An angler silhouetted against a lake at sunset.

NPS / Deby Dixon

North Cascades National Park Service Complex has many options for the aspiring angler. The Skagit River, one of Washington's major watersheds, is home to seven species of anadromous fish (five salmon species, steelhead, and cutthroat trout) and freshwater trout and char.

North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area allow fishing as a means of providing for public enjoyment, and customary and traditional use, and regulate fishing to ensure that it is managed in a manner that avoids unacceptable impacts to park resources.

For more information on how fishing regulations work in national parks, go to the NPS Fish and Fishing website.


Visitors fishing within North Cascades National Park Service Complex must follow the fishing license requirements in accordance with the laws and regulations of the State of Washington.

Fishing licenses are not sold at any visitor or information station in the park complex, and you must obtain a license before visiting. Visit Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife for information on Washington state fishing licenses.


Fishing Regulations

Except as provided below, fishing shall be in accordance with the laws and regulations of the State of Washington. For state fishing regulations go to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

The fishing regulations apply to all “finfish” found in the park. Other taxa, including amphibians, mollusks and crustaceans (e.g. waterdogs, crayfish) are not considered “fish” for the purpose of NPS fishing regulations and are addressed by NPS regulations governing “wild life” (36CFR2.2).

These fishing regulations apply, regardless of land ownership, on all lands and waters within the park that are under the legislative jurisdiction of the United States.

The following are prohibited:

  • Fishing in fresh waters in any manner other than by hook and line, with the rod or line being closely attended.
  • Possessing or using as bait for fishing in freshwaters, live or dead minnows or other bait fish, amphibians, non-preserved fish eggs or fish roe, except in designated waters.
  • Chumming or placing preserved or fresh fish eggs, fish roe, food, fish parts, chemicals, or other foreign substances in fresh waters for the purpose of feeding or attracting fish in order that they may be taken.
  • Commercial fishing, except where specifically authorized by Federal statutory law.
  • Fishing by the use of drugs, poisons, explosives, or electricity.
  • Digging for bait, except in privately owned lands.
  • Failing to return carefully and immediately to the water from which it was taken a fish that does not meet size or species restrictions or that the person chooses not to keep. Fish so released shall not be included in the catch or possession limit: Provided, that at the time of catching the person did not possess the legal limit of fish.
  • Fishing from motor road bridges, from or within 200 feet of a public raft or float designated for water sports, or within the limits of locations designated as swimming beaches, surfing areas, or public boat docks, except in designated areas.
  • Introducing wildlife, fish or plants, including their reproductive bodies, into a park area ecosystem. This includes the discarding and/or dumping of bait and bait buckets.
  • The use or possession of fish, wildlife or plants for ceremonial or religious purposes, except where specifically authorized by Federal statutory law, or treaty rights.

The following regulations apply only within North Cascades National Park Service Complex:

  • The use of nonpreserved fish eggs is permitted, as per 36 CFR 7.66.
  • Ruby Creek is closed to fishing from “No Fishing” markers on Ross Lake upstream to the headwaters.
  • Big Beaver is closed to fishing from “No Fishing” markers on Ross Lake upstream 1/4 mile.
  • Fishing is allowed in or from the following otherwise prohibited areas:
    • Motor road bridges
      • Stehekin Valley motor road bridges unless posted signs prohibit such activity.
    • Public boat dock
      • Fishing is permitted unless posted signs prohibit such activity
Three trout swimming under water.

NPS Photo

Common fish species in the park complex:

  • Gorge, Diablo, and Ross Lakes: Rainbow trout, eastern brook trout, cutthroat trout
  • Skagit River: Steelhead, coastal cutthroat trout, golden trout, eastern brook trout
  • Lake Chelan: Burbot (fresh-water cod), golden trout, lake trout, west slope cutthroat trout, kokanee (land-locked salmon), largemouth bass, smallmouth bass
  • Stehekin River: Cutthroat trout, rainbow trout

Fish Consumption Advisories in National Park Waters

The Environmental Protection Agency, states, territories, and tribes provide advice on fish and shellfish caught in the waters in their jurisdiction to help people make informed decisions about eating fish. Advisories are recommendations to limit your consumption of, or avoid eating entirely, certain species of fish or shellfish from specific bodies of water due to chemical or biological contamination.

Fish is part of a healthy balanced diet, but eating wild fish and shellfish caught in park waters is not risk free. Parks are “islands”, but the much larger “ocean” that surrounds them affects the natural resources inside a park. Other aquatic toxins are the result of natural biological processes. Also, chemical contaminants that originate outside of park boundaries can come into parks.

Mercury is an example of a toxin originating outside a park that can find its way into a park. Mercury exists naturally in some rocks, including coal. When power plants burn coal, mercury can travel in the air long distances before falling to the ground, usually in low concentrations. Once on the ground, microorganisms can change this elemental mercury to methyl mercury. This type of mercury can build up in animal tissues, and it can increase in concentration to harmful levels. This high concentration can occur in large predatory fish - those often pursued and eaten by anglers. Studies have shown that fish in some National Park System waters have mercury levels that may be a concern to people who regularly eat a lot of fish.

To learn more about this topic, the National Park Service maintains information about Fish Consumption Advisories and Mercury and Toxins in Nature.

An angler fishing from a canoe.

NPS / Michael Liang

Aquatic Invasive Species

Imagine your favorite fishing spot and the wonderful memories. Things may look fine but underneath the surface there is a serious threat. Everything you remembered is now cemented together in a sharp, smelly mess. Invaders have wiped out the fish species you used to catch.

Aquatic invasive species are not native to an ecosystem. Their introduction causes, or is likely to cause, harm to the economy, the environment, or to human health. Aquatic invasive species are a growing risk to parks and their values. In the United States alone, there are more than 250 non-native aquatic species.

For many centuries, humans have contributed to spreading non-native species around the globe. You can make a difference. To learn more about Aquatic Invasive Species in the National Park Service, visit the Fish & Fishing website.

How You Can Help – Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers

Currently North Cascades National Park Service Complex is free of aquatic invasive species. We currently do not have quagga or zebra mussels or New Zealand mudsnails and need your help to keep it that way! You can help keep the park’s waters clean by following the steps below every time you leave a water body, even if accessing more remote locations and ‘creeking’ with kayaks or other hand-powered vessels.

Clean boat, trailer and equipment. Remove plants, mud and debris.
Drain water from bilge, ballast, livewell, motor and bait bucket.
Dry all equipment for 5 days before entering new water.
Never move plants or live animals away from a water body.

If your boat has been in waters with confirmed or suspected AIS (such as Lake Mead, Mohave or Powell) within the last 30 days contact the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife AIS hotline at 1-888-WDFW-AIS.

Fishing Throughout the National Park Service

We invite you to visit the Fish and Fishing website for more information about fish and fishing in the National Park Service. You will learn about conservation, different fish species, and parks that offer fishing.

Last updated: July 28, 2021

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