North Cascades National Park (courtesy, National Park Service)

There's some excellent fishing in North Cascades, but as is always the case, you have to know where to find 'em.

Which could be a matter of deduction. One place they're not is many of the high, isolated mountain lakes, cut off from migration. Other places are many of the glacially-fed streams—too cloudy.

With that out of the way, let's look at where the fish are.

The wilderness units have several good trout lakes. Traffic tends to be light to moderate, depending on the season and the lake's isolation. Some likely candidates include the lower two Blum lakes, No Name Lake, Green Lake, Hanging Lake, Kettling Lake, Sandy Lake, and Trapper Lake.

The Skagit River, Washington's second largest after the Columbia, and its impounded lakes, are home to many species of trout and salmon. The Skagit is particularly famous for steelhead. Steelhead fishing is best from February through April. The Stehekin River gives anglers a good chance at rainbow and cutthroat trout.

Lake Chelan, slicing through a trough that is 8,000 feet from lake bottom to crest, has freshwater cod, rainbow and cutthroat trout, and salmon. The best fishing tends to be near the feeder streams, particularly the Stehekin.

The three big Ross National Recreation Area lakes—Ross, Diablo, and Gorge—all contain Dolly Varden, rainbow, and brook trout.

Ross Lake has a quality sport fishery of naturally reproducing trout, which opens July 1 each year. The catch limit is three rainbow trout (13-inch minimum) per day. No bait or barbed hooks are allowed. If bull trout and Dolly Varden are hooked, they must be carefully and immediately released. A Washington State fishing license is required.

Ross Lake's natural fishery is unique, since the pressures of over-fishing have made it necessary to stock other lakes and many creeks with hatchery fish. Natural spawning occurs in the Skagit River above Ross Lake and in the tributary streams like Big Beaver, Lightning, Roland, Dry, and Ruby Creeks. All of Ruby Creek and 1/4 mile upstream from the mouth of Big Beaver are closed to fishing. All other tributaries are closed for one mile upstream.

Although the electric company claims otherwise, before the construction of the dam, migratory salmon reached far upstream. It is certainly the case that salmon swim up to the dam, but not past it. But there's still trout. Some good trout lakes in the NRA include the Hozomeenb lakes, the Panther Potholes, the Bouck, and Thunder Lake.

As always, local bait shops and anglers are the best sources of information and advice. Fishing in Washington, including national parks and forests, requires a valid Washington State game fishing license.


Much of the recreation in the North Cascades is water-oriented. For lake recreation, boat ramps are available at Lake Chelan, Baker Lake, Gorge Lake, and Diablo Lake, and the north end of Ross Lake at Hozomeen. Boat rentals are offered at Baker Lake, Lake Chelan, and Ross Lake.

River floating is an adventure worth planning. Experienced boaters run the Skagit, Nooksack, and Stehekin Rivers.

Passengers travel to Stehekin by cruising up 55-mile-long Lake Chelan. The Lake Chelan Boat Company operates daily year-round, from spring to fall. Schedules are available.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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