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

Change in hunter reporting requirements

Hunters are reminded that separate reports are now required for general-season hunting activities and for special-permit hunts for deer, elk, black bear and turkey. Game managers are trying to collect information about hunting effort during both kinds of seasons – general and special permit.

As noted in the 2010-11 Big Game pamphlet, a hunter report is required for each transport tag acquired for these species and should be completed at the end of the hunting season for those species.   

Whether reporting online (http://bit.ly/akZimL) or over the telephone (1-877-945-3492), hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report. As always, hunters are required to submit reports, whether or not they hunted or harvested an animal.

December 2010

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

Winter holidays are a time
for fishing, hunting and giving

Despite the winter chill, Washingtonians have plenty of reasons to head outdoors during the holiday season. Steelhead are surging up coastal rivers, eastside lakes are opening to winter trout fishing and two separate razor-clam digs are scheduled this month on ocean beaches.

The first razor-clam dig of the month is approved to begin Dec. 3 at Twin Harbors, expanding to four other ocean beaches the next day. The second is tentatively scheduled to run over the New Year's weekend. For details on both digs, see the South Sound/Olympic Peninsula report below.

But a lot of people who fish or hunt in Washington state are already starting to plan another full year of outdoor adventures. For those folks, the first step toward realizing those plans is to purchase a 2011-12 fishing or hunting license, now available statewide.

Although the new licensing year doesn't begin until April 1, a lot of people like to have their license in hand a few months early, said Joe Stohr, deputy director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

"It's always great to be prepared when the new season arrives," Stohr said. "Besides, hunting and fishing licenses make great holiday gifts."

Information about licenses and other products available from WDFW is posted online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/. Purchases may be made at that website, by phone (866-246-9453), or from hundreds of license dealers across the state. The new fishing and hunting licenses are valid from April 1, 2011 through March 31, 2012 and include vehicle use permits for access to nearly a million acres of wildlife lands throughout Washington.

Like last year, all license fees include a 10 percent surcharge approved by the state Legislature to address a funding shortfall and help offset budget cuts to WDFW.

Of course, fishing and hunting aren't the only ways to enjoy the great outdoors. Starting Dec. 14, birders throughout the Americas will take part in the 111th annual Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the Audubon Society. The annual event enlists birdwatchers - veterans and novices alike - to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database.

For more information about these and other outdoor adventures available around the state this month, see the regional reports below.


North Puget Sound  

Fishing: During the holiday season, area anglers have a decision to make: cast for steelhead in the local rivers or head out onto Puget Sound, where fisheries for crab and blackmouth salmon are under way.

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

Steve Thiesfeld, Puget Sound salmon manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said anglers who put time in on the water could hook some nice-size fish, especially around the San Juan Islands. "Anglers fishing for blackmouth in December traditionally have had success in the San Juan Islands," he said. "The catch rates in the San Juans are some of the highest and the salmon tend to be a little larger."

Thiesfeld reminds anglers that salmon fishing in Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) closes Dec. 1.

Crabbing also is open in some marine areas of Puget Sound. Marine areas 4 (Neah Bay), 5 (Sekiu), 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 9, 10, 12 (Hood Canal) and 13 (south Puget Sound) are open for sport crabbing seven days a week through Jan. 2.

The daily catch limit in Puget Sound is five Dungeness crab, males only, in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6 inches. In addition, fishers may catch six red rock crab of either sex per day, provided those crab measure at least 5 inches across. Additional information is available on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab/.

For a change of pace, anglers in the region may want to venture out in the evening and try jigging for squid in Puget Sound. Good spots include the Elliott Bay Pier in Seattle and the Edmonds Pier. More information on squid fishing is available on the department's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/squid/. Information on fishing piers is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/piers/.

In freshwater, several rivers are open for steelhead fishing, including the Skagit, Snohomish, Skykomish, Snoqualmie and Green (Duwamish). "Fishing for hatchery steelhead really gets going around mid-December, when we traditionally see the peak of the run," said Bob Leland, WDFW's steelhead program manager. "As long as the weather cooperates and the rivers stay fishable, anglers should have some good opportunities to hook a steelhead."

Leland reminds anglers that Whatcom Creek, and portions of the North Fork Nooksack, North Fork Stillaguamish and Samish rivers close Dec. 1. For details on the early closures, check the rule changes at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/.

Rainbow trout are another option for freshwater anglers, who might want to try casting for lunkers at Beaver Lake near Issaquah. About 2,300 hatchery rainbows - averaging 2 to 3 pounds each - were released into the lake in early November. Beaver Lake, which is one of several westside lowland lakes open to fishing year-round, is best fished by small boat, although anglers also can be successful fishing from shore.

Other good bets during December are Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish, where anglers can hook perch, cutthroat and smallmouth bass. Anglers targeting perch should fish near deep ledges, said WDFW fisheries biologist Danny Garrett, who recommends using nightcrawlers. "Perch are generally caught within a couple feet of the bottom," he said. For cutthroat or smallmouth bass, try trolling deep, 30-100 feet or more. "Anglers will likely have to put in some time to hook a smallmouth, but those that do could catch a big fish," Garrett said.

Hunting: Waterfowl hunting is in full swing in the region, where reports indicate that hunters had good success at the end of November, said Dave Ware, game manager for WDFW. "If the weather and tides cooperate, waterfowl hunting should continue to be good throughout the month," he said. Waterfowl hunters have through Jan. 30 to hunt ducks and geese in the region.

Ware said hunters who would like to participate in the Snow Goose Quality Hunt program on Fir Island and in the northern Port Susan Bay area should visit WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/snow_goose/ for information on the rules and requirements.

Another option is a new Waterfowl Quality Hunt Program, which provides duck and goose hunting opportunities at 40 sites in Whatcom, Skagit and north Snohomish counties. For more information on the program, visit WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/wqhp/.

Meanwhile, upland bird hunters have through Dec. 31 to hunt forest grouse.

Big-game hunts also are under way in several areas. Archers have through Dec. 8 to hunt deer in Game Management Unit (GMU) 437, through Dec. 15 in 466 and 460 and through Dec. 31 in 407, 410 and 454. The region's muzzleloader hunts for deer run through Dec. 15. Muzzleloader and archery hunts for elk also continue in the region through Dec. 15.

Before heading out, hunters should check the Big Game Hunting pamphlet and the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/ for details. Also, area-by-area summaries of the hunting prospects throughout the state are available on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/prospects/.

Wildlife viewing: During the holiday season, several Audubon Society chapters throughout the region are coordinating Christmas Bird Counts (CBC), which get under way this month. Sponsored by Audubon, the annual event enlists birdwatchers - veterans and novices - to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database.

For information on the Christmas Bird Count, see the Audubon website at http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count. To get involved, see the Washington Ornithology Society's website at http://www.wos.org/ for a counting circle in your area.

Birders might want to consider conducting their counts along the Skagit River this season. Each winter, hundreds of bald 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.

The Skagit Valley also is a great spot to view snow geese. 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 at http://bit.ly/9Hk0Vs.


South Sound/Olympic Peninsula

Fishing: The holiday season has arrived and with it comes opportunities to hook hatchery steelhead on several coastal streams, crabbing and salmon fishing in Puget Sound and razor clam digs on five ocean beaches.

An early December razor clam dig has been approved at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks and Kalaloch. Opening dates and evening low tides are:

  • Dec. 3, Fri. - 4:43 p.m., (-0.8 ft.), Twin Harbors
  • Dec. 4, Sat. - 5:29 p.m., (-1.2 ft.), Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
  • Dec. 5, Sun. - 6:14 p.m., (-1.3 ft.), Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
  • Dec. 6, Mon. - 6:56 p.m., (-1.2 ft.), Twin Harbors

Later in December, razor clammers will have another opportunity. Tentative opening dates and evening low tides for that dig are:

  • Dec. 31, Fri. - 3:40 p.m., (0 ft.), Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
  • Jan. 1, Sat. - 4:31 p.m., (-0.4 ft.), Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
  • Jan. 2, Sun. - 5:18 p.m., (-0.7 ft.), Twin Harbors

Clam diggers are reminded that they should take lights or lanterns for the nighttime digs and to check weather and surf forecasts before heading out. No digging will be allowed before noon on any of the five razor-clam beaches. Harvesters are allowed to take no more than 15 razor clams and must keep the first 15 they dig, regardless of size or condition. Each digger's clams must be kept in a separate container.

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2010-11 fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, are available on WDFW's website at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov and from license vendors around the state.

Meanwhile, winter steelhead fisheries are under way in the region, where more and more hatchery fish are expected to move into rivers as the month progresses. During the last week of November, anglers were catching large hatchery steelhead on some rivers, said Kirt Hughes, regional fishery manager for WDFW. "December and January are prime months for hatchery steelhead fishing, and should be productive for anglers as long as the weather cooperates and the rivers stay in shape," he said.

Anglers fishing the Quillayute and portions of the Bogachiel, Calawah, Hoh, and Sol Duc rivers have a daily limit of three hatchery steelhead. In the Grays Harbor area, anglers fishing the Chehalis, Humptulips, Satsop and Wynoochee have a daily limit of two hatchery steelhead.

Bob Leland, WDFW's steelhead program manager, reminds anglers that they will not be allowed to catch and keep wild steelhead on eight Olympic Peninsula rivers until mid-February. Earlier this year, the annual opening date for wild steelhead retention was changed from Dec. 1 to Feb. 16 on eight rivers with fisheries for wild steelhead.

That change, adopted by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission last February, applies to fisheries for wild steelhead on the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Hoh, Quillayute, Quinault and Sol Duc rivers. Those eight rivers are the only waters in Washington where wild steelhead retention is allowed.

The change was made to protect the early portion of the run, said Leland. He noted, however, that anglers will still have an opportunity to catch and keep a wild fish during the peak of the return. "Making this change will help to maintain the diversity of the run - including a range of late and early returning fish - that is important in preserving the wild steelhead population," Leland said.

Rather catch salmon? Anglers can find late-run coho salmon in some of the region's rivers, including the Chehalis and Satsop, where "nickel bright" fish have been hooked. For winter chum salmon, anglers should try fishing the Nisqually River. The late-chum run doesn't hit full stride until mid- to late December and generally remains strong until at least mid-January, said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist. "The Nisqually is a good fishery and the chum are typically bright and in good shape," he said. The Puyallup River also is a good option for anglers looking to hook South Sound chum.

Portions of Puget Sound also are open for salmon. Anglers fishing marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) and 13 (South Puget Sound) can keep one chinook as part of a two-salmon daily limit. On Hood Canal (Marine Area 12), anglers have a daily limit of four salmon, but only one of those fish can be a chinook. Anglers are reminded that marine areas 5 (Sekiu) and 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) are closed for salmon fishing.

Crabbing also is an option in some marine areas of Puget Sound. Marine areas 4 (Neah Bay), 5 (Sekiu), 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 9 (Admiralty Inlet), 10 (Seattle/Bremerton), 12 (Hood Canal) and 13 (south Puget Sound) are open for sport crabbing seven days a week through Jan. 2.

The daily catch limit in Puget Sound is five Dungeness crab, males only, in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6 inches. In addition, fishers may catch six red rock crab of either sex per day, provided those crab measure at least 5 inches across. Additional information is available on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab/.

An ADA-accessible fishing site is now open at the Bingham Creek Hatchery to persons with disabilities who permanently use a wheelchair, have a reduced fee license and/or who have a designated harvester card. More information is available at http://bit.ly/b5PLcy.

Before heading out, anglers should check the rules and regulations for all fisheries on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/.

Hunting: Most archery and muzzleloader hunting opportunities for elk are open through Dec. 15 in the region, except the muzzleloader hunt in Game Management Unit 652 closes Dec. 8. The region's archery and muzzleloader hunts for deer wrap up on various dates in select game management units. For details, hunters should check the Big Game Hunting pamphlet on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.

Meanwhile, waterfowl hunters have through Jan. 30 to hunt for ducks in the region. Goose hunts in Goose Management Area 3 also are open seven days a week through Jan. 30. However, hunts in Goose Management Area 2B (Pacific County) are limited to Saturdays and Wednesdays only through Dec. 22, and then open Dec. 26 and 29. Hunters will once again have an opportunity to go afield for geese in Area 2B in early January. Upland bird hunters have through Dec. 31 to hunt forest grouse.

Before heading out, hunters should check the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/ for details. Also, area-by-area summaries of the hunting prospects throughout the state are available on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/prospects/.

Wildlife viewing: During the holiday season, several Audubon Society chapters throughout the region are coordinating Christmas Bird Counts (CBC), which get under way this month. Sponsored by Audubon, the annual event enlists birdwatchers - veterans and novices - to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database.

For information on the Christmas Bird Count, see the Audubon website at http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count. To get involved, see the Washington Ornithology Society's website at http://www.wos.org/ for a counting circle in your area.


Southwest Washington

Fishing: This year's winter steelhead season got off to a promising start around Thanksgiving, when the first wave of fish started taking anglers' lures in several tributaries to the lower Columbia River. With decent river conditions, catch rates should continue to improve in the weeks ahead, said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

"Despite cold weather, that first jag of winter steelhead was definitely on the bite," Hymer said. "So long as the rivers don't rise too high or fall too low, we could be looking at a darn good fishery this year."

Best bets for winter steelhead include the Cowlitz, Lewis, Kalama, Grays, Washougal, Elochoman and White Salmon rivers, and Salmon Creek in Clark County. All have a two-fish daily limit, but Hymer cautions anglers to check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ for other rules specific to each river.

As with all steelhead fisheries in southwest Washington, only hatchery fish with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar may be retained. All wild steelhead must be released.

Water conditions, often highly variable at this time of year, can make a big difference in angler success, Hymer said. "If the water is too low, the fish get spooky - if it's too high it can be dangerous to be out there," he said.

As basic preparation for a steelheading trip, he recommends checking the Northwest River Forecast (http://www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/) or other sources before heading out. "Most anglers do best when water levels are rising or dropping," Hymer added. "It's a lot harder to catch steelhead in the peaks and troughs."

In deciding where to fish, it may also help to know how many smolts were planted in specific rivers and how many adult fish have returned to area hatcheries, Hymer said. In the first case, he recommends checking WDFW's smolt-planting schedule for 2009, available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/steelhead/. WDFW posts hatchery returns on a weekly basis at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hatcheries/escapement/.

While winter steelhead are the main attraction right now, late-stock coho will continue to bite through December. Most of those fish are too dark for consumption, but some bright fish will make their way into anglers' creels, Hymer said. Best bet is the Cowlitz River where over 70,000 fish have returned this year.

Hymer also flagged several new fishing regulations that take effect Dec. 1 on specific rivers:

  • Grays River - Opens to fishing for hatchery steelhead, hatchery coho, and adipose and/or ventral fin clipped chinook from the Highway 4 Bridge to the South Fork. The open area on the West Fork also expands from the hatchery intake/footbridge to the mouth that day.
  • Green River, North Fork Toutle River, and mainstem Toutle from mouth to forks - Fishing is closed for hatchery steelhead and hatchery salmon.
  • South Fork Toutle River - Fishing for hatchery steelhead is closed from the 4100 Bridge upstream. Fishing remains open under selective gear rules from the mouth to the bridge.
  • Lewis River - The night closure and anti-snagging rule is lifted from Johnson Creek to Colvin Creek, although anglers may not fish from any floating device in that area until Dec. 16.
  • Blue and Mill creeks (tributaries to Cowlitz River) - Blue Creek opens to fishing for hatchery steelhead and sea-run cutthroats while Mill Creek opens to fishing for hatchery steelhead.
  • Wind River - Catch-and-release fishing is closed for game fish above Shipherd Falls.
  • Klickitat River - Closed to fishing for trout, hatchery steelhead and salmon, except for salmon fishing from the Fisher Hill Bridge downstream. The salmon season from the Fisher Hill Bridge downstream remains open through January.
  • Swift Reservoir - Closed to fishing.

Meanwhile, a razor clam dig has been approved early this month at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks and Kalaloch. No digging will be allowed on any of those beaches before noon. Opening dates and evening low tides are:

  • Dec. 3, Fri. - 4:43 p.m., (-0.8 ft.), Twin Harbors
  • Dec. 4, Sat. - 5:29 p.m., (-1.2 ft.), Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
  • Dec. 5, Sun. - 6:14 p.m., (-1.3 ft.), Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
  • Dec. 6, Mon. - 6:56 p.m., (-1.2 ft.), Twin Harbors

WDFW has also scheduled a second dig this month, subject to the results of another round of marine toxin tests. Tentative opening dates and evening low tides for that dig are:

  • Dec. 31, Fri. - 3:40 p.m., (0 ft.), Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
  • Jan. 1, Sat. - 4:31 p.m., (-0.4 ft.), Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
  • Jan. 2, Sun. - 5:18 p.m., (-0.7 ft.), Twin Harbors

Rather catch a sturgeon? Winter conditions have chilled catch rates from Bonneville Dam downriver to the Wauna power lines, but new seasons will open Jan. 1 from Bonneville to McNary Dam.

Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon will seek public comments on issues affecting Columbia River white sturgeon management and fisheries at meetings in early December in Longview and two locations in Oregon. The three meetings are designed to share information on developments that will shape sturgeon management starting next year. The meetings are scheduled at the following times and locations:

  • Longview: Dec. 6, 6 - 8:30 p.m. Cowlitz Co. Public Utility District, 961 12th Ave.
  • Clackamas: Dec. 7, 6 - 8:30 p.m. ODFW Northwest Region Headquarters, 17330 S.E. Evelyn St.
  • Astoria: Dec. 9, 6 - 8:30 p.m. Holiday Inn Express, 204 West Marine Dr.

The news for trout anglers is that WDFW plans to plant thousands of rainbows averaging a half-pound apiece in five area lakes this month - weather permitting.

In Clark County, LaCamas Lake is scheduled to receive 8,000 fish early this month; Battleground Lake, 5,000, in the middle of the month; and Klineline Pond, 5,000, distributed between the middle and end of the month. Icehouse Lake in Skamania County will also receive 1,500 fish in the middle of the month.

Anglers should also be aware that Merwin Park and the Yale Park boat ramp will be closed through December while PacifiCorp stabilizes the shoreline and extends the boat ramp at Yale Park. Additional docks will also be installed at Yale Park and the parking area will be reconfigured to include a route for the disabled.

Hunting: Most big-game hunting seasons come to a close this month, although archers and muzzleloaders still have some time in December to take deer or elk in select game management units. Ending dates vary from unit to unit, so hunters should make note of the seasons outlined in the Big Game Hunting pamphlet, available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.

Meanwhile, waterfowl hunters have through Jan. 30 to hunt for ducks and - in most parts of the region - geese. An exception is the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, where the quota of dusky Canada geese was reached in November. Hunters can still hunt ducks in the refuge, and all other hunt zones within Goose Management Area 2A remain open for ducks and geese. That is also the case in management areas 3 (including Lewis and Skamania counties) and 5 (Klickitat and Yakima counties).

The statewide forest grouse season is also open through Dec. 31.

For more information, see the Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.

Wildlife viewing: Birders have been flocking to Woodland Bottoms in Cowlitz County to see a black phoebe, together with a majestic sandhill cranes and a battalion of Canada, cackling and greater white-fronted geese. In Skamania County, a contributor to the Tweeters birding website (http://www.scn.org/earth/tweeters/) reported seeing a clay-colored sparrow and a pair of Bonaparte's gulls at Rock Creek in Stevenson.

Perhaps those birds will be among the millions tallied this year during the 111th annual Christmas Bird Count, which runs from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5 in southwest Washington and throughout the Americas. Sponsored by Audubon, the annual event enlists birdwatchers - veterans and novices alike - to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database.

For information on the Christmas Bird Count, see the Audubon website at http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count . To get involved, see the Washington Ornithology Society's website at http://www.wos.org/ for a counting circle in your area.

Recognizing that birds come and go, the Bird Count represents a snapshot of avian life in a given place on a given day. One birder from Cinebar recently noted on the Tweeters website that black-headed grosbeaks, mourning doves and purple finches had disappeared from her backyard feeder in recent weeks. But pine siskins, juncos, jays and a swarm of evening grosbeaks have taken their place.


Eastern Washington

Fishing: The region's four winter-only rainbow trout lakes open to fishing Dec. 1 and WDFW fish biologists say they all are at top production. "Catch rates in our pre-season test fisheries averaged greater than five fish per hour," said central district fish biologist Chris Donley. "That means there are thousands of eager biters in all of these winter lakes."

Southwest Spokane County's Hog Canyon Lake, 10 miles northeast of Sprague, has rainbows ranging from 10 to 15 inches, with most around 12 to 13 inches. Hog Canyon was treated in the fall of 2009 to rid the lake of tench and brown bullhead, and re-stocked this spring with 10,000 catchable-size rainbows and 5,000 rainbow fry. "Fishers need to remember the catch limits at both Hog Canyon and Fourth of July lakes," said WDFW Enforcement Sergeant Dan Rahn. "They can have a total of five trout, but only two can be over 14 inches."

Compliance with that rule will be especially critical at Fourth of July Lake, two miles south of Sprague in Lincoln County, where Donley reports the bulk of the fish are running 12 to 15 inches, with several up to 17 inches. Fourth of July Lake was also rehabilitated in the fall of 2009 to rid it of fathead minnows. The lake was restocked with 15,000 catchable rainbows and 40,000 rainbow fry.

The other two winter season trout lakes are in Stevens County - Hatch Lake, about five miles southeast of Colville, and Williams Lake, which is 14 miles north of Colville. Both were treated in the fall of 2008 to eliminate yellow perch (and goldfish in Williams), and both were restocked this past spring and in 2009.

Hatch Lake received 850 catchable rainbows and 10,000 rainbow fry in 2009, and 6,000 catchable rainbows this year. Those fish are now ranging in size from 10 to 16 inches, with most 12 to 14 inches. Williams Lake received 950 catchable rainbows and 20,000 rainbow fry in 2009, and 10,000 rainbow fry this year. They now range from 10 to 14 inches, with the bulk of the fish around 11 to 13 inches.

Whether any of the four winter trout lakes will provide safe ice-fishing early in the season depends on the weather. According to U.S. Coast Guard guidelines, no one should venture onto lake ice unless it is at least four inches thick, clear and solid. As much as nine inches may be needed to safely support snowmobiles or other vehicles. Such ice depths can form after at least a week of below freezing temperatures, both day and night.

Ice depths vary throughout a waterway due to underwater structures, springs, geothermal activity, and water movement caused by flows, wind, or waterfowl use. Rivers and streams rarely have safe ice because of constant currents. Thawing and re-freezing can create air pockets that leave ice "honeycombed" or porous and significantly weakened.

Drilling a hole in the ice from a safe, near-shore location can give anglers an idea of ice depth. However, drilling only provides an estimate of the ice depth because shallow water near shore freezes quicker than deeper water in the middle of a lake, where springs may slow the freezing process.

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. 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.
  • Be prepared for emergencies. 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.

Donley says there's also good trout fishing opportunities through the winter at several large year-round waters, including Rock, Sprague and Waitts lakes. Net-pen-reared rainbows are usually a good bet at Lake Roosevelt, the huge reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam.

Hunting: Cold weather has frozen many ponds and appears to have driven northern waterfowl into Spokane and Whitman counties, according to WDFW wildlife biologist Kurt Merg. Unfrozen water is at a premium but offer great opportunities for duck and goose hunting.

WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area manager Juli Anderson says limited waterfowl hunting is available at Z-Lake, where an aerator is keeping water open. Waterfowlers in the Lincoln County area might also try the newly expanded BLM ponds to the north of Z Lake, the Lake Creek drainage, and the Twin Lakes further south.

As icy conditions continue, incoming waterfowl are more likely to concentrate on the region's major open waterways, from the Pend Oreille River up north to the Snake River down south.

Merg reports Hungarian partridge are now easy to see on snowy hillsides in Spokane and Whitman counties. Huns appear to be slightly more abundant than in recent years, he says. As snow accumulates through the month, all upland game birds should hold better and provide opportunities for hunters with dogs.

Anderson said that more snow could provide good coyote hunting conditions. Snow cover should also help late archery, muzzleloader and Master Hunter deer and elk hunting, most of which concludes Dec. 15 at the latest, depending on the game management unit and season. The late fall general hunting season for wild turkey also concludes Dec. 15 in game management units 105-124 in the north end of the region where the big birds are abundant and in large groups.

Wildlife viewing: Snowy conditions can make many wildlife species, such as deer, elk, and moose, easier to see, in part because some venture closer to cleared roadways or human habitation. WDFW wildlife biologists say if these animals go into the winter in good condition, most are able to survive persistent deep snow, ice and cold temperatures.

"The best way to help wild animals in winter is to avoid disturbing them," said WDFW regional wildlife manager Kevin Robinette. "Animals must conserve their energy to survive winter conditions, and human disturbance causes them to move about. Enjoy watching them from a distance, keep dogs confined, and slow down when traveling in motor vehicles through deer and elk habitat."

Elk viewing is the feature of the Winter Festival on Dec. 4 at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, southwest of Cheney in Spokane County. Elk tours in vans run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in parts of the refuge normally closed; call 509-235-4531 or e-mail looeezoleary@netscape.net to pre-register. The festival also includes a raptor program by the West Valley Outdoor Learning Center from 11 a.m. to noon when visitors can see hawks and owls under rehabilitation close up.

Cold weather has frozen many ponds and appears to have driven northern waterfowl into Spokane and Whitman counties, according to WDFW wildlife biologist Kurt Merg. Unfrozen water is at a premium but offers great opportunities for viewing ducks and geese.

Other migrants in the region with wintery conditions include common redpolls and snow buntings. Some are being spotted at backyard bird feeders, along with the usual crowds of chickadees, juncos, finches, nuthatches and other species.

Concentrations of these small birds are also drawing predatory sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks. Bird feeding enthusiasts are encouraged to check out information about properly locating feeders to reduce unnatural predation by housecats, and keeping feeders clean at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/winter_feeding/index.html.

Participation in the 111th annual Christmas Bird Count, which takes place at several locations across the region from Dec. 14, 2010 through Jan. 5, 2011, is one of the best ways for novices to learn from veteran birdwatchers. The counts tally species and numbers across North America for the world's longest-running bird database. For more information on the tradition and use of the information for conservation management, see the Audubon Society website at http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/.

Most local counts are day-long events that get started early, like the birds, and conclude with count tally gatherings around warm food and drink. In this region they include a Colville area count on Dec. 18, Walla Walla on Dec. 19, Grand Coulee on Dec. 21, and Spokane on Jan. 2. Most require pre-registration with count organizers, whose contact information is available at the Washington Ornithological Society website at http://www.wos.org/WACBCs.htm.


Northcentral Washington

Fishing: Three Okanogan County rainbow trout lakes switch from catch-and-release fishing to catch-and-keep fishing on Dec. 1. WDFW district fish biologist Bob Jateff says Big Green, Little Green, and Rat lakes offer a daily trout catch limit of five fish that can be caught on bait.

Jateff notes that year-round Patterson Lake near Winthrop can be good for yellow perch during the winter. Bait can be used and there is no daily limit on perch. "In fact, anglers are encouraged to retain as many perch as possible regardless of size in order to better balance the fish populations in the lake," he said. Jateff reminds anglers using the Patterson Lake access site to have a valid WDFW vehicle permit displayed.

Fish and Roses lakes in Chelan County provide good fishing during December and throughout the winter. Yellow perch and trout are the main species in Fish Lake and trout is the main species in Roses.

Jateff cautions anglers at any fishing lakes about ice that is just starting to form during the month of December. According to U.S. Coast Guard guidelines, no one should venture onto lake ice unless it is at least four inches thick, clear and solid. As much as nine inches may be needed to safely support snowmobiles or other vehicles. Such ice depths can form after at least a week of below freezing temperatures, both day and night.

Ice depths vary throughout a waterway due to underwater structures, springs, geothermal activity, and water movement caused by flows, wind, or waterfowl use. Rivers and streams rarely have safe ice because of constant currents. Thawing and re-freezing can create air pockets that leave ice "honeycombed" or porous and significantly weakened.

Drilling a hole in the ice from a safe, near-shore location can give anglers an idea of ice depth. However, drilling only provides an estimate of the ice depth because shallow water near shore freezes quicker than deeper water in the middle of a lake where springs may slow the freezing process.

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. 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.
  • Be prepared for emergencies. 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.

Jateff said that steelhead fishing in the upper Columbia River tributaries slows down as air temperatures continue to drop during December. However, boat anglers on the mainstem Columbia above Wells Dam should have better success on the open water. Areas to try would be just upstream of Wells Dam and at the mouth of the Methow River in Pateros. Selective gear rules are in effect, except bait is allowed in the mainstem. There is a mandatory retention on adipose-fin-clipped hatchery steelhead, and a night closure.

Steelhead fishing on the mainstem Columbia picked up at the end of November with reports of fish being caught below Wells Dam, at the mouth of the Entiat River, and in the area across from the Eastbank Hatchery. Selective gear rules are in effect for the mainstem and bait is allowed.

Hunting: Waterfowl hunting almost always picks up when wintery conditions move northern ducks and geese into the Columbia Basin, especially on large open bodies of water like Potholes Reservoir or Moses Lake. Waterfowlers can check for state and federal winter waterfowl aerial survey updates, which may indicate bird concentrations, at http://wdfw.wa.gov/about/regions/region2/waterfowl_surveys.html.

As snow accumulates through the month, hunting opportunities for upland game birds should improve, with pheasant, quail and partridge holding better for hunters with dogs. The season continues through Jan. 17.

Late archery deer hunting concludes Dec. 15 in select game management units. Fifty special wild turkey permit hunters have through Dec. 15 to bag a bird in Okanogan County units.

Wildlife viewing: Wintery conditions are moving bird species into the region that are often seen only at this time of year. Watch for snowy owls, northern shrikes, common redpolls, snow buntings, and others.

The Columbia Basin's large open waterways usually host larger numbers of common waterfowl species at this time, including Canada geese, mallards, and northern pintails.

Participation in the 111th annual Christmas Bird Count, which takes place at several locations across the region from Dec. 14, 2010 through Jan. 5, 2011, is one of the best ways for novices to learn from veteran birdwatchers. The counts tally species and numbers across North America for the world's longest-running bird database. For more information on the tradition and use of the information for conservation management, see the Audubon Society website at http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/.

Most local counts are day-long events that get started early, like the birds, and conclude with count tally gatherings around warm food and drink. In this region they include a Bridgeport area count on Dec. 14, Leavenworth on Dec. 15, Twisp on Dec. 16, Moses Lake on Dec. 29, Chelan on Dec. 30, Lower Columbia Basin on Jan. 1, Omak-Okanogan on Jan. 2, and Wenatchee on Jan. 2. Most require pre-registration with count organizers, whose contact information is available at the Washington Ornithological Society website at http://www.wos.org/WACBCs.htm.


Southcentral Washington

Fishing: Catch rates for hatchery steelhead have picked up in the Hanford Reach, and should stay on course through the month of December, said Paul Hoffarth, a regional fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The question, though, is whether anglers will brave the elements to catch those fish as they move upriver.

"Angler participation definitely drops off as we head into the winter months," Hoffarth said. "Also fishing tends to get spotty - good one day, bad the next. But the fish are still out there for those who want to catch some."

As with all area steelhead fisheries, only hatchery fish with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar may be retained. All wild steelhead must be released.

The Yakima River Basin is closed to steelhead fishing, but the whitefish season opens Dec. 1 on both the Yakima and Naches rivers. As before, the catch limit is 15 fish per day, but anglers are required to use one single-point hook, measuring no more than 3/16 inch from point to shank (hook size 14).

Anglers fishing the Yakima River above Roza Dam may use bait, as noted in the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet. Trout fishing is catch-and-release.

Trout anglers should be aware that Mattoon Lake got 120 broodstock rainbows in late November, as did Fio Rito Lake. But WDFW fish biologist Jim Cummins cautions against trying to fish through the ice on any lake in the region in the coming weeks. "It's not safe," he said. "Most lakes are only partially frozen and the chances of falling through the ice are just too great."

Hunting: Most big-game hunting seasons come to a close this month, although archers and muzzleloaders still have some time in December to take deer in select game management units. Archery seasons for elk are also open in several parts of the region. For more information, see in the Big Game Hunting pamphlet, available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.

Meanwhile, waterfowl hunters have through Jan. 30 to hunt for ducks and geese throughout central Washington. Duck hunting is open daily, but goose hunting is restricted to Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesday in Goose Management Area 4, which includes Franklin, Benton and Kittitas counties. The season is open seven days a week for both ducks and geese in Goose Management Area 5, which includes Yakima and Klickitat counties.

Hunting seasons will remain open for forest grouse through Dec. 31. Seasons for pheasant, California quail and partridge will remain open in eastern Washington through Jan. 17.

For more information, see the Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.

Wildlife viewing: Starting in December, hundreds of hungry elk and big-horn sheep are expected to descend on WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area, where visitors can watch them dine on alfalfa hay and pellets. With cold temperatures and heavy snow in the forecast, 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 in the wildlife area southwest of Yakima. Even before feeding begins, some animals are visible near traditional winter feeding sites. Bald eagles can also be observed feeding on spawned-out coho 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.

Meanwhile, area birders should be aware that the 111th annual Christmas Bird Count runs from December 14 through January 5 in southcentral Washington and throughout the Americas. Sponsored by Audubon, the annual event enlists birdwatchers - veterans and novices alike - to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database.

For information on the Christmas Bird Count, see the Audubon website at http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count. To get involved, see the Washington Ornithology Society's website at http://www.wos.org/ for a counting circle in your area.