In Idaho, those waters that support trout, steelhead and salmon might get most of the attention, but the those that support warmwater fish are no slouches. While many anglers enjoy fishing for warmwater species, they’re overlooked by others, who are missing out on many exciting fishing opportunities.
Whether it’s lakes and reservoirs, the Snake River or your local community pond, many of Idaho’s waters are home to populations of bass, sunfish, perch, crappie or catfish. You can read more about how Fish and Game manages the state’s warmwater fisheries here. In many cases there is overlap between these species, and some waters offer the full smorgasbord of warmwater fishing in Idaho.
One of the attractions of warmwater fishing is being able to fish for multiple species in the same location, and even with the same tackle, so when something bites, you never know for sure what’s on the end of your line.
Here are some of the top multi-species warmwater fishing destinations in Idaho. It is worth noting that Salmon and Upper Snake regions are excluded from this list. They have very few warmwater fishing opportunities because they aren’t suited to growing and sustaining populations of warmwater fish.
In addition to the waters listed below, there are countless other fishing holes scattered throughout the state that provide multi-species warmwater angling opportunity. There might even be a quality largemouth bass and bluegill fishery within walking distance of your house, in your local community park, or in a nearby reservoir. You can check out the Idaho Fishing Planner and filter waters by the type of warmwater fish you would like to catch.
Also remember that boats may provide better access to prime fishing spots. During early summer, warmwater fish are typically found fairly close to shore and in fairly shallow water, so even in a large lake or reservoir, you can find smaller bays, coves, inlets and other areas that are safe and suitable for small fishing craft.
Follow the links to each of the waters listed below to find out more about them.
Lake Pend Oreille and Coeur d’Alene Lake — Sunfish, bullhead catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, perch, crappie — The big two in North Idaho offer some of the best warmwater fishing the state has to offer, along with the most variety. Lake Pend Oreille also offers walleye fishing. Walleye were illegally introduced to Noxon Reservior in the early 1990’s and they have expanded downstream. Biologists are concerned that if left unchecked, walleye numbers will continue to increase to the point of collapsing the keystone kokanee population, also hurting growth rates of other species. Fish and Game is working to keep walleye densities low, and encourages anglers to fish for and harvest them. There are no seasons or bag limits for walleye, and there is a walleye lottery to incentivize angler harvest.
Fernan Lake — Sunfish, bullhead catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, perch, crappie — Fernan Lake is a family-friendly option with good amenities and bank fishing access, but that’s not the only reason it makes this list. The fishing is pretty good, too, and the lake holds the current certified weight record for green sunfish.
Cave Lake — Sunfish, bullhead catfish, largemouth bass, perch, smallmouth bass, crappie — At around 750 acres, this lake isn’t the biggest on this list, but it’s reputation for producing big warmwater fish makes it one of the top destinations in the state. The current catch-and-release record for largemouth bass, bluegill, and third-place catch-and-release black crappie were all caught on Cave Lake. Big variety and big fish? It’s hard to beat that.
Upper Twin Lake —Sunfish, bullhead catfish, largemouth bass, perch, crappie — There is good selection of warmwater fish to choose from here, but the lake’s bullhead catfish stand out. The current catch-and-release record of 13.5 inches was caught here in 2020.
Dworshak Reservoir — Smallmouth bass, crappie — While it doesn’t offer the diversity of some of the other waters on this list, Dworshak makes up for it in the quality of its smallmouth fishing. To put it simply, Dworshak produces huge smallmouth bass, including the current catch-and-release record, set in 2020, and the current certified weight record smallmouth, caught in 2006. Crappie fishing in Dworshak (as it is elsewhere in Idaho) is cyclic, but can be good too, especially in the early summer. Anglers should keep in mind that while there is some solid access for bank fishing, it helps to have a boat here.
Winchester Lake — Sunfish, bullhead catfish, largemouth bass, perch, crappie — A family-friendly fishing destination located in a beautiful forested setting, the amenities at Winchester Lake are as plentiful as the number of warmwater species anglers can target. Facilities include a picnic shelter, fish cleaning station, swimming beach, benches and picnic tables, and a range of camping options. Many facilities are located in Winchester State Park, where an entrance fee applies. Year round, you will find good fishing, plenty of recreation activities and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Elk Creek Reservoir — Sunfish, bullhead catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappie — A forested road parallels the entire west side of Elk Creek Reservoir for easy access to fishing areas on the bank, with four fishing docks and a boat ramp. The east side of the reservoir provides great boat fishing opportunities where foot access is difficult. It's a relatively small reservoir, but it is family-friendly with great amenities.
Lake Cascade — Sunfish, catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, perch — Two words: Jumbo. Perch. You’ve probably heard the hype about Cascade, but it’s worth mentioning that all of the top three catch-and-release records have come out of Cascade in recent years. These famed jumbo perch were the perfect storm of successful management actions and ideal conditions. While fisheries managers are expecting average sizes to decrease as older perch get caught or die off, Cascade is likely to remain a high-quality perch fishery into the future. While ice fishing gets most of the attention, open water fishing for perch can be lights out in the early spring, and you can catch them year round. And oh yeah — that’s just one of the huge selection of warmwater species available here, and the fishing can be pretty good for those other species, too.
Snake River and reservoirs from CJ Strike Dam to Hells Canyon Dam — Good fishing for warmwater species can be found along this whole stretch of the Snake River, and that’s saying something: It’s a huge stretch of water, covering almost a third of Idaho’s length. Opportunities can be a little different in each stretch or reservoir, but quality bass fishing is a common theme throughout.
- Brownlee Reservoir — Sunfish, catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, perch, crappie — Brownlee might be the jewel of this group — it’s home to the current certified weight record for black crappie, set in 2003, bullhead catfish, set in 1986, and flathead catfish, set in 1994. While those records aren’t all that recent, Brownlee consistently provides excellent fishing with high densities of bass, crappie and channel catfish, and good numbers of perch and sunfish. Boating and bank access is very good for anglers, and the reservoir offers excellent camping opportunities at several developed campgrounds.
- Oxbow Reservoir — Catfish, smallmouth bass, perch, crappie — The middle reservoir has good fishing, but much of the road-accessible shore fishing is on the Oregon side so make sure you have the appropriate license. If you’re fishing from a boat, you can fish with either and Oregon or Idaho license.
- Hells Canyon Reservoir — Catfish, smallmouth bass, perch, crappie — The lowest of the three Hells Canyon Reservoirs is narrower and less developed than Brownlee and has excellent fishing opportunities for shore anglers and small craft.
- Swan Falls Reservoir — Catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, perch — Swan Falls is a short trip from the Treasure Valley and provides a scenic fishing spot with good boat launch facilities. Smallmouth bass fishing can excellent, especially in spring and summer.
Lake Lowell — Sunfish, catfish, largemouth bass, perch, smallmouth bass, crappie — Largemouth bass are the big draw here, but the current catch-and-release record for channel catfish was pulled out of Lake Lowell, and anglers will fair fishing for panfish here, too.
Crane Creek and Paddock Valley reservoirs — These two reservoirs are lumped together because these they are less than 10 miles apart and provide similar fishing opportunities — and challenges. Both have fisheries for sunfish, catfish, largemouth bass, and crappie. Both are irrigation reservoirs, and the best fishing tends to be earlier in the year, before water levels are drawn down. Fishing can be outstanding after a series of good water years, but can be very poor after a series of below-average water years. When conditions are right, Crane Creek in particular is known for growing very large crappie (the current catch-and-release record black crappie was caught here in 2020), and channel catfish are abundant. Paddock Valley’s largemouth, bullhead, crappie and bluegill populations similarly flourish when water conditions are right — and the reservoir briefly had the catch-and-release record for bullhead catfish in 2020.
CJ Strike Reservoir — Sunfish, catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, perch, crappie — Strike holds the current catch-and-release record for white crappie, and two of the top-three entries, and has the current catch-and-release record for warmouth. It also appears on the certified weight record list with a 3.5 pound bluegill caught way back in 1966. In recent years, Strike’s crappie fishing has been the biggest draw for anglers, but good-to-great fishing for both largemouth and smallmouth bass are a close second.
Lake Walcott — Sunfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, perch — Lake Walcott has a healthy selection of species for anglers to choose from, but it is famous for its big smallmouth bass. Bank fishing opportunities are available but not necessarily plentiful, and fishing tends to be best in spring and early summer, before anglers have to compete with weeds. Anglers could also run into some crappie here, which Fish and Game recently transplanted from C.J. Strike to hopefully establish a self-sustaining population.
Milner Lake — smallmouth bass, catfish — A 4,000-acre impoundment of the Snake River created by Milner Dam, this water is among the top spots for bass fishing in the Magic Valley Region. Milner Lake also has catfish for anglers to catch.
Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir — Sunfish, smallmouth bass, perch, walleye — This large reservoir in Idaho's high desert is primarily a smallmouth bass and walleye fishery that has boat ramps and long shorelines, making for good angler access. The top two catch-and-release entries for walleye, both caught in 2016, came from Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir. Salmon Falls is consistently ranked among the best walleye fishing opportunities in the state. While anglers can expect to catch good numbers of 12 to 16-inch walleye, they will have to work hard to find the big ones.
American Falls Reservoir — Smallmouth bass, perch — A popular spot for anglers trolling for big trout, American Falls Reservoir also features some good smallmouth bass and perch fishing. There are some big smallmouths for anglers to chase, which is why American Falls Reservoir is a popular spot for bass tournaments year after year. Numerous access sites with ramps and docks make it easy to use for boaters and shore anglers. Anglers may also run into crappie: Fish and Game transplanted some from C.J. Strike in 2021 to hopefully create a self-sustaining population.
Glendale, Foster, Lamont and Johnson reservoirs – Sunfish, crappie, largemouth bass, perch — This cluster of small irrigation reservoirs northeast of Preston are within about a mile of each other, and each provide warmwater fishing opportunities and great variety for anglers. Glendale, the largest of the four, offers stellar warmwater fishing into the summer, and anglers have a good chance to get bites from crappie, bluegill or bass. Access is best using a small boat, but docks and limited shore access are available. Johnson Reservoir is the smallest of the lot, but is probably the most suitable for a family outing.