Put these destinations in Washington and Oregon on your list when planning a family fishing trip.
Shake off the winter doldrums and hit the highway on your first family-fishing adventure of the year! Family-fishing trips range full circle in Oregon and Washington, from saltwater bays and piers to epic whitewater rivers, ponds so quiet you can hear the frogs breathe, and lakes where you can fish for anything from perch-jerking to stocked trophy trout.
Eighty miles east of Portland, Timothy Lake is far enough away to count as a fishing/camping adventure yet close enough for a day trip. The 1,400-acre mountain lake sits on the shoulder of Mount Hood in a trail-etched Douglas fir forest off Highway 26 and Skyline Road. It offers a full complement of trout,
— from pan-sized to “OMG!” — five Forest Service campgrounds, ample bank-fishing and multiple boat launches.
Target brookies, browns, rainbows and cutthroat trout at Timothy Lake and there’s an abundance of small, but tasty, kokanee salmon to catch. ODFW routinely stocks the lake with catchable rainbow trout starting in May. The lake is also full of large crayfish that make great baits for the bigger trout, the main ingredient in succulent campfire “crawdad” boils, and are fascinating sport for kids with baited pot traps.
Timothy is open to fishing year ‘round, but snow may block access until late April. There are plenty of opportunities to fish with bait, cast small spinners along the miles of shoreline or troll from boats. Bank-fishing is especially productive along the south shoreline, near the dam and near the mouths of inlet creeks. Trollers score best fishing shallow in spring and deeper in mid-summer, targeting both trout and kokanee.
Along the Way: Stop at Government Camp, iconic Timberline Lodge and Mount Hood Adventure Park all off Hwy. 26 at the 4,416 foot level of Mount Hood. Enjoy warm weather snow-play, hot chocolate, a quick burger or fine dinning, orride the chair lift to the 5,100 foot level enjoying sweeping alpine views of glaciers, four volcanic peaks, and rolling mountain tops.
One of nine “Blue Lakes” in Oregon, this one is the 62-acre centerpiece of a popular day-use regional park in Fairview, just 14 miles east from downtown Portland. The lake is spring-fed and stocked with rainbow trout and a variety of warm-water fish including largemouth bass, crappies, bluegills, catfish and sunfish.
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The lake’s panfish schools are perfect targets for action-craving young bobber-watchers. There’s a lot shoreline fishing room, and an anglers’ dock with artificial underwater structure attracts gamefish. Private boats aren’t allowed during spring and summer, but a fleet of rentals is available to reach the hot spots. You won’t find overnight camping, but the site features picnic areas, swimming, ball fields, trails and playgrounds … all of it included for a $5 fee to park.
Along the Way: Take a break at the Natural Discovery Garden in the park to check out worm bins, dig for “fossils,” sniff plants, and learn about local wildlife. There’s a wetland boardwalk. A bike path follows the nearby Columbia River shoreline.
A long way from everywhere, Brownlee Reservoir is the “Wild West” of Oregon sport-fishing destinations, with miles of public shoreline, remote boat camping, lots of fish and no commercial facilities. This is not a Saturday outing with the family, but a great place for a self-contained, multi-day family fishing/camping trip that will be remembered. The surroundings are mostly treeless, desert-like, with striking rock formations.
Brownlee is a 15,000-acre reservoir, 60-miles long, impounded on the Snake River that divides Oregon and Idaho. It’s well known for schools of big yellow perch, crappies, smallmouth bass, bluegills and seven varieties of catfish, including channel cats in the 10- to 20-pound range. Inlets, arms and protected coves finger into the shoreline, providing excellent bank-fishing and shelter for boat camps. A road follows much of the west bank. A handful of developed campsites are available, with drinking water, and seven boat ramps lie within a few miles of each other at the upper end of the lake near Farewell Bend State Park.
Brownlee is a rich lake, loaded with crayfish that grow big gamefish. Bluegills reach 8 inches. Foot-long crappies and 10-inch perch are not uncommon. Bass fishermen hit a few largemouths, but smallmouths are dominant. A 12-inch minimum-length limit keeps the average bass size up. According to ODFW, the hot action is in May and June when water temperatures nudge into the mid-50s, fish are close to shore, and before summer irrigation and power drawdowns take place.
Along the Way: Go north to Hells Canyon Dam and look into America’s deepest gorge and the start of one of the most dramatic and powerful wild and scenic rivers in North America. Whitewater expeditions often prep here. The Visitor Center is worth a stop.
Henry Hagg Lake
A short drive from Oregon’s upper Willamette Valley population centers, Henry Hagg Lake, 7 miles southwest of Forest Grove off Highway 47, features 1,100 acres of diverse family-fishing fun.
Schools of scrappy panfish, planted trout, acres of grass and playgrounds make this a family-outing favorite. In spring, largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappies, bluegills and perch travel the shoreline shallows within casting range of bank-fishermen dangling worms under bobbers. There are also native cutthroat. Every year ODFW stocks 140,000 rainbows. Public fishing piers lie on the northwest side and at Elk Point on the south.
ODFW labels Henry Hagg Lake a great destination for beginners; but it’s also is popular with experienced anglers. The state-record smallmouth — 8 pounds, 1.76 ounces — and state-record brown bullhead catfish — 3 pounds, 7ounces — were caught here. It’s a great lake for bank-fishing and small boats, and ramps are sited on both sides of the lake. A concessionaire offers rental boats, too. Tanner Creek Arm is particularly good for bullheads and panfish. Drop a nightcrawler to the bottom in a cove and hold on to the rod.
Along the Way: Scoggins Valley Park features shelters, rental boats, picnic areas and a lot of fishing stops along 13 miles of lakeside trail. Winery tours, four golf courses and the historic downtown dominate the non-fishing attractions in Forest Grove.
Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park
Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park is a complex of coulees formed in an ancient riverbed bordered by black basalt cliffs. It’s about 17 miles north of Soap Lake, off Highway 17, which tracks the edge of the park along dramatically sculpted rock remnants of floods so cataclysmic they re-routed the massive Columbia River during the last ice age. Where the river once flowed is now dotted with fishing lakes filling low-spots in the coulee floor. At the head of the coulee is a long-dried waterfall that during the dinosaur-era was 10 times larger than Niagara.
Amon the many fishing sites, 15-acre Perch Lake and 536-acre Blue Lake, most heavily stocked by WDFW with rainbow, brown and tiger trout. Deep Lake holds kokanee salmon. Try Alkali Lake for bass, bluegills, and perch. Two nearby alkaline lakes, Grimes and Lenore, hold the rare Lahontan strain of cutthroat, many in the 20-inch range. Area facilities include campsites, cabins, a marina, a cafe, a general store, trails; and two resorts offer camping, cabins, rental boats, lawn sports, basic groceries, tackle, bait and ramps.
Along the Way: Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park features 15 miles of trails, paddle boarding, a 9-hole golf course and horse rides. Check out Rhino Cave — a hollow rock, 3 miles south, formed from the body of a prehistoric rhinoceros caught in erupting lava. The elevated overlook at Dry Falls Visitor Center looks straight into one of the finest trout lakes in the state amid sweeping desert views.
Banks Lake is huge and holds enough options to entertain a fishing family for a month! The 4-mile wide, 27-mile long reservoir covers almost 28,000 surface acres in north-central Washington. Cliff-walled coves, bouldered bays and rock islands provide miles of shore fishing, boat-launch sites, one of the most diverse state parks in Washington, and several full-service resorts.
Good trout fishing takes place from April through October for hundreds of thousands of rainbows raised and released from lake net pens. Banks also holds big largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleyes, kokanee salmon, yellow perch, bluegills, black crappies, channel catfish, carp and burbot.
Anglers with trailer-able boats have their pick of a half-dozen public and private ramps. Trout bite best April through June when they’re in the shallows then again from September through November. When the trout move into deeper water, switch over to bass and panfish action, which just gets better as summer gets older. Walleyes are hot in March and still biting in October.
Anchoring this family destination is Steamboat Rock State Park, a 3,522-acre complex at mid-lake that features huge campgrounds, including remote tent sites accessible only by boat, and 34 miles of hiking and horse trails. Fishing guides can be booked at Big Wally’s along Highway 2 or go north to full-service Coulee Playland Resort and rent a boat, camp, and stock up on groceries and tackle.
Along the Way: For a colorful “ooh and ahh” side trip, grab a lawn blanket and head a few miles northeast to see the nightly laser-light and music extravaganza at Grand Coulee Dam. On Mother’s Day weekend each year there’s Pro-West Rodeos event, a parade, and a festival at North Dam Park.
The heart of this central Washington destination fishery is 43-square mile Potholes Reservoir (also known as O’Sullivan Reservoir), south of the town of Moses Lake on State Route 262. Dozens of small but productive “seep lakes” lie scattered in coulee pools below the reservoir dam.
The main reservoir is south of the town of Moses Lake on State Route 262. The smaller lakes are spread out on undeveloped state and federal lands below the reservoir dam. Some are pond-sized; others cover more than 100 acres. All are cradled in a primitive, mostly treeless basalt-rock landscape. A network of unpaved and two-track roads link the major fishing lakes. Others require short hikes. Most can be fished from the bank or tubes and small boats for rainbow and brown trout. A few lakes also offer exotic tiger trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleyes, crappies, perch, bluegills, lake whitefish and channel catfish.
At the north end of Potholes Reservoir, boat channels poke into a maze of sand dunes shadowing water inhabited by some of the largest bass in the state. Cast and troll for bass, walleye, and rainbows, or shore-/dock-fish for perch, bluegills, catfish and trout. MarDon Resort is the waterfront activity-and-supply center for both the reservoir and seep lakes. It features tent and RV sites, furnished cottages and cabins, rental fishing and pontoon boats, boat ramp, fishing docks and cleaning stations, professional guides, groceries, restaurant, tackle, bait, moorage, fuel and family fishing events. It’s also where I pick up a current map of the seep-lake complex. Check at the store for the current hot-bite spots.
Along the Way: O’Sullivan Sportsman Resort features an 18-hole golf course and swimming pool nearby where you can check into local winery tours, jet-skiing, the adjacent Columbia Basin National Wildlife Refuge bird and wildlife watching, canoe trails, rock climbing and hiking.