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  Great Washington Getaways Home  |  Lyons Ferry / Tucannon River
Photo: Scenic shot of the Snake River, Washington.
Some of the best summer family fishing opportunities can be found on the Snake (above) and Tucannon rivers.
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  W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area
  Umatilla National Forest
  Lyons Ferry Fish Hatchery
  Lyons Ferry Marina and RV Park
  Palouse Falls State Park
  Lewis and Clark Trail State Park
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A tale of two fisheries: The Tucannon and Snake rivers
Photo: Man holding a Lyons Ferry walleye
A variety of species, including smallmouth bass, can be caught in the region. Photo by Melinda Hawes
In Southeast Washington, families searching for camping and great fishing need look no further than the diverse opportunities offered by the upper Tucannon River and the stretch of the Snake River where the two rivers meet near Lyons Ferry. These waters contrast dramatically in terms of size, fishing tactics, and target species, but they share the distinction of being two of Southeast Washington’s best summertime family fisheries, as well as providing excellent steelhead fisheries during the fall and winter.

The small, swift Tucannon features good angling for trout and abundant camping in the W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area, in the Umatilla National Forest to the south, and in developed campgrounds and resorts.

The Snake River between Little Goose Dam and Lyons Ferry Fish Hatchery is one of the state’s most diverse fisheries. There are numerous tent and RV camping options in the area. These include several campgrounds at Lyons Ferry Marina, and US Army Corps of Engineers access sites at both Texas Rapids (below Little Goose Dam) and Bryan’s Landing (on the south shore upstream of Little Goose Dam). Also, Palouse Falls and Lewis and Clark Trail state parks are nearby and feature stunning scenery, camping, and links to local history. Palouse Falls has 10 primitive campsites, available on a first-come, first-served basis. Lewis and Clark Trail, near Dayton, also is a first-come, first served park (no reservations taken) and offers more upscale camping, accommodating both tents and RVs. (When considering camping at a state park, be sure to check to see if you need to make a reservation to reserve your campsite. Only a few state parks offer first-come, first-served camping.)

Lewis and Clark Trail also has two group camps for which reservations are required. The day use area at Lyons Ferry Park at the mouth of the Palouse hosts swimming and picnic areas available to the public, while the fish viewing visitor center at Little Goose Dam is a great place for the public to watch salmon, steelhead and other species of fish passing upstream through the fish ladder. 

Upper Tucannon: Small, wild and fishy

The Tucannon River starts high and cold in the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness of Southeast Washington’s Blue Mountains and flows northward to its confluence with the Snake. The character of this small salmon, trout, and steelhead stream changes from a steep, woody mountain stream on the public lands to a meandering river along the private lands towards the mouth. As the river leaves the Blue Mountains and its foothills, ponderosa pine and Douglas fir gradually give way to brushy draws, open hillsides, and an alder- and cottonwood-lined river along irrigated farmlands.

Photo: Woman holding a large Lyons Ferry walleye
An angler with a large walleye caught on the Snake River. Photo by Pat Hawes

Rio Grande wild turkeys, whitetail and mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes, cougars, black bears, upland birds, and forest grouse draw hunters to the area in droves each fall. These and other species – including skunks, raccoons, badgers, mink, and weasels – can also be observed year-round, especially in the morning and evening. Birdwatchers flock to the Tucannon for its abundant species during migrations in spring and fall, but also in summer to view the diversity of colorful nesting songbirds.

The shorelines along much of the river’s middle and lower stretches are privately owned, and in some areas the river banks are choked with blackberry vines. Upstream, however, the river is largely free from brambles and access becomes easier. The WDFW Wooten Wildlife Area has 10 camping areas relatively near the river equipped with outhouses and fire rings. Several also have picnic tables.

Wooten is also very popular for its eight man-made lakes, which are heavily stocked with rainbow trout during spring and early summer. These ponds also offer peaceful, shoreline-only fishing from March through October.

Big Four Lake is the sole fly fishing-only water in southeast Washington, but anglers must wade the Tucannon River to reach it. Higher in the mountains, the Umatilla National Forest straddles Washington and Oregon and features four rental cabins, 15 campgrounds, many dispersed camping spots, and 360 miles of hiking trails. 

The Wooten Environmental Learning Center, located along the upper Tucannon River, provides group camping and outdoors education for many area schools and groups. It is operated by Washington State Parks and must be reserved well in advance. The Tucannon Fish Hatchery, which provides many of the rainbow trout for the nearby lakes, as well as salmon and steelhead for release into the Tucannon River, is near Rainbow Lake on the Wooten Wildlife Area. It is open for visitors during most daylight hours.

The upper Tucannon, like most mountain streams in summer, is best approached with a good coating of bug repellent and sunscreen. The river harbors abundant redband rainbows, juvenile Chinook and steelhead, and a few mountain whitefish. It also contains protected bull trout, which may not be pursued and must be released carefully and quickly without being removed from the water. Many anglers also choose to release their rainbows to extend their fishing experiences, although two rainbow trout of at least 8 inches may be retained under the regulations in force when this was written. 

Anglers must use “selective gear” on the upper Tucannon (artificial lures with single, barbless hooks, and no bait) whether keeping or releasing fish upstream of Turner Road Bridge at Marengo. Anglers drifting flies can comply with this regulation by fully pinching down or filing off barbs. Small caddis imitations, small golden stoneflies, pale morning dun mayflies, ants, small grasshoppers, and beetles represent the best dry fly options. Popular wet flies include Prince Nymphs, Copper Johns, stonefly nymphs, and small streamers. All kinds of small, standard trout lures such as spinners, spoons, jigs, and minnows also work very well on the Tucannon.

Customizing treble-hooked lures is as easy as replacing trebles with a single siwash hook one or two sizes larger than the treble. (Just remember to pinch closed the new hook’s eye.) Also consider using split rings or a small barrel swivel to customize your own single-hook rigs. Be prepared to do a little bushwhacking in places, and to lose occasional lures and flies due to the brushy, rocky river corridor.

Snake River at Lyons Ferry: Big river, diverse fishery

The lower Snake fishery couldn’t be much more different from the intimate Tucannon. Whereas you can throw a stone across the latter at its widest point, the former is a huge body of water best fished with a boat (although shore fishing opportunities are abundant). The river can be extremely windy, but summer is generally the calmest time of year, providing reliable boating access to the walleye, smallmouth bass and channel catfish (no bag limit for any of three) in this stretch of the Snake. Anglers can also fish for very large, ancient white sturgeon, as well as seasonally for large Chinook salmon and steelhead returning from the ocean (check the fishing pamphlet, and emergency fishing regulations.

From Little Goose Dam to about a mile above the Texas Rapids boat launch, the river’s main channel pushes along the north shoreline. Walleye and smallmouth orient to the current seam in this stretch, holding in the gentle moving water on the current’s edge and waiting to rush out into the main current to grab prey. Look for them in 18 to 24 feet of water on the downhill slope into the river channel, deeper during bright, midday conditions. The humps in front of the Tucannon River mouth also hold fish, as does the mouth of the Palouse River and the shoreline below the Lyons Ferry Fish Hatchery. Trolling down- or upstream with deep-diving crankbaits is popular, as is trolling bottom bouncers followed by spinners or Smile blades and worm harnesses. Fluorescent colors (oranges, chartreuses, yellows, and reds), greens, motor oils, and purples are good starting points.

Photo: Woman on boat holding a large steelhead caught while fishing the Snake River, Washington.
Fishing for steelhead on the Snake River picks up in the Fall. Photo by Jeff Holmes

Fluorescent and metallic greens and reds are popular crankbait colors for their ability to take steelhead, salmon, and channel catfish along with smallmouth and walleye. In order to legally fish for and retain hatchery steelhead and salmon during open seasons, hooks must be barbless, even if your primary target is walleye or smallmouth.

Steelhead and fall chinook salmon fishing picks up in the fall when cool nights drop water temperatures, but anglers pursuing warmwater species in late summer may also encounter these anadromous salmonids. The area near Lyons Ferry Hatchery, at the mouth of the Tucannon River, and below Little Goose Dam provides popular salmon and steelhead opportunities. Steelhead fishing occurs during fall and winter, and up to 40-pound fall chinook can be caught during September and October. Spring chinook fishing can be very good just below Little Goose Dam during May and early June. Watch for emergency fishing regulations to signal when the spring and fall chinook fisheries are open, because these fisheries are currently not listed in the fishing rules pamphlet.

For more insight into salmon and steelhead abundance, check Washington’s sportfishing rule pamphlet, and watch the dam counts on the Fish Passage Center website to determine how many fish are moving upriver between the Snake River’s Lower Monumental and Little Goose dams.