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The Weekender Report
The latest in fish and wildlife recreational opportunities across Washington State

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January 2015

(This document is updated periodically throughout the month to reflect current rules and opportunities. Please download the latest copy before heading out! Last updated January 6, 2014)

Contact: (Fish) 360-902-2700
                (Wildlife) 360-902-2515

Brace for winter and enjoy steelhead,
razor clams, views of wintering wildlife

For Washingtonians, the start of the new year is prime time to hunt for ducks and geese, fish for hatchery-reared steelhead and enjoy the annual spectacle of bald eagles, snow geese, elk, big-horn sheep and other wintering wildlife.

Winter storms are good news – up to a point – for waterfowl hunters, who welcome the surge of ducks and geese that comes with wet, blustery weather. Success rates for waterfowl hunters typically pick up when storms roll in.

“So far this season, waterfowl hunters have done well thanks to a series of storms that have blown through,” said Dave Ware, game manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “That should continue into January, when more wet and windy weather is expected.”

But winter weather is an important consideration in other outdoor activities as well. Ice fishing is a dicey proposition in most parts of the state and heavy rains can render a river “unfishable” – even dangerous – virtually overnight.

“Preparation is essential for any outdoor activity, especially in winter,” said Mike Cenci, deputy chief of enforcement for WDFW. “Check the weather conditions, river conditions and road conditions – and let people know where you’re going before you head out.”

Good advice for those planning to dig razor clams on ocean beaches over the New Year’s weekend. The dig gets under way Dec. 31 and runs through Jan. 7 at select ocean beaches. More information on those digs is available on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/current.html.

January is also a great time to fish for hatchery-reared steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula, squid in Puget Sound and whitefish in the Yakima, Naches and Cle Elum rivers.

Meanwhile, WDFW is reminding big-game hunters and Puget Sound sport crabbers that deadlines for reporting their harvest in 2014 are drawing near. Hunters have until midnight Jan. 31 to report their success in hunting deer, elk, black bear, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and turkey during the past year. Those who file their reports by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for one of five deer permits or four elk permits. Sport crabbers have through Feb. 1 to report their catch during the winter season.

For more information about the full array of fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing available over the next month, see the Weekender Regional Reports posted on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/weekender/. These reports are updated throughout the month to provide current information about recreational opportunities around the state.

North Puget Sound
(Island, King, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties)

Fishing: Winter has arrived, and with it come opportunities to hook blackmouth salmon in Puget Sound and steelhead in area rivers.

The San Juan Islands traditionally reward salmon fishers with some of the highest catches of blackmouth salmon during winter months. There or elsewhere, it’s always advisable to check Puget Sound creel reports on WDFW’s website to see where the fish are biting. Samplers collect the information each week at fishing access sites throughout the Sound.

Waters open for salmon fishing throughout January include marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner), and Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton). Anglers fishing those marine areas have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook salmon.

Anglers fishing Edmonds Fishing Pier in Marine Area 9 have a two-salmon limit with only one marked or unmarked chinook allowed. The rest of Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) opens for salmon fishing Jan. 16, with a two-salmon daily limit, but anglers must release wild chinook salmon.

Anglers support the blackmouth winter chinook fishery through their license purchase, a portion of which goes to the Puget Sound Recreational Fisheries Enhancement Fund. The fund currently supports a variety of recreational fishing opportunities through the release of more than one million yearling and almost nine million sub-yearling chinook each year.

In freshwater, the Nisqually River is open to fishing for chum and coho salmon through the end of the month.

Several rivers are also open for hatchery steelhead fishing — including the Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish, Skykomish, Snoqualmie and Green rivers.

The limit for most of these rivers is two hatchery steelhead, however the limit has increased to three on the Cascade from the Rockport-Cascade Road downstream to the mouth.

Anglers should find opportunities to land bright fish through the month, said Bob Leland, steelhead program manager for WDFW. For details on recent rule changes in effect for Whatcom Creek, the Nooksack River, Tokul Creek and the Cascade River see WDFW’s freshwater rule change page. Be sure to also check the fishing pamphlet for area and date restrictions on steelhead fishing.

Winter is also prime time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. Good spots include the Elliott Bay Pier in Seattle and the Edmonds Pier. More information is available on the department’s squid fishing webpage. Information on fishing piers is available on WDFW's website.

The Puget Sound crab fishery closes Dec. 31 and crabbers are reminded that they are required to report their winter catch to WDFW by Feb. 1. Reports are due for the winter season, whether or not crabbers actually fished or caught Dungeness crab.

To submit catch reports, crabbers may send their catch record card to WDFW by mail or file their reports through the department’s website. The mailing address is WDFW Fish Program Card Report Card Office, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s catch record card webpage.

Hunting: Most big-game hunts in the region will be closed by the start of January, although waterfowl hunters still have time to bag ducks and geese. Waterfowl hunters, who have through Jan. 25 to hunt ducks and some species of geese in the region, should check the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet for details. 

The department recently canceled a scheduled January brant goose hunting season, after counts of the birds in Skagit County indicated numbers were below the level needed for the hunt to proceed. For more details, see this news release.

As predicted, ducks have been arriving from the north in large numbers, contributing to hunters’ success in the field. Unfortunately, it appears that some of those birds are carrying a form of avian flu that can be deadly to domestic poultry.

Although the virus poses no apparent threat to human health or wild bird populations, WDFW is working with other state and federal agencies to reduce risks to domestic chickens and turkeys. For a start, the department asks that anyone who sees a wild bird that is sick or dead report their observations at 1-800-606-8768.

In addition, field staff will seek hunters’ permission to collect samples from birds they have harvested to test for the disease. Swab sampling will be conducted in several areas of western Washington, including Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties.

“The sampling procedure takes less than a minute per bird, and will help us determine the prevalence of the disease in wild birds,” said Don Kraege, WDFW waterfowl section manager, noting that participation in the tests is voluntary. For more information on avian influenza, see the department’s website.

Meanwhile, hunters who file their annual report by Jan 10 on hunting activities for black bear, deer, elk or turkey have a chance to win one of nine 2015 special hunting permits. Those who meet the deadline will be included in a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. The permits will be valid from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, 2015.

To qualify for the drawing, hunters must submit a report to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for each black bear, deer, elk or turkey tag they purchased and for each special hunting permit they received in 2014.

All hunters, whether successful or not, are required to submit hunting reports for those species by Jan. 31. Failure to meet the deadline can result in a $10 fine, payable before a hunter can purchase a 2015 license.

Hunt reports may be filed by phone at (877) 945-3492 or on the WDFW website. Hunters should be prepared to note the game management unit they hunted and their individual WILD identification number, which is printed on license documents. Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.

More information the WDFW’s incentive permit drawing is available on page 17 of the 2014-15 Big Game Hunting pamphlet.

Wildlife viewing: The Audubon Society continues to compile bird sightings from the 115th annual Christmas Bird Count through Jan 5. This compilation of sightings provides important information about bird populations, in Washington and throughout the Americas. For more information on the annual bird count, check the Audubon’s website.

Keeping a list of birds viewed each year is also a personal endeavor, and a common practice among birders, veterans and novices alike. Some birders record their sightings in journals, others on computer software programs. Some keep track in their field guides where and when they saw each species. The Washington Ornithological Society (WOS) offers a wealth of information on birds and birding, including a checklist available on its website.

Birders along the Skagit River shouldn’t have any trouble marking the bald eagle box on their checklist. January is a great time to see the raptors wintering in the area. Each winter, hundreds of the eagles spend December and January along the river, where the carcasses of spawned salmon provide a feast for the birds. After a few weeks of dining, the eagles head north to their summer homes in Alaska and British Columbia.

Birders in the region may also want to check out the flocks of snow geese wintering in the Skagit Valley. Thousands of snow geese congregate in the Skagit Valley each winter, and can be found in the area from mid-October through early May. A great place to view the birds is at the Fir Island Farms Reserve Unit of WDFW’s Skagit Wildlife Area. For more information on the Fir Island Farms Reserve Unit, visit WDFW’s website.

Finally, birdwatchers in the Pacific Northwest have a new online tool for identifying birds, reporting their sightings, and contributing to conservation efforts throughout the region. It’s called “eBird Northwest,” and it provides weekly articles with the latest bird news, local hotspots and rare sightings, festivals and special count dates, identification help and opportunities to participate in conservation projects.

South Sound/Olympic Peninsula
(Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kitsap, Mason, Pierce, Thurston and Pacific counties)

Fishing: Anglers can choose between steelhead fishing in the region’s coastal rivers or salmon fishing in areas of Puget Sound in January. Clam diggers will have ample opportunity to fill their buckets during several openings on Washington’s beaches.

Diggers can ring in the New Year with a bucket of razor clams during a dig that begins Dec. 31 and runs through Jan. 7. WDFW approved the upcoming opening after marine toxin tests showed the clams are safe to eat.

Digging days and evening tides during the upcoming opening are:

  • Dec. 31, 2014, Wednesday, 3:05 p.m., 0.6 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • Jan. 1, 2015, Thursday; 4:01 p.m., 0.2 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • Jan. 2, Friday; 4:49 p.m., -0.2 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • Jan. 3, Saturday; 5:32 p.m., -0.5 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • Jan. 4, Sunday; 6:12 p.m., -0.5 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • Jan. 5, Monday; 6:48 p.m., -0.5 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • Jan. 6, Tuesday; 7:23 p.m., -0.3 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • Jan. 7, Wednesday; 7:57 p.m., -0.1 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors

Digs also are tentatively scheduled to begin in mid and late January. The list of proposed digs and additional information about razor clam digging are posted on WDFW’s razor clam webpage.

December and January are typically great months for hatchery steelhead fishing on the north coastal rivers. Anglers fishing the Quillayute and portions of the Bogachiel, Calawah, Hoh, and Sol Duc rivers have a daily limit of three hatchery steelhead. Information on weekly steelhead catches in the Quillayute River system and the Hoh River is available on WDFW’s website.

South coastal rivers also are an option for hatchery steelhead fishing in January. Anglers fishing the Humptulips, Chehalis, Wynoochee and Satsop rivers have a daily limit of two hatchery steelhead; the same is true when fishing the Willapa Bay tributaries.

Freshwater anglers looking to hook salmon also have opportunities in January. Anglers can find late-run coho salmon in some of the region’s rivers, including the Chehalis, Satsop, Willapa and Naselle rivers.

On Puget Sound, Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound) remains open for salmon. Anglers have a daily combined limit of two salmon but must release wild chinook. Those anglers who have a two-pole endorsement can fish with two poles.

Anglers should be aware that salmon fisheries in marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) and 12 (Hood Canal) are closed in January.

In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Marine Area 6 (Eastern Strait) remains open for salmon through April 10. Anglers fishing Marine Area 6 have a daily limit of two salmon, but must release wild chinook. Marine Area 5 (Seiku) is closed to salmon fishing.

Before heading out, anglers should check WDFW’s sportfishing regulations pamphlet for details.

Anglers can also check creel reports for information on catch and effort in Puget Sound. Recreational fishery samplers with WDFW collect the information each week at fishing access sites throughout Puget Sound.

The Puget Sound crab fishery closed Dec. 31 and crabbers are reminded that they are required to report their winter catch to WDFW by Feb. 1. Reports are due for the winter season, whether or not crabbers actually fished or caught Dungeness crab.

To submit catch reports, crabbers may send their catch record card to WDFW by mail or file their reports through the department’s website. The mailing address is WDFW Fish Program Card Report Card Office, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s catch record card webpage.

Hunting: Although most big game hunts have come to close, hunting continues in January for waterfowl and upland game.

Waterfowl hunters have through Jan. 25 to hunt ducks in the region. Goose hunts in Goose Management Area 3 also are open seven days a week through Jan. 25. However, hunts in goose management area 2B (Pacific County) are limited to Saturdays and Wednesdays only through Jan. 17.

Some of the best waterfowl hunting in Thurston County is near the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge and near Henderson, Budd and Eld Inlets. The Centralia Mine in Lewis County and inlets close to the western islands of Pierce County also offer good waterfowl hunting opportunities.

In Pacific and Grays Harbor counties, both geese and ducks tend to concentrate in the Willapa and Chehalis river valleys while ducks also can be found near Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor.

As predicted, ducks have been arriving in large numbers throughout the region, contributing to hunters’ success in the field. Unfortunately, it appears that some of those birds are carrying a form of avian flu that can be deadly to domestic poultry.

Although the virus poses no apparent threat to human health or wild bird populations, WDFW is working with other state and federal agencies to reduce risks to domestic chickens and turkeys. For a start, the department asks that anyone who sees a wild bird that is sick or dead report their observations at 1-800-606-8768.

In addition, field staff will seek hunters’ permission to collect samples from birds they have harvested to test for the disease. The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is one of several focus areas for testing.

“The sampling procedure takes less than a minute per bird, and will help us determine the prevalence of the disease in wild birds,” said Don Kraege, WDFW waterfowl section manager, noting that participation in the tests is voluntary. For more information on avian influenza, see the department’s website.

Meanwhile, hunting seasons for cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare continue through March 15. Snowshoe hare are readily observed along forested roads in the western half of District 16 (Clallam and west Jefferson counties). The opportunities for best cottontail rabbit hunting in western Washington occurs in District 11, where rabbits are prolific in the shrub and grasslands of Thurston and Pierce counties.

Before heading out, hunters should check the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet for details. Also, area-by-area summaries of the hunting prospects are posted on WDFW’s hunting prospects webpage.

As noted on page 17 of the Big Game Hunting pamphlet, Jan. 31 is the deadline for hunters to report their hunting activity for each special permit acquired and each deer, elk, bear, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and turkey tag purchased in 2014. Those who do not meet the deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can buy a license next year. Those who report by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for one of nine special elk or deer permits.

Wildlife watching: The Audubon Society continues to compile bird sightings from the annual Christmas Bird Count, which comes to a close in early January. For more information, check the Audubon’s website.

This compilation of sightings provides important information about bird populations, in Washington and throughout the Americas. But keeping a list of birds seen throughout each year is also a personal endeavor, a common practice among birders, veterans and novices alike. The Washington Ornithological Society offers a wealth of information on birds and birding, including a checklist available on its website.
 
Birders can get started on their checklists by visiting the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, on the Nisqually River Delta in southern Puget Sound, offers 3,000 acres of salt and freshwater marshes, grasslands, riparian, and mixed forest habitats that provide resting and nesting areas for migratory waterfowl, songbirds, raptors, and wading birds.

Outdoor adventures such as hiking or snowshoeing are great opportunities for wildlife watching. Ring in the New Year on a guided hike at state park in the region. Washington State Parks is offering hikes Jan. 1 at several parks, including Cape Disappointment, Fort Worden, Griffith-Priday, Millersylvania and Lake Sylvia. Check the events webpage for details on each hike.

Rangers at Olympic National Park are offering guided snowshoe walks at Hurricane Ridge on weekends and holiday Mondays through March 29. The walks, which cover about 1.5 miles, are being offered in conjunction with Discover Your Northwest. A $5 donation is requested. A signup sheet is available at Hurricane Ridge about 30 minutes prior to the 2 p.m. walks. Check out the park’s website for more information.

Olympic National Park’s winter speaker series continues Jan. 13. A park ecologist will explain efforts to restore vegetation at the Lake Aldwell and Lake Mills reservoirs after dams were removed. The monthly talk, which is open to the public, begins at 7 p.m. at the park’s visitor center, 3002 Mt. Angeles Road, Port Angeles. Check out the park’s newspaper for the full schedule of speakers.   

Southwest Washington
(Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat, Lewis, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties)

Fishing:  Winter steelhead are still the name of the game for many anglers in the lower Columbia River Basin, although several other fisheries are beginning to compete for their attention. Starting Jan. 1, sturgeon retention is allowed seven days a week from Bonneville Dam upstream to McNary Dam, and 45,000 freshly planted rainbow trout will be available this month in 14 lakes around the region.

The Cowlitz River is currently the best bet for steelhead, and several other area rivers are also producing fish, said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The Lewis, Kalama, Grays, Washougal, Elochoman rivers – and Salmon Creek in Clark County – can also make a steelheader’s day in January, he said.

“As usual, river conditions basically determine success at this time of year,” Hymer said. “Most anglers do best when water levels are rising or dropping. It’s a lot harder to catch steelhead in the peaks and troughs.”

The daily limit for steelhead on all area rivers is two marked, hatchery-reared fish. Any steelhead with an intact adipose fin must be released. Barbless hooks are required.

Anglers should also be aware that Dec. 31 is the last day to fish for steelhead in Mill Creek, a tributary of the Cowlitz River. It is also the last day to catch salmon in the Elochoman, Grays (including West Fork), Tilton and Washougal rivers, or on the mainstem Columbia from the I-5 Bridge upstream to the Hwy. 395 Bridge at Pasco. The same is true for salmon fishing on Drano and Mayfield lakes.

Starting Jan. 1, anglers may retain up to two hatchery adult chinook salmon per day on the mainstem Columbia downstream from the I-5 Bridge, and in the lower Cowlitz River and Deep River. On the Lewis and Kalama rivers, the daily limit is one hatchery adult chinook per day.

Although the popular spring chinook run isn’t expected to begin in earnest until March, some often start catching early-arriving fish by late January or early February.

“It’s good to keep the chinook regulations in mind, even if you’re fishing for steelhead,” Hymer said. “Somebody has to catch the first springer of the year, and it could be you.”

Fishery managers recently released preliminary forecasts of Columbia River salmon returns for 2015, predicting an upriver run of 232,500 adult spring chinook. If that prediction is correct, the coming year’s springer returns will be similar to those in 2014, and the 6th largest since 1979.

As for summer chinook, the forecast of 73,000 fish is also virtually the same as last year’s actual return. However, the projected return of 394,000 sockeye salmon in 2015 is just over half of last year’s record run of 645,100 fish.

Rather catch sturgeon? Starting Jan. 1, retention fishing for white sturgeon opens seven days a week in the Bonneville Pool and its tributaries. Anglers can retain one white sturgeon measuring 38 inches to 54 inches long (fork length) per day. State fishery managers anticipate re-opening Bonneville Pool for a summer retention season during June 2015.

Anglers should be aware that a sturgeon research program may still be ongoing in Bonneville Pool in early January. Tribal fishers will be deploying gillnets in designated areas to collect and tag white sturgeon for multi-agency stock assessment work.

Anglers can also retain sturgeon starting Jan. 1 from The Dalles Dam upriver to McNary Dam, including adjoining tributaries. The daily catch limit is one white sturgeon measuring 43 inches to 54 inches (fork length) until harvest guidelines are reached.

Sturgeon fishing remains closed below Bonneville Dam, but catch-and-release fishing is open there and in areas open to retention fishing.

Another option is to head for a local lake and catch some trout. From December through January, WDFW expects to plant near 45,000 catchable sized rainbows in 14 lakes and reservoirs around the region. Those trout were raised at state hatcheries in Goldendale and Vancouver with the intent of providing winter fishing opportunities in the southwest region, said John Weinheimer, WDFW District 9 Fish Biologist.

“We want to give area anglers a chance to get outdoors in the wintertime and catch some fish,” Weinheimer said. “All of these waters can be fished from shore, so you don’t need a boat and a lot of gear to get in on the action.” He suggests fishing mid-day, when the water warms up, the light is good, and the fish are on the bite.

Weather and road conditions allowing, WDFW plans to stock catchable-size rainbows in Fort Borst Park Pond (1,500) in Lewis County and Silver Lake (3,000), Sacajawea Lake (2,500), Horseshoe Lake (2,400) and Kress Lake (2,000) in Cowlitz County.

Lakes receiving catchable-size trout are Battleground Lake (8,500), Klineline Pond (8,500), and Lacamas Lake (8000) in Clark County; Icehouse Lake (1,000), Little Ash Lake (1,000), and Kidney Lake (1000) in Skamania County; and Rowland Lake (3,000), Spearfish Lake (2,000) and Maryhill Pond (500) in Klickitat County.

Weinheimer notes that some area lakes also have good numbers of triploid rainbows averaging 1.25 pounds each left over from the Black Friday opener in late November. Good bets include Fort Borst Park Pond, South Lewis County Park Pond, Kress Lake, Battleground Lake, Klineline Pond and Rowland Lake.

See the weekly stocking reports for additional news on trout plants.

Hunting: Most big-game hunts are closed for the year, but waterfowl hunters still have time to bag ducks and geese. Most waterfowl seasons run through Jan. 25, with restrictions in some areas as noted in the state Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game rule pamphlet.

As predicted, ducks have been arriving from the north in large numbers, contributing to hunters’ success in the field. Unfortunately, it appears that some of those birds are carrying a form of avian flu that can be deadly to domestic poultry.

Although the virus poses no apparent threat to human health or wild bird populations, WDFW is working with other state and federal agencies to reduce risks to domestic chickens and turkeys. For a start, the department asks that anyone who sees a wild bird that is sick or dead report their observations at 1-800-606-8768.

In addition, field staff will seek hunters’ permission to collect samples from birds they have harvested to test for the disease. The Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Clark County is one of several focus areas for testing.

“The sampling procedure takes less than a minute per bird, and will help us determine the prevalence of the disease in wild birds,” said Don Kraege, WDFW waterfowl section manager, noting that participation in the tests is voluntary. For more information on avian influenza, see the department’s website.

Meanwhile, hunters who file their annual report by Jan 10 on hunting activities for black bear, deer, elk or turkey have a chance to win one of nine 2015 special hunting permits. Those who meet the deadline will be included in a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. The permits will be valid from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, 2015.

To qualify for the drawing, hunters must submit a report to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for each black bear, deer, elk or turkey tag they purchased and for each special hunting permit they received in 2014.

More information about the WDFW’s incentive permit drawing is available on page 17 of the 2014-15 Big Game Hunting pamphlet.

All hunters, whether successful or not, are required to submit hunting reports for those species by Jan. 31. Failure to meet the deadline can result in a $10 fine, payable before a hunter can purchase a 2015 license.

Hunt reports may be filed by phone at (877) 945-3492 or on the WDFW website. Hunters should be prepared to note the game management unit they hunted and their individual WILD identification number, which is printed on license documents. Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.

Wildlife viewing: Salmon are now spawning near the mouth of the Klickitat River, which makes the area a natural destination for bald eagles migrating south for the winter. That, in turn, is a big draw for birdwatchers who flock to the area to see the raptors congregating in the trees near the river, often more than a dozen a time.

One popular spot for eagle watching is the Balfour-Klickitat Day Use Park, near the entrance to Lyle. Another is the 31-mile Klickitat Trail, which starts in Lyle and climbs to the Goldendale Plateau.

“The best time to observe the eagles is earlier in the day, rather than later in the evening,” according to the Klickitat Trail Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the trail. “Be sure to wear warm clothing and bring binoculars and a camera.”

Meanwhile, a pair of bald eagles that nested at Shillapoo last spring are back and have been observed preparing their nest for the upcoming nesting season. This was the first pair to nest on the wildlife area in more than 20 years. Visitors will also find a large number of snow geese using the northern part of Shillapoo.

Some of these birds will likely show up in the 115th Annual Christmas Bird Count, which runs through Jan. 5 throughout North America. Watch for this year’s continental count on Audubon’s website during the coming weeks.

Eastern Washington
(Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens,  Walla Walla and Whitman counties)

Fishing:  Anglers need to be cautious of conditions when ice-fishing this month. Fishing on or through ice is only safe after temperatures remain below freezing for an extended amount of time. Anglers also should be wary of thin ice along the shorelines of rivers and streams.

Due to unusually warm weather, very few of the region’s winter-only rainbow trout lakes had sufficient ice in late December to be safe for fishing. But if more wintery conditions prevail, those lakes should start to provide catches through the ice this month.

Randy Osborne, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) central district fish biologist of Spokane, reports that Fourth of July Lake, on the Lincoln-Adams county line, has a good number of large rainbow trout, many over 14 inches long. Hog Canyon Lake, in southwest Spokane County, has trout ranging from nine to 13 inches.

At both lakes, only two of the five-trout daily catch limit can be over 14 inches. Osborne said the retention limit by size extends the fishery for the December-through-March season, especially at Fourth of July Lake where most fish are large. After catching the limit of two large fish, anglers using bait should switch to lures or flies to facilitate the release of fish over 14 inches. See “Bait Rules” under “Statewide Freshwater Rules” on page 16 of the fishing pamphlet.

Williams Lake, north of Colville in Stevens County, has some fat rainbow trout that are 16 to 17 inches as well as many trout stocked this year that are averaging 13 inches, reports Bill Baker, WDFW northeast district fish biologist of Colville. Catch rates were fair when the season began in early December, so anglers should not expect to catch the five-trout limit quickly, Baker said. 

Hatch Lake, southeast of Colville, had an abundance of rainbow trout ranging between 12 and 16 inches in early December. But the lake had only a thin ice cover, making for poor ice-fishing in late December, Baker said.

Waitts Lake, south of Chewelah in Stevens County, is open for fishing through February and usually is good for rainbow and brown trout and yellow perch at this time. In late December there was not sufficient ice cover to provide safe conditions for fishing through the ice, which is the most popular method at this time of year.

WDFW does not measure ice on fishing lakes and cannot guarantee ice fishing safety. But here are a few tips to help keep an outing safe:

  • Don’t fish alone. Let others know exactly where you and your fishing partners are going and when you plan to return.
  • Keep fishing holes small and few. When drilling fishing holes with an ice auger, keep the diameter under eight inches. Bigger holes are not necessary to land fish and can create a safety hazard for others.
  • Watch your step. Avoid ice fishing near feeder streams or known springs; brush, logs, plants or docks; multiple ice cracks or ice that is popping or otherwise audible; and dark-colored ice that may be weak.
  • Spread out. Too many people congregated in one area may be more than the ice can safely support. Disperse weight and fishing holes.
  • Be prepared for weather conditions and emergencies. Dress in layers and wear thermal underwear, fleece or wool, and wind and waterproof outerwear, especially for feet, hands and head. Take extra clothes, food, water, sand for on-ice traction, and a sled for easy on-ice transport of all equipment. Carry equipment such as ice picks or awls, rope, and personal flotation devices. Also pack a first-aid kit and matches for starting a fire.

January is a good time to fish Lake Roosevelt, the Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam that is open year-round. Fishing has been very good on the impoundment, where anglers are catching rainbow trout in the 15-18 inch range, Osborne said. For tips on fishing Lake Roosevelt in winter, check out WDFW’s instructional video.

Baker also notes that January is a good time to catch lake whitefish in Lake Roosevelt.  “Whitefish are currently grouped together for spawning,” Baker said. “They should be easy to locate on a fish finder. Look for windswept shorelines with cobble and gravel bottoms in 40 to 50 feet of water.”

Learn more by watching WDFW’s new video on fishing for lake whitefish.

The mountain whitefish is a smaller native species found in some of the region’s waterways, including the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers. A whitefish season runs through March 31 on the stretch of the Little Spokane River from Highway 291 upstream to West Branch. There’s no minimum size and the daily limit is 15 whitefish. Whitefish gear rules apply – one single-point hook, maximum hook size 3/16-inch point to shank (hook size 14). 

“This is also a good time to fish for burbot in Lake Roosevelt and at Bead and Sullivan lakes in Pend Oreille County,” Baker said.  “Normally, we’d have enough ice cover on Bead Lake to allow for safe ice fishing by this time, but obviously that’s not the case this year.”

Instead, anglers can fish from boats or from the shoreline by casting jigs or plunking bait. The south end of Sullivan Lake is an area that anglers target burbot at this time of year. On Lake Roosevelt, the mouth of the Colville River and the mouth of the Spokane River are good spots, Baker said. See a new video on how to catch burbot.

Anglers also do well at this time of year on yellow perch in Silver and Eloika lakes, both in Spokane County. Long Lake (or Lake Spokane, the Spokane River reservoir off Long Lake dam) is a good spot for catching crappie and yellow perch. Anglers have been catching good numbers of the rainbow trout at Long Lake and at Sprague Lake on the Lincoln-Adams county line.

Snake River steelhead fishing continues through March 31. No current creel check information is available at this time, but traditionally the stretch of river near Clarkston on the Idaho border and the mouth of the Grand Ronde River (and the Grand Ronde itself) are the most popular. 

Hunting:Hunting continues through Jan. 11 for pheasants and Jan. 19 for quail, chukars and gray partridge. Hunters are hoping for some snow cover this month. But the long-range forecast throughout the region is for drier-than-usual weather, so every bird in the bag will probably take some time and effort.

Private lands with bird cover in the central and southeast districts of the region may be best at this point in the season, but be sure to secure permission first. The expanded “Hunt by Reservation” system includes landowners in Whitman, Garfield, Ferry and Stevens counties. “Feel Free to Hunt” properties are posted in Garfield, Walla Walla and Whitman counties, and “Register to Hunt” or “Hunt by Written Permission” properties are posted throughout Whitman County.

Decent upland game bird hunting opportunities are also still available on WDFW properties, including pheasants on Revere Wildlife Area in Whitman County and Hungarian partridge on Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County. Swanson Lakes is also home to state threatened sharp-tailed grouse for which hunting is closed, so hunters need to be sure of their target. Other public lands, like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers habitat management units along the Snake River, can be productive, too.

For details see the interactive mapping program “Go Hunt”.

Opportunities are also still available for waterfowl hunters this month in areas that remain ice-free and where ducks and geese have secure roosting. Duck and goose hunting continues through Jan. 25. In Lincoln, Spokane and Walla Walla counties, which are within Goose Management Area 4, hunters can take to the fields Jan. 1 and every day from Jan. 19 through Jan. 25.

Hunters are required to have a federal migratory bird stamp and both a state small game license and a state migratory bird permit. Hunters should check out the migratory waterfowl and upland game pamphlet for more information on regulations. 

Cougar hunters should also be aware that season closes Jan. 2 in game management units (GMU) 105, 121, 145 166, 175 and 178, as well as several westside units.

Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports on their hunting activities are due by Jan. 31, 2015 for each 2014 license, permit or tag purchased. Hunters can file their reports by calling (877) 945-3492, or via WDFW's webpage. Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.

Hunters who submit their reports by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. Those who miss the Jan. 31 deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can purchase a 2014 hunting license.

Wildlife viewing: If snow cover accumulates this month, elk and mule deer may move to lower elevations and become more visible throughout the region.

The lack of snow in the Blue Mountains allowed elk to remain in the hills in late December. WDFW’s W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area manager Kari Dingman reports bighorn sheep also will likely move lower and into view near the Tucannon fish hatchery ridge if much snow falls. White-tailed deer are usually visible year-round in the Tucannon River valley. But Dingman noted that Cummings Creek will be closed to human entry Jan.1 until April 1 to protect wintering wildlife.

Finding the simple treasures of shed deer or elk antlers can brighten up a casual winter hike in the woods, but WDFW biologists recommend delaying serious antler hunting to late spring to avoid inadvertently harassing animals on winter range.

“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,” said Woody Myers, WDFW ungulate research biologist. “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 the animals’ 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.”

Myers also reminds shed antler hunters to secure permission from landowners before entering private land, just as is required during game hunting seasons.

January is a great bird-watching month throughout the region. Bald eagles are showing up along waterways, feeding on winter-spent fish or waterfowl. WDFW field staff also report the big white-headed scavengers are honing in on road-killed deer and other roadside wildlife casualties. Canada geese are feeding on winter wheat fields during the day, and moving off to night roosts on local waterways. 

In late December, WDFW wildlife biologist David Woodall reported a snowy owl hanging out south of the town of Asotin, off of Halsey Road. The big white bird, a winter-only visitor from the north, was on a privately-owned stubble field close to the Halsey Unit of the Asotin Creek Wildlife Area. If the owl remains in the area, as they sometimes do, Woodall reminds wildlife viewers to respect private property and stay on Halsey Road, from which the bird is highly visible.

Another snowy owl was recently spotted on the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County. Mike Finch, WDFW assistant manager for the area, spotted the owl perched on a power pole just north of the Swanson Schoolhouse.  

Juli Anderson, WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area manager, also reported that a high school student doing a project on river otters spotted some on the area’s Z-Lake, where a recently-repaired aerator is keeping water open for fish.

The usual winter species are seen this month at backyard winter feeding stations or while traveling or recreating in rural areas of the region, includingCooper's, sharp-shinned, and rough-legged hawks, northern harrier, American kestrel, Northern pygmy owl, Clark's nutcracker, gray and Steller’s jays, black-capped and mountain chickadees, red-breasted, white-breasted and pygmy nuthatches, Cassin’s and house finches, red crossbill, pine siskin, American goldfinch, common redpoll, and evening grosbeak.

Birdwatchers have a new online tool for identifying birds, reporting their sightings, and contributing to conservation efforts throughout the region. It’s called “eBird Northwest.” The site provides weekly articles, local hotspots, festivals and special count dates, identification help and opportunities to participate in conservation projects.

Northcentral Washington
(Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties)

Fishing: Anglers need to be aware of and prepared for the potentially dangerous conditions of fishing waterways, due to winter weather that has been warmer than usual winter so far. “Shelf ice” along the shorelines of rivers and streams can be hazardous and lake fishing on and through ice is only safe after extended day and night time below freezing temperatures.

WDFW district fish biologist Travis Maitland reports Upper Columbia River steelhead fishing continues until further notice for those willing to put in the time necessary to land one.

The mainstem Columbia River also remains open to hatchery steelhead fishing from Rock Island Dam to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam, along with portions of the Wenatchee, Entiat, Methow, Okanogan and Similkameen rivers. Anglers must retain hatchery steelhead, identifiable by a clipped adipose fin, caught to help increase the proportion of natural-origin steelhead on the spawning grounds. The daily bag limit is two hatchery steelhead.

All anglers must possess a valid fishing license and a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement. The season can close at any time due to impacts on natural origin steelhead; see more details in the emergency rule change

Maitland also notes that Fish and Roses lakes, open year-round in Chelan County, are not safely iced over yet.

“Once solid ice forms on these lakes, we should have good fishing for rainbow trout on Roses Lake,” he said. “We stocked 16,000 rainbows there last month. Fish Lake should continue to be a good producer of average sized yellow perch through the ice. We just need some consistently colder temps to get these fisheries going.”

Maitland also notes that year-round Lake Chelan usually has fair fishing for lake trout (mackinaw) throughout the winter. Anglers usually troll just off the bottom for them.

Year-round Rufus Woods reservoir, on the Okanogan County south boundary off Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River, has big triploid rainbow trout that can be caught throughout the winter months. Several areas upstream of Chief Joseph Dam can usually be accessed by shore anglers. Boat anglers often launch at the Army Corps of Engineers boat ramp and can explore upstream any one of numerous back bays and shorelines that could hold triploids. 

Three lakes in Okanogan County have been open for “catch and keep” rainbow trout fishing since the first of December: Rat Lake near Brewster and Big and Little Green lakes near Omak switched from a catch-and-release regulation to a five-trout daily catch limit until March 31. These fisheries provide good angling throughout the winter months, whether in open water or through the ice. Rainbow trout running 10 to 12 inches can be caught on a variety of bait, lures, and flies. 

Leader Lake, located three miles west of the town of Okanogan on Hwy. 20, is open year-round for just the second year now, and fishing for black crappie, bluegill and rainbow trout should be fair when conditions allow.

Other traditional year-round fishing opportunities in Okanogan County that will provide through-the-ice fishing sooner or later are Patterson and Davis lakes in the Winthrop area. Davis Lake, which shifted in September to catch-and-keep through March, usually has rainbows in the 10-12 inch range. Patterson Lake typically has yellow perch in the seven to eight-inch range. 

Anglers are cautioned to be alert and aware of changing ice conditions at these and other waters. WDFW does not measure ice on fishing lakes and cannot guarantee ice fishing safety. But here are a few tips to help keep an outing safe:

  • Don’t fish alone. Let others know exactly where you and your fishing partners are going and when you plan to return.
  • Keep fishing holes small and few. When drilling fishing holes with an ice auger, keep the diameter under eight inches. Bigger holes are not necessary to land fish and can create a safety hazard for others.
  • Watch your step. Avoid ice fishing near feeder streams or known springs; brush, logs, plants or docks; multiple ice cracks or ice that is popping or otherwise audible; and dark-colored ice that may be weak.
  • Spread out. Too many people congregated in one area may be more than the ice can safely support. Disperse weight and fishing holes.
  • Be prepared for weather conditions and emergencies. Dress in layers and wear thermal underwear, fleece or wool, and wind and waterproof outerwear, especially for feet, hands and head. Take extra clothes, food, water, sand for on-ice traction, and a sled for easy on-ice transport of all equipment. Carry equipment such as ice picks or awls, rope, and personal flotation devices. Also pack a first-aid kit and matches for starting a fire.

Hunting: January is the last – and can be the best – month for waterfowl hunting. Migrant ducks and geese from the north are in the region and if large bodies of water remain open for their roosting use, they can provide good hunting opportunities.

WDFW northcentral region wildlife biologists say that since the long-range forecast is for a warmer and drier than usual winter, chances are Potholes Reservoir and other large waterways will continue to hold high numbers of mallards, other ducks, and Canada geese. Continued warm days should yield good to excellent waterfowl hunting conditions, particularly during rain or snow storms when birds are on the move.     

Private land access opportunities for waterfowl hunting continue to expand with more acreage available through the Columbia Basin Cropland Hunting Access Initiative (formerly known as the Corn Stubble Retention Program) using a combination of “Hunt By Reservation” and “Register to Hunt” programs. Hunters can make reservations on-line for use of these private land access sites and then must be on-site by 9 a.m. of the reserved hunting day.

If unable to reserve a site for a given day, there may still be an opportunity to hunt there – if there are no vehicles at the site’s designated parking area after 9 a.m., up to four hunters in one group may register on-site and begin hunting.  All sites have designated days for youth and one site is designated for disabled hunters, including a disabled hunter access blind. For more information on these hunting opportunities on private land in the Columbia Basin, contact the Northcentral Region office at 509-754-4624.

Upland game bird hunting continues through Jan. 11 for pheasants and Jan. 19 for quail and partridge. Pheasant, quail and chukar partridge numbers are fairly good in the Columbia Basin, but birds would hold better if snow cover accumulated. Be sure to secure permission first to hunt private lands, or check out public lands, like WDFW’s Desert Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area Complex between Potholes Reservoir and the town of George. For details see the interactive mapping program “Go Hunt”.

WDFW Scotch Creek Wildlife Area Manager Jim Olson reminds upland game bird hunters to identify game birds before shooting and be aware of sharptailed grouse on the area in Okanogan County. 

“This species is closed to hunting because it’s state listed as threatened and it’s a federal species of concern,” Olson explained. “Sharptails can sometimes be confused with Hungarian partridge or chukar partridge.  In the winter they occupy the same habitats although sharp-tailed grouse are a bit larger and unlike huns and chukars, they vocalize a “tuck, tuck, tuck” when flushed.  Also look for the sharp pointed tail with white borders.”

Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports on their hunting activities are due by Jan. 31 for each 2014 license, permit or tag purchased. Hunters can file their reports by calling (877) 945-3492, or via the Internet.  Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.

Hunters who submit their reports by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. Those who miss the Jan. 31 deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can purchase a 2015 hunting license.

Wildlife viewing: January is a good birdwatching month, because interesting migrants are often in or moving through the region and most birds are more visible with deciduous tree leaf drop and snow cover.

One unusual species for the region was seen in late December in the Cashmere area of Chelan County – a female acorn woodpecker. The bird, normally a year-round resident along the Oregon and California coast and further south, was consistently seen near Parkhill and Riverfront streets in Cashmere.

Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, a threatened species in the state of Washington and a federal species of concern, are usually visible on the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area, about 12 miles northwest of Omak in Okanogan County. 

“Look for the birds feeding in the birch trees adjacent to Scotch Creek and along the Conconully Highway,” said WDFW’s Scotch Creek manager Jim Olson. “They are generally easy to spot when they are around, as they tend to perch at the very tops of the tallest trees. Just after a good snowfall is a good time to look as the birds are pushed from their preferred upland habitats. In the winter they occupy the same habitats as Hungarian and chukar partridge. You can distinguish them because they’re a bit larger, and unlike Huns and chukars, they vocalize a “tuck, tuck, tuck” when flushed.  Also look for the sharp pointed tail with white borders.”

Birdwatchers have a new online tool for identifying birds, reporting their sightings, and contributing to conservation efforts throughout the region. It’s called “eBird Northwest,” and it provides weekly articles with the latest bird news, local hotspots and rare sightings, festivals and special count dates, identification help and opportunities to participate in conservation projects.

It’s a good time to take in a “Nature of Winter” snowshoe tour on winter ecology, wildlife and wildlife tracks, and more in the Methow Valley of Okanogan County.  These family-friendly tours are available on Saturdays – Jan. 3, 10, 17, 24, and 31 and Feb. 7, 14, and 21 – sponsored by the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA). The 90 minute to two-hour tours (depending on conditions) begin at 11 a.m.

MVSTA trail passes or a MVSTA snowshoe trail pass ($5) are required for each person.  Passes and snowshoe rentals are available at Sun Mountain Ski Shop, North Cascades Basecamp, Mazama Ski Shop, Methow Cycle & Sport and Winthrop Mountain Sports. Reservations are not required; space is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. For more information call MVSTA at 996-3287 or see http://www.methowtrails.org/winter-trails/snowshoe/.

Finding the simple treasures of shed deer or elk antlers can brighten up a casual winter hike in the woods, but WDFW biologists recommend delaying serious antler hunting to late spring to avoid inadvertently harassing animals on winter range.

“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,” said WDFW ungulate research biologist Woody Myers. “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.”

Myers also reminds shed antler hunters to secure permission from landowners before entering private land, just as is required during game hunting seasons.

Southcentral Washington
(Benton, Franklin, Kittitas and Yakima counties)

Fishing:  Anglers continue to reel in hatchery steelhead from portions of the Columbia and Snake rivers, although the lure of bigger fish will undoubtedly prompt some to switch gears. Starting Jan. 1, the John Day Pool (Lake Umatilla) will reopen for retention of white sturgeon that measure 43 to 54 inches from their snout to the fork in their tail.

Paul Hoffarth, a district fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), suggests sturgeon anglers hit John Day Pool sooner rather than later, because there is a 500-fish annual quota for sturgeon in the reservoir.

“Last year the season lasted until June, but in the previous years the quota has been reached in just a couple of months,” Hoffarth said. “I’d advise anglers to get out early if they want to take a sturgeon home for dinner.”

Another option is McNary Pool (Lake Wallula) which reopens for sturgeon retention Feb. 1. There is no quota on that pool, allowing anglers to keep fishing up until the area closes to sturgeon retention Aug.1.

There’s also a chance of catching a monster walleye in those waters. While walleye fishing can get slow in winter, some of the largest walleye of the year are boated during the winter months near the Tri-Cities. That includes the 20.3-pound state record taken in Lake Wallula last year.

Typical of the winter fishery, steelhead fishing has been up and down in recent weeks, when some of the best catches have been reported in the Ringold area of the Columbia River. The fishery is open for retention of hatchery steelhead near the Tri-Cities from John Day Dam upstream to the wooden power line towers at the old Hanford town site through March 31.

The lower Snake River is also open for the retention of hatchery steelhead through March 31. The daily limit on the Snake is three hatchery steelhead. Anglers should be aware that barbless hooks are required when fishing for salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Meanwhile, winter whitefish seasons are currently open on the Yakima, Naches, Tieton, Cle Elum and Bumping rivers. Whitefish gear rules are in effect on the Yakima River from the Highway 223 Bridge at Granger to Keechelus Dam through Feb. 28. Whitefish seasons for the other rivers run Dec. 1 to March 31.

Whitefish gear is restricted to one single-point hook with a maximum hook size of 3/16-inch from point to shank (hook size 14). Bait is allowed. Anglers are advised to check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet for regulations that apply to specific river reaches.

Eric Anderson, a WDFW fish biologist stationed in Yakima, recommends that whitefish anglers target deep pools below riffles. Most whitefish are caught with a small fly, tipped with a maggot, he said. The individual limit is 15 whitefish per day, most of which range from 10 to 15 inches long.

Rather catch trout? A catch-and-release trout fishery is open year-round above Roza Dam under selective gear and whitefish gear rules. Above Easton Lake, there is no size or catch limit for eastern brook trout.

Those interested in fishing local ponds near Yakima should know that WDFW recently stocked I-82 pond #4 with 130 rainbow broodstock and Sarg Hubbard Park Pond with 65 broodstock rainbows. The fish average over 5 pounds apiece. Sarg Hubbard Park Pond is open only to juvenile anglers under 15 years old and anglers with a disability who have a designated harvester-companion card.

Several other waters stocked with big trout in November are also still worth a try, Anderson said. North Elton Pond near Selah got 2,000 jumbo rainbows averaging 1.5 pounds apiece, while North Fio Rito and Mattoon Lakes in the Kittitas Valley got 260 rainbow broodstock (over 5 lbs. each). Anglers are reminded to check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet for special gear and catch limits that apply on lakes and ponds.

Hunting: Most big-game hunts are closed for the year, but waterfowl hunters still have time to bag ducks and geese. Most waterfowl seasons run through Jan. 25, with restrictions in some areas as noted in the state Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game rule pamphlet.

Meanwhile, hunters who file their annual report by Jan 10 on hunting activities for black bear, deer, elk or turkey have a chance to win one of nine 2015 special hunting permits. Those who meet the deadline will be included in a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. The permits will be valid from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, 2015.

To qualify for the drawing, hunters must submit a report to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for each black bear, deer, elk or turkey tag they purchased and for each special hunting permit they received in 2014.

More information the WDFW’s incentive permit drawing is available on page 17 of the 2014-15 Big Game Hunting pamphlet.

All hunters, whether successful or not, are required to submit hunting reports for those species by Jan. 31. Failure to meet the deadline can result in a $10 fine, payable before a hunter can purchase a 2015 license.

Hunt reports may be filed by phone at (877) 945-3492 or on the Internet https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov. Hunters should be prepared to note the game management unit they hunted and their individual WILD identification number, which is printed on license documents. Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.

Wildlife viewing: Sometime this month, hundreds of hungry elk and big-horn sheep will descend on WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area, where visitors can watch them dine on alfalfa hay and pellets. Although snowfall was relatively light throughout December, managers at the wildlife area 15 miles northwest of Yakima are expecting a strong turnout.

WDFW's winter feeding program usually gets under way when snow starts to pile up. Even before feeding begins, some elk are visible near traditional winter feeding sites. Bald eagles can also be observed feeding on spawned-out salmon along the Yakima River.

Oak Creek visitors can check the recorded message on the headquarters phone (509) 653-2390 for updates on feeding and volunteer-led, elk-viewing tours. Tour reservations must be made at least 48 hours in advance by calling (509) 698-5106.

A valid state Discover Pass or WDFW Vehicle Access Pass is required to park at the Wildlife Area. Visitors can purchase a Discover Pass at the Wildlife Area once the feeding starts, or online any time of the year. Vehicle Access Passes are free with the purchase of certain fishing and hunting licenses.

Area visitors should be aware that some winter road closures are in effects in the Oak Creek, L.T. Murray and other WDFW wildlife areas. See the department’s website for details.

Meanwhile, birders in southwest Washington and elsewhere will be counting birds for the Christmas Bird Count through Jan. 5, when the 115th annual comes to a close throughout North America. Watch for this year’s count on Audubon’s website during the coming weeks.