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

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January 2012

(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 13, 2011)

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

Waterfowl hunters, steelheaders, birders
bundle up and make the most of winter

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. 

Shellfish managers at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) have also scheduled the first razor clam dig of 2012 on evening tides Jan. 20-21 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks.

But winter weather is also an important consideration wherever you go. 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, WDFW deputy chief of enforcement. “Check the weather conditions, river conditions and road conditions – and let people know where you’re going before you head out.”

Then again, the arrival of winter storms is good news for waterfowl hunters, who have welcomed the surge of ducks and geese that comes with wet, blustery weather. Just before New Years, success rates for waterfowl hunters soared in many areas of the state.

Steelhead fishing has also been good on rivers ranging from the Cowlitz in southwestern Washington to the Tucannon River on the east side of the state. Anglers should be aware, however, wild steelhead must be released everywhere in the state in January, and that the steelhead fishery on the upper Columbia River above the Rock Island Dam closes Jan. 2.

But there are also a lot of other ways to enjoy Washington’s wildlife at this time of year.

A rare Ross’s gull has attracted a lot of attention in Okanogan County, and an invasion of snowy owls has kept birders on their toes throughout the state. In the coming weeks, visitors to WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area near Yakima can watch hundreds of hungry elk and big-horn sheep dine on alfalfa hay and pellets.

For more information about 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

Fishing:  Winter has arrived, but anglers still have opportunities to hook hatchery steelhead on several streams and blackmouth salmon in Puget Sound.

Of course, weather can be a factor in making decisions on where to fish. “Hatchery steelhead fishing should continue to be decent in early January,” said John Long, statewide salmon manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “But if the rivers are out of shape, anglers might want to head out onto Puget Sound and fish for blackmouth salmon.”

Areas currently open for salmon fishing include 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). Anglers fishing those marine areas have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook salmon.

Long recommends fishing the waters around the San Juan Islands, where catch rates traditionally are some of the highest during the winter. Later in the month, anglers also might want to consider fishing Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet), which opens for salmon Jan. 16.

Before heading out, anglers can 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 closes at sunset on 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 report on the department’s licensing website. The mailing address is WDFW CRC Unit, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. The online reporting system is available Jan. 1-Feb. 1. For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s catch record card webpage.

Winter is 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 here.

In freshwater, several rivers are open for hatchery steelhead fishing, including the Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish, Skykomish and Snoqualmie. “Fishing for hatchery steelhead should continue to be decent in early January,” said Bob Leland, steelhead program manager for WDFW. “Anglers usually find bright fish through the month.”

Leland reminds anglers that fishing for steelhead and other game fish will close early in several river systems in Puget Sound and along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to protect wild steelhead. The early closures will affect the Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish and Puyallup river systems, along with several streams along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Most river systems will close Feb. 1. However, the Puyallup River system will close Jan. 16, and some waters near WDFW fish hatcheries are scheduled to close Feb. 16.

Pre-season estimates developed by WDFW last fall indicate that wild steelhead will return to those watersheds in numbers far short of target levels, said Leland. “By taking this action, we can protect wild steelhead that do make it back to these river systems,” he said.

For more information on the closures, check the emergency rule changes on WDFW’s website at http://1.usa.gov/hfDjYl.

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. 29 to hunt ducks and geese in the region, should check the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet for details.

WDFW will make an announcement in early January – after aerial surveys – on whether the tentatively scheduled brant hunt in Skagit County will open. While more than 10,000 brant typically winter on Washington’s waters each year, at least 6,000 brant must be counted in Skagit County before hunting is allowed there. Hunters should keep checking WDFW’s website for an announcement on the season, which is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 14, 15, 18, 21, 22, 25, 28 and 29.

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 for information on the rules and requirements.

Another option is a Waterfowl Quality Hunt Program, which provides duck and goose hunting opportunities at more than 40 sites in Whatcom, Skagit and north Snohomish counties. For more information, visit the quality hunt program’s webpage.

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 2011 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 2012 hunting license.

Wildlife viewing: 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 on bird sightings in Washington, 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. 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.

Meanwhile, sightings of snowy owls have been reported in the region, including at Sandy Point in Whatcom County, along Thomle Road in Snohomish County and at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. The large, white owls with yellow eyes are most frequently seen this time of year in Whatcom County, but can be found in the coastal areas of Skagit, Grays Harbor, and Pacific Counties as well. Birders can check the Tweeters birding website for the latest reports on sightings of snowy owls, as well as other birds.

South Sound/Olympic Peninsula

Fishing: Winter fisheries are under way in the region, where anglers have opportunities to hook salmon in Puget Sound and reel in hatchery steelhead on several coastal streams.  

Shellfish managers at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) have also scheduled the first razor clam dig of 2012 on evening tides Jan. 20-21 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks. For more information, see the WDFW Razor Clam website.

This time of year, weather conditions will often dictate where an angler chooses to fish, said Kirt Hughes, WDFW regional fishery manager. “If the rivers are blown out, salmon fishing in Puget Sound is probably your best bet,” he said. “But, if the weather cooperates and the rivers are in shape, anglers might want to try fishing for hatchery steelhead.”

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.

Information on weekly steelhead catches in the Quillayute River system and the Hoh River are available on WDFW’s website.

Hughes reminds anglers that they will not be allowed to catch and keep wild steelhead on eight Olympic Peninsula rivers until mid-February. The annual opening date for wild steelhead retention is Feb. 16 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.

Anglers should also be aware that fishing for steelhead and other game fish will close early in several river systems in Puget Sound and along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to protect wild steelhead. The early closures will affect the Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish and Puyallup river systems, along with several streams along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Most river systems will close Feb. 1. However, the Puyallup River system will close Jan. 16, and some waters near WDFW fish hatcheries are scheduled to close Feb. 16.

Pre-season estimates developed by WDFW last fall indicate that wild steelhead will return to those watersheds in numbers far short of target levels, said Bob Leland, WDFW’s steelhead program manager. “By taking this action, we can protect wild steelhead that do make it back to these river systems,” he said.

For more information on the closures, check the emergency rule changes on WDFW’s website at http://1.usa.gov/hfDjYl.

Meanwhile, freshwater anglers looking to hook salmon also have opportunities in January. Anglers can find late-run hatchery coho salmon in some of the region’s rivers, including the Humptulips, Satsop and Willapa, said Hughes.

For winter chum salmon, anglers should try fishing the Nisqually.

On Puget Sound, Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound) remains open for salmon. However, regulations for Marine Area 13 change Jan. 1, when anglers will have a daily limit of one salmon. Anglers should be aware that salmon fisheries in marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) and 12 (Hood Canal) close Jan. 1. 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 closes at sunset on 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 report on the department’s licensing website. The mailing address is WDFW CRC Unit, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. The online reporting system is available Jan. 1-Feb. 1. 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. Hunters have through Jan. 29 to hunt for ducks in the region. Goose hunts in Goose Management Area 3 also are open seven days a week through Jan. 29. However, hunts in Goose Management Area 2B (Pacific County) are limited to Saturdays and Wednesdays only through Jan. 21. The brant hunting season in Pacific County is open Jan. 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21 and 22.

Waterfowl hunters should check the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet for details.

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 2011 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 2012 hunting license.

Wildlife viewing: 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 on bird sightings in Washington, 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. 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 can get started on that checklist 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.

The highlight for some birders at the refuge this winter has been a snowy owl, a rare visitor to the area. Snowy owls also have been reported at Ocean Shores, as well as at sites around Puget Sound. The large, white owls with yellow eyes are most frequently seen this time of year in Whatcom County, but can be found in the coastal areas of Skagit, Grays Harbor, and Pacific Counties as well. Birders can check the Tweeters birding website for the latest reports on sightings of snowy owls, as well as other birds.

Southwest Washington

Fishing:  Winter steelhead are still the name of the game in the Columbia River Basin, although several other fisheries are beginning to compete for anglers’ attention.
Sturgeon fishing reopens Jan. 1 from the mouth of the Columbia to McNary Dam, and more than a dozen lakes and ponds are scheduled to receive an infusion of 38,000 catchable-size rainbow trout by the end of the month.

Those trout were raised at state hatcheries in Goldendale and Aberdeen with the specific intent of providing winter fishing opportunities in the southwest region, said John Weinheimer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“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.”

Waters scheduled to receive fish in January include Fort Borst Park Pond (3,000) in Lewis County; Silver Lake (5,000), Sacajawea Lake (3,000), Horseshoe Lake (3,000) and Kress Lake (3,000) in Cowlitz County; Battleground Lake (8,000) and Klineline Pond (6,000) in Clark County; Icehouse Lake (1,000) and Little Ash Lake (1,000) in Skamania County; plus Rowland Lake (3,000), Spearfish Lake (1,800) and Maryhill Pond (500) in Klickitat County.

For steelhead, the Cowlitz River is still the best bet, although the Lewis, Kalama, Grays, Washougal, Elochoman rivers – and Salmon Creek in Clark County – are also producing fish, said Joe Hymer, another WDFW fish biologist based in Vancouver.

“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.”

Hymer also reminds anglers that the White Salmon River is closed to all fishing until further notice and that fishing on the lower Klickitat River is limited to the period from one hour before official sunrise to one hour after official sunset. 

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. The daily limit on all area rivers is two marked, hatchery-reared steelhead.

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

While the bulk of the spring chinook run isn’t expect to arrive until March, Hymer said anglers will likely 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,” he said. “Somebody has to catch the first springer of the year, and it could be you.”

WDFW recently released preliminary forecasts of Columbia River salmon and steelhead returns for 2012, predicting an upriver run of 314,200 adult spring chinook compared to a return of 221,200 last spring. In addition, 462,000 sockeye and 91,200 summer chinook are expected to return during the coming season, which would set records for both species. The outlook for fall chinook is similar to last year’s robust return of 600,000 adults. 

The preliminary forecasts, along with anticipated fishing seasons, are posted on WDFW’s website. Current fishing rules are described in 2011-12 Fishing in Washington pamphlet and river conditions are available from the Northwest River Forecast.

Ready to catch some sturgeon? All fishing areas will open to anglers Jan. 1 from the mouth of the Columbia River to McNary Dam. From the Wauna powerlines upstream to Bonneville Dam (including all adjacent Washington tributaries), white sturgeon may be retained Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays only. 

“The main concern right now is the cold water temperatures,” Hymer said. “A warming trend would likely improve the bite when the season gets under way.” He noted that fishery managers from Washington and Oregon are scheduled to meet Jan. 26 to consider changes to current catch quotas and mainstem fisheries. 

But when it comes to eulachon smelt, Hymer said there will be no fishing of any kind this year. Once abundant in the Columbia River Basin, eulachon were listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act in May 2010. Since then, Washington and Oregon have closed all sport and commercial dipping in the Columbia River system. All marine and freshwater areas in Washington are also closed to fishing for eulachon smelt.

Anglers can, however, still use any frozen smelt they have in their freezer as bait, said Capt. Murray Schlenker, WDFW enforcement chief for southwest Washington. “There’s no law restricting possession,” he said. “You just can’t fish for them.”

Hunting: Most big-game hunts in the region are closed for the season, but waterfowl hunters still have time to bag ducks and geese throughout the region. With the exception of New Year’s Day when goose hunting is closed, hunters will have through Jan. 29 to hunt for both types of waterfowl.

Goose Management Area 2A (Cowlitz, Wahkiakum and part of Clark County) is open to hunting for ducks and geese Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. Waterfowl hunting in Management Area 3 (Lewis and Skamania counties) and Area 5 (Klickitat County) is open seven days a week.

Permit hunters can look forward to hunts scheduled Jan. 1-16 in the Winston and Coweeman Game Management Units. For more information about all these hunts, see the Waterfowl and Upland Game regulation pamphlet.

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 2011 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 2012 hunting license.

Watchable wildlife:  An invasion of snowy owls from the Far North has now reached as far south as the floodplain of the Columbia River. A WDFW technician recently reported seeing one while working at the Shillapoo Wildlife Area, adding to previous sightings in Seattle, Yakima, Ocean Shores and the Olympic National Park. As one park visitor from Port Angeles put it, “it's getting so you can't go anywhere without seeing a snowy owl.”

Usually the owls don’t winter much farther south than northwest Washington, but appear to be moving further south in search of prey. According to a report in eBird, an online publication of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, this migration is due to a natural fluctuation in the lemming population, their primary source of food.

Other birds recently seen at Shillapoo include a merlin, egrets, blue herons, pintails, mallards, bald eagles, and short-eared owls.

Meanwhile, a birder reporting on the Tweeters website marveled at musicianship of a different conglomeration of birds at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, a few miles up the road: “Watched and listened at sunset … to  the “Wild Bird concerto in Bird-major” by hundreds of tundra swans, some sandhill cranes and later many gaggles of Canada geese settling in. As I left the area at about 5:30 p.m., more geese and swans were arriving and settling on the lake – adding even more talented musicians to the orchestra.”

Eastern Washington

Fishing:  Most catches at the region’s four winter-only rainbow trout lakes are now through the ice, but that ice cover could be hazardous if warmer weather continues.

Hog Canyon Lake, 10 miles northeast of Sprague, and Fourth of July Lake, two miles south of Sprague, have been giving up some nice trout 12 to 24 inches in length. 
Both lakes have a daily catch limit of five trout, but only two can be over 14 inches.

The other two winter season trout lakes are Hatch Lake, about five miles southeast of Colville, and Williams Lake, 14 miles north of Colville. Good fishing has been reported at Hatch Lake where the rainbows run about 13 to 16 inches. Anglers have also been catching some fish in that range at Williams Lake.

Bill Baker, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), reminds anglers to be careful on and near ice that may be melting somewhat during the day and re-freezing at night, creating air pockets that leave ice “honeycombed” or porous and significantly weakened. 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 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.

But anglers don’t necessarily have to fish at winter-only lakes to catch fish. There can also be good winter trout-fishing opportunities at several large year-round waters, including Rock Lake in Whitman County, Sprague Lake on the Lincoln-Adams county line, and Waitts Lake in Stevens County.

WDFW Enforcement Officer Don Weatherman recently patrolled Lake Roosevelt on the Stevens-Ferry county line, where anglers are after big net-pen-reared rainbows. He also checked fish on the Pend Oreille River, where anglers are targeting northern pike.

January can also be a good time for Snake River system steelheading, depending on water temperatures and flows with rain and snow. According to the latest creel survey (Jan. 8, 2012), the best fishing was on the Grand Ronde River, a tributary of the Snake on the WA-OR line, where anglers spent an average of less than nine hours per steelhead caught. The Tucannon River provided an average of about 10 hours per steelhead. Other Snake River mainstem sections checked in the creel survey were from Lower Monumental Dam to Little Goose Dam, where anglers averaged about 18 hours per steelhead caught; from Ice Harbor to Lower Monumental dams, where the average was a little over 21 hours per steelhead; and from Little Goose to Lower Granite dams, where the average was about 22 hours per steelhead.

Hunting:  Once the snow returns, hunting for upland game birds should improve before the seasons come to and end Jan. 16. Pheasants, quail, chukars and gray partridge tend to hold better with a snow cover, which also improves tracking and scenting conditions for bird dogs.

Private lands 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. Decent hunting opportunities also still exist on WDFW properties such as the Revere Wildlife Area in Whitman County and Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County. Other possibilities include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers habitat management units along the Snake River. For details see the interactive mapping program “Go Hunt.”

Wherever water remains ice-free and ducks and geese have secure roosting, opportunities are still available for waterfowl hunters. Ducks and geese are fair game through Jan. 29.

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 2011 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 2012 hunting license.

Wildlife viewing:  Low snow and ice conditions on the Pend Oreille and Columbia rivers have made bald eagles and waterfowl readily observable, said Dana Base, a
WDFW wildlife biologist stationed in Colville. A snowy owl has also been sighted repeatedly in the valley bottom just south of Colville. “It’s generally easy to find, along with several rough-legged hawks just off of valley roads,” Base said.

Spokane County commuters are regularly treated to views of Canada geese flocking to feeding grounds on the Peone Prairie in the morning hours and back to the safety of open water on the Spokane River in the afternoon. Bald eagles, ravens, magpies, and other scavengers can also be seen near roadways where they feed on road-killed deer.

WDFW Wooten Wildlife Area Manager Kari Dingman of Pomeroy said most elk and deer seem to be staying invisible in higher country since there is little snow to bring them into the Tucannon River valley. She did recently see a cow moose in the Cummings Creek area, which is under a winter closure from Jan. 1 until April 1 to protect wintering wildlife.

Northcentral Washington

.Fishing:  Most hatchery steelhead fisheries on the upper Columbia River from Rock Island Dam to Chief Joseph Dam, and those on the Wenatchee, Icicle, Entiat and Methow rivers, close Jan. 2 to keep impacts on wild steelhead within limits established under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Whitefish angling also closes Jan. 2 on the Wenatchee, Methow and Entiat rivers to minimize impacts. 

Steelhead and whitefish seasons remain open until further notice on the Okanogan and Similkameen rivers. Details on what’s closed and what’s open are available on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) website.

“The primary reason the upper Columbia steelhead fisheries are permitted is to remove excess hatchery fish from spawning grounds,” Jeff Korth, WDFW northcentral regional fish manager, Korth said.  A steelhead run update later this month could allow some areas to reopen for additional fishing opportunities, he said, noting that anglers should keep a close eye on the WDFW website for these possibilities.

Meanwhile, ice fishing opportunities are now available at Patterson and Davis Lakes in the Winthrop area, Rat Lake near Brewster, and Big and Little Green lakes west of Omak, said Bob Jateff, WDFW Okanogan district fish biologist. “The predominate species at Davis, Rat, and Green lakes is rainbow trout in the 10-12 inch range,” he said. “Patterson Lake has yellow perch in the seven to eight-inch range. Powerbait works well for trout, and small jigs tipped with mealworms work well for perch.”

Jateff encourages anglers fishing Patterson Lake to retain as many perch as possible.  The daily limit for rainbow trout is five fish per day with no minimum size. He cautions to be alert and aware of changing ice conditions at these and other waters. Safety tips for fishing through the ice are available on WDFW’s website.

Rufus Woods Reservoir, upriver from Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River, has big triploid rainbow trout that can be caught throughout the winter months. Boat anglers can 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.

“Most of these fish are in the two to four-pound range, with larger fish to eight pounds,” Jateff said. “Still fishermen use Powerbait, while gear and fly fishermen use jigs, spinners, and streamer patterns.”

Hunting:  January is the last – and possibly 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.

The latest (Jan. 6, 2012) North Columbia Basin Midwinter Waterfowl Survey totaled 126,000 waterfowl, including 80,000 mallards, 26,000 divers, and 11,000 Canada geese.  Mallards were concentrated on the Winchester Reserve, north Moses Lake, north Franklin County, and east Lower Crab Creek.  Divers were evenly distributed along the Columbia River pools, with the exception of Chief Joseph Pool.  Ice conditions were very moderate for this time of year with larger bodies of water and most channels still open.  See the full survey report at http://wdfw.wa.gov/about/regions/region2/waterfowl_surveys.html.

Additional “Feel Free to Hunt” access is now available through the annual contracts made with Columbia Basin landowners in the Corn Stubble Retention Project (CSRP), including acreage in the George area of Grant County. WDFW district wildlife biologist Rich Finger explains that since ducks and geese feed primarily on waste grain such as corn and wheat, the CSRP pays growers to leave corn stubble standing, rather than plowing it under, to benefit waterfowl and waterfowl hunters. These fields are all part of WDFW’s Feel Free to Hunt access program, and are available to hunters as soon as corn harvest is completed.

Upland game bird hunting continues through Jan. 16, and the last two weeks of the season could be productive if snow cover develops. Pheasant, quail and chukar numbers are fairly good in the Columbia Basin and birds will hold better with snow. Be sure to secure permission first to hunt private lands, or check out public lands such as 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.”

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 2011 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 2012 hunting license.

Wildlife viewing:  The biggest wildlife viewing draw in the northcentral region this winter has been a rare Ross’s gull at Palmer Lake in Okanogan County. This arctic species, which normally winters at sea and has only been documented once before in the state, was spotted by WDFW wildlife biologist Jeff Heinlen of Omak in mid-December.
 
How long the rose-tinted gray and white bird will remain in the area is difficult to say, but it has been feeding on a deer carcass near the lake’s shoreline. Anyone wishing to catch a glimpse of the gull is reminded to be respectful of private property and residents around the lake, and to refrain from blocking roads or driveways or trespassing. Palmer Lake is about 15 miles northwest of Tonasket, six miles south of the Canada border. Heinlen says there are two developed areas for public parking along the lake-the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Split Rock day-use site at the south end of the lake and a Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) campground on the eastern shore. There are restroom facilities at each of these areas.

Photographs of the visiting Ross’s gull are on WDFW’s Facebook page.  Heinlen encourages those who see the bird to share their sightings in the comments section of the Facebook wall post.

Bird watchers traveling to see this rarity are also finding many winter birds throughout the Okanogan, including snowy owls, rough-legged hawks, snow buntings, and redpolls. Keep an eye out, too, for mule deer and bighorn sheep.

Another option is to take in a “Nature of Winter” snowshoe tour on winter ecology, wildlife and tracks, and more. These family-friendly tours are available  Jan. 14, 15, 21 and 28, sponsored  by the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA), U.S. Forest Service and Atlas Snowshoes. Reservations are not required; space is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Call MVSTA at 996-3287 or email events@mvsta.com for more information.

The first annual Methow Community Trail “Backyard” Ski Day is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 27, as an opportunity for anyone to enjoy the winter trail system in their own back yard, free of charge for a day.  Activities include the Methow Conservancy Kid’s Winter Tracking in the afternoon. Call MVSTA at 996-3287 or email events@mvsta.com for more information.

Southcentral Washington

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.

Anglers planning to take part in the fishery should be aware there is an annual quota for sturgeon on Lake Umatilla, said Paul Hoffarth, a regional fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “In recent years, the quota has been reached in a couple of months, so I’d advise anglers to get out early if they want to take a sturgeon home for dinner,” he said. 

Another option is McNary Pool (Lake Wallula), including the Snake River below Ice Harbor Dam, which reopens for sturgeon retention Feb. 1. There is no quota in that pool, where anglers often catch sturgeon up until the pool closes to retention Aug.1.

Meanwhile, steelhead fishing has been up and down, typical of the winter fishery, said Hoffarth, who noted that some of the best catches on the Columbia River have been reported in the Ringold area. In the Tri-Cities area, the fishery is open for retention of hatchery steelhead from John Day Dam upstream to the wooden power line towers at the old Hanford town site through March 31, 2012.

The lower Snake River is also open for the retention of hatchery steelhead through March 31. The daily limit in the Snake River is three hatchery steelhead. Barbless hooks are required.

Anglers should be aware that steelhead fishing will close Jan. 2 by emergency rule on the upper Columbia River from the Rock Island Dam to Chief Joseph Dam, as well as on the Wenatchee, Icicle, Entiat, and Methow rivers.

Walleye fishing can get slow in winter, but there’s always a chance of catching a lunker. Hoffarth said some of the largest walleye of the year are boated during the winter months near the Tri-Cities – including the 19.3-pound state record taken in Lake Wallula in 2007.

Winter whitefish seasons are currently open on the Yakima, Naches, Tieton, Cle Elum and Bumping rivers. However, anglers should be aware that whitefish angling on the Yakima River’s Yakama Reservation Boundary Reach – the stretch of the river from the Highway 223 Bridge at Granger to the I-82 Bridge at Union Gap – recently closed by emergency rule.

Anglers are strongly 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 anglers fishing for whitefish concentrate their fishing efforts in deep pools below riffles. 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), and bait is allowed. Fish are usually caught with a small fly, tipped with a maggot, Anderson said. Up to 15 whitefish can be retained daily. Most fish are 10 to 15 inches.

Hunting: Most big-game hunts in the region are now closed for the season, but waterfowl hunters can continue to bag ducks and geese through Jan. 29. Hunting rules are outlined in the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet.

The latest (Jan. 4, 2012) South Columbia Basin Midwinter Waterfowl Survey is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/about/regions/region3/waterfowl_surveys.html.

Hunters should be aware that additional “Feel Free to Hunt” access is now available through a annual contracts made with Columbia Basin landowners in the Corn Stubble Retention Project (CSRP), including those in the Mesa area of Franklin County. Since ducks and geese feed primarily on waste grain such as corn and wheat, the CSRP pays growers to leave corn stubble standing, rather than plowing it under, to benefit waterfowl and waterfowl hunters. These fields are all part of WDFW’s Feel Free to Hunt access program, and are available to hunters as soon as the corn harvest is completed. Details on CSRP locations are available online.

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 2011 license 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 2012 hunting license.

Wildlife viewing: Once the snow starts to fall, hundreds of hungry elk and big-horn sheep will start descending on WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area, where visitors can watch them dine on alfalfa hay and pellets. Dry weather delayed the start of this year’s feeding program, but managers at the wildlife area 15 miles northwest of Yakima are still predicting a strong turnout once the snow starts to pile up.

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, thousands of waterbirds are on display along the Columbia and Snake rivers, including ducks in full breeding plumage. Mike Livingston, a WDFW wildlife biologist stationed in the Tri-Cities, said good views are available of goldeneye, bufflehead, mallards, scaup, canvasback and American widgeon on the Snake River below Ice Harbor Dam; at McNary and Umatilla national wildlife refuges; along the Hanford Reach and at Columbia Park in Kennewick; at Wade and Chiwana Parks in Pasco; and the Yakima Delta, Leslie Grove and Howard Amon parks in Richland.

“Also watch for wintering common loons, and don’t forget to look in the trees and along the shoreline for bald eagles,” Livingston said. “Dense riparian cover near the Yakima River could yield sights of Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks hunting passerines.” Wintering mule deer also can be spotted from the county roads in the wheat fields of eastern Franklin County east and west of Kahlotus.”