Discover South Central Washington

Sunrise on hillside at the Quilomene Wildlife Area Unit

Customer service staff in the Yakima Regional Office are available for walk-in service 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

The Columbia Basin, Ringold Springs, Naches, and Priest Rapids hatcheries will be open under normal business hours 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Counties served: Benton, Franklin, Kittitas, Yakima

Director: Mike Livingston

1701 South 24th Avenue
Yakima, WA 98902-5720

Email: TeamYakima@dfw.wa.gov

Telephone: 509-575-2740

Fax: 509-575-2474

February fishing tips and news

Ice fishing lakes

A woman stands on a frozen lake holding a fish
Photo courtesy of Tawney Jones

Several lakes remain frozen for ice fishing opportunities but as temperatures and conditions vary, anglers are advised to be extremely cautious before heading out the door.

Popular ice fishing locations include Dog Lake and Clear Lake off Highway 12 in Yakima County and 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. There are lots of ice fishing options in Grant County, with some of the most popular being Banks Lake, Moses Lake, and Potholes Reservoir.

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. A reminder that lakes can be dangerous this time of year when they are freezing, thawing, and re-freezing. 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 website.

Bass and walleye

Boy holds largemouth bass

Many sections of the Columbia and Snake rivers in south central Washington holds large populations of both walleye and smallmouth bass. 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 from the Snake River downstream to Badger Island and from McNary Dam downstream to Boardman and smallmouth bass can often be 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 yellow perch and walleye.

White sturgeon fishing

Fisherman on a boat holding a large white sturgeon using both hands
AJ Porter

Sturgeon fishing is limited to catch-and-release only in the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The harvest quota in John Day Pool (Lake Umatilla) was reached very early in 2023. River flows in the Columbia and Snake are typically at their lowest during the winter months which allows most anglers the opportunity to fish waters that they might deem too hazardous during the spring and summer.

Lake Wallula (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. Remember you must use one single point barbless hook when fishing for sturgeon and fishing at night is not allowed. Favorite baits are roll mop herring, salmon bellies, shad, and squid. Please review the Washington Sport Fishing Rules for additional restrictions on sturgeon fishing including the upstream section of the Hanford Reach.

Salmon and steelhead

The Columbia River above The Dalles Dam are closed to fishing for salmon or steelhead. Spring Chinook fisheries in this section of the Columbia River will open by emergency regulation. Please review the Washington Sport Fishing Rules and check the WDFW website for emergency regulations.

Lake whitefish

Whitefish

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. 28, in all open areas.  Check the WDFW fishing regulation pamphlet for whitefish gear rules.

Releasing salmon properly

Selective fisheries for hatchery-produced salmon and catch-and-release fisheries are increasingly important in providing recreational fishing opportunities around Washington. To ensure these salmon fisheries are successful long-term, it is vital that anglers do their part to comply with all regulations, especially how to properly release unmarked, undersized and out-of-season fish to improve their survival. Watch our YouTube video or read our guide to releasing salmon properly.

Boat on lake
Andy Walgamott Andy Walgamott

Boating safety

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission Boating Program reminds you to take a boater safety education course, if you haven’t already, to be prepared for the upcoming 2023 season.

In Washington, boaters who operate a vessel with a 15-horsepower engine or greater must carry a Boater Education Card to prove they passed an accredited boating safety education course.

Keep in mind that wearing a flotation device in, on or around water saves lives as drowning is one of the leading causes of fatalities especially among young children.

 

Photo of two boats anchored next to one another with anglers plunking

Charter/guide fishing tips

Booking a fishing trip of a lifetime can be a daunting task, from deciding what type of trip to finding the right captain and boat.

There’s a lot to cover but we’ve got some helpful tips and advice to make your adventure in Washington a wonderful day on the water! Click on the WDFW Medium for more information.

February hunting tips and news

A dog waits inside a duck blind

Waterfowl hunting

Youth, Veterans and Active Military can take part in a statewide waterfowl hunt on Feb. 4. This can be a quality experience for those who qualify as there are few hunters and birds aren’t harassed 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 during certain dates in a few Goose Management Areas. Hunters should check WDFW website for specific areas where hunting is allowed and other rules. Opportunities will mostly occur in the Tri-Cities and around 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, go to https://www.eregulations.com/washington/hunting/game-bird/migratory-game-bird-seasons.

Wild turkey hunting

Looking further down the calendar the statewide spring wild turkey hunting season begins is April 15 to May 31 for the general season, and a special youth only hunt takes places April 1-7. For details, go to WDFW regulations webpage.

Small game hunting

The statewide cottontail and snowshoe hare season is open through March 15. For details, go to WDFW small game regulation webpage.

Reporting your harvest

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. For details, go to https://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/requirements/harvest-reporting.

This was my first elk after 25 years of elk hunting and it came on the morning of my son's very first hunt. Needless to say, it was meant to be and created some special memories!
Mike Donahue

Big Game Hunting Pamphlet photo contest

This year’s Big Game Hunting Rules and Regulations photo contest theme is “Who hunts?” We are looking for photos of you, your friends, and family enjoying hunting in Washington. Submit your photos using the form below any time before Feb. 15. Winners will be announced later this spring. Visit the WDFW’s Big Game photo contest webpage.

Sign up for in-person hunter education

learning to shoot

The minimum age to take the all-online hunter education course has increased to 18. In 2020, we implemented an all-online hunter education course for students at least nine years old. Recognizing the importance and value of in-person and hands-on firearm safety instruction, WDFW’s goal has always been to move back to, or towards, in-person course delivery when it made sense to do so. WDFW is committed to offering as many in-person courses as we can. For more information, visit the Hunter Education webpage.

February wildlife viewing

Elk at Oak Creek Wildlife Area
Tony Sirgedas

Herds return to Oak Creek Wildlife Area

Winter feeding is underway at all Region 3 Big Game feeding areas. Elk and bighorn sheep descend on WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area, where visitors can watch them dine on alfalfa hay and pellets. Elk will most likely be fed through February, but bighorn sheep will often leave weather warms and south slopes open. For information on winter feeding at Oak Creek, there is a recorded message at 509-653-2390. There are typically some elk on the feed site all day, but the large numbers come in at the 1 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.

Great Backyard Bird Count

Birders look through binoculars in field

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.

Avian flu facts

Avian influenza “Bird Flu”

WDFW is still receiving many reports of avian influenza, also known as bird flu, across the state. Avian influenza occurs naturally among wild aquatic birds (ducks, geese, swans, gulls and terns, and shorebirds) and can infect poultry and other bird and animal species. The virus spreads among birds through saliva, nasal secretions, feces, and contaminated surfaces. If you encounter a sick or dead bird, do NOT touch or move it and report it right away. Attempting to nurse a bird back to health or transport it to a wildlife rehabilitator can spread the virus to areas where it didn’t exist before.
 
Common questions and answers regarding avian influenza- including what it is, the risk to humans (minimal but precautions should be taken), how to protect wildlife by preventing its’ spread, how to protect your domestic animals, and where we stand with the avian influenza outbreak in Washington- can be found in this blog post. Additional information can be found in this presentation WDFW veterinarian Dr. Katie Haman, DVM, MSc, recently made to a chapter of the North American Falconers Association.

Shed antlers

An antler in snow

Winter is a difficult time for deer and elk, and we recommend that serious shed hunters postpone until April. Collecting naturally shed deer and elk antlers is legal but there are some ethical considerations to keep in mind and a few places that are restricted or off-limits.

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.

View of a large flock of snow geese in flight over a body of water with light-snow powdered hills in the background

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 such as the McNary National Wildlife Refuge. 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 beginning to regain 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.

Bighorn sheep viewing

The best viewing opportunities are the Yakima River Canyon along Highway 821 and on Clemans Mountain. Bighorn sheep were present most mornings at Clemans Mountain but will leave if enough snow melts off the mountain.

Explore a birding trail near you

Find the best places for bird watching by exploring routes along the Great Washington State Birding Trail. The Sun and Sage Loop features 53 main sites to see mountain bluebirds, bald eagles, cedar waxwings, dark-eyed juncos, American white pelicans, and more.

Don’t feed deer and other wildlife

Raccoon caught eating bread on a porch
Allison D'Ambrosio

Winter is the hardest time for wild animals to survive and this winter is already proving to be harder than many even though it only “officially” started in late December. Many places in eastern, south central and north central Washington started the season with deep snow on the ground in November. This can take a toll on wildlife trying to get through until spring. While we understand that people want to help, please do not feed wildlife. It harms more than helps animals. Deer in particular aren’t adapted to digest many foods. Accustomed to digesting woody browse, they are unable to tolerate a regular diet of corn, apples, and hay. WDFW in the past has conducted necropsies (autopsies on animals) on deer that have revealed a full stomach of those items but indicated the animal starved to death because it didn’t get the proper nutrition it needed.

Past experience has shown that even agency sponsored emergency feeding programs are generally ineffective at reducing overall winter mortality, can negatively affect deer biology and behavior, and often create other undesirable conflicts. A good synopsis of the issues surrounding winter feeding of mule deer is found here. If you really want to help wildlife, please give them a lot of space this winter. This avoids forcing them to move, and stressing them, which uses energy that is in short supply in winter months. View this link to help us keep wildlife wild by following more tips.

Wild Washington Youth Education Program

Backyard Bird Count
Laura Rogers

If you have a youth artist in your family, there’s still time to submit their art to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Junior Duck Stamp (JDS) art contest. The program blends art and science and helps teach K-12 youth about wetland and waterfowl conservation. If you have a student who is interested, learn more about contest rules and eligibility.

The object of the contest is for students to engage with waterfowl and wetland conservation by drawing or painting a native North American duck, goose, or swan.  All entries must be postmarked or in-hand at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), by Feb. 15, 2023. Mail to: Junior Duck Stamp Contest, Ridgefield Refuge Complex, 28908 N.W. Main Avenue, P.O. Box 457, Ridgefield, WA 98642.

Teachers can also engage students in wetland education and conservation using the year-round youth and educator guide. To learn more, check out the full Junior Duck Stamp Conservation Education Curriculum.

Backyard wildlife activities

Small bluebird with deep blue plumage and white/tan breast perched on a small branch

Learn how to landscape for wildlife: Vegetation is key to attracting a variety of wildlife. Native plants provide the food, shelter, and nesting habitat for songbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other wildlife. You can use this extra time at home to map out how you’d like your property to look and figure out which plants would thrive where you live. Visit the Washington Native Plant Society’s website for resources.

Add a water source to your yard: Put in a birdbath, garden pond, or other source of water outside your home. A safe place to bathe and drink will act as a magnet to many animals. You can make a simple birdbath with things you probably already have. Visit the Audubon’s website for an easy do-it-yourself bird bath using an old cake pan or flower-pot tray.

Build a bird house or nest box: Add bird houses to your property, or better yet, try to leave snags (dead trees) if they don’t pose any risk. Cavity-nesting birds have been especially impacted by urban development. A bird house of the proper dimensions can substitute for snags where these birds used to nest. There are lots of easy instructions online to build your own bird house or nest box. Visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Backyard Birding webpage for resources.

Keep your cats and wild birds safe: Domestic cats can make great pets, but when they are allowed to roam outdoors, there can be serious consequences to local wildlife. Cats kill about 2.4 billion birds every year in the U.S. alone. Visit the American Bird Conservancy website for information on their Cats Indoors Program and learn how to keep pet cats and wild birds safe. You may even consider an outdoor enclosure for your cat.

Make a window cling to protect birds: Up to a billion birds die each year from flying into glass. You can help prevent that from happening at your house by making your own window clings using recycled plastic and puffy fabric paint. Check out this tutorial video from the Audubon Society.

Sherman Creek Wildlife Area

Recreate Responsibly

As more folks head outdoors for winter activities, it is wise to #RecreateResponsibly for potential hazards and dangers.

Here are more tips on staying safe right now:

Plan ahead

  • Tell someone where you're going and when you expect to be home. Travel with a buddy when possible.
  • Always carry survival gear with you. The 10 Essentials include clothing, shelter, and food in case you must spend the night outside.
  • Have a reliable map and compass skills to traverse snow-covered trails. These can be challenging to follow, particularly in backcountry areas.
  • While electronic locators and communication can be helpful, they cannot be always be relied upon while in the backcountry.

February Habitat at Home

Habitat at Home

Backyard Bird Count
Laura Rogers

Grab your binoculars and cell phones and get ready for the Great Backyard Bird Count! Every February folks around the world come together to count their local birds, wherever they live or happen to be. This fun, free, program is accessible to everyone.

How it works: Pick a spot to for watch birds (at home, in your community, on your vacation; any place will work); watch or listen for birds for 15 minutes or more, at least once between Feb. 17-20; make note of the species you see or hear (if you don’t know, take notes and ID them later using the provided resources); and count ALL the birds you see or hear (make your best estimate of how many birds you saw of each species).

Pick a method that works for you and submit your count! If you are in the Seattle area, join WDFW and our partners at the Environmental Science Center’s Bird Fest at the Burien Community Center for some hands-on learning, bird walks, and more from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Feb. 18!

Share photos of your winter wildlife shelter project by tagging #HabitatAtHome or sharing photos with us on our website

Event calendar

Types of events

  • Key date
  • Community event
  • Public meeting
  • Commission meeting
  • Advisory group meeting

Meet your South Central Regional Director

Photograph of South Central Region Director, Mike Livingston
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.