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Pacific Northwest Family Fishing Destinations for 2016

Pacific Northwest Family Fishing Destinations for 2016


I spend a few weeks every winter at outdoor expositions in the Seattle and Portland areas, talking to fishermen and answering questions. One of the most frequent questions I hear is "Where can I take my family and kids fishing?"

Here, we'll take a look at some destinations that could offer a good chance for the family to catch fish and enjoy other attractions without having to travel too far from home.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has set aside 46 lakes, ponds and stream areas in 26 counties specifically for children or families, added a Youth Fishing/Education link to its website and recruited volunteers to organize 40 fishing events, most of which include stocked trout in ponds.

"Take Your Family Fishing" programs in Washington have realigned several of the state's former "juvenile-only" waters into "family fishing" waters where adults are allowed to fish when accompanied by a fishing juvenile.

Oregon has taken the family quest even farther with links to information on "50 Places To Go Fishing Within 60 minutes" of four population centers — Portland, Bend, Medford and Roseburg.

For example, in the Portland area, ODFW's fish managers have scouted out 16 family-friendly fishing lakes and streams and linked them on the agency's website, under ODFW Resources/Fishing in Oregon. Click on a nearby lake and get a comprehensive look at what to expect.

ODFW has also put together a statewide online guide for each region on its website.

The link, called "Easy Angling Oregon," identifies fishing areas with consistently good odds of catching fish with simple techniques, uncomplicated regulations and easy car access.

ODFW also orchestrates a series of "Family Fishing Events" designed to introduce adults and kids to the ins and outs of angling. Held at stocked ponds throughout the state, Family Fishing Events include ODFW instructors and volunteers who provide equipment, expert instruction, demonstrations and one-on-one assistance.

Washington's fish and wildlife agency is relying less on fishing events and instruction and more on the state's natural wealth of trout and panfish waters, expanding opportunities and setting aside fishing holes specifically for children and families.

The state has designated 43 lakes and streams for juvenile-only fishing and three others as "family" fishing waters. Adults can't fish "family' designated water without a kid. Designated family waters include Columbia Basin Hatchery Creek in Grant County, Fort Borst Park Lake in Lewis County and Bear Lake in Spokane County.


In place of state-sponsored family fishing programs Washington families have a huge number of fresh and saltwater lakes, streams and rivers with public access. The state provides a "Fish Washington" website of accessible and productive lowland, mountain and marine fishing areas. On the site, which can be accessed from the "Fishing" tab on, you can find fish stocking schedules, how-to instructions and lakes with too many fish in need of more fishermen.

One often-overlooked family option is Washington's 60-plus public saltwater fishing piers and artificial reefs on Puget Sound. Often located along metro waterfronts, these piers provide great saltwater access and attract seasonal runs of coho, pink and chinook salmon as well as a year-round chance to catch flounder, sole, piling perch, rockfish, squid, crabs and tasty dock shrimp.

The state website locates saltwater piers, beach-fishing areas, describes the available facilities and provides driving directions.

Oregon, too, has often overlooked saltwater opportunities. The entire coastline is tracked by U.S. Highway 101 and indented with bays, coves, harbors and fishing towns. Many provide public fishing docks, jetties and piers. Here, anglers can enjoy catching varieties of saltwater perch, flounder, sole, rockfish, lingcod and salmon as well as productive crab potting.

In both states, the criteria for good "family" fishing, especially when youngsters are involved, is action. Kids rarely care what species of fish they catch, they just want to catch a bunch of fish without spending a lot of time between bites.

Selecting what species of fish to target is, in my experience, even more important than selecting a fishing hole. Interpret that to mean freshly- stocked trout lakes and ponds and panfish. There's nothing like a school of yellow perch, aggressive bluegills or smallmouth bass feasting on garden worms to hold young angler's interest.

What follows are a few top choices for your next fishing vacation.


Potholes Reservoir

This could be the ultimate family fishing destination.

Located south of Moses Lake about mid-way between Seattle and Spokane, 14,281-acre Potholes Reservoir, aka O'Sullivan Lake, has an excellent rainbow trout population, thanks to a net-pen rearing and release program at MarDon Resort. This big lake is best known for its kid-friendly warmwater fish such as bluegills, yellow perch, crappie, catfish, rock bass, lake whitefish, walleyes, carp, lunker largemouths and aggressive smallmouth bass.

Much of the lake is surrounded by public or accessible land. A state park and campground is on the west end, WDFW's 35,000-acre Desert Wildlife Area wraps around west and north ends, and the mile-long dam can be bank-fished. MarDon Resort, in partnership with public agencies, annually releases 50,000 trout, donates and maintains spawning habitat and hosts how-to programs. The resort's large fishing dock is a great place for families to bait-fish for trout and panfish.

Tent and RV camping is available at Potholes State Park and MarDon Resort. The resort has cottages, bait/tackle shop, restaurant, groceries, launching and fuel.

Along The Way

Just south of the dam is the WDFW Seep Lakes Wildlife Area and Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. Gravel roads (great for mountain biking) connect dozens of small trout and panfish lakes, wildlife-viewing areas, hiking trails, mesas and cliffs. North of the lake, Moses Lake Sand Dunes is a popular dirt bike and off road vehicle destination.

Leader Lake

If you are looking for a laid back, woodsy fishing weekend, consider Leader Lake, located off Highway 20 west of Okanogan. Leader is just 155 acres, surrounded by Loup Loup State Forest, with no development except for two primitive DNR campgrounds. The campgrounds include restrooms and small boat ramps. Leader is stocked with foot-long trout, but the lake's best feature is a good population of panfish, including crappie, bluegill and bass. Leader is open year-round and well known for May-June large bluegills. It's a perfect lake for the family tent, car-top boat, and casting bobbers and worms from the bank.

Along The Way

Stop at Winthrop on the North Cascades National Scenic Highway for a slice of Western culture.

Beaver Lake

Actually three small lakes connected by waterways, Beaver Lake is a laid-back family-fishing destination located on the Sammamish Plateau a short drive east from Seattle. It's planted with catchable-size rainbow trout several times a year and has a good population of largemouth bass and yellow perch.

WDFW infrequently stocks this 60-acre lake with rainbows measured by the pound. WDFW public access with boat ramp and toilets located near the southeast corner. Across the lake is Beaver Lake City Park, a 54-acre forested park with trails, restrooms, playground, picnic tables and shelter house. Perch and trout fishing is good most of the summer. This is a great place to watch a bobber dunk.

Along The Way

The surrounding area is loaded with summer events, parks and places to find good ice cream.

Eloika Lake

North of Spokane, in the foothills of the Selkirk Mountains, is Eloika Lake. This lake is a shallow and slender 630 or so acres and offers a shot at rainbow and brown trout, crappie, pumpkinseed panfish, yellow perch, lunker largemouth bass, some very large brown bullheads and possibly a pickerel.

Eloika averages only 9 feet deep and is perfect for dunking bait between lily pads from small boats and growing big largemouth bass. Five- to 8-pounders are not uncommon. The state access and boat ramp are at the southeast corner of the lake south of Gray's Landing. At mid-lake, Jerry's Landing Resort is open April to September. Jerry's has rental cabins, RV sites, camping with fire pits, lots of yard space and picnic tables. Rent a boat, buy a carton of worms and talk fishing with the resort staff. They keep track of what's biting and where.

Along The Way

Area attractions include mountain biking, hiking and spring turkey hunting in the national forests of the surrounding Selkirk Mountains. 


Henry Hagg Lake

Family fishing in Oregon got a big boost recently when Henry Hagg Lake, a 1,153-acre mixed species water just 25 miles south of Portland, was opened to year-round fishing. The centerpiece of large Scoggins Valley Park, Henry Hagg holds bass, trout, crappie, catfish and perch. The lake has abundant bank-fishing access and multiple small boat ramps. These waters produced Oregon's state-record smallmouth, at about 8 pounds, and the lake is regularly planted with trout, including rainbows weighing up to 12 pounds.

The lake is southwest of Forest Grove, off Highway 47. An ADA-accessible fishing dock, boat ramps, picnic areas and restrooms are available.

Along The Way

The surrounding park has more than 15 miles of hiking and biking trails and observation decks for wildlife and bird watching. There's an interpretive center and camping in Tillamook State Forest.

Rock Creek Reservoir

If you are looking for a pond stuffed with hungry panfish and stocked trout, check out Rock Creek Reservoir south of The Dalles. ODFW describes it as, "a good place to take the kids fishing for stocked trout and warmwater species with plenty of accessible shoreline and a well-shaded campground." There's ample bank-fishing for trout, bass and bluegills. Bring the canoe, cartopper or float tube as well.

Along The Way

Stop at Timberline Lodge high on volcanic Mount Hood. It's a national historic landmark from the 1930s, in a 6,000-foot elevation alpine setting just below Palmer Glacier.

Coffenbury Lake

Coffenbury is one of the most diverse family-fishing destinations in Oregon. Located in Fort Stevens State Park, just west of Astoria, 50-acre Coffenbury is stocked with big trout that are easily caught from platforms and banks, according to ODFW. And if the trout are off the bite, kids zoom in on the schools of perch, bluegills and bullheads. This narrow lakeis less than 9 feet deep and surrounded by a loop trail, several fishing docks and sand dunes.

Along The Way

The adjoining 4,300 acres of Fort Stevens State Park is worth exploring. The park bulges with history, hiking, biking, camping (yurts, tents, RVs and cabins), ocean beaches, razor clams, ship wreck remains, sand dunes, forests, playgrounds and the remnants of a 1865 fort with gun emplacements.

While we have highlighted a few of the top locations for a family-fishing vacation in the Northwest, there are many additional spots across Washington and Oregon that offer a quality outdoors experience close to home. Now it's time for you to get out and explore one or more of the region's many family-friendly destinations.

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