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

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January 2014

(This document is updated periodically throughout the month to reflect current rules and opportunities. Please download the latest copy before heading out! Last updated January 7, 2014)

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

Rain or shine, new year holds promise for hunting, fishing

With the new year dawning, thousands of hunters and anglers across Washington state were quietly hoping for a winter storm. Duck hunters and steelheaders, in particular, had come to see the dry, mild weather that marked the end of 2013 as too much of a good thing.

“Dry, calm weather is nice, but it doesn’t make for great duck hunting conditions,” said Dave Ware, game manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “Ducks like water, and that is in short supply in the fields around the state.”

A good downpour would also improve fishing for winter steelhead on the Columbia River and elsewhere around the state, said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist based in Vancouver, Wash.

“Salmon and steelhead get active and move upriver when rivers and streams rise,” Hymer said. “A lot of anglers would welcome a good hard rain, the sooner the better.”

Statewide waterfowl seasons run through Jan. 26, while steelhead seasons vary by area, as described in the Washington Sport Fishing Rules Pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/).

Of course, there are plenty of other reasons to celebrate the new year by heading outdoors, including:

  • Trout fishing: WDFW is stocking 13 lakes in southwest Washington with 30,000 rainbows through the end of the month. For weekly stocking reports there and elsewhere, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/.
  • Wildlife watching: Bald eagles, snow geese, elk, big-horn sheep and other wintering wildlife are on display in many parts of the state.

Rain or shine, winter weather is an important consideration wherever you go. Ice fishing can be a dicey proposition in many parts of the state and a sudden rainstorm rains can render a river “unfishable” – even dangerous – virtually overnight.

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

WDFW fish and wildlife managers want to pass along a few other seasonal reminders:

  • Crab reports: The Puget Sound crab fishery closed Dec. 31, and crabbers are required to report their winter catch by Feb. 1.
  • Hunter reports: Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports are due by Jan. 31 for each 2013 license, permit or tag they purchased.

 

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

Fishing: Winter has arrived, but anglers still have opportunities to hook hatchery steelhead on several streams and blackmouth salmon in Puget Sound. Of course, weather will be a major factor in deciding where to fish. If rivers are out of shape from heavy rain, trolling for blackmouth salmon in Puget Sound may be a better bet.

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

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.

Waters open for salmon fishing throughout January include marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner), and Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton). Anglers fishing those marine areas have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook salmon. Anglers fishing Edmonds Fishing Pier in Marine Area 9 have a two salmon limit with only one marked or unmarked chinook allowed. The rest of Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) opens for salmon fishing Jan. 16, with a two-salmon daily limit, but anglers must release wild chinook salmon. 

In freshwater, the Nisqually River is open to chum fishing through the end of the month and several rivers are open for hatchery steelhead fishing, including the Skagit,  Snohomish, Skykomish, Snoqualmie and Green rivers.

"Depending on the local conditions on the rivers, fishing for hatchery steelhead should be decent in early January," said Bob Leland, steelhead program manager for WDFW. "Anglers usually find bright fish through the month."

Most river systems will close for steelhead Feb. 1. As indicated in recent fishing rule changes, portions of the Cascade and Stillaguamish have also closed for fishing of all species, and all of the Nooksack and its forks will close effective Jan. 9.  During the closure, Marblemount, Kendalland Whitehorse hatcheries will collect steelhead eggs in support of the fishery.

For more information on Puget Sound steelhead seasons, check fishing regulations and emergency rule changes on the WDFW website.

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

The Puget Sound crab fishery closes at 5 p.m. Dec. 31, except marine areas 10 and 11, which are already closed. Crab fishers are required to report their activity to WDFW by Feb. 1, whether or not they actually fished or kept Dungeness crab. To submit catch reports, crabbers may send their catch record card to WDFW by mail or file their report on the department’s licensing website. The mailing address is WDFW CRC Unit, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. The online reporting system is available Jan. 1-Feb. 1. For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s catch record card webpage.

Hunting: Most big-game hunts in the region will be closed by the start of January, although waterfowl hunters still have time to bag ducks and geese. Waterfowl hunters, who have through Jan. 26 to hunt ducks and geese in the region, should check the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet for details.

Brant goose numbers are high enough to allow an eight day hunt this month in Skagit County.  Hunts are scheduled for January 11, 12, 15, 18,  19, 22, 25 and 26 with a bag limit of two geese per day.  Details on the Skagit County hunt can be found in the news announcement.

Hunters who would like to participate in the Snow Goose Quality Hunt program on Fir Island and in the northern Port Susan Bay area should visit WDFW’s website for information on the rules and requirements.

Another option is a Waterfowl Quality Hunt Program, which provides hunting opportunities for ducks and geese at more than 50 sites in Whatcom, Skagit and north Snohomish counties. For more information, visit the quality hunt program’s webpage.

Hunters who file their annual report by Jan 10 on hunting activities for black bear, deer, elk or turkey have a chance to win one of nine 2014 special hunting permits. Those who meet the deadline will be included in a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. The permits will be valid from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, 2014.

To qualify for the drawing, hunters must submit a report to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for each black bear, deer, elk or turkey tag they purchased and for each special hunting permit they received in 2013.

All hunters, whether successful or not, are required to submit hunting reports for those species by Jan. 31. Failure to meet the deadline can result in a $10 fine, payable before a hunter can purchase a 2014 license.

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

As in recent years, hunters are required to file separate reports for general-season hunting activities and for special-permit hunts for deer, elk, black bear and turkey.

More information the WDFW’s incentive permit drawing is available on page 17 of the 2013 Big Game Hunting pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/).

Wildlife viewing: The Audubon Society continues to compile bird sightings from the 114th annual Christmas Bird Count through Jan 5. This compilation of sightings provides important information about bird populations, in Washington and throughout the Americas. For more information on the annual bird count, check the Audubon’s website.

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

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

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

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

Fishing: Anglers have several winter fishing opportunities, including salmon in the marine waters of Puget Sound, hatchery steelhead on several streams and razor clams at ocean beaches. 

In late December and early January, 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:

  • Dec. 29, Sunday, 4:05 p.m.; -0.2 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • Dec. 30, Monday, 4:55 p.m.; -0.9 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • Dec. 31, Tuesday, 5:42 p.m.; -1.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks,Copalis,
  • Jan. 1, Wednesday, 6:29 p.m.; -1.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks
  • Jan. 2, Thursday, 7:15 p.m.; -1.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks
  • Jan. 3, Friday, 8:00 p.m.; -1.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks
  • Jan. 4, Saturday, 8:45 p.m.; -0.9 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • Jan. 5, Sunday, 9:31 p.m.; -0.2 feet; Twin Harbors

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

  • Jan. 15, Wednesday, 6:19 p.m.; -0.1 feet; Twin Harbors
  • Jan. 16, Thursday, 6:51 p.m.; -0.1 feet; Twin Harbors
  • Jan. 17, Friday, 7:22 p.m.; 0.0 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks
  • Jan. 18, Saturday, 7:53 p.m.; 0.2 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks

Tentative opening dates and evening low tides for the late January and early February dig are:

  • Jan. 28, Tuesday, 4:36 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Twin Harbors
  • Jan. 29, Wednesday, 5:25 p.m.; -1.2 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach
  • Jan. 30, Thursday, 6:11 p.m.; -1.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks
  • Jan. 31, Friday, 6:55 p.m.; -1.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks
  • Feb. 1, Saturday, 7:38 p.m.; -1.0 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • Feb. 2, Sunday, 8:20 p.m.; -0.5 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, 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, January is typically one of the best months for hatchery steelhead fishing on the north coast rivers. Anglers fishing the Quillayute and portions of the Bogachiel, Calawah, Hoh, and Sol Duc rivers have a daily limit of three hatchery steelhead. Information on weekly steelhead catches in the Quillayute River system and the Hoh River are available on WDFW’s website.

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

On Puget Sound, Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound) remains open for salmon. However, regulations for Marine Area 13 change Jan. 1, when anglers will have a daily limit of one salmon. Anglers should be aware that salmon fisheries in marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) and 12 (Hood Canal) are closed in January.

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

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

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

The Puget Sound crab fishery closes at 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, and crabbers are reminded that they are required to report their winter catch to WDFW by Feb. 1. Reports are due for the winter season, whether or not crabbers actually fished or caught Dungeness crab. To submit catch reports, crabbers may send their catch record card to WDFW by mail or file their report on the department’s licensing website. The mailing address is WDFW CRC Unit, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. The online reporting system is available Jan. 1-Feb. 1. For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s catch record card webpage.

Hunting: Most big-game hunts in the region will be closed by the start of January, although, waterfowl hunters still have time to bag ducks and geese. Hunters have through Jan. 26 to hunt for 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. The brant hunting season in Pacific County is open Jan. 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, and 19.

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

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

This compilation of sightings provides important information about bird populations, in Washington and throughout the Americas. But keeping a list of birds seen throughout each year is also a personal endeavor, a common practice among birders, veterans and novices alike. The Washington Ornithological Society (WOS) offers a wealth of information on birds and birding, including a checklist available on its website

Birders can get started on that checklist by visiting the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, on the Nisqually River Delta in southern Puget Sound, offers 3,000 acres of salt and freshwater marshes, grasslands, riparian, and mixed forest habitats that provide resting and nesting areas for migratory waterfowl, songbirds, raptors, and wading birds. Bird watchers should note that a portion of the Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail will be closed through Jan. 26. The closure is required for the safety of visitors while waterfowl hunting takes place on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and WDFW lands near the trail. For more information, check the refuge’s website.   

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

Fishing: Winter steelhead are still the name of the game for many anglers in the lower Columbia River Basin, although several other fisheries are beginning to compete for anglers’ attention. Sturgeon retention is allowed Jan. 1-19 in the Bonneville Pool, and 30,000 freshly planted rainbow trout will be available in 13 lakes around the region.

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

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

The daily limit for steelhead on all area rivers is two marked, hatchery-reared fish. Any steelhead with an intact adipose fin must be released. Barbless hooks are required upriver to the state border with Oregon, 17 miles upstream from McNary Dam.

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

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

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

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

Fishery managers recently released preliminary forecasts of Columbia River salmon returns for 2014, predicting an upriver run of 227,000 spring chinook. That is a significant improvement over last year’s forecast of 141,400 adult spring chinook and the actual return of 123,100 upriver fish. For summer chinook, the forecast of 67,500 fish is the same as last year’s return, but the projected return of 347,100 sockeye is nearly double the size of last year’s run.

Rather catch sturgeon? Sturgeon retention is allowed through Jan. 1-19 in the Bonneville Pool, but will remain closed for the year below Bonneville Dam under conservation measures adopted by Washington and Oregon in 2013. Both areas are open to catch-and-release sturgeon fishing year-round.

In the Bonneville Pool, the retention fishery will run seven days per week during the initial 19-day opening, with a catch limit of one legal-size fish per day. Only white sturgeon measuring 38 inches to 54 inches long (fork length) may be retained. Fishery managers will meet in March or April to set dates for a summer retention season in those waters, which stretch from Bonneville Dam upriver to The Dalles Dam.

Another option is to head for a local lake and catch some trout. From December through January, WDFW expects to plant 30,000 catchable sized rainbows – plus any excess broodstock – in 13 lakes and reservoirs around the region. Those trout were raised at state hatcheries in Goldendale and Vancouver with the intent of providing winter fishing opportunities in the southwest region, said John Weinheimer, another WDFW fish biologist.

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

Weather and road conditions allowing, WDFW plans to stock catchable-size rainbows in Fort Borst Park Pond (1,500) in Lewis County; Silver Lake (4,000), Sacajawea Lake (3,000), Horseshoe Lake (2,400) and Kress Lake (2,000) in Cowlitz County; Battleground Lake (2,000) and Klineline Pond (2,000) in Clark County; Icehouse Lake (1,000) and Little Ash Lake (1,000) in Skamania County; and Rowland Lake (3,000), Spearfish Lake (2,000) and Maryhill Pond (500) in Klickitat County.

See the weekly stocking reports for the latest news on these plants.

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

Hunting:  Most big-game hunts in the region are now closed for the season, but waterfowl hunters can continue to bag ducks and geese through Jan. 26. Hunting rules are outlined in the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet.

After weeks of dry, mild weather, many waterfowl hunters – in southwest Washington and across the state – are looking forward to a good, hard downpour.

“Dry, calm weather is nice, but it doesn’t make for great duck hunting conditions,” said Dave Ware, game manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “Ducks like water, and that is in short supply in the fields around the state.

A strong northerly wind would also bring more ducks into the area.”

With the exception of New Year’s Day, Goose Management Area 2A (Cowlitz, Wahkiakum and part of Clark County) is open to hunting for ducks and geese Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. Waterfowl hunting in Management Area 3 (Lewis and Skamania counties) and Area 5 (Klickitat County) is open seven days a week. As of late December, all dusky goose areas were open, but hunters planning to hunt those areas should keep an eye on WDFW’s website for any announcements. Up-to-date information is also available by calling (360) 696-6211 and following the menu options for hunting and waterfowl.

Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports on their hunting activities are due by Jan. 31 for each 2013 license, permit or tag purchased. Hunters can file their reports by calling (877) 945-3492, or via the Internet. Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.

Hunters who submit their reports by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. Those who miss the Jan. 31 deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can purchase a 2013 hunting license.

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

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

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

Some of these birds will likely show up in the 114th Annual Christmas Bird Count, which runs through Jan. 5 throughout North America. Watch for this year’s continental count on Audubon’s website during the coming weeks.

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

Fishing:  Temperatures continue to drop, but that hasn’t stopped anglers from catching some nice trout and other gamefish in lakes throughout the region. At Hatch Lake in Stevens County, at least one angler recently took a five-fish limit of rainbows – all between 14 and 16 inches fishing through the ice – while others have done well in open waters.

Either way, state fishery managers urge anglers to exercise caution when fishing in winter conditions. “Shelf ice” along the shorelines of rivers and streams can be hazardous, and four inches of solid ice – with extended freezing temperatures – is considered a basic safety requirement for venturing onto a frozen lake.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) does not measure ice on fishing lakes and cannot guarantee ice fishing safety. However, all four of the region’s winter-only rainbow trout lakes were covered in at least seven inches of ice in late December and should continue to provide catches through the ice so long as wintery conditions prevail.

WDFW Fish Biologist Brian Walker reports that both Hatch and Williams lakes in Stevens County’s continue to produce good catches of rainbows for anglers willing to brave the snow.

“It’s my impression that the fish may be slightly larger at Williams Lake,” Walker said, “but they’re more numerous at Hatch. Regardless, either lake provides ample opportunity for anglers to take home some fish in great condition – plump, healthy, and begging to be rolled in flour and fried in a little butter!”

Fourth of July Lake, on the Lincoln-Adams county line, is also fishing really well through the ice, said Randy Osborne, a WDFW central district fish biologist stationed in Spokane. He reports a mix of fish both smaller and larger than 14 inches. The daily catch limit at Fourth of July is five trout, only two of which can be over 14 inches.

Hog Canyon Lake, in southwest Spokane County, is also providing good catches under the same five-trout rule, with no more than two over 14 inches. WDFW fish biologists Kent Mayer and Marc Divens recently fished Hog Canyon to produce an instructional ice fishing video available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITZZdNkRXpk.

Here are a few tips to help keep an outing safe when fishing these or other ice-covered lakes:

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

January is also a good time to fish the open waters of Lake Roosevelt, the year-round fishery on Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam. Osborne reported Roosevelt fishing is really good now for rainbow trout in the 15-18 inch range. 

“Anglers have to look around for them a little, but good fishing on Roosevelt is not too hard to find right now,” he said.

WDFW Inland Fish Program Manager Chris Donley recently fished Roosevelt to produce a winter trout fishing instructional video, available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ktliBPHVrw.

Anglers have also been doing well on yellow perch in Silver and Eloika lakes, both open year-round.  Although the fish are slightly smaller at Silver Lake, “there are a ton out there to harvest,” Osborne said.

Year-round-open Long Lake (Lake Spokane) usually produces crappie and yellow perch catches fairly well in January. Year-round Sprague Lake, on the Lincoln-Adams county line, can be good at this time for bluegill, crappie and trout.

WDFW does not measure ice on fishing lakes and cannot guarantee ice fishing safety.

Snake River steelhead fishing continues, although WDFW enforcement officers patrolling the river from Lower Granite Dam to the Idaho border near Clarkston report angler participation and catch rates have been low. Those who are catching fish are landing the larger B-run hatchery steelhead, they say.

Hunting: Snow cover throughout the region should help upland game bird hunters, whose seasons continue through Jan. 12 for pheasants and Jan. 20 for quail, chukars and gray partridge. Tracking is easier in snow, birds tend to hold better and scenting conditions for bird dogs are much improved. Wild pheasants are plentiful this season and even young roosters are colored up enough by this time for easy distinction from hens. 

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

Decent upland game bird hunting opportunities also still exist on WDFW properties for pheasants on Revere Wildlife Area in Whitman County and Hungarian partridge on Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County. Another option are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers habitat management units along the Snake River. For details see the interactive mapping program “Go Hunt” at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/.

Meanwhile, ducks and geese are fair game through Jan. 26. Rainfall was slight in December, but hunting opportunities are still available wherever water remains ice-free and the birds have secure roosting. WDFW enforcement officers, who have been checking waterfowlers on the Pend Oreille and Snake rivers, Long Lake, and other waterways in the region, remind hunters that both state and federal migratory bird permits are required, along with a small game license. Hunters are also required to use non-toxic shot and plugged shotguns to keep to the maximum of three shotgun shells.

Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports on their hunting activities are due by Jan. 31, 2014 for each 2013 license, permit or tag purchased. Hunters can file their reports by calling (877) 945-3492, or via the Internet at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/wa/Hunterreport.  Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.

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

Wildlife viewing:  Whether at backyard winter feeding stations or enjoying winter-time sports, birdwatchers throughout the region are looking for the usual winter species this month, includingCooper's, sharp-shinned, and rough-legged hawks, northern harrier, American kestrel, Northern pygmy owl, Clark's nutcracker, gray and Steller’s jays, black-capped and mountain chickadees, red-breasted, white-breasted and pygmy nuthatches, Cassin’s and house finches, red crossbill, pine siskin, American goldfinch, common redpoll, and evening grosbeak.
Canada geese are feeding on winter wheat fields throughout the region during the day, and moving off to night roosts on local waterways. 

Bald eagles are also showing up along waterways throughout the region, feeding on winter-spent fish or waterfowl. WDFW field staff say the big white-headed scavengers are honing in on road-killed deer and other roadside wildlife casualties.

WDFW’s W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area manager Kari Dingman said both white-tailed and mule deer are becoming more visible as winter advances. Elk are also more visible and bighorn sheep have returned to the area behind the Tucannon fish hatchery, where they, too, can be seen more readily, she says. Cummings Creek, however, will be closed to all human entry from Jan. 1 until April 1 to protect wintering wildlife.  

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

“Collecting naturally shed deer and elk antlers is legal but there are some ethical considerations to keep in mind, and a few places that are restricted or off-limits,” said Woody Myers, WDFW ungulate research biologist. “The easiest antler hunting is, of course, where deer or elk concentrate in the winter. But if many antler hunters descend on that area before wintering animals have left, the disturbance can threaten their survival at the harshest time of year. Public lands across the state may have rules, so antler hunters should do their homework before going afield.”

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

Fishing:  Temperatures continue to drop, but that hasn’t stopped anglers from catching some nice trout and other gamefish in lakes throughout the region. At a number of lakes anglers are fishing through the ice, while others have done well in open waters.

Either way, state fishery managers urge anglers to exercise caution when fishing in winter conditions. “Shelf ice” along the shorelines of rivers and streams can be hazardous, and four inches of solid ice – with extended freezing temperatures – is considered a basic safety requirement for venturing onto a frozen lake.

In late December, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) fish biologist Travis Maitland reported that the ice cover was building on local lakes, although some were not yet safe for on-ice fishing. 

“Folks are already out ice-fishing on Fish Lake even though the ice thickness is questionable,” Maitland said. “It’s been good for yellow perch mostly.”

WDFW enforcement officers recently patrolling Fish Lake report an average angler success rate of about 10 fish each. The daily catch limit of perch at Fish Lake is 25, but officers recently found a few anglers helping themselves to more than that. They also found some fishing with two poles without the two-pole endorsement on their fishing license. Even when the $14.80 two-pole endorsement is purchased, they note, anglers can only take home one daily catch limit.

“Roses Lake has yet to really get going,” Maitland said, “but folks should expect good catches of rainbow trout through the ice there. We stocked Roses Lake in November with about 19,000 catchable size rainbows.  Perch will be readily available at Roses, too, if you can locate them. Just be careful about the ice and changing conditions.”

Okanogan County’s Leader Lake, located three miles west of the town of Okanogan on Hwy. 20, is open year-round this year for the first time, and fishing for black crappie, bluegill and rainbow trout should be fair.

Other traditional year-round lakes in Okanogan County that may be safe for ice fishing January include Patterson and Davis lakes in the Winthrop area, Rat Lake near Brewster, and Big and Little Green lakes west of Omak.  Davis, Rat, and Green lakes have rainbows in the 10-12 inch range. Patterson Lake has yellow perch in the seven to eight-inch range.

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

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

Meanwhile, other lakes with open water are also drawing anglers’ attention. Anglers are are currently trolling just off the bottom for lake trout (mackinaw) on Lake Chelan, which usually offers fair fishing throughout the winter.

Rufus Woods Reservoir, on the Columbia River off Chief Joseph Dam, has big triploid rainbow trout that can be caught throughout the winter months. Several areas upstream of the dam are accessible to the shore anglers. Boat anglers can launch at the Army Corps of Engineers boat ramp and explore any one of numerous back bays and shorelines upstream that hold triploids.   

Steelhead fishing also remains open on several sections of the upper Columbia River and tributaries until further notice, including waters from Wells Dam upstream to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam; the Methow River from the mouth upstream to the confluence with the Chewuch River in Winthrop; the Okanogan River from the mouth upstream to the Highway 97 Bridge in Oroville; and the Similkameen River from the mouth upstream to 400 feet below Enloe Dam.

Steelheaders must possess a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement with their fishing license to participate in these fisheries. Selective gear rules and night closures are in effect, although bait is allowed on the mainstem Columbia River section. Daily bag limit is two hatchery (adipose-fin-clipped) steelhead and there is mandatory retention of hatchery steelhead.

In all these fisheries, any steelhead with an intact adipose fin must be released unharmed and cannot be removed from the water prior to release. Steelhead with a floy (anchor) tag attached and/or one or more round 1/4 inch diameter holes punched in the caudal (tail) fin must also be released.

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

WDFW 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 are designed to give hunters more quality hunting opportunities, address landowner concerns about safety and property damage, and allow more hunting options for youth, disabled, and general hunters.

Under the new rules, hunters can reserve a date at these private land access sites online, but must arrive on-site by 9 a.m. to secure it. 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 their harvest daily on a form deposited at the registration station. These must also observe all rules posted on-site, 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 continues through Jan. 12 for pheasants and through Jan. 20 for quail and partridge. Snow cover throughout the region could make for good hunting.

Pheasant, quail and chukar partridge numbers are fairly good in the Columbia Basin and birds will hold better with snow. Be sure to secure permission first to hunt private lands, or check out public lands, like WDFW’s Desert Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area Complex between Potholes Reservoir and the town of George. For details see the interactive mapping program “Go Hunt” at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/.

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

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

Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports on their hunting activities are due by Jan. 31 for each 2013 license, permit or tag purchased. Hunters can file their reports by calling (877) 945-3492, or via the Internet at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/wa/Hunterreport.  Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.

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

Wildlife viewing: January is a good month to view the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in northcentral Washington. This chicken-sized bird is a threatened species in the state of Washington and a federal species of concern. One particular good viewing area is on the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area, about 12 miles northwest of Omak in Okanogan County.

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

It’s also a good time to take in a “Nature of Winter” snowshoe tour on winter ecology, wildlife and wildlife tracks, and more in the Methow Valley of Okanogan County.  These family-friendly tours, sponsored by the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA), are available Saturdays on Jan. 4, 11, 18, 25 and Feb. 1, 8, 15, 22. The tours run 90 minutes to two-hours (depending on conditions) and begin at 11 a.m. MVSTA trail passes or a MVSTA snowshoe trail pass ($5) are required for each person. For more information call MVSTA at 996-3287 or see http://www.mvsta.com/winter-trails.

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

“Collecting naturally shed deer and elk antlers is legal but there are some ethical considerations to keep in mind and a few places that are restricted or off-limits,” said WDFW ungulate research biologist Woody Myers. “The easiest antler hunting is, of course, where deer or elk concentrate in the winter. But if many antler hunters descend on that area before wintering animals have left, the disturbance can threaten their survival at the harshest time of year. Public lands across the state may have rules, so antler hunters should do their homework before going afield.”

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

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

Anglers planning to go after sturgeon should be aware there is a 500-fish annual quota for sturgeon on Lake Umatilla, said Paul Hoffarth, a regional fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “In recent years, the quota has been reached in a couple of months, so I’d advise anglers to get out early if they want to take a sturgeon home for dinner,” he said.

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

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

Typical of the winter fishery, steelhead fishing has also been up and down, said Hoffarth, noting that some of the best catches on the Columbia River have been reported in the Ringold area. In the Tri-Cities area, the fishery is open for retention of hatchery steelhead from John Day Dam upstream to the wooden power line towers at the old Hanford town site through March 31, 2013.

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

Meanwhile, winter whitefish seasons are currently open on the Yakima, Naches, Tieton, Cle Elum and Bumping rivers. Whitefish gear rules are in effect on the the Yakima River from the Highway 223 Bridge at Granger to Keechelus Dam through Feb. 28. Whitefish seasons for the other rivers run Dec. 1 to March 31. Anglers are advised to check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet for regulations that apply to specific river reaches.

Eric Anderson, a WDFW fish biologist stationed in Yakima, recommends that anglers fishing for whitefish concentrate their fishing efforts in deep pools below riffles. Whitefish gear is restricted to one single-point hook with a maximum hook size of 3/16-inch from point to shank (hook size 14), and bait is allowed. Anderson said most whitefish are caught with a small fly, tipped with a maggot. The individual limit is 15 whitefish per day, most of which range from 10 to 15 inches long.

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

Those interested in fishing local ponds near Yakima should know that WDFW recently stocked Myron Lake and Sarg Hubbard Park Pond with 140 brood stock rainbows.  The fish average over 5 pounds apiece. Sarg Hubbard Park Pond is open only to juvenile anglers under 15 years old and anglers with a disability and reduced fee license.

Several other waters stocked with big trout in November are also still worth a try, Anderson said. North Elton Pond near Selah got 2,000 jumbo rainbows averaging 1.5 pounds apiece, while North Fio Rito and Mattoon Lakes in the Kittitas Valley got 240 rainbow brood stock (over 5 lbs. each). Anglers are reminded to check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet for special gear and catch limits that apply on lakes and ponds.

Hunting:  Most big-game hunts in the region are now closed for the season, but waterfowl hunters can continue to bag ducks and geese through Jan. 26. Hunting rules are outlined in the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet.

After weeks of dry, mild weather, many waterfowl hunters – in southwest Washington and across the state – are looking forward to a good, hard downpour.

“Dry, calm weather is nice, but it doesn’t make for great duck hunting conditions,” said Dave Ware, game manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “Ducks like water, and that is in short supply in the fields around the state.

A strong northerly wind would also bring more ducks into the area.”

The Snake and Columbia Rivers and associated water bodies hold tens of thousands of ducks when the weather gets below freezing. Access can be gained at the McNary and Umatilla National Wildlife Refuges and the Hanford Reach National Monument. Hunters pursue them in the farm fields near the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Most of the land is private, so secure permission before hunting.

Other tips about this year’s hunt are available in WDFW’s 2013 Hunting Prospects report.

Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports on their hunting activities are due by Jan. 31 for each 2013 license, permit or tag purchased. Hunters can file their reports by calling (877) 945-3492, or via the Internet. Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.

Hunters who submit their reports by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. Those who miss the Jan. 31 deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can purchase a 2013 hunting license.

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, birders in some areas will be counting birds for the Christmas Bird Count through Jan. 5, when the 114th annual comes to a close throughout North America. Watch for this year’s count on Audubon’s website during the coming weeks.