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

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March 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 March 23, 2012)

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

Plenty of good reasons to renew
fishing and hunting licenses soon

Spring chinook salmon are moving into the lower Columbia River, dozens of eastside lakes open for trout fishing March 1, and a series of morning razor-clam digs is tentatively scheduled through early April.

These are just a few of the reasons why anglers might want to consider purchasing a 2012-13 fishing license before current licenses expire at midnight March 31.

Hunters also have good reason to plan ahead. A spring wild turkey season for hunters under age 16 is scheduled April 7-8 prior to the start of the general spring turkey hunt April 15.

“We encourage people to renew their fishing and hunting licenses early, so they can take advantage of the great recreational opportunities available in the coming weeks and months,” said Bill Joplin, licensing manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

The cost of some licenses reflects a fee increase approved by the state Legislature last year to help WDFW meet the cost of managing hunting, fishing and the natural resources that make those activities possible. The new rates, which took effect last September, represent the first general increase in recreational license fees in more than a decade.

All fees included, a resident adult freshwater fishing license is $29.50; saltwater is $30.05; shellfish/seaweed is $16.30; and a combination license is $54.25. Resident hunting licenses vary with package options, ranging from a small-game license at $40.50 to a deer/elk/cougar/bear combination license for $95.50.

Most annual licenses include a WDFW vehicle-access pass, which gives the bearer access to more than 600 WDFW recreational access sites throughout the state. Or, individuals can purchase an annual Discover Pass for $30 (transaction and dealer fees may apply), which also provides vehicle access to state parks and other state lands.

Fishing licenses, hunting licences and the Discover Pass are all available online (https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/), by phone (1-866-246-9453) and from license dealers around the state.

For current information about upcoming razor-clam digs, call WDFW’s Shellfish Hotline (866-880-5431) or go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/current.

For more information about other fishing, hunting and wildlife-watching opportunities in March, see the Weekender Regional Reports 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:  With the region’s rivers closed to steelhead fishing, anglers’ attention has turned to blackmouth salmon in the marine areas of Puget Sound.

Anglers fishing marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner), and 9 (Admiralty Inlet) have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook salmon. Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) is closed to salmon fishing.

Before heading out, anglers can check creel reports for information on catch and effort in Puget Sound. Catch samplers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) collect the information each week at fishing access sites throughout Puget Sound.
 
Anglers looking for some competition might want to participate in the Everett Blackmouth Derby on March 17. Prizes include $3,000 for the largest fish, $1,500 for second place and $500 for third place. For details, visit the derby’s website.

Meanwhile, numerous rivers are closed to fishing for steelhead and other game fish, including the Skagit, Sauk and Samish. The three rivers, usually open in March, closed early to protect wild steelhead that are returning in low numbers this year.

Freshwater anglers, however, can wet a line at some local lakes. Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish are good spots to fish for perch, cutthroat and smallmouth bass. Fishing there and in many other lakes should improve in March as water temperatures increase and fish move into shallower water. 

Looking forward to the summer salmon fishing season? There's still time to comment on proposals for this year's fisheries. Several public meetings have been scheduled throughout March as fishery managers continue to develop the 2012 salmon seasons, which will be finalized in early April. For more information on the meetings, visit WDFW’s North of Falcon website.

Hunting: Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2012 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field.

In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern-firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2012. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington. They  also may apply for special permits to hunt deer or elk, regardless of weapon type.

Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at authorized license dealers, or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $6 for residents and $100 for nonresidents. A 2012 hunting license is not required to submit an application, but winners of the drawing must purchase one before they can purchase a multiple-season tag.

Wildlife viewing: Birdwatchers have an opportunity to take part in the "Wings Over Water" Northwest Birding Festival March 17 in Blaine. The festival features wildlife viewing field trips, arts and crafts, speakers, raptor presentations, and activities and games for children. For more information visit the Blaine Chamber of Commerce website.

South of Blaine, sightings of snowy owls continue to be reported in the Bellingham area. One birder spotted about 25 snowy owls along Boundary Bay. The large, white, yellow-eyed owls are most frequently seen in the winter 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.

The annual gray whale migration is under way and whalewatchers could have several opportunities in March to spot the large marine mammals. In fact, there have already been reports of gray whale sightings in the Whidbey and Camano Island areas, particularly Saratoga Passage. The whales are making their annual journey north from the coast of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, where they spend the summer feeding before heading south again. While most continue on to Alaska, some gray whales linger in the waters of the Pacific Northwest during the spring and summer months, dipping into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and other areas of Puget Sound. The best way to spot a gray – from land or sea – is to look for "spouts" of water that can reach 10 to 12 feet in the air when the whales exhale.

South Sound/Olympic Peninsula

Fishing: Blackmouth salmon fisheries are in full swing in Puget Sound, the lingcod season gets under way mid-March in ocean areas south of Cape Alava and a morning razor clam dig is scheduled at several ocean beaches March 24-25..

Four beaches – Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks and Copalis – will be open for digging March 24, and all except Copalis will be open for digging Sunday, March 25.  No digging will be allowed either day after noon at any of those beaches.

“We’re nearing the end of the season at Copalis, but we still have more clams available for harvest on other beaches,” said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “We have tentatively scheduled another dig in April and perhaps more to come.”

Morning low tides and beach openings for the upcoming dig are:

  • March 24, Saturday (8:25 a.m. +0.3 ft.): Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks
  • March 25, Sunday (8:59 a.m., +0.3 ft.): Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Ayres notes that the dig scheduled at Copalis on March 24 will coincide with the sixth annual Ocean Shores Razor Clam Festival, which includes a chowder cookoff and other events.
 
Under state law, diggers can take 15 razor clams per day, and are required to keep the first 15 they dig. Each digger's clams must be kept in a separate container.
 
All diggers age 15 or older must have a valid fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licensing options range from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, which can be purchased on WDFW's website and from license vendors around the state.

Meanwhile, fishing for blackmouth – resident chinook – is an option in several areas of Puget Sound. Anglers fishing marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon) and 12 (Hood Canal) have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook. Those fishing the Strait of Juan de Fuca – marine areas 5 (Sekiu) and 6 (eastern Strait) – and Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound) have a daily limit of one salmon.

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.

Rather hook a lingcod? Fishing for lingcod gets under way March 17 in marine areas 1-3, south of Cape Alava. The minimum size for lingcod in these areas is 22 inches, with a daily limit of two fish per angler. For lingcod fishing regulations, check the Fishing in Washington pamphlet. For information on the deepwater portions of marine areas 1 and 2 that are closed, check the fishing rule change on WDFW’s website. 

Back on shore, there’s still time to provide input on the summer salmon fishing seasons. Several public meetings have been scheduled throughout March as fishery managers continue to develop the 2012 salmon seasons, which will be finalized in early April. For more information on the meetings, visit WDFW’s North of Falcon website.

In the rivers, wild steelhead returns to northern peninsula streams reach their peak in March. As in years past, anglers may retain only one wild steelhead per license year on the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Hoh, Quillayute, Quinault and Sol Duc rivers.  On all other rivers, anglers may retain only hatchery-reared steelhead marked with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar.

Anglers should be aware that wild steelhead retention closes on portions of the Dickey River in mid-March. For more information on steelhead fishing regulations, check the Fishing in Washington pamphlet. Information on weekly steelhead catches in the Quillayute River system and the Hoh River are available on WDFW’s website.

Hunting: Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2012 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field.

In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern-firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2012. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington. They  also may apply for special permits to hunt deer or elk, regardless of weapon type.

Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at authorized license dealers, or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $6 for residents and $100 for nonresidents. A 2012 hunting license is not required to submit an application, but winners of the drawing must purchase one before they can purchase a multiple-season tag.

Wildlife viewing: The annual gray whale migration is under way and whalewatchers could have several opportunities in March to spot the large marine mammals. The whales are making their annual journey north from the coast of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, where they spend the summer feeding before heading south again. While most continue on to Alaska, some gray whales linger in the waters of the Pacific Northwest during the spring and summer months, dipping into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and other areas of Puget Sound. The best way to spot a gray – from land or sea – is to look for "spouts" of water that can reach 10 to 12 feet in the air when the whales exhale.

Birders in the region continue to spot snowy owls in the Ocean Shores area. One birder recently spotted at least four snowy owls at Damon Point State Park, where they have been seen many times perched on driftwood. “The owls, are very cooperative and will sit there for extended periods of time,” the birder reported on Tweeters birding website. The large, white, yellow-eyed owls are most frequently seen in the winter in Whatcom County, but can be found in the coastal areas of Skagit, Grays Harbor, and Pacific Counties as well.

Southwest Washington

Fishing:  Spring chinook fever is starting to take hold on the Columbia River. More than 100 boats were counted on the lower river one day in late February when only a single adult fish had passed Bonneville Dam. By late March – when the bulk of the run is expected to arrive – that number is expected to grow to more than 2,000 boats per day. 

“At first, the fish usually arrive in fits and starts, then eventually start moving upriver in a steady flow,” said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “Through March, we expect to see the number of boat and bank anglers on the river to increase week by week.”

According to the pre-season forecast, 314,200 upriver fish are expected to return to the Columbia River this year, which would be the fourth-largest run on record. The sport fishery below Bonneville Dam is scheduled to run through April 6, but could be extended if enough fish are available for harvest.

Harvest guidelines adopted by the two states will allow anglers fishing below Bonneville Dam to catch and keep up to 14,500 hatchery-reared spring chinook before the run forecast is updated in May. Upriver fish bound for rivers above the dam are expected to make up the majority of the catch, but salmon returning to the Cowlitz, Lewis, Willamette and other rivers below Bonneville also contribute to the fishery.

As in years past, only hatchery-reared spring chinook marked with a clipped adipose fin may be retained. Any unmarked wild spring chinook must be released unharmed.  

Cindy LeFleur, WDFW Columbia River policy manager, said this year’s spring chinook fishery looks promising, especially compared to last season.

“Not only is this year’s run forecast well above average, but fishing conditions should be a lot better than last year when anglers had to contend with weeks of high, turbid water,” LeFleur said.

Spring chinook fishing is currently open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to the Interstate 5 bridge.  Starting March 1, the sport fishery will expand upriver to Beacon Rock and run through April 6. During that period, the sport fishery will close on three Tuesdays – March 20, March 27 and April 3 – to accommodate commercial fisheries.

Starting March 1, bank anglers will also be allowed to fish from Beacon Rock up to the fishing boundary below Bonneville Dam.

Above Bonneville Dam, the fishery will be open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from March 16 through May 2 between the Tower Island powerlines six miles below The Dalles Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the powerlines during that time.

Starting March 1, anglers fishing downriver from Bonneville Dam may retain one marked hatchery-reared adult spring chinook as part of their daily catch limit. Above the dam, anglers can keep two marked adult spring chinook per day effective March 16.

To guard against overestimating this year’s run, the states will again manage the fisheries with a 30 percent buffer until the forecast is updated in late April or early May.

Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon have already scheduled a meeting April 5 to review the catch and determine if the season can be extended. If the catch to that point has not reached the initial harvest guideline, the two states will consider an immediate extension, said LeFleur, the WDFW fishery manager.

Effective March 1 through May 15, the mainstem Columbia River will be open for retention of shad, but only on days and in areas open for retention of adipose fin-clipped spring chinook.

The Cowlitz River is currently open to fishing for spring chinook, with a daily limit of two adult chinook salmon. On the Kalama and Lewis rivers, the limit is one adult chinook salmon per day. Above Bonneville, the Wind River and Drano Lake are scheduled to open for spring chinook March 16 with a limit of two chinook per day.

All of those rivers are also open to fishing for late-run hatchery steelhead under rules outlined in the 2011-12 Fishing in Washington pamphlet. Hymer said fishing for winter hatchery steelhead is still going strong, particularly on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers, noting that summer-run steelhead will start coming in right behind them later in the month.

In other waters, anglers should be aware that March 15 is the last day to fish for steelhead on Abernathy, Cedar (Clark Co.), Germany, Mill (Cowlitz Co.), Rock (Skamania Co.), Salmon (Clark Co.) creeks and on the Coweeman, Elochoman, Grays, East Fork Lewis and Washougal rivers.

Meanwhile, sturgeon fisheries below Bonneville Dam will be further constrained for the third straight year. Responding to the continued decline of sturgeon abundance below the dam, fishery managers adopted fishing regulations designed to reduce the catch by 9,600 fish – a 38 percent reduction from last year.

That action follows a 30 percent catch reduction in 2011 and a 40 percent reduction in 2010.

“This year’s sturgeon fishery will be opening later or closing earlier on various sections of the river,” LeFleur said. “Anglers should check this year’s fishing rules carefully before they head out.”

Monitoring data jointly collected by Washington and Oregon indicate that the abundance of legal-size white sturgeon has declined by nearly 50 percent since 2003. Factors often cited for the decline include increased predation by sea lions and a drop in the abundance of smelt and lamprey, which contribute to sturgeons’ diet.

To keep this year’s catch within the new harvest guideline, the sturgeon fishery will end 23 days earlier than last year in the estuary below the Wauna powerlines and start eight days later in the fall from the powerlines upriver to Bonneville Dam. Fishing seasons approved for 2012 in the lower Columbia River are as follows:

  • Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines:  Retention of white sturgeon is allowed daily from Jan. 1 through April 30 and from May 12 through July 8. From Jan. 1 through April 30, sturgeon must measure between 38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. From May 12 through the end of the season they must measure 41 inches to 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited. 
  • Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam: Retention of white sturgeon is allowed three days per week (Thursday through Saturday) from Jan. 1 through July 31 and from Oct. 20 through Dec. 31. Sturgeon must measure between 38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited.

Sport fishing for sturgeon will be closed from May 1 through Aug. 31 in the nine-mile sturgeon sanctuary downriver from Bonneville Dam described in the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet. Sand Island Slough near Rooster Rock also will be closed to fishing at least through April 30.

As in years past, 80 percent of the allowable catch will be allocated to the sport fishery and 20 percent to the commercial fishery. Under the new harvest rate, the portion of the catch available to recreational fisheries will be allocated as follows: up to 4,160 fish in the estuary, up to 2,080 above Wauna and between 1,768 and 2,022 in the Willamette River (actual catch was 1,535 fish in the two day season).  

Unlike the lower river, legal-size sturgeon populations appear to be growing above Bonneville Dam, said Brad James, a WDFW fish biologist. This year’s harvest guidelines for sturgeon fisheries above the dam remained the same as last year – 2,000 fish in Bonneville Pool, 300 in The Dalles Pool, and 500 in John Day Pool. Over half the Bonneville Pool guideline was reserved for the summer season as the first retention period closed Feb. 18.      

Another option is walleye, which are now on the bite above Bonneville Dam. The kokanee fishery is also picking up in Merwin Reservoir and should improve throughout the month. For other freshwater fishing options, check the stocking schedule on WDFW’s website for trout plants throughout the region.

Hunting: Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2012 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field.

In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern-firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2012. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington. They  also may apply for special permits to hunt deer or elk, regardless of weapon type.

Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at authorized license dealers, or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $6 for residents and $100 for nonresidents. A 2012 hunting license is not required to submit an application, but winners of the drawing must purchase one before they can purchase a multiple-season tag.

Wildlife viewing: With spring fast approaching, sandhill cranes are now arriving in the Vancouver Lowlands to begin their annual mating dance. Thousands of the large birds – with wingspans of up to seven feet – will visit prime feeding areas such as the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge before leaving for the long trip north.

The cranes have plenty of company while they’re in the area. Great egrets, tundra swans, belted kingfishers and a wide variety of other birds are also arriving for spring.

Rather watch fish move upriver? Visit the fish-viewing window at Bonneville Dam in March and you might see spring chinook salmon or late-run steelhead passing up the fish ladder. But things should start getting a lot more interesting in April, when hundreds – then thousands – of spring chinook weighing up to 40 pounds apiece start moving past the dam on a daily basis.

To observe the annual parade of fish, stop by the Washington Shore Visitor Complex at the dam. To get there, take Washington State Highway 14 east to Milepost 40 (about 5 miles from Stevenson) and turn into the Bonneville Dam visitor center. The visitor center is the glass building at the end of the powerhouse.

Eastern Washington

Fishing: Over a dozen trout-stocked lakes in the eastern region open to fishing March 1, and those that are ice-free should be productive.

In the southeast district, six of the seven man-made lakes off the Tucannon River in Columbia County – Big Four, Blue, Deer, Rainbow, Spring and Watson – are stocked with catchable size rainbow trout, including 8- to 12-inch, one-third pounders and some 14-inchers up to or over a pound each.

Glen Mendel, southeast district fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said Beaver Lake continues to have decreased water flows due to river changes, and for the second year will not be stocked.

Fishhook Pond in Walla Walla County and Pampa Pond in Whitman County also open March 1 and are well-stocked with catchable-size rainbows. Other year-round-open waters in the southeast district are also receiving hatchery plants now. Specific fish stocking numbers are available on WDFW’s website.

Other waters opening March 1 further north in the region will likely provide action on a variety of fish later in the month when ice melts and access is easier. Most of these are not dependent on catchable-size fish stocking, but have fish populations that carry over through the winter.They include Downs Lake in Spokane County, with bass, crappie, perch and rainbow trout; Liberty Lake east of Spokane, with rainbow and brown trout, bass, and perch; and Medical Lake near the town of the same name, with brown and rainbow trout.

Also opening March 1 are Amber Lake in southwest Spokane County for catch-and-release of rainbow and cutthroat trout; Coffeepot Lake in Lincoln County for rainbows, yellow perch and black crappie under selective-gear rules; and North Silver Lake in southwest Spokane County for rainbows under selective-gear rules and a requirement to release adipose-fin-clipped fish.

Deer Lake in southern Stevens County also opens March 1, but WDFW northeast district fish biologist Bill Baker said the lake is still iced over. “With these wintery conditions, the opener might provide some ice-fishing opportunity,” he said. “But as the season progresses, anglers need to be very cautious about safe ice depth.” Deer Lake has bass, crappie, perch, rainbow and lake trout, as well as kokanee.

Baker also notes that northern Stevens County’s two winter-season rainbow trout lakes – Williams and Hatch – are still producing catches of 13- to 14-inch fish, although catch rates are slower.  Both lakes remain open through the month of March, but Baker said anglers need to be cautious about quickly changing ice conditions this late in the season.

Fishing action has also slowed at the central district’s two winter-season (December through March) lakes – Hog Canyon in Spokane County and Fourth of July in Lincoln County. Fish are still available, but changing conditions may keep anglers at home.

Kokanee and rainbow trout fishing should be good all month at year-round-open Lake Roosevelt.  In the Spring Canyon area of the big Columbia River reservoir, both species are usually caught near the surface.

Other year-round fisheries in the region that continue to provide good fishing include Sprague Lake for rainbows, and Rock Lake for rainbow and brown trout.

Steelhead fishing on the Grande Ronde River, especially the Shumaker and Cougar Creek areas, remains very good. The season is open through April 15 in the stretch from the county road bridge to the Oregon state line for up to three hatchery-marked steelhead daily. All tributaries are closed to steelhead fishing. In addition to a fishing license, a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement is required.

Another kind of fishing is available at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s 52nd annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, March 15-18, at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. Some 5,000 trout are stocked in three huge indoor lakes for kids to catch at “Fishing World.” The show also includes a “Virtual Reality Fishing Simulator,” fishing demonstration tank, lots of fishing seminars by experts, and hundreds of fishing equipment and charter service vendors. WDFW staff will be on site selling fishing licenses and talking with visitors about all things fish and wildlife.

Hunting: Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2012 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field.

In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern-firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2012. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington. They  also may apply for special permits to hunt deer or elk, regardless of weapon type.

Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at authorized license dealers, or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $6 for residents and $100 for nonresidents. A 2012 hunting license is not required to submit an application, but winners of the drawing must purchase one before they can purchase a multiple-season tag.

Another kind of hunting is available at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s 52nd annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, March 15-18, at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. Among other things, the show offers a rifle range, archery range, laser shot shooting simulators, and, of course, the origins of the event – “Trophy Territory,” where hundreds of hunter-harvested antlered and horned animals are displayed and  judged by Boone and Crocket scorers. WDFW staff will be on site selling hunting licenses and talking with visitors about all things fish and wildlife.

Wildlife viewing: Wintery weather shouldn’t hinder spring bird migrations into and through the region because most are triggered by increasing daylight hours.

Female Mountain Bluebird

WDFW staff in the Spokane area has reported influxes of red-winged blackbirds, robins, cedar waxwings and evening grosbeaks. David Woodall, WDFW wildlife biologist, said at least a couple of mountain bluebirds are already back in the Blue Mountains area, specifically the Peola area of Asotin Creek Wildlife Area’s Weatherly unit. The earliest waterfowl migrants – mallards and pintails – are also moving throughout the eastern region now.

Tundra swans are returning to the northeast district and March 17 is the Tundra Swan Festival at Calispell Lake in northeast Washington’s Pend Oreille County. This annual event is sponsored by the Pend Oreille River Tourism Alliance, with pre- and post-swan-viewing talks at the Camas Center for Community Wellness at Usk.

Deer and elk are more visible this month as snow cover recedes, south facing slopes open up, and new green forbs and grasses emerge.

“This is a critical time for our large ungulates because the new growth presents both good and not so good things for them,” said WDFW wildlife biologist Woody Myers.”It’s good in that new forage represents the first opportunity for these animals to reverse the energy deficits they have been experiencing all winter. But it’s not so good because it will take some time for the microflora in their stomachs to be able to break down the forage so they can use the new form of nutrition. That’s why it’s important to give these animals some distance to reduce stress, especially the cows and does that are entering the third trimester of pregnancy now.”

Myers also recommended waiting until May to look for shed antlers to avoid disturbing deer and elk. Some parts of the region’s wildlife areas are closed to all entry through the month of March to protect wildlife, including the W.T. Wooten’s Cummings Creek drainage; motorized access is prohibited until April on the Asotin Creek Wildlife Area’s Lick Creek Road and South Fork Road.

Northcentral Washington

Fishing: The Methow, Wenatchee and Icicle rivers will close to steelhead and whitefish fishing one hour after sunset on March 25. For more information on the closures, see the emergency rule change on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) website.

The Similkameen and Okanogan rivers will remain open for steelhead fishing, although sections of the Okanogan River around the mouth of Omak and Tonasket Creeks will close to all fishing March 16 to protect wild steelhead staging for spawning, said Jeff Korth, regional WDFW fish manager.

The daily limit on all rivers open to fishing is two hatchery steelhead, marked with a clipped adipose fin and measuring at least 20 inches in length. Anglers must retain any legal hatchery steelhead they catch until they reach their daily limit of two fish. At that point, they must stop fishing for steelhead. Any steelhead with an intact adipose fin must be released unharmed and must not be removed from the water.
  
Selective gear rules apply to all areas where steelhead seasons are open. All anglers are required to follow selective gear rules and restrictions described in WDFW’s Fishing in Washington pamphlet, available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/.

Meanwhile, the March 1 lake trout opener was one of the best in recent times, according to Chad Jackson, WDFW district fish biologist.

“Harvest rates were good to excellent, ranging from 2.7 to 4.3 rainbow trout per angler,” Jackson said.  “Angler effort was at least 50 percent lower than we observed the past two years, but winter conditions on the west side of the state may have delayed many anglers’ plans until the March 3-4 weekend.”

Upper Caliche Lake, just west of the town of George near I-90, was the best producer on the opener with a harvest rate of 4.3 trout per angler, up significantly from last year’s less than one trout per angler average, Jackson said. Trout quality was good, too, with sizes ranging from 11.5 to 13 inches, Jackson said.  Fishing should continue to be good at Upper Caliche over the next couple months. 

Both Quincy and Burke lakes, on the Quincy Wildlife Area southwest of the town of Quincy, fished very well with harvest rates of 3.0 and 2.9 trout per angler, respectively.  Yearling trout size was good ranging from 12 to 14 inches. Jackson said nearly 40 percent of trout checked in the creel at both lakes were carryovers ranging from 16 to 20 inches. 

“Fishing on both these well-stocked lakes should be good to excellent over the next two to three months for both yearling and carryover trout,” he said. “And those trout will continue to grow.”
 
Jackson also noted that a fishing derby sponsored by Quincy Valley Tourism will be held on Burke Lake on March 3; more information is available at the Quincy Valley Tourism website.

Martha Lake, east of George near the Caliche lakes, was slightly down from last year, but still produced well with a harvest rate of 2.7 trout per angler.  Trout quality was good with sizes ranging from 12 to 14 inches.  Jackson says fishing should be good the remainder of March at Martha.

The Basin’s selective gear rule lakes – Lenice and Nunnally on the Crab Creek Wildlife Area just east of Beverly; Lake Lenore two miles north of the town of Soap Lake; and Dusty Lake on the Quincy Wildlife Area – saw very low effort on the March 1 opener and poor catch rates early in the day.

“Effort was low and fishing was very slow at Lenice Lake due to below freezing air temperatures and strong winds,” said Jackson, who saw white caps on the lake surface during the entire creel survey. Eighteen anglers were checked, and only one fish was caught and released. Jackson says fishing at Lenice will likely pick up.

Only four anglers were observed fishing Dusty Lake on the opener and one had caught 12- to 14-inch rainbows. Action at Dusty also will pick up, Jackson said.

Nunnally Lake saw no anglers on the opener. Jackson said the same size rainbows as found at Lenice and Dusty are available at Nunnally, but it sometimes can take more time to find them. All three lakes are under selective gear rules and a one-fish daily catch limit.
 
No anglers were observed on the March 1 opener at Lake Lenore, which Jackson says typically fishes slow early in the season but picks up by mid-April.  Lenore is under selective gear rules and during the first two months of the season it’s catch-and-release only.
 
“Anglers who fish from float tubes or small boats can catch five to 10 fish during an outing,” he said. “The cutthroat trout in Lake Lenore range in size from 16 to pushing 30 inches.”



Ice cover is still good in most Okanogan County lakes, reports WDFW district fish biologist Bob Jateff.  Ice fishing opportunities are available at Patterson Lake near Winthrop for seven- to eight-inch yellow perch and 10- to 11-inch kokanee;  Davis Lake near Winthrop for 10- to 12-inch rainbow trout;  Big and Little Green lakes near Omak and Rat Lake near Brewster for 10- to 12-inch rainbow trout; Palmer Lake near Loomis for eight- to 10-inch yellow perch; and Bonaparte Lake near Tonasket for 10- to 12-inch eastern brook trout and kokanee.

“This month is the last chance to catch and keep fish at Davis, Green and Rat lakes,” Jateff said. “Those lakes shift to a catch-and-release season April 1.”

Winter whitefish seasons in Okanogan County are limited now due to current steelhead closures.  Areas that remain open for whitefish through March are the Chewuch River near Winthrop from the mouth to the Pasayten Wilderness boundary; and the Similkameen River from the mouth to 400 feet downstream of Enloe Dam and from Enloe Dam to the Canadian border.  Whitefish gear rules apply, except in areas that are currently open for steelhead under selective gear regulations.

Fishing for triploid rainbows at Rufus Woods Lake, the Columbia River reservoir off Chief Joseph Dam, has slowed recently, Jateff said. Triploids being caught are in the one- to three-pound range.  Jateff reminds anglers that when fishing with bait in Rufus Woods, the first two fish caught are counted as part of the daily limit whether kept or released.

Hunting: Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2012 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field.

In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern-firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2012. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington. They  also may apply for special permits to hunt deer or elk, regardless of weapon type.

Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at authorized license dealers, or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $6 for residents and $100 for nonresidents. A 2012 hunting license is not required to submit an application, but winners of the drawing must purchase one before they can purchase a multiple-season tag.

Wildlife viewing:  Spring arrives in the Columbia Basin with the return of the first sandhill cranes, and that should be any day now, said WDFW district wildlife biologist Rich Finger.

“Around 35,000 lesser sandhill cranes migrate through the Pacific Flyway and many of these birds travel through the Basin during their spring and fall migrations,” Finger said. “These cranes winter in the southern portion of California’s Central Valley and pass through on their way to nesting sites in the Matanuska River Valley and Bristol Bay areas of south-central Alaska.”

Finger says the greatest concentration of cranes arrives in March and can be found in the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge marsh units, Frenchmen Reserve, Potholes Reservoir, Scootney Reservoir, and Winchester Reserve. Good numbers of the big birds are usually in the area through mid-April.

Long billed curlews will be shortly behind the cranes,” he said. “These shorebirds are typically observed March through June in agricultural fields such as alfalfa and hay or in large expanses of very short vegetation. Farm fields near Othello, Moses Lake, George, and Quincy all have potential to support curlews. We know we have curlew nesting in the short grasses of the Seep Lakes Unit of our Columbia Basin Wildlife Area.”

Celebrating all the spring wildlife of the Columbia Basin on March 23-25 is the 15th annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival, sponsored by the Greater Othello Chamber of Commerce and the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service), and supported by the City of Othello, Othello School District and Othello Community Schools. Details of scheduled wildlife tours and events, including a traditional Saturday night banquet with a keynote speaker, will be available soon at the festival’s website.

Bird watching in other parts of the region is picking up as spring advances this month. WDFW Chelan-Douglas district wildlife biologist Dave Volsen said that sage grouse are attending their traditional spring leks or mating ritual grounds in northcentral Douglas County this month. Volsen also notes some of the first spring migrants are best found in the riparian areas along the Columbia River and its tributaries.

WDFW Wells Wildlife Area Manager Dan Peterson reports a few long-tailed ducks have been seen west of the Washburn Island unit’s parking site, although how long they’ll stay is anyone’s guess since they breed much further north.  Peterson also reports flocks of Canada geese using the grain fields on the Bridgeport Bar and Washburn Islands units.

WDFW Sinlahekin Wildlife Area Manager Dale Swedberg said western bluebirds and red-winged blackbirds are back in the area. Other bird watching opportunities in northcentral Okanogan County include trumpeter swans and hooded mergansers; red-tailed, rough-legged, and sharp-shinned hawks; northern harrier, prairie falcon, northern shrike, pileated woodpecker, northern flicker, American goldfinch, pine grosbeak, common redpoll, Bohemian waxwing, and Clark’s nutcracker.

Sandhill Cranes Western Bluebird

Southcentral Washington

Fishing: Spring chinook salmon are moving up the Columbia River and steelhead fishing should pick up soon, but trout fishing in area lakes is probably best bet for catching fish over the next few weeks.

“We start stocking trout in year-round lakes in late February and continue right through June,” said Eric Anderson, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “This fishery is really our bread and butter, and anglers look forward to it all year.”

In March, more than 20 lakes and ponds in Yakima, Kittitas, Franklin and Benton counties are scheduled to receive thousands of “catchable size” rainbow trout, along with hundreds of jumbos and triploids. For a complete list, see the stocking schedule for southcentral Washington on the WDFW website.

Anglers should also be aware fishing for hatchery steelhead usually picks up right before the season closes March 31. WDFW fish biologist Paul Hoffarth said some of the highest catches of the season occur in March near the Ringold Springs Hatchery.

“A lot of steelhead that have been hanging out all winter will make their final spawning runs,” Hoffarth said. “That’s when catch rates start rising again.”

Fisheries for hatchery steelhead are open through March on the Snake River and on the Columbia River downstream from the wooden powerline towers at the Old Hanford townsite. Steelhead fishing is not permitted anywhere on the Yakima River.

Meanwhile, the sport fishery for white sturgeon above McNary Dam (Lake Wallula) opened on Feb. 1 and is scheduled to run through July 31.  Lake Umatilla, which extends from John Day Dam to McNary Dam, is also expected to remain open through March for retention of white sturgeon. 

Hoffarth notes, however, that the Lake Umatilla fishery is managed on a quota system and could close abruptly when the quota is reached. Anglers planning to fish the lake should keep an eye on the WDFW website for possible updates.

In both areas, anglers may retain only those white sturgeon that measure between 43 inches and 54 inches when measured from the tip of the snout to the fork of the tail.

Hoffarth also reminds anglers that some of the year’s biggest walleye are caught in the spring. These fish are now preparing to spawn and are nearing their highest weight of the year, he said.  Once commonly caught in Lake Umatilla below McNary Dam, walleye are now routinely caught above McNary Dam in Lake Wallula, including the lower Snake River and the Hanford Reach.

Hunting: Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2012 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field.

In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.
Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern-firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2012. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington. They  also may apply for special permits to hunt deer or elk, regardless of weapon type.

Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at authorized license dealers, or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $6 for residents and $100 for nonresidents. A 2012 hunting license is not required to submit an application, but winners of the drawing must purchase one before they can purchase a multiple-season tag.

Wildlife viewing:  Migrating waterfowl continue to increase in number on the Columbia and Snake Rivers and local wetlands. Many Canada geese – along with mallards, pintails, and other ducks – are concentrated on WDFW’s Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area and federal refuges, including McNary and Umatilla. 

Sandhill cranes are making their annual migration stopovers in the Columbia Basin to feed and rest up before moving further north. Look for cranes foraging in local corn stubble fields near the towns of Mesa, Connell and Basin City.  When water levels are right, they can be observed roosting on the mudflats of local lakes.

Meanwhile, this year’s winter-feeding program at Oak Creek Wildlife Area is over for bighorn sheep and will likely come to a close for elk during the first week in March. However, some animals continue to linger in the area, and remain visible from the parking lot. Visitors to the wildlife area should be aware the Cleman Mountain is closed to motor vehicles, as is Oak Creek road and several other roads.

“These closures are designed to protect animals making the transition from winter feeding back to natural forage,” said Ross Huffman, WDFW area manager. “This is a critical time for elk and other wildlife and we need to limit human disturbances in the area.”