Discover South Central Washington

Sunrise on hillside at the Quilomene Wildlife Area Unit

South Central - Region 3

Counties served
Benton, Franklin, Kittitas, Yakima
Office hours
Monday - Friday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. excluding legal holidays

1701 South 24th Avenue
Yakima, WA 98902-5720
United States

Mike Livingston

Fishing tips and news

Steelhead fishing on the Columbia River

Steelhead underwater
Photo by Ryan Hagerty, USFWS

The Columbia River is open for limited steelhead fishing from The Dalles Dam upstream to the Washington/Oregon border. See the recent update for details. The lower section of the Hanford Reach from the I-182 Bridge upstream to old Hanford townsite powerline is open for steelhead (with adipose and right ventral fin clip). Check the Washington Sport Fishing Rules and see the WDFW website for additional information including emergency regulations.

Releasing fish properly

Anglers contribute to the long-term success of fisheries by properly releasing unmarked, undersized, and out-of-season fish to improve their survival. Watch our YouTube video or read our guide to releasing salmon properly

Bass and walleye fishing

Many sections of the Columbia and Snake Rivers in south central Washington hold large walleye and smallmouth bass populations. Wintertime is usually a slow period for walleye compared to summer, but the ones caught are often larger. Ideal spots for winter walleye in the Tri-Cities area include the Snake River downstream to Badger Island and from McNary Dam downstream to Boardman. Smallmouth bass is often found in the mix.

There is no minimum size and no limit on the number of walleye, bass, or channel catfish anglers can keep while fishing in the Columbia and Snake rivers. Scooteney Reservoir southeast of Othello has a mix of bass, yellow perch, and walleye.

WDFW reminds people that boat ramps can be very icy and slick during the winter as water dripping off boat trailers often immediately freezes on the ramp. Be very cautious in launching and retrieving boats in icy conditions. It’s a good idea to bring chains for your vehicle, and/or a bucket or two of gravel to spread on the ramp to provide traction.

Ice fishing

Many area lakes remain frozen for ice fishing but as temperatures and conditions vary, please be extremely cautious on iced-over lakes.

Popular ice fishing locations include Dog Lake and Clear Lake off Highway 12 in Yakima County. Both should produce some decent size brook trout as well and possibly some rainbow trout from this year’s stocking. Closer to Yakima, North Elton Pond has rainbow trout. Scooteney Reservoir in Franklin County also holds a variety of warmwater species that can be targeted under the ice when conditions are safe to do so.

WDFW is not able to monitor ice depth so when fishing lakes with ice on them, please use extreme caution. Keep in mind that ice can be very hard to read and strong in some areas but weak in others. It is very hard to get out of a hole in the ice if someone falls in and once wet, the human body can shut down quickly from hypothermia. While ice safety can never be assured, do not go out onto a frozen lake unless the ice it at least four-inches thick. As much as nine inches may be needed to safely support snowmobiles or other vehicles. Other ice fishing safety tips and gear to consider include: use an auger or chainsaw to measure ice depth and make multiple holes to check as you work your way out to where you plan to fish; never fish alone; spread members of your party out to avoid too much weight on one area of ice; and bring a spare set of clothes just in case, and a game plan on how you will rescue someone if they do go in. To find out more on how to safely fish on an ice-covered lake, where to fish, and what equipment to use, go to the WDFW ice fishing webpage.

White sturgeon fishing

Fishing is limited to catch-and-release only and can be good at times to fish for sturgeon in sections of the Columbia and Snake rivers. McNary Reservoir is open year-round for sturgeon except for a winter closure from the Hanford townsite to Vernita Bridge but limited to catch-and-release only. Use one single point barbless hook when fishing for sturgeon. Fishing at night is not allowed. Please review the Washington Sport Fishing Rules for additional restrictions on sturgeon fishing including the upstream section of the Hanford Reach.

Lake Umatilla, John Day Dam to McNary Dam, opens for sturgeon on January 1. The daily limit is one. Only sturgeon with a fork length (tip of the snout to fork in the tail) between 43 and 54 inches can be retained. Check the WDFW website for in-season retention changes.

Whitefish fishing

The winter whitefish season is open in the Yakima River between Sunnyside Dam and 3,500 feet below Roza Dam; Roza Dam to Easton Dam; the lower Cle Elum River and the lower Naches River downstream of the confluence with the Tieton River. As in years past, the catch limit is 15 fish per day. The winter whitefish season closes Feb. 29 in all open areas. Check the WDFW fishing regulation pamphlet for whitefish gear rules. WDFW reminds people that shelf ice along the Yakima River can be dangerous to both people and pets. It can be very difficult to get back to the streambank if you or your pet falls in.

Sportsmen show

The Central Washington Sportsmen Show is February 23-25, 2024 in the Yakima Valley Sun Dome. If you can’t get outside, stay connected with us and many others by visiting the show.

Hunting opportunities and news


Youth, Veterans and Active Military can take part in a statewide waterfowl hunt on Feb. 3. This can be a quality experience for those who qualify as there are few hunters and birds aren’t hunted the week prior. A cold snap is predicted prior to the weekend. Birds should concentrate on water that remains open.

A snow goose late season hunt will occur this month from Feb 17-March 3rd in Goose Management Area 4. Hunters should check WDFW website for specific areas where hunting is allowed and other rules. Only White Geese may be taken. Opportunities will mostly occur around Tri-Cities, Moses Lake and Potholes reservoir. Scouting and private lands access will be key to consistent success. The geese will be migrating northward and typically, can be found in groups throughout February and March. For details, see the Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game Seasons and Rules pamphlet

Small game hunting

The statewide bobcat, fox, raccoon, cottontail and snowshoe hare seasons are open through March 15. For details, go to the WDFW small game regulation webpage. The bottomlands along the Yakima River hold good populations of cottontails.

Big game reports due

Mandatory hunter harvest reporting allows the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to better manage game species throughout the state and set permit levels for upcoming seasons. This in turn allows for more hunting opportunities. Hunters can file their reports by calling 877-945-3492 or online, starting with “ID and Birthdate” under Log-In. Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report. See Reporting your harvest for more information.

Big Game Hunting Pamphlet photo contest

This year’s Big Game Hunting Rules and Regulations photo contest theme is “Live big game animal.” We are looking for photos of live big game animals that you hunt.  Submit your photos using the form below any time before Feb. 15? Winners will be announced later this spring. Visit the Big Game photo contest webpage.

Sportsmen show

The Central Washington Sportsmen Show Show is February 23-25, 2024 in the Yakima Valley Sun Dome. If you can’t get outside, stay connected with us and many others by visiting the show.

Wildlife watching and recreation

Herds return to Oak Creek Wildlife Area

Elk feeding in snow with feeding truck in background
Photo by Jesse Sims

In winter, hungry elk and bighorn sheep descend on WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area. For information on viewing winter elk feeding at Oak Creek, there is a recorded message at 509-653-2390. Feeding starts once the animals show up in the area. There are typically some elk on the feed site all day, but the large numbers come in at the 1:30 p.m. feeding. A valid state Discover Pass or WDFW Vehicle Access Pass is required to park at the Wildlife Area. Visitors can purchase a One-Day Discover Pass at the wildlife area with cash or check once the feeding starts. Vehicle Access Passes are free with the purchase of certain fishing and hunting licenses.

Bighorn sheep viewing

The best viewing opportunities are the Yakima River Canyon along Highway 821 and most mornings on Clemans Mountain (along Hwy 410). Weather has been mild with little snow, and bighorn sheep are still mostly up high on the mountain. Trails up Waterworks Canyon are open and are good places to hike and look for sheep. They are not currently being fed at the Oak Creek bighorn sheep feed site at Clemans Mountain, however sheep may still be visible from the parking area. If you drive through the Yakima River Canyon you might watch for the frequently sighted mule deer, bald eagles, wild turkeys, coyotes, a variety of waterfowl, as well as Desert bighorn sheep.

Don’t feed wildlife

While WDFW conducts winter feeding under certain conditions, we generally discourage citizens from feeding deer, elk, and other wildlife species any time of year because of the potential for harm. Winter feeding of elk at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area is a special situation to keep the animals from causing damage to agricultural crops and private property. This video talks more about how the feeding of these elk came about and why it is important to both the elk and the community of people living near them.

Many well-meaning Washington residents enjoy feeding deer and other wildlife in their yards. However, this is a danger to wildlife health. Feeding wildlife concentrates animals where they can spread disease to one another, be hit by vehicles, become habituated to humans, increase their vulnerability to predators, or be physically harmed by foods they wouldn’t normally eat in the wild. You can help wildlife by NOT feeding them. Learn more by visiting our wildlife feeding page.

Shed antlers

January is a difficult time for wintering deer and elk, and we recommend that shed hunters collecting naturally shed deer and elk antlers postpone until April.  Winter closures are in effect Dec. 15 – May 1 in areas surrounding feed sites at the Oak Creek, Wenas, and L.T. Murray Wildlife Areas. This includes strict closures for all access including shed hunting. The easiest antler hunting is, of course, where deer or elk concentrate in the winter. But if many antler hunters descend on that area before wintering animals have left, the disturbance can threaten their survival at the harshest time of year. Public lands across the state may have rules, so antler hunters should do their homework before going afield. And secure permission from private landowners before entering their properties.

Migrating birds

February is typically the time when migrating ducks and geese move through Washington from far-north locations seeking open water and warmer temperatures. The spectacle of waterfowl can be amazing when bad weather concentrates large numbers of birds in areas of open water. You can find scoters and other uncommon waterfowl species on larger rivers and waterways, as well as wintering gulls which have arrived in the region and can provide surprises for those with patience and skill in bird ID. Drake ducks are in breeding plumages and numbers of snow and white-fronted geese will build this month along with familiar Canada geese. The viewing and photography blind at the Headquarters of the McNary National Wildlife Refuge near Burbank is a great place to watch them dabble and preen. Look out for winter finches to appear at conifers and feeders. If you have never tried before, now is a great time to start putting out bird seed or suet feeders. Learn more about creating a wildlife friendly space.

Great Backyard Bird Count 

Make a difference by reporting your bird sightings from Feb. 17-20 when the world comes together for the love of birds during this global event, which creates a snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds. Participating is easy, fun to do alone or with others, and can be done anywhere you find birds. All you need to do is decide where to watch birds for 15 minutes or more, at least once over the four days of the event. To learn more about the event and how to submit counts visit the Great Backyard Bird Count website.

McNary Winter Birds Festival

The McNary National Wildlife Refuge will host their annual Winter Birds Festival on Saturday Feb 24th from 9-1pm. See Friends of McNary National Wildlife Refuge for more information on talks, guided nature walks, and activities for kids and adults.

Conserving species and habitats

Extreme cold

In extreme cold, shelter is essential for wildlife. Leave your leaves on the ground or push off paths into natural spaces. Leaves, sticks, logs, and rock piles are life-saving cover for many of the smallest wildlife species, such as insects, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. In winter, stay out of caves and other places where wildlife might be hibernating to help them preserve essential energy. 

Meet your Regional Director - Mike Livingston

Photograph of South Central Region Director, Mike Livingston
Photo by WDFW
Mike Livingston, South
Central Region Director

Mike Livingston, the South Central Regional Director (Region 3) grew up fishing, hunting and playing in the forests of southeast Michigan. He received a bachelor’s degree in Conservation from Northern Michigan University, a bachelor’s degree in Fish and Wildlife Management from Michigan State University and a master’s in Wildlife Science from New Mexico State University.

Since 1996 Mike has worked in eastern Washington and held wildlife biologist positions with the Army’s Yakima Training Center, the Yakama Nation, and WDFW as District Wildlife Biologist in the Tri-Cities. In 2012, he was promoted to his current position as WDFW’s Region 3 Director. As Regional Director, he oversees operations in the region and gets to work on big collaborative conservation projects such as the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. When not working, you can often find him outside with his: family, friends, dog, shotgun, fishing rod, and/or backpack.