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

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December 2013

(This document is updated periodically throughout the month to reflect current rules and opportunities. Please download the latest copy before heading out! Last updated November 27, 2013)

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

Outdoor adventures inspire some great holiday gift ideas

Despite the winter chill, Washingtonians have plenty of reasons to head outdoors during the holiday season. Steelhead are surging up coastal rivers, waterfowl hunting is in full swing, and birders are gearing up around the state for the 114th annual Christmas Bird Count.

Those planning to do some holiday shopping between their outdoor adventures can share their appreciation for Washington’s renowned recreational opportunities with the gift of a fishing license, hunting license or a Discover Pass.

Although the new licensing year doesn't begin until April 1, 2014 a lot of people like to have their license in hand a few months early, said Bill Joplin, licensing manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

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

State fishing and hunting licenses are now available for the 2014 season by phone (866-246-9453), online (https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/), and from licensing dealers around the state (http://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/vendors/). A Vehicle Access Pass to lands owned by WDFW is free with most types of annual fishing and hunting licenses.

For even broader access to state lands, a state Discover Pass also makes a fine holiday gift. At $35, an annual pass provides access to nearly seven million acres of state-managed recreation lands, including state parks, water-access points, heritage sites, wildlife and natural areas, trails and trailheads.

For details on purchasing a Discover Pass, see http://discoverpass.wa.gov/.

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

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

Fishing: Regional waters offer plenty of gifts for fishers, from river steelhead fishing to Puget Sound’s crab and blackmouth salmon.

The season’s blackmouth salmon fishery is underway. Marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island, and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) and 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) are open for hatchery chinook salmon fishing in December. Anglers fishing those marine areas have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook salmon. Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) is closed for fishing chinook and other salmon species in December.

Before heading out, anglers can check creel reports for information on catch and effort in Puget Sound. Recreational fishery samplers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) collect the information each week at fishing access sites throughout Puget Sound.

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

Crabbing is open throughout December in most marine areas of Puget Sound. Waters open to sport crabbing include marine areas 4 (Neah Bay), 5 (Sekiu), 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island, and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner), 9 (Admiralty Inlet), 12 (Hood Canal), and 13 (South Puget Sound). In each open area, crabbing is allowed seven days a week through Dec. 31.

Sport crabbing is closed in marine areas 10 (Seattle/Bremerton Area) and 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island).

The daily catch limit in Puget Sound is five Dungeness crab, males only, in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6¼ inches. In addition, fishers may catch six red rock crab of either sex per day, provided those crab measure at least 5 inches across. Additional information is available on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab/.

All Dungeness crab kept in the late-season fishery must be recorded on winter catch cards, which are valid through Dec. 31. Winter cards – free to those with crab endorsements – are available at license vendors across the state.

Winter catch reports are due to WDFW by Feb. 1, 2014. For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab/crc.html.

In freshwater, several rivers are open for hatchery steelhead fishing — including the Skagit, Nooksack, Snohomish, Skykomish, Snoqualmie and Green (Duwamish) rivers. “Fishing for hatchery steelhead picks up around mid-December, when we traditionally see the peak of the run,” said Bob Leland, WDFW’s steelhead program manager.

While most anglers will be fishing for their dinner, members of the Northwest Steelheaders Association will be catching adult hatchery-origin steelhead to help meet the Kendall Creek Hatchery’s broodstock needs. Fishing from open public fishing areas on the Nooksack River, they hope to capture up to 30 winter-run steelies for the hatchery in the coming weeks.

That represents about half the overall number the hatchery needs for spawning to ensure adequate numbers of eggs for the release of some 150,000 smolts from the facility in 2015, said WDFW fish biologist Brett Barkdull. 

“The Steelheaders group is providing a public service and expertise that supports angling throughout the region,” Barkdull said. Club members can be identified by their hunter orange vests. Their efforts, which will continue through December and January, are being coordinated by WDFW hatchery, enforcement, and fish program staff.

Meanwhile, westside rainbow trout anglers will likely find good fishing in December due to recent efforts to stock these popular fish. In recent months, 25 lakes in the Puget Sound area have been stocked with some 60,000 large rainbow trout.

“We launched our ‘Fall into Fishing’ stocking campaign in response to requests from anglers to increase year-round trout fishing opportunities in western Washington,” said Chris Donley, WDFW Inland Fish Program manager. “We’ve stocked plenty of trout in several lakes throughout western Washington, so anglers should continue to find good fishing during the holiday season.” 

A list of those lakes, most of which were stocked in October, is available here. Four lakes in King County – Morton, Green, Beaver, and Meridian – have been stocked, as has Silver Lake in Snohomish County. 

“Other good bets during December are Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish, where anglers can hook perch, cutthroat and smallmouth bass,” said Danny Garrett, a WDFW fish biologist. “Anglers targeting perch should fish near deep ledges, 50-80 feet, using night crawlers. At Lake Sammamish, anglers trolling for cutthroat trout are having great success fishing near the surface, over deeper portions of the lake.”

For additional tips, check out the instructional video featuring Garrett and fellow fish biologist Larry Phillips on the Fish Washington website.    

Hunting:  Waterfowl hunters have through Jan. 26 to hunt ducks and geese and upland bird hunters have through December 31 to hunt forest grouse.

“December and January are the prime season for hunting ducks and geese in the region due to higher numbers of waterfowl and stormier weather conditions,” says Don Kraege, waterfowl section manager for the Department. “Stormy weather conditions drive the birds inland, improving the potential for successful hunts.”

Hunters can find some exceptional sites to hunt ducks and geese through WDFW’s Waterfowl Quality Hunt Program, including properties in Whatcom, Skagit and north Snohomish counties. Other waterfowl hunting opportunities (including reservation only hunts) are also available.  Hunters should check the private lands access webpage for more information.

Big-game hunts also are under way in several areas. Archers have through Dec. 8 to hunt deer in Game Management Unit (GMU) 437, through Dec. 15 in 460 and 466, and through Dec. 31 in GMUs 407, 410 through 417, 419 through 422 and 454. The region's muzzleloader hunts for deer run through Dec. 15. Muzzleloader and archery hunts for elk also continue in the region through Dec. 15.

As noted on page 17 of the Big Game Hunting pamphlet, Jan. 31 is the deadline for hunters to report their hunting activity for each special permit acquired and each deer, elk, bear, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and turkey tag purchased in 2013.

Those who do not meet the deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can buy a license next year. Those who report by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for one of nine special elk or deer permits.

Before heading out, hunters should check the Big Game Hunting pamphlet and the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet for details. Area-by-area summaries of the hunting prospects throughout the state are also available on WDFW’s hunting prospects webpage.  Hunters should also visit the hunting access website to learn more about lands available for hunting.

Wildlife viewing: Looking for a holiday treat for an outdoor enthusiast? The Discover Pass, the vehicle access pass to millions of acres of Washington State parks and recreation lands, makes a great gift. Purchasers can choose the pass activation date when buying online or from recreational license vendors

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

Birders might want to consider conducting their counts along the Skagit River this season. Each winter, hundreds of bald eagles spend December and January along the river, where the carcasses of spawned salmon provide a feast for the birds. After a few weeks of dining, the eagles head north to their summer homes in Alaska and British Columbia. 

Thousands of snow geese also 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.

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

Fishing:  Anglers have several good excuses for skipping the crowded malls and getting out on the water, including hatchery steelhead on several coastal streams, crab and salmon in Puget Sound, trout in a variety of lakes and, of course, razor clams on ocean beaches.

In late November and early December, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will proceed with an evening razor clam dig at several ocean beaches. The opening dates and evening low tides are:

  • Nov. 30, Saturday, 4:28 pm; -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks
  • Dec. 1, Sunday, 5:13 pm; -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • Dec. 2, Monday, 5:59 pm; -1.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • Dec. 3, Tuesday, 6:44 pm; -1.7 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • Dec. 4, Wednesday, 7:30 pm; -1.7 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • Dec. 5, Thursday, 8:17 pm; -1.4 feet; Twin Harbors
  • Dec. 6, Friday, 9:05 pm; -1.0 feet; Twin Harbors
  • Dec. 7, Saturday, 9:56 pm; -0.3 feet; Twin Harbors

Two other digging opportunities are tentatively scheduled in December. Tentative opening dates and evening low tides for the mid-December dig are:

  • Dec. 14, Saturday, 4:45 pm; -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, and Mocrocks
  • Dec. 15, Sunday, 5:26 pm; -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, and Mocrocks
  • Dec. 16, Monday, 6:03 pm; -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, and Mocrocks
  • Dec. 17, Tuesday, 6:38 pm; -0.4 feet; Twin Harbors
  • Dec. 18, Wednesday, 7:12 pm; -0.3 feet; Twin Harbors

Tentative opening dates and evening low tides for the late December dig are:

  • Dec. 29, Sunday, 4:05 pm; -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, and Mocrocks
  • Dec. 30, Monday, 4:55 pm; -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, and Mocrocks
  • Dec. 31, Tuesday, 5:42 pm; -1.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, and Mocrocks

Updates on scheduled digs are available here.

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

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2013-14 fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, are available on WDFW’s website and from license vendors around the state.

Meanwhile, several of the region’s lakes have been stocked with large rainbow trout, including St. Clair and Black lakes in Thurston County; American and Kapowsin lakes in Pierce County; and Kitsap Lake in Kitsap County. A complete list of those lakes, most of which were stocked in October, is available online.

“We’ve stocked thousands of trout in several lakes throughout western Washington, so anglers should find good fishing during the holiday season,” said Chris Donley, WDFW inland fish program manager.

Up-to-date stocking information for lakes throughout the state, is available on the department's weekly catchable trout stocking report.

In the rivers, the hatchery steelhead fishery is going strong, said Kirt Hughes, regional fishery manager for WDFW. “December is prime time to catch hatchery steelhead in the region,” he said.

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

Coho salmon also can be caught in some of the region’s rivers this time of year. Anglers fishing the Satsop and Chehalis rivers were having success hooking coho in late November, said Mike Scharpf, fisheries biologist for WDFW. “Fishing has been great on those two rivers, and I suspect that will continue throughout December as more late-run coho arrive,” he said.

Beginning Dec. 1, anglers fishing the Satsop and Chehalis rivers, as well as the Skookumchuck, have a daily limit of six salmon, up to two adult salmon may be retained, but only one of which may be a wild coho. Scharpf reminds anglers fishing those rivers that they must release all chinook and chum salmon beginning Dec. 1.

For winter chum salmon, anglers might want to try fishing the Nisqually River. The late-chum run hits full stride mid- to late December and generally remains strong until at least mid-January.

For details on the region’s freshwater salmon and steelhead fisheries, check the fishing regulations on WDFW’s website.

Portions of Puget Sound also will be open for salmon. In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Marine Area 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) reopens for salmon Dec. 1. Anglers fishing that area have a daily limit of two salmon, but must release wild chinook. Marine Area 5 (Sekiu) remains closed for salmon fishing.

Farther south, anglers fishing marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) and 13 (South Puget Sound) can keep one chinook as part of a two-salmon daily limit. On Hood Canal (Marine Area 12), anglers have a daily limit of four salmon, but only two of those fish can be a chinook, and all wild chinook must be released.

Before heading out, anglers can check creel reports for information on catch and effort in Puget Sound on WDFW’s website.

Crabbing also is open in several marine areas of Puget Sound, including marine areas 4 (Neah Bay), 5 (Sekiu), 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island, and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner), 9 (Admiralty Inlet), 12 (Hood Canal), and 13 (South Puget Sound).

In each area, crabbing is allowed seven days a week through Dec. 31.

The daily catch limit in Puget Sound is five Dungeness crab, males only, in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6¼ inches. In addition, fishers may catch six red rock crab of either sex per day, provided those crab measure at least 5 inches across. Additional information is available on the WDFW website

All crab caught in the late-season fishery should be recorded on winter catch cards, which are valid until Dec. 31. Winter cards are available at license vendors across the state. Those catch reports are due to WDFW by Feb. 1, 2014. For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s catch record card webpage.

Hunting:  Most archery and muzzleloader hunting opportunities for elk are open through Dec. 15 in the region, although the muzzleloader hunt in Game Management Unit 652 runs through Dec. 8. The region’s archery and muzzleloader hunts for deer wrap up on various dates in select game management units. For details, hunters should check the Big Game Hunting pamphlet.

Meanwhile, waterfowl hunters have through Jan. 26 to hunt ducks in the region. Goose hunts in Goose Management Area 3 also are open seven days a week through Jan. 26. However, hunts in Goose Management Area 2B (Pacific County) are limited to Saturdays and Wednesdays only through Jan. 18.

Upland bird hunters have through Dec. 31 to hunt forest grouse.

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

As noted on page 17 of the Big Game Hunting pamphlet, Jan. 31 is the deadline for hunters to report their hunting activity for each special permit acquired and each deer, elk, bear, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and turkey tag purchased in 2013. Those who do not meet the deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can buy a license next year. Those who report by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for one of nine special elk or deer permits.

Wildlife viewing:  During the holiday season, several Audubon Society chapters throughout the region are coordinating Christmas Bird Counts (CBC), which get under way this month. Sponsored by Audubon, the annual event enlists birdwatchers – veterans and novices – to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database. For more information on the CBC, visit the Audubon website. To get involved, visit the Washington Ornithology Society's website for a counting circle in your area.

Looking for a holiday treat for an outdoor enthusiast? A great gift is the Discover Pass — the vehicle access pass to millions of acres of Washington State parks and recreation lands. Purchasers can choose the pass activation date when buying online or from recreational license vendors.

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

Fishing: This year's winter steelhead season got off to a promising start just before Thanksgiving, when the first wave of fish started taking anglers' lures in several tributaries to the lower Columbia River. With decent river conditions, catch rates should continue to improve in the weeks ahead.

“The first jag of winter steelhead was definitely on the bite,” said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “So long as the rivers don't rise too high or fall too low, we could be looking at a darn good fishery this year.”

Hymer recommends the Cowlitz, Lewis (including north and east fork), Kalama, Grays, Washougal, Elochoman rivers, along with Salmon Creek in Clark County and Abernathy Creek in Cowlitz County. All have a two-fish daily limit, but anglers should check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet for additional rules specific to each river.

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

As basic preparation for a steelheading trip, Hymer recommends checking the Northwest River Forecast or other sources for river conditions before heading out. “Most anglers do best when water levels are rising or dropping,” Hymer said. “It's a lot harder to catch steelhead in the peaks and troughs.”

In deciding where to fish, it also helps to know how many smolts were planted in specific rivers and how many adult fish have returned to area hatcheries. In the first case, Hymer recommends checking WDFW’s smolt-planting schedule for 2012. WDFW also posts hatchery returns on a weekly basis.

While winter steelhead are the main attraction right now, late-stock coho will continue to bite through December. Most of those fish are too dark for consumption, but Hymer said some bright fish are still available. State regulations allow anglers to catch and keep up to six adult coho salmon per day on the Cowlitz, Klickitat, Kalama, Lewis and Washougal rivers – and on the lower portion of the Grays River. Except in the Klickitat River, only those fish with a clipped adipose fin may be retained.

As Hymer sees it, the best bet for coho is the Cowlitz River, where more than 14,000 fish returned through the middle of November. For fall chinook, the North Fork Lewis should continue to produce catchable fish through December.  Any chinook, adipose fin clipped or not, may be retained on the Lewis.

Hymer flagged several new fishing regulations that take effect Dec. 1 on those and other rivers:

  • Grays River – Opens to fishing for hatchery steelhead, hatchery coho and adipose and/or ventral fin clipped chinook from the Highway 4 Bridge to the South Fork. Also on Dec. 1, the open area on the West Fork expands from the hatchery intake/footbridge to the mouth that day.  
  • Green River, North Fork Toutle River, and the mainstem Toutle from the mouth to the forks will all be closed to fishing for steelhead and salmon. 
  • South Fork Toutle River – Closes to fishing for steelhead from the 4100 Bridge upstream. Fishing remains open from the mouth to the bridge under selective gear rules.
  • North Fork Lewis River – The night closure and anti-snagging rules are lifted from Johnson Creek to Colvin Creek. In addition, the area from Colvin Creek upstream to the overhead powerlines below Merwin Dam reopens for hatchery steelhead, chinook, and hatchery coho Dec. 16.
  • Cowlitz River from Mill Creek to the barrier dam – Night closure and anti-snagging rules are lifted.
  • Mill Creek (tributary to Cowlitz River)Opens to fishing for hatchery steelhead under permanent rules. Night fishing closures and anti-snagging rules are in effect.
  • Klickitat River – Closes to fishing for trout, hatchery steelhead and salmon, except for salmon fishing from the Fisher Hill Bridge downstream, which remains open through January. The night closure and anti-snagging rules remain in effect. The whitefish-only fishery opens from 400 feet upstream from #5 fishway upstream to the Yakama Reservation. Whitefish gear rules will be in effect. 
  • Swift Reservoir – Closes to fishing. 

If Thanksgiving is about turkey, the next day is about trout. With the national holiday approaching, WDFW hatchery crews stocked 33 lakes – including six in southwest Washington – for the “Black Friday” trout-fishing event Nov. 29. Two-thousand rainbows weighing 1¼ pounds each will be waiting for anglers in Battleground Lake and Klineline Pond in Clark County; Kress Lake in Cowlitz County; Fort Borst Park Pond and South Lewis County Park Pond in Lewis County; and Rowland Lake in Klickitat County.

“Those Black Friday fish should carry through December really well,” said John Weinheimer, a WDFW fish biologist. He noted that additional fish will also be planted in Klineline Pond and Battleground Lake in December. 

Hunting:  This is the time of year when hunters’ attention turns from deer and elk to ducks and geese. Wildlife managers are expecting a strong showing of northern ducks from the north, where the number of birds on the arctic breeding grounds last spring set a near-record.

“Success rates should continue to improve as more northern birds move into the region,” said Sandra Jonker, WDFW regional wildlife manager. “The best hunting early in the season is around the Columbia River and other large bodies of water, but the birds disperse when seasonal ponds begin to form on the farmlands.”

The waterfowl season runs through Jan. 26 in most areas, although goose hunting in Goose Management Area 2A will be closed from Dec. 2 through Dec. 10 before resuming Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday in the weeks that follow. Opening days differ in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, as outlined in WDFW’s Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet. In mid-November, hunters checked 317 geese at three check stations, averaging two geese per day

Jonker cautions those planning to hunt geese in Area 2A and 2B to familiarize themselves with the special certification and reporting requirements detailed on page 20 of the pamphlet. Zonal closures to protect dusky geese are possible, so hunters are advised to call the WDFW Region 5 office for updates at 360-696-6211.

Jonker also reminds hunters that the statewide daily bag limit for scaup has been reduced to three this season due to poor production on the breeding grounds. On the bright side, WDFW staff recently finished camouflaging six hunting blinds at the Shillapoo Wildlife Area.

Upland bird hunters have through Dec. 31 to hunt forest grouse.

Meanwhile, elk hunters who participated in the modern-firearm season in the South Cascades reported seeing relatively low numbers of elk, although some nice bulls were taken in the Siouxon and Wind River units. Archers and muzzleloaders will get another chance for both elk and deer during late seasons running through various dates in December. Rules for those hunts are available in the Big Game Hunting pamphlet.

Game managers will have a much better indication of how this year’s season turned out once hunters have finished filing their hunting reports next month. As noted on page 17 of the Big Game Hunting pamphlet, Jan. 31 is the deadline for hunters to report their hunting activity for each special permit acquired and each deer, elk, bear, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and turkey tag purchased in 2013. Those who do not meet the deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can buy a license next year. Those who report by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for one of nine special elk or deer permits.

Wildlife viewing:  Audubon Society chapters around the region are preparing for the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), which gets under way this month. Sponsored by Audubon, the annual event enlists birdwatchers – both veterans and novices – to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database. For more information on the CBC, visit the Audubon website. To get involved, visit the Washington Ornithology Society's website for a counting circle in your area.

Looking for a holiday treat for an outdoor enthusiast? A great gift is the Discover Pass — the vehicle access pass to millions of acres of Washington State parks and recreation lands. Purchasers can choose the activation date when buying online or from recreational license vendors.

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

Fishing: December marks the start of winter fishing in several waters in the region, including rainbow trout at winter-only-season lakes, panfish through the ice at year-round lakes, and trout and kokanee in open water reservoirs.

WDFW fish biologist Randy Osborne sampled Fourth of July Lake rainbows
WDFW fish biologist Randy Osborne
sampled Fourth of July Lake rainbows

Fourth of July Lake, on the Lincoln-Adams county line south of the town of Sprague, and Hog Canyon Lake in Spokane County northeast of Sprague, are open to fishing Dec. 1 through March 31. WDFW Central District Fish Biologist Randy Osborne says anglers can expect good fishing at both lakes if they can get to open water.

“Our recent cold snap has created about one to two inches of ice in the protected bays on both lakes, including the boat launching areas,” Osborne said.  “This ice is not thick enough to walk on, but thick enough to cause problems launching a boat. There are some open water areas, but be careful since things are changing daily at both lakes.”

At Hog Canyon, Osborne says anglers can expect to catch rainbow trout ranging from 10 to 18 inches.  Recent checks show a good mix of fish both measuring under and over 14 inches.

At Fourth of July, anglers can expect really good fishing for rainbow trout ranging from 12 to 24 inches.  Recent checks showed that only about 20 percent of sampled fish were less than 14 inches, so it may be difficult to catch a full limit of five fish there, Osborne says.

“At both lakes you can only keep two fish over 14 inches,” Osborne said. “So at Fourth of July Lake in particular, be sure to take an accurate measuring device to make sure you’re following the size restriction.”

Osborne notes the ice conditions on parts of many year-round-open fishing lakes in the region are causing problems, both with launching boats and with safely walking across the ice. “Anglers may have to play things by ear for a while,” Osborne said.  “It may warm up again, clearing up some of the ice, or folks may just have to wait for consistently cold weather before venturing out to fish through the ice.”

Silver Lake in southwest Spokane County should produce some decent yellow perch through the ice, Osborne says, and Newman Lake in eastern Spokane County should have some good fishing for black crappie if anglers can find them.

WDFW fish biologist Bill Baker sampled Lake Roosevelt rainbows
WDFW fish biologist Bill Baker
sampled Lake Roosevelt rainbows

Osborne and WDFW Northeast District Fish Biologist Bill Baker both report rainbow trout fishing has been excellent at Lake Roosevelt, the Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam.  Baker says reservoir catch rates on healthy net-pen-reared rainbows, that typically run 15 to 16 inches, are high for both shore anglers and boat anglers.

Lake Roosevelt kokanee fishing has been more spotty, they say, but some anglers have been finding fish and doing pretty well.

Brian Walker, WDFW fish biologist , said recent sampling at Stevens County’s two winter-only fishing lakes showed excellent prospects for the Dec. 1 opener. Hatch Lake, southeast of Colville, has an abundance of rainbow trout ranging between 14 and 16 inches in very good condition.  Williams Lake, north of Colville, also produced some healthy trout, including one that was 18 inches, Walker said. 

“These fish were willing biters at both lakes, so I don’t think you could go wrong choosing either one for the winter opener,” Walker said. “Just be very careful on or around changing ice conditions. Hatch and Williams are mostly open water now, but conditions are changing daily. Ice needs to be at least four inches thick to support on-ice angling, and no fish is worth your safety.”

Snake River steelhead fishing continues to be productive in some areas, despite drops in water temperatures that usually slow fish movements and biting action. The most recent creel reports indicated the best steelheading is on the mainstem from Little Goose to Lower Granite dams, where angler action was measured at an average of 7.6 hours per steelhead caught. Creel reports on the Tucannon River, a Snake River tributary, showed an average of about eight hours per steelhead caught. The Washington stretch of the Grand Ronde River saw an average of nine hours per steelhead caught; while the Oregon side measured an eight-hour average.

Glen Mendel, WDFW district fish biologist, notes that some Tucannon River anglers are wondering about the fall chinook salmon carcasses they’re seeing on the shoreline. Mendel said that fishery management staff have been taking samples from and marking the spawned-out salmon, including removal of heads for coded wire tag retrieval.   

Cate found upland game bird hunting in the southeast district productive
Cate found upland game bird hunting
in the southeast district productive

Hunting: Late archery and muzzleloader deer and elk, and late fall wild turkey hunting seasons continue into December in select game management units throughout the region. Check all details in the hunting regulations pamphlet.

Upland game bird hunting also continues through the year in the region. Although no specific reports of pheasant, quail or partridge numbers are available, hunters should have more opportunities on birds more likely to hold in wintery conditions this month.

WDFW Private Lands Biologist Corrie Thorne Hadley reminds bird hunters of the several land access programs throughout the region, especially in the southeast district. More information on the Feel Free to Hunt, Register to Hunt, Hunt by Written Permission, and Hunt by Reservation programs is available at Private Lands Access. She also notes the final release of farm-raised rooster pheasants will be made just before Thanksgiving; hunters can find details on the region’s many pheasant release sites in the Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement and Release Program.

Waterfowl hunting also continues through the year in the region, although success is usually dependent on northern migrants moving through on big waterways.

WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area Manager Juli Anderson said the Lincoln County area ponds are still mostly dry, so duck and geese numbers are low. If December precipitation changes that, waterfowlers might check out Swanson’s Z-Lake and other lakes and ponds along the Lake Creek drainage, on BLM’s Telford Recreation Area to the north, and BLM’s Twin Lakes Recreation Area to the southwest of Z-Lake. Anderson notes that BLM’s Coffeepot Recreation Area, further south along Lake Creek drainage, is a waterfowl refuge.

For more details on hunting opportunities in the eastern region, see Hunting Prospects.

Wildlife viewing:  A popular way to view birds this month is to participate in the 114th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) with one of the region’s counts scheduled between Dec. 14, 2013 and Jan. 5, 2014. 

The longest running citizen science survey in the world, the CBC provides critical data on population trends. Tens of thousands of participants throughout the Americas know that it’s also a lot of fun. The count has become a family tradition among generations, with veteran and novice birdwatchers armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists, often out before dawn and until dusk, on an annual mission to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature during the holiday season.

Seven official counts are conducted in this region, open to participation by contacting the coordinators listed here by area and count dates:

Birdwatching on WDFW’s Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County is mostly about raptors this month, including rough-legged hawks and northern harriers.Area volunteer KimThorburn’s recent birding notes included observation of another kind of bird of prey: “One large passerine flew up and hovered for a considerable period. The juvenile northern shrike was so close to me that I could have reached up and grabbed it. It then landed at my feet and we stared at each other for another couple of minutes. I admired its vicious-looking bill and imagined myself impaled on a fence – as shrikes are known to do with small birds and mammals.  After deciding there was probably more likely prey elsewhere, the bird flew off and hovered again several hundred meters off.”

Birders can usually see ducks, geese and swans this month at Reardan’s Audubon Lake Wildlife Area just outside the town of Reardan in Lincoln County. “Just remember that the Reardan wildlife area is open only for viewing, not hunting,” said WDFW manager Juli Anderson. “Hunters, of course, are welcome to watch, and the Vehicle Access Pass that came with their hunting license provides them access to the parking lot. Non-hunters need to have the Discover Pass to park there and walk out to the viewing blinds at both the north and south access sites.”

Moose are becoming more visible in the northeast and central districts of the region where they are beginning to move to lower elevations for easier wintering. WDFW biologists and officers remind everyone to give moose a wide berth and keep dogs confined when moose wander into suburban areas. Learn more about living with moose

In the south end of the region, WDFW Wooten Wildlife Area Manager Kari Dingman reports bighorn sheep have recently moved back down to the area around the Tucannon Fish Hatchery, where they are easier to view.

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

Fishing:  Upper Columbia River steelhead fishing continues this month, at least until further notice, in the mainstem section from Rock Island Dam to Chief Joseph Dam, and including the Wenatchee, Icicle, Methow, Okanogan, and Similkameen rivers.

WDFW District Fish Biologist Travis Maitland reports steelheading has been very slow lately. Only adipose-fin clipped hatchery-origin steelhead can be kept. Check the rule details.

Maitland also notes that once consistent cold temperatures produce safe ice on year-round Roses and Fish lakes in Chelan County, they will both be good for catches through the ice of yellow perch and rainbow trout.

Three lakes in Okanogan County open for “catch and keep” trout fishing Dec. 1 -- Rat Lake near Brewster and Big and Little Green lakes near Omak switch from a catch-and-release regulation to a five-trout daily catch limit.  These fisheries provide good angling throughout the winter months, either as open water or iced-over later in the season. Usually catches of rainbow trout in the 10- to 12-inch range are made on a variety of bait, lures, and flies.

Year-round-open Moses Lake in the Columbia Basin usually provides good yellow perch fishing at this time when the fish bunch up into large schools. WDFW District Fish Biologist Chad Jackson says that some winters Moses Lake freezes over and provides good ice fishing for both perch and rainbow trout.  The most popular ice fishing location is near Blue Heron Park.

Hunting:  December is a good time to hunt ducks and geese in the Columbia Basin, with advancing winter conditions moving more waterfowl into and through the areas where big water is still open and grainfields provide forage.

WDFW wildlife biologists recently conducted mid-winter waterfowl surveys in the northern part of the Basin and were impressed with the number of Canada geese found south of Highway 262 and around Moses Lake and Potholes Reservoir.  Mallard numbers appeared to be near or slightly below average for this time of year. With colder weather icing up many smaller and protected ponds, waterfowl hunters will need to move to bigger or moving water. The Columbia Basin Irrigation Project Area has ample corn available.

Columbia Basin Cropland Hunting Access
Initiative includes a disabled hunter blind.
Columbia Basin Cropland Hunting Access
Initiative includes a disabled hunter blind

WDFW has made some changes this year to the Columbia Basin Cropland Hunting Access Initiative (formerly known as the Corn Stubble Retention Program) using a combination of “Hunt By Reservation” and “Register to Hunt” programs. The changes give hunters higher quality hunting opportunities, address landowner concerns about safety and property damage, and allow more hunting options for youth, disabled, and general hunters.

Hunters can make reservations online for one of these private land access sites and then must be on-site by 9 a.m. of the reserved hunting day.  If unable to reserve a site for a given day, there may still be an opportunity to hunt there -- if there are no vehicles at the site’s designated parking area after 9 a.m., up to four hunters in one group may register on-site and begin hunting.  All sites have designated days for youth and one site is designated for disabled hunters, including a disabled hunter access blind. Hunters must register every day and record harvest daily on a form deposited at the registration station. Obey all rules as posted, including  no driving in the fields, no fires, no target shooting, no off-road vehicles (except by disabled hunter permit), no horses, and removal of all shell casings prior to leaving the site. For more information on these hunting opportunities on private land in the Columbia Basin, contact the Northcentral Region office at 509-754-4624.

Upland game bird hunting also continues through the year in the region. Although no specific reports of pheasant, quail or partridge numbers are available, hunters should have more opportunities on birds more likely to hold in wintery conditions this month. Final releases of farm-raised rooster pheasants will be made just before Thanksgiving; hunters can find details on the region’s many pheasant release sites in the Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement and Release Program

WDFW Okanogan District Wildlife Biologist Scott Fitkin notes late archery deer hunting is under way in select game management units of the eastern two-thirds of the district.  Check all details in the hunting regulations pamphlet.   For more details on hunting opportunities in the northcentral region, see Hunting Prospects.

Wildlife viewing: A popular way to view birds this month is to participate in the 114th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) with one of the region’s counts scheduled between Dec. 14, 2013 and Jan. 5, 2014.

The longest running citizen science survey in the world, the CBC provides critical data on population trends. Tens of thousands of participants throughout the Americas know that it’s also a lot of fun. The count has become a family tradition among generations, with veteran and novice birdwatchers armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists, often out before dawn and until dusk, on an annual mission to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature during the holiday season.

Six official counts are conducted in this region, open to participation by contacting the coordinators listed here by area and count dates:

December is a good time to view ducks and geese in the Columbia Basin, with advancing winter conditions moving more waterfowl into and through the areas where big water is still open and grainfields provide forage. WDFW wildlife biologists recently conducted mid-winter waterfowl surveys in the northern part of the Basin and were impressed with the number of Canada geese found south of Highway 262 and around Moses Lake and Potholes Reservoir. Mallard numbers appeared to be near or slightly below average for this time of year.

Wild turkeys forage in open fields
Wild turkeys forage in open fields

Winter is well under way in Okanogan County, where any water left open is attracting waterfowl. Raptors are also commonly seen throughout the county this month, with many rough-legged and red-tailed hawks visible along roadsides and fencerows. Wild turkeys are becoming more visible this month as they forage in open fields during daylight hours.

On and near WDFW’s Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, bighorn sheep are moving down to winter ranges where they are becoming more visible.  WDFW Wildlife Biologist Jeff Heinlen observed 13 bighorn sheep in the northern end of the Sinlahekin range, and received one report of three sheep in the south end and another report of nine sheep from the middle of the herd’s range.  Heinlen reports that some of these sheep may be captured to equip them with radio telemetry collars this winter to more closely monitor the herd.

Mule deer and whitetail deer will be moving this month into lower elevation habitats for winter. WDFW biologists say that often brings deer into areas with higher road densities, increasing the potential for problems and they ask drivers to be alert, especially at dawn, dusk and early evening.  

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

Fishing:  Catch rates for hatchery steelhead have picked up in the Hanford Reach, where bank and boat anglers are working the slots and seams where the steelies hold. Paul Hoffarth, a district fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said fishing should remain productive through March as steelhead mill around waiting for the spring spawn.

The question, though, is whether anglers will brave the elements to catch those fish as they move upriver. “Angler participation definitely drops off as we head into the winter months,” Hoffarth said. “The fish are still out there, but fishing tends to get spotty – good one day, bad the next.”

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

Ringold offers ample shore fishing access, as well as excellent boating opportunities.  Bank anglers work the seams close to shore, working progressively deeper throughout the day as the sun climbs higher and as anglers’ casts and boat traffic spook fish deeper and further from shore. First thing in the morning, steelhead often lie in as little as 5 feet of water, but can be found as deep as 20 feet late in the day.

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

Anglers fishing the Yakima River from Easton Lake to Keechelus Dam can catch eastern brook trout under selective gear rules. No size or daily limits are in effect for eastern brook trout, but fishing is strictly catch-and-release for all other species of trout.

In other waters, WDFW will stock half-pound rainbows in the North Elton Pond near Selah, which opens to fishing Dec. 1 with a two-fish daily limit. In addition, the department recently planted excess rainbow trout brood stock weighing 5-10 pounds apiece in North FioRito and Mattoon Lakes near Ellensburg.

Additional waters may be stocked with the large rainbow trout brood stock in the next few weeks, depending on availability. Watch for further word on weekly fish plants on WDFW’s website.

And don’t forget walleye. The fall can be an excellent time of year to fish for walleye.  Anglers don’t typically catch as many fish each day as during the summer months but the fish they do catch are often much larger.

Hunting:  Duck hunting has been good this year, and should get even better as storms move more northern birds into the Columbia Basin in December. A near-record 45.6 million ducks were counted on the breeding grounds in Canada last spring and should start showing up in increasing numbers this month.

To get the most out of late-season hunting, watch for significant changes in the weather, says Jeff Bernatowicz, a WDFW wildlife biologist for Yakima and Kittitas counties.

“If there’s a quick thaw and rain, new ducks enter the area and hunting improves for a week or so before they find refuge on private land or the reserves,” he said.

Hunting seasons for both ducks and geese run through Jan. 26 throughout the region, although goose hunting is limited to Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays – plus Dec. 26, 27, 30 and 31 – in Management Area 4 (which includes Benton and Franklin counties). For more information about the season, see WDFW’s Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game rule pamphlet on the WDFW website.

Upland bird hunters have through Dec. 31 to hunt forest grouse.

Meanwhile, archery seasons for elk and deer run through various dates in select game management units throughout the region. Rules for those hunts are described in the Big Game Hunting pamphlet.

As noted on page 17 of the Big Game Hunting pamphlet, Jan. 31 is the deadline for hunters to report their hunting activity for each special permit acquired and each deer, elk, bear, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and turkey tag purchased in 2013. Those who do not meet the deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can buy a license next year. Those who report by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for one of nine special elk or deer permits.

Wildlife viewing: Starting in December, hundreds of hungry elk and big-horn sheep will descend on WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area, where visitors can watch them dine on alfalfa hay and pellets. With cold temperatures and heavy snow in the forecast, managers at the wildlife area 15 miles northwest of Yakima are expecting a strong turnout.

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

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

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

Meanwhile, Audubon Society chapters around the region are preparing for the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), which gets under way this month. Sponsored by Audubon, the annual event enlists birdwatchers – both veterans and novices – to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database. For more information on the CBC, visit the Audubon website. To get involved, visit the Washington Ornithology Society's website for a counting circle in your area.