The only thing better than the perfect place to rest your head, courtesy of The Great Outdoors, of course, is knowing that place is located smack dab in the middle of some of the best hunting and fishing the region has to offer. Fortunately, folks choosing to recreate in the Pacific Northwest have an almost endless list of possibilities from which to choose. Want something within earshot of the surf, where clamming, crabbing and both saltwater and freshwater fishing are all just minutes away? You can find it, along with a bunk for the night. Long for something a little drier, with a dash of sagebrush, mule deer, and the occasional tumbleweed? It's there, too.
The challenge, if there indeed is one, lies in making the decision as to which way to point the truck, how many fishing poles to pack, and which rifle — or shotgun, for you shotgunners — to stow. In the world of problems, it's a good problem to have. However, this month, Washington-Oregon Game & Fish will try to take the soul-searching out of this decision with a short list of state-owned best bets for base camps.
Prineville Reservoir State Park
Sixteen miles southeast of the town of Prineville in central Oregon lie the roughly 3,000 surface acres of the aptly-named Prineville Reservoir. Created by the construction of the Bowman Dam and subsequent damming of the Crooked River, itself having headwaters in the Ochoco Mountains, Prineville is a popular playground for Oregon residents living in all four corners of The Beaver State.
Situated on the north shore of the reservoir at approximately the midpoint between Bowman Dam to the west on Highway 27 and Highway 380 to the east, Prineville State Park caters to some 33,000 overnighters annually, many of whom come to enjoy the fantastic fishing and hunting to be found locally. In addition to 44 RV sites and 23 tenting spots, Prineville offers five deluxe log cabins, complete with showers, heating and air conditioning, a covered porch, outdoor barbeque and sleeping for six. Three miles to the east, the smaller Jasper Point Campground, a part of Prineville, features an additional pet-friendly cabin, with like amenities.
Fishing is tops at Prineville, with the most sought-after species being largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappies, planted rainbow trout, and bullheads. Several launching facilities are available at Prineville, including ramps at Bowman Dam, the state park, Jasper Point, and the Prineville Resort below Jasper Point.
Late spring, May, especially, is a great time to focus on Prineville crappies, with light jigs tightlined or fished underneath a casting bubble often being the ticket to filling a cooler with fine-eating specks. Smallmouth are suckers for plastics; twistertails in a variety of colors rigged on 1/8-ounce leadheads work well.
And while fishing's king at Prineville, hunters aren't left out. The eastern end of the reservoir does provide some waterfowling potential. However, it's the public lands surrounding the lake where upland bird enthusiasts seek out coveys of valley quail. Those obtain permission to hunt private holdings around the reservoir can find good dove hunting, especially at the opener in September, as well as often excellent goose hunting, that particularly good during the mid- to latter part of the traditional waterfowl season (October through January). Closer to and within the boundaries of the Ochoco National Forest east of Prineville, blue and ruffed grouse become a possibility, as do improved chances of encountering mule deer, elk, pronghorn antelopes, black bears and cougars. The national forest, all 850,000 acres of it, is a beautiful place, tailor-made for those seeking quiet, solitude, and, with luck, the main ingredient for pan-fried grouse breasts.
19020 SE Parkland Drive, Prineville, OR 97754 - 800-452-5687 - reserveamerica.com
Accommodations: Five deluxe log cabins, complete with showers, heating and air conditioning, a covered porch, outdoor barbeque and sleeping for six. Rates: $87 to $97. Rates can vary by date.
Farewell Bend SRA
If history, hunting, fishing, rockhounding, hiking, waterskiing, rock climbing, and essentially anything outdoors-esque is what one seeks, then eastern Oregon's Farewell Bend State Recreation Area has it on tap. And then some. Located just north of Interstate 84 near the town of Huntington on the Oregon/Idaho border and on the shore of the Snake River, what this diminutive 74-acre parcel of greenery amidst the desert lacks in size, she certainly makes up for both in hospitality and in her vast array of outdoor recreational opportunities.
Ninety-one RV sites with electric and water dot the area, along with 30 tent spots and a designated hiker/biker camp. Two log cabins are available.
At Farewell Bend, the Snake River begins to back up, courtesy of the Brownlee Dam, the first of three structures that make up the Hells Canyon Hydroelectric Project, built in 1958, and thus creating Brownlee Reservoir. The remaining two — Oxbow, and the Hells Canyon Dam — were built in 1961 and '67, respectively. Among Western anglers, Brownlee Reservoir is well-known as a top-end producer of smallmouths and rainbow trout; however, it's the crappies, channel cats, and tackle-busting flatheads that attract fishermen and women in droves from all around the Tri-State area. Spring is crappie time, with small chartreuse, yellow, yellow/black, and white marabou jigs being the go-to baits. Channel cats, too, favor the warming waters of spring, falling victim to both boaters and shore-based anglers soaking commercially-prepared baits or nightcrawlers on the bottom. Summer and fall see incredible smallmouth action on Brownlee for those tossing crankbaits in crayfish patterns, or slowly working orange/brown jigs over rocky points mid-day. Huntington Bait and Tackle on First Street in Huntington is the place to go for the most up-to-the-minute information on fishing Brownlee.
Cabins at Farewell Bend - 23751 Old Highway 30, Huntington, OR 97907 - reserveamerica.com - 1-800-452-5687
LODGING: Two log cabins equipped with a full bed, two bunks, electricity, heating and air conditioning. Rates: Prices range from $44 to $54 per night, depending on the season
North Head Lighthouse Residences
I think in part, perhaps large part, because I'm a native of the Midwest — Ohio to be precise — I absolutely love the Washington coast, and the Long Beach Peninsula (LBP) in particular. Why? I love the salt air. The smell. Marsh's Free Museum, and Jake the Alligator Man; but that's another story.
There are countless things to watch and things to do on the LBP, and what's more, wonderful places to bed down for the evening after a long day of fishing or setting out goose decoys. Certainly, there are campgrounds aplenty, all of which provide visitors their choice of primitive and not-so-primitive accommodations; however, if it's something a little bit different you're searching for in terms of lodging, then look no farther than the North Head Lighthouse keeper's former residence. That's right; I said lighthouse.
Located roughly two miles north of the mouth of the Columbia River, the North Head Lighthouse was completed in 1898 and was meant to serve as a guide for mariners approaching the river from the north. A nearby sister lighthouse at Cape Disappointment served a similar function, only for ships coming from the south. In 1995, the U.S. Coast Guard turned stewardship of the lighthouse over to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, who in turn began maintaining the lighthouse keeper's residence as a vacation rental facility.
Today, two homes, each accommodating a maximum of six guests, are available. And each is within a short walk of the North Head Lighthouse, itself. Inside each, guests will find three fully furnished bedrooms, a formal dining room, living room, and kitchen equipped with a modern range. Sorry, there's no television reception or Wi-Fi at the property; fortunately, however, there's plenty to do outdoors and within minutes without plugging anything in or charging anything up!
As North Head lies within Cape Disappointment State Park, there is no hunting permitted; however, there are plenty of water-based activities available. A short drive through the park brings visitors to the North Jetty, an Army Corps of Engineers on-going project that provides excellent fishing for red-tailed surf perch, black sea bass (rockfish), lingcod, and both king and silver salmon.
Crabbing, too, is popular from the jetty. Inland from the cape, the 28-mile-long peninsula offers additional opportunities for surf fishing, crabbing, oyster gathering, and, during fall and spring, razor clamming. Several small freshwater lakes on the peninsula, including Black, Island, Lost, and Loomis, hold excellent numbers of largemouth bass, yellow perch and bluegills, and make for great morning or evening kayak or canoe adventures. Hunting, as mentioned earlier, is limited on the LBP due to much of the peninsula being privately owned.
Waterfowlers are afforded some opportunity at Leadbetter Point at the extreme north end, and the Riekkola Unit, a parcel within the Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuge, located east of the community of Long Beach. Big game including blacktail deer, Roosevelt elk, and black bear are pursued on Long Island east of the LBP in Willapa Bay — archery only — as well as on private timberlands farther inland. Information about all there is to do on the peninsula, as well as the history of Jake the Alligator Man, can be obtained by contacting the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau at 360-642-2400, or at funbeach.com.
244 Robert Gray Drive, Ilwaco, WA 98624 - 1-888-CAMPOUT - washington.goingtocamp.com
Lodging: Two houses, each with three bedrooms and one bathroom. Rates: Contact for current rates.
Potholes State Park
If fishing's your bag, then Washington's Potholes State Park should be, without question, the epicenter of your where-to-go map. Located in central Washington's Grant County some seven miles south of the town of Moses Lake, Potholes Reservoir is one of the West's premier walleye and smallmouth fisheries, and at over 20,000 surface acres, provides more than ample room for anglers from all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Interesting to note, the reservoir was created by the building of O'Sullivan Dam, and is often referred to as O'Sullivan Reservoir, with the adjacent complex of small freshwater ponds and lakes to the north being known simply as The Potholes.
The state park sits in the southwest corner of the complex due west of the dam and just north of Highway 262. Five rustic (translation: no indoor plumbing, restrooms are nearby, and an air conditioning unit is provided) cabins are scattered along the shoreline, along with 61 tent camping spots and another 60 units with water and electricity.
Should you tire of walleyes and smallmouths on O'Sullivan, there are plenty of smaller local waters to try, including Soda and Upper Goose lakes to the east, Moses Lake to the north, and the Columbia River at Vantage to the west. Come fall, this area of Washington is well-known among serious waterfowlers as providing some of the finest duck hunting found in the Pacific Flyway. The upper end of O'Sullivan, i.e. The Potholes, is famous for its 'fowling; so, too, is the nearby Columbia River and many of the privately-held irrigated fields surrounding the reservoir. Valley quail can be found in good numbers throughout much of Grant County. Pheasants, mourning dove and Hungarian (gray) partridge round out the upland bird roster, while mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, and cottontails serve up a big game, predator and small game menu.
6762 Highway 262 East, Othello, WA 99344 - 1-888-CAMPOUT - washington.goingtocamp.com
LODGING: Rustic cabins that include air conditioning. Access to nearby bathroom facility. Rates: From $45 to $80 per night, depending upon date.