Fishing Overview: Olympic National Park

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Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park
Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park (courtesy, NPS)

Olympic National Park Highlights

  • Anglers fishing for trout within park boundaries do not need a license to catch and release. You'll need a Washington State fishing license to fish outside of park boundaries and a state punch card to fish for salmon or steelhead.
  • The Northwest Fly Fisherman Professional Guide Service provides year-round, guided fly-fishing trips for steelhead, salmon, and cutthroat trout in both fresh and salt water.
  • Washington's third largest natural lake, Ozette, is home to fish species ranging from sockeye to steelhead. It provides the best fly-fishing for coastal cutthroat, which enter the lake from the Ozette River, which flows into the Pacific at Cape Alava.
  • The Sol-Duc River Lodge off Highway 101 between Forks and Port Angeles makes a great base for fishing the peninsula, and the owners also offer a fishing guide service specializing in putting you in touch with steelhead and salmon.

Fishing is one of Olympic National Park's lesser known treasures. Maybe because it's a wilderness park where the habitat is allowed to exist for itself and not necessarily human benefit, the fact that there's great fishing in isolated, pristine streams and lakes is not widely known. You don't even need a license to fish in the park. But it's not as easy as it sounds. If you want to fish for salmon or steelhead, you'll need a Washington state punch card. Also, lakes shared by other jurisdictions, such as Cushman, Ozette, and Quinault, require state licenses. The best way to avoid a sticky situation is to run your plans by the folks at the park office before heading out.

Because Olympic National Park occupies the high middle ground of the Olympic Peninsula as well as a long stretch of the wet western coast, most of the major rivers of the Olympic Peninsula have their headwaters in Olympic National Park, and a few, notably the Hoh and the Quillayute, meet the ocean at the park's coastal strip.

This is the northwest salmon countryor it used to be. With habitat destruction and overfishing, takes on anadromous, or ocean-running salmon are very limited. One salmon that is in good supply is the Kokanee, a freshwater sockeye salmon. As for trout, ocean-running steelhead is the prize, but there's quite a bit of cutthroat and rainbow besides. Though actually a char, and with severe limits, the Dolly Varden can also be found in park waters. Don't overlook the ocean coast: Saltwater fish include several types of rockfish, saltwater perch, greenlings, and Pacific cod.

Lakes

Lake Crescent
At 5,000 acres, the largest lake in the park and the most famous. Not only is it exquisitely beautiful, it also has terrific fishing. It even has its own resident variety of Beardslee rainbow trout and Lake Crescent cutthroat trout. Also, be on the lookout for Kokanee salmonsmall but tasty. Resort and boatramps.

Lake Mills
Dam in a national park? Well, yes, it's true. This 451-acre lake has rainbow, brook, and cutthroat trout living in it.

Lake Cushman
Cutthroat, rainbow, Dolly Varden, steelhead, along with several species of salmon. Resort and boatramps.

Quinault Lake
Cutthroat, Dolly Varden, and salmon, especially kokanee. Fishing is regulated by the Indians, and requires a permit. One of the few lakes where it's legal to keep a Dolly Varden. Best to work the schools of fish with a depth sounder. Resort and boatramps.

Ozette Lake
Steelhead, sockeye, salmon, and cutthroat trout are the major species. Third largest lake in the state. Fishing is okay here, but not great. Also, since the lake is broad, shallow, and near the ocean, it can get tempestuous when the winds kick in. Careful out there!

Rivers

The mighty Hoh is the largest river on the Olympic peninsula. Glacial fed, it runs clear only in the winter. Chinook salmon run April through November. Coho salmon start appearing in August, peaking in October. The river has both summer and winter runs of steelhead. Liberal plant of 100,000 steelhead smolts. March is the top month, but excellent catches are made December through March. Chinooks are the star attraction at this river.

Soleduck River
One of the most accessible riversand a park roadrun parallel to this river. One of the few rivers that gives you a chance to catch all five major species of salmon, plus steelhead and sea-run cutthroat. But it's the steelhead runs that make this river famous.

Bogachiel River
Known as the Bogey. Both summer and winter runs of steelhead, but winter is the big season. Accessible by trail in the park. 50,000 steelhead smolts are released every year from Bogachiel Rearing Ponds, so the chances are pretty good to snag a fish during season.

Quillayute River
A short, four-mile stream. There is a park service campground across from the Indian village of Mora.

Queets River
Large runs of both summer and winter steelhead. The most dependable supply of Dolly Varden in the state. One problem is that the river is seldom clear. Good boating river, particularly drift boats from a large gravel bar about a mile above the Salmon River down to the Clearwater Bridge road. The biggest numbers of steelhead are caught in January and February, but fish can be taken in March and April.

Quinault River
Mostly on Indian land, the portions outside the park require an Indian guide. Good summer run of steelhead.

Salmon River
Only a small portion of this is in the park. Best known for sea-run cutthroat trout. Small river, but with a generous plant of steelhead smolts. Try January.

Duckabush River
One of the few rivers that flows east through the drier portion of the peninsula. Most of the best steelhead fishing happens outside the park. Inside, the emphasis is rainbow trout in the smaller, headwaters portion of the river.

Skokomish River
A rainbow trout stream, near the Staircase campground.

Dosewallips River
Good trout stream. A waterfall blocks the migration of steelhead.

Elwha River
Famous fly-fishing stream, especially for rainbow and Dolly Varden. The trail here follows the river from Whiskey Bend Campground.

See Trout and 'Shrooms in Washington's Olympics: Wild harvest in the Elwha River Valley.

Gray Wolf River
Accessible only by trail, the Gray Wolf offers good trout fishing, but only some salmon.


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