Large lakes and reservoirs are great destinations for Memorial Day weekend
By ROGER PHILLIPS
Public Information Supervisor
Spring is a great time to fish lakes and reservoirs, and these waters can accommodate lots of anglers.
Memorial Day weekend is the kick-off to camping season for many Idahoans, which coincides with one of the best times of year for fishing Idaho’s lakes and reservoirs. Even if you’re not planning to travel for the weekend, there are great fishing opportunities throughout the state ranging from lakes and reservoirs to communities ponds.
You can always find a good fishing spot nearby with Idaho Fish and Game’s Fishing Planner, which provides a wealth of information about fishing waters throughout Idaho, what fish you will find in them and what facilities are available.
May is the biggest month for the number of fish stocked in Idaho, and you can see highlights of May stocking and all recent and past reports on the fish stocking webpage.
If last spring was any indicator, Memorial Day weekend could attract a lot of folks itching to get outdoors. If you’re thinking about heading out, fisheries staff has compiled some options for places that provide excellent fishing as well as lots of campgrounds, boat ramps, day-use areas and other facilities that can accommodate a lot of folks.
This list only scratches the surface, and these are some of Idaho’s largest waters with plenty of developed facilities. Some of these destinations favor folks who own boats, but most provide good shore access as well, and some offer boat rentals and outfitters. Here are some large lakes and reservoirs that are among the best:
Lake Pend Oreille
Lake Pend Oreille boasts some impressive stats: it’s 43-miles long and 6-miles wide with 111 miles of shoreline, not to mention 1,158 feet at its deepest spot, making it the fifth-deepest lake in the U.S.
The backbone of Lake Pend Oreille’s fishing is its kokanee population, which is thriving after Fish and Game launched one of the largest fishery restoration projects in its history to bring those fish back to abundance. In 2020, Fish and Game crews surveyed the lake and found more kokanee than they’ve seen in 20 years. That’s great news for kokanee anglers, but many other anglers benefit because kokanee also support the lake’s trophy rainbow trout, bull trout, and lake trout populations, allowing them to grow to massive sizes. The lake has recently produced rainbow and bull trout larger than 25 pounds. In the past, it has produced numerous state record fish, as well as the current world’s record for bull trout (which can no longer be harvested) and the former world-record rainbow trout.
The lake also hosts a variety of other gamefish, including cutthroat trout, brown trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, black crappie, northern pike, and walleye.
And just so you know, there are currently walleye swimming in the lake that have a $1,000 bounty on their heads. To find out if you caught one, cut off its head and bring it to a drop-off point. There’s also a $15 bounty on lake trout in an effort to keep their populations in check and to help keep kokanee abundant. Learn more about the Lake Pend Oreille Angler Incentive Program.
Lake Pend Oreille is also a full-service lake with many marinas, boat rentals, guides, charters and other services, not to mention a multitude of options for lakeside accommodations, which makes it a popular destination for anglers and vacationers alike.
Lake Coeur d’Alene
Being in the shadow of Lake Pend Oreille is a tough spot to be, but Lake Coeur d’Alene still shines with a combination of size, quality and variety. While roughly half the size of Lake Pend Oreille at 26-miles long and about 1- to 3-miles wide, it’s still Idaho’s second largest lake (Bear Lake is larger, but divided between Idaho and Utah).
Its native fish include Westslope cutthroat, bull trout and mountain whitefish, but throughout its history, Lake Coeur d’Alene has had many other fish introduced that now provide good-to-excellent fishing opportunities. Game fish include kokanee and Chinook salmon, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, yellow perch, black crappie, brown and black bullheads, and more.
Like its bigger sister to the north, the lake has also produced numerous state-record fish, and while its kokanee and Chinook tend to be its marquee fishing attractions, it has repeatedly been named among the top 100 bass fishing lakes in the U.S. The lake has not only its namesake town on its shore, but also several smaller communities, all of which provide accommodations, guides and services for a fishing destination.
As if North Idaho didn’t have enough to brag about, Priest Lake adds another big lake with postcard scenery and quality fishing. Unlike lakes Coeur d’Alene and Pend Oreille that are located near cities, Priest Lake is more rural and less developed, but still has the all the services you need for a day trip, weekend outing or extended vacation with campgrounds, resorts, charters, boat rentals, accommodations, and more.
Priest Lake is about 19-miles long and about 4-miles wide, but it is different from other big lakes and reservoirs because it’s actually two lakes. It’s connected to Upper Priest Lake by a short, narrow channel that’s passable for most boats. The upper lake has no road access and is mostly undeveloped, but it does feature shoreline campsites.
Priest Lake’s main sport fish are lake trout (also called Mackinaw), cutthroat trout, smallmouth bass, and kokanee salmon. Lake trout and smallmouth bass offer the best catch rates. Experienced anglers can fairly routinely catch a bag limit of six lakers that usually run in the 16-to-22 inch range. On occasion, a lucky angler will catch a trophy-sized lake trout weighing 10 to 20 pounds.
The lake’s abundant lake trout population has taken its toll on the kokanee population, so catch rates for kokanee are much lower than in Lake Pend Oreille where the population is much larger. If you’re seeking a more backcountry atmosphere, Upper Priest Lake is an excellent opportunity to find it, but don’t expect to be alone because it’s a popular area for anglers, campers and boaters. The upper lake is a good place to fish for native cutthroat trout and bull trout. Just remember, catch-and-release is required for these species.