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

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December 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 December 1, 2014)

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 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, 2015 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. “Fishing and hunting licenses are gifts that last the whole year.”

State fishing and hunting licenses are now available for the 2015 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: With the holidays drawing near, regional waters offer plenty of gifts for fishers, from Puget Sound’s crab and blackmouth salmon, to some great opportunities to catch trout on area lakes.

Blackmouth salmon season has started off strong in central Puget Sound, where baitfish have been more prevalent, said Ryan Lothrop, Puget Sound recreational salmon manager with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). 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 throughout 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.

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.

Before heading out, anglers may want to check creel reports for information on catch and effort in Puget Sound. Recreational fishery samplers collect the information each week at fishing access sites throughout Puget Sound.

While on the Sound, why not drop a crab pot? Sport crabbing is open in most marine areas of Puget Sound seven days a week through Dec. 31. The exceptions are Marine Area 10 (Seattle-Bremerton) 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 the WDFW website.

All Dungeness crab kept in the late-season fishery must 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, 2015. For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s recreational crab fishing website.

For anglers targeting trout, the department has been stocking 47 western Washington lakes with some 340,000 catchable-size trout this fall and winter. Increased bag limits are also still allowed on 17 lakes in Island, King, Snohomish, and Thurston counties, doubling angler’s catch limits from five to 10 trout on selected lakes.

A list of lakes stocked, those offering the bonus bag limit, and the department's stocking plan is available for viewing at the department’s Fall into Fishing webpage. Videos on basic and cold-weather techniques for trout fishing can be found on the department’s YouTube page.

At Lake Sammamish, anglers trolling for cutthroat trout are having great success fishing near the surface, over deeper portions of the lake, said Danny Garrett, a WDFW fish biologist. “Lake Washington is a different story. Anglers targeting cutthroat in Lake Washington are often most successful trolling near the bottom in 50-80 feet of water.”

Other good bets during December are Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish, where anglers can hook perch and smallmouth bass. “Anglers targeting perch should fish near deep ledges, 50-80 feet, using night crawlers,” said Garrett.

Hunting:  Waterfowl hunters have through Jan. 25 to hunt ducks and geese. “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.

For those up to a fun challenge, upland bird hunters also have through December 31 to hunt late season forest grouse

“Most of the birds will be avoiding roads by now, so hunters should hike into open forest stands especially alder or cottonwood stands where one has a chance to make a wing shot now with the leaves off,” said Brian Calkins, WDFW small game and hunter access section manager.

“A good dog will help with locating and retrieving birds in dense ground cover,” adds Calkins. 

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 2014.

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 gift 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 activation date when buying a pass online or from recreational license vendors

During the holiday season, Audubon Society chapters throughout the region are coordinating Christmas Bird Counts (CBC), some of 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.

Raptor fans might want to conduct 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 and trout in a variety of lakes. Razor clams are also on the menu at several ocean beaches.

Shellfish managers have approved a weeklong set of razor clam digs beginning Dec. 3. The approved dates, low tides and beaches include:

  • Dec. 3, Wednesday; 4:14 p.m., -0.1 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • Dec. 4, Thursday; 5:02 p.m., -0.6 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • Dec. 5, Friday; 5:45 p.m., -0.9 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • Dec. 6, Saturday; 6:26 p.m., -1.0 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • Dec. 7, Sunday; 7:05 p.m., -0.9 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • Dec. 8, Monday; 7:44 p.m., -0.6 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • Dec. 9, Tuesday; 8:21 pm, -0.2 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors

 

WDFW has two additional digs tentatively scheduled later in December, including a one-day dig on New Year’s Eve. The full schedule, along with digging tips and razor clam recipes, is available on WDFW’s razor clam webpage.

Sport crabbing is open seven days a week through Dec. 31 in most waters of Puget Sound. They 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).

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.

All Dungeness crab caught in the late-season fishery must be recorded on winter catch cards, which are valid through Dec. 31. Winter catch reports are due to WDFW by Feb. 1, 2015. Additional information is available on WDFW’s website.

Meanwhile, several of the region’s lakes have been stocked with large rainbow trout, including in Offutt Lake and Longs Pond in Thurston County and Harts Lake in Pierce County. A complete list of those lakes, most of which were stocked in November, is available online.

"Fishing is a fall and winter tradition for many Washington anglers," said Chris Donley, WDFW inland fish program manager. "These fisheries offer a great excuse to skip the malls and enjoy a fun day out on the water with family and friends."

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. Anglers fishing the lower sections of the Quillayute, Bogachiel, Calawah, Sol Duc and Hoh 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, including up to two adult salmon of which only one may be a wild coho. Scharpf reminds anglers fishing the Satsop and Chehalis rivers that they must release all chinook. Chum salmon must also be released starting Dec. 1 while fishing the Chehalis upstream of the confluence with Black River.

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 two hatchery 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 chinook. All wild chinook must be released.

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.

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

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. Hunters looking to harvest a Roosevelt elk in District 17 (Pacific and Grays Harbor counties) often have the most luck hunting the Willapa Hills elk herd in GMUs 658, 672, 673 and 681.

In District 16 (Clallam and west Jefferson counties), the highest level of elk harvests have occurred in GMUs 615, 602 and 607. 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. 25 to hunt ducks in the region. Goose hunts in goose management area 3 also are open seven days a week through Jan. 25. However, hunts in goose management area 2B (Pacific County) are limited to Saturdays and Wednesdays only through Jan. 17.

Upland bird hunters have through Dec. 31 to hunt forest grouse. The harvest of grouse in Clallam County (District 16) rivals all other counties in south Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula. The Olympic National Forest and Skokomish Valley in District 15 also are popular grouse hunting areas.

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 2014. 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 watching: 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 snapping up anglers' lures in several Columbia River tributaries. 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 and Elochoman rivers, along with Salmon Creek in Clark County and Abernathy Creek in Cowlitz County.

Anglers might also want to try Lower Rock Creek in Skamania County, which is open to fishing for hatchery steelhead until further notice. Last year, WDFW released 20,000 smolts there and first adults are expected to return during the 2014-15 winter season.

All streams have a two-fish daily limit, but anglers should check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet for other rules specific to each river. As with all steelhead fisheries in southwest Washington, only hatchery fish with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar may be retained. All wild steelhead must be released.

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. Hymer recommends checking WDFW’s steelhead smolt-planting schedule for 2013, along with hatchery returns posted on a weekly basis.

While winter steelhead are the main attraction right now, late-stock coho will continue to bite through December. As of mid-November, boat anglers were averaging one hatchery coho per day on the Cowlitz River, where returns to Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery through Nov. 17 have been on a record pace with 88,306 adults. The Klickitat River has also been producing strong coho catches.

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. Only those fish with a clipped adipose fin may be retained, except in the Klickitat River where anglers can also keep unmarked coho.

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 on or around Dec. 1 on area rivers:

  • Grays River – Fishing opens Dec. 1 for hatchery steelhead, hatchery coho, and adipose and/or ventral fin clipped chinook from the Hwy. 4 Bridge to the South Fork, and from the mouth of the West Fork Grays River to 300 yards below hatchery road bridge.
  • Green River, North Fork Toutle River, and mainstem Toutle River from mouth to the forksNov. 30 is the last day to fish for hatchery steelhead and hatchery salmon in these waters.
  • South Fork Toutle River – Nov. 30 is the last day to fish for hatchery steelhead from the 4100 Bridge upstream. The stretch from the mouth to the bridge remains open, with selective gear rules in effect beginning Dec.1.
  • Swift Reservoir – Nov. 30 is the last day to fish for trout.  
  • Cowlitz River – Under permanent rules, Nov. 30 is the last day of the night closure and anti-snagging rule from Mill Creek to the barrier dam.
  • Mill Creek (tributary to Cowlitz River) Beginning Dec.1, the creek opens to fishing for hatchery steelhead from the mouth to the salmon hatchery road crossing culvert. Night closures and anti-snagging rules will be in effect for the one-month fishery.
  • North Fork Lewis River Starting Dec. 1, night closure and anti-snagging rules are lifted on the North Fork Lewis from Johnson Creek to Colvin Creek.
  • Wind River – Nov. 30 is the last day of the catch and release game fish season above Shipherd Falls.
  • Klickitat River – Starting Dec. 1, fishing closes for trout, hatchery steelhead and salmon, except for the salmon fishery from the Fisher Hill Bridge downstream which remains open through Jan. 31.

For something different, the whitefish season on the Klickitat River opens Dec. 1 from 400 feet above Fishway #5 upstream to the Yakama Reservation boundary. Whitefish gear rules will be in effect.

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. 28.

Thousands of rainbows weighing 1¼ pounds each will be waiting for anglers that day – and the weeks ahead – 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 new 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.”

More information about local hunting options and the North American waterfowl forecast is available in WDFW’s Hunting Prospects report for districts 9 and 10. 

The waterfowl season runs through Jan. 25 in most areas, although goose hunting in Goose Management Area 2A will be closed from Dec. 1 through Dec. 9 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.

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 10 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.

Pheasant season closed Nov. 30 in most areas, with some exceptions listed in the rule pamphlet. Upland bird hunters have through Dec. 31 to hunt forest grouse.

Meanwhile, archers and muzzleloaders will be in the field for late deer and elk hunts through various dates in December. Rules for those hunts are described in the Big Game Hunting pamphlet.

Game managers will have a much better indication of how those seasons 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 2014.

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: Migrating waterfowl continue to move into southwest Washington, building toward peak levels and providing prime viewing opportunities throughout the region. Swans, geese, ducks and other waterfowl of all descriptions are on display throughout the Vancouver Lowlands and other areas of southwest Washington.

Looking for the perfect holiday gift for an outdoor enthusiast? Look no further than the Discover Pass, the state vehicle-access pass that opens the door 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.

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.

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

Fishing: Four of the region’s rainbow trout fishing lakes open for a winter-only fishing season Dec. 1 through March 31, and all promise to provide good catches, depending on weather and access.

Hatch Lake, southeast of Colville in Stevens County, has an abundance of rainbow trout ranging between 12 and 16 inches in very good condition. Williams Lake, north of Colville in Stevens County, has a fair rainbow population, boosted last month with extra one-pound hatchery fish.

“Fishing and catch rates at Hatch Lake will be very similar to the past few years,” said WDFW northeast district fish biologist Bill Baker of Colville. “Our fry plants are now averaging around 12 inches and there are lots of winter carryovers up to 16 inches. Hatch was frozen over, and it should provide action through the ice if it stays that way – but be very cautious about getting out on it.”

Baker said Williams Lake appears to have a growing goldfish population that compete with trout, so expectations for that fishery this winter are somewhat lower. The local high school education program at the Colville Fish Hatchery, in cooperation with Stevens County, provided 500 one-pound rainbows that were stocked in Williams earlier this fall, so catch rates should be fair to good. Williams Lake is still mostly open water and is unlikely to have enough ice formed to allow ice fishing early in the season.

The other two regional lakes opening Dec. 1 are Fourth of July Lake, on the Lincoln-Adams county line south of Sprague, and Hog Canyon Lake in Spokane County northeast of Sprague. Randy Osborne, WDFW central district fish biologist, says anglers can expect good fishing at both lakes, although changing conditions may delay the action.

“Recent warming temperatures and rain have deteriorated ice conditions on these and other lakes, making them unsafe for anglers and possibly difficult to launch boats or even cast from shore,” Osborne said. “I encourage anglers to use common sense each and every time they venture out on or near any frozen water body.”

WDFW district fish biologist Randy Osborne with 22-inch rainbow trout from Fourth of July Lake
WDFW district fish biologist Randy Osbornewith
22-inch rainbow trout from Fourth of July Lake
WDFW fish biologist Leslie King with 16-inch rainbow trout from Fourth of July Lake
WDFW fish biologist Leslie King with 16-inch
rainbow trout from Fourth of July Lake

Test fishing of Fourth of July Lake late last month showed the presence of large rainbow trout, measuring 14 to 22 inches. At that time, about a quarter of the lake on the northern end was frozen, so anglers may have to walk to find open water. Much of the land around Fourth of July Lake is private, so it’s important that anglers obey posted signs, pack out any trash, and not block any gates with vehicles.

No sampling was possible at Hog Canyon Lake because of ice, but Osborne says anglers should see rainbow trout in the 9-14 inch range once the lake is fishable.

Anglers should be aware of the special regulations in effort on both Hog Canyon and Fourth of July lakes: no minimum size, daily limit of five fish, but no more than two fish over 14 inches may be retained. Osborne said the retention limit on large fish is designed to extend the fishery through the season – especially at Fourth of July Lake where most fish are large. Once anglers using bait catch and keep two fish over 14 inches, they should switch to lures or flies so that large fish can be released unharmed, Osborne said. (See “Bait Rules” under “Statewide Freshwater Rules” on page 16 of the fishing pamphlet.)

Dec. 1 is also the opening of whitefish season on the stretch of the Little Spokane River from Highway 291 upstream to West Branch. There’s no minimum size and the daily limit is 15 whitefish. Whitefish gear rules apply – one single-point hook, maximum hook size 3/16-inch pint to shank (hook size 14).

Meanwhile, some waters that are open year-round can produce some decent catches of trout and other gamefish.

Rainbow trout fishing on Lake Spokane (Long Lake) continues to produce some nice fish, although access is limited during lower water conditions. Anglers have recently reported good fishing for 10-12-inch rainbows, which were part of the 10-year annual cooperative stocking effort between Avista and WDFW.

Lake Roosevelt fishing is fair to good for rainbow trout running about 16 inches and 1½ to 1¾ pounds. Whether fishing from shore or trolling, anglers have been catching good numbers of lunky rainbows reared in net pens in the big reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam.

Once ice conditions materialize and become safe, year-round-open waters such as Silver Lake in southwest Spokane County, and Eloika Lake in northern Spokane County, should produce some yellow perch. Newman Lake in eastern Spokane County should have some decent fishing for black crappie if anglers can locate them.

Blue and Spring lakes, the Tucannon River impoundments on the Wooten Wildlife Area in Columbia County, remain open to trout fishing through the end of December. But Wooten manager Kari Dingman reports the lakes have developed thin ice layers with recent cold temperatures that hinder fishing.

Snake River steelhead fishing continues to be productive in some areas, despite drops in water temperatures that usually slow the bite.

Anglers who fish through the ice on any waterway with an open fishing season through the winter are reminded to check ice-fishing safety information on WDFW’s website.

Hunting:  Upland game bird hunting continues throughout the region. Although no harvest reports of pheasant, quail or partridge numbers are available, hunting should improve this month as birds become more likely to hold in wintery conditions.

The final release of farm-raised rooster pheasants was 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 Private Lands Biologist Corrie Thorne Hadley of Walla Walla reminds bird hunters of the various land access programs throughout the region, especially in the southeast district. Information on the Feel Free to Hunt, Register to Hunt, Hunt by Written Permission, and Hunt by Reservation programs is available on WDFW’s Private Lands Access site.

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

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.

For more details on hunting opportunities in the eastern region, see WDFW’s Hunting Prospects report.

Wildlife viewing: With its short days, long nights, and official onset of winter, December can be a good month for viewing wildlife that has moved into the area to take advantage of food sources, or is simply more visible in a stark environment.

WDFW fish biologist Debbie Milks of Dayton reports that at least one bald eagle has been seen on the Tucannon River, below the Highway 261 bridge near Starbuck. “There are fall chinook salmon spawning in the Tucannon River,” she said, “and it’s likely the eagle is enjoying the carcass buffet.” Milks noted the same area has a nest used by eagles earlier this year.

WDFW fish technician Ashly Beebe recently reported a pileated woodpecker in large trees along the Touchet River upstream of the Highway 12 bridge near Dayton. The largest woodpecker in North America, the species is relatively rare and shy, but its crested red cap makes it unmistakable. 

Other staff report wintering raptors, including rough-legged hawks, northern harriers, and northern goshawks working the region’s open spaces for meals of everything from rodents to other smaller birds.

Backyard winter bird feeding stations throughout the region are in full swing now and “armchair birders” are reporting all the usual diners at their spreads – black-capped and mountain chickadees; house and Cassin’s finches; red-breasted, white-breasted and pygmy nuthatches; downy and hairy woodpeckers; northern flickers; dark-eyed juncos; and American goldfinches.  Backyard birders are reminded to keep bird feeding stations clean to avoid spreading disease and to locate feeders to minimize predation by domestic cats.

Another popular way to view birds this month is by participating in the 115th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC), running Dec. 14 through Jan. 5. 

The CBC is the longest running citizen science survey in the world, providing 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.

Many local Audubon chapters conduct pre-count field trips this month to hone bird identification skills and prepare for official counts. Some of the counts allow backyard birders whose properties lie within the count parameters to be a part of the tally, too. Seven CBCs are conducted in this region, open to participation by contacting the coordinators listed here by area and count dates:

All birdwatchers are encouraged to report species observations at the newly-launched, inter-agency, cooperative on-line reporting system. WDFW wildlife biologists will be using bird data provided by citizens through “eBird” to support future range mapping, distribution modeling, and status and trend assessments.

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

Andy Parker caught this 15-pound steelhead from Rocky Reach pool of Upper Columbia River
Andy Parker caught this 15-pound
steelhead from Rocky Reach
pool of Upper Columbia River

Fishing: Steelhead fishing on the Upper Columbia River continues to be productive for anglers braving the cold and putting in the time to land nice fish.

WDFW district fish biologist Travis Maitland reports that although steelheading has not been “red hot” recently, there are decent fish being landed by the hardy and tenacious. In late November, Maitland watched an angler pull steelie from the pool behind Rocky Reach Dam that measured 38 inches and weighed 15 pounds.

The mainstem Columbia River from Rock Island Dam to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam and portions of several tributaries (Wenatchee, Entiat, Methow, Okanogan, Similkameen rivers) are currently open to hatchery steelhead fishing until further notice. Anglers must wild steelhead, but retain hatchery fish (marked by a clipped adipose fin) to help increase the proportion of natural-origin steelhead on the spawning grounds. The catch limit is two hatchery steelhead per day.

All anglers must possess a valid fishing license and a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement. The season can close at any time due to impacts on natural origin steelhead, as noted on WDFW’s website.

Three lakes in Okanogan County open for “catch and keep” trout fishing Dec. 1. Rat 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. All three lakes provide good angling throughout the winter months, whether open water as they mostly are now, 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. 

Maitland reports that year-round-open Fish and Roses lakes in Chelan County are not safely iced over yet.

“Once solid, safe ice forms on these lakes, we should have good fishing for rainbow trout on Roses Lake,” he said, noting that WDFW stocked 16,000 rainbows there in November. “Fish Lake should continue to be a good producer of average sized yellow perch through the ice,” he said.  “We just need some colder temps to get these fisheries going.”

Year-round-open Moses Lake in the Columbia Basin usually provides good yellow perch fishing as 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.

Anglers who fish through the ice on any waterway are advised to check out the ice fishing safety information on WDFW’s website

Hunting: December is a good time to hunt ducks and geese in the Columbia Basin as advancing winter conditions move more waterfowl into areas where big water is still open and grain fields provide forage.

Although conditions have not yet allowed a good aerial survey, ducks and geese are virtually everywhere with windy conditions, said Rich Finger, a WDFW district wildlife biologist. “We hope to conduct our survey in early December to provide a more precise picture of where birds are concentrated,“ Finger said. “As of late November, most small water bodies were frozen with two to six inches of mostly rotten ice. Corn fields lack snow cover and mallards are able to remain in the area.”

Finger said some short-distance returns of birds from the south basin areas are likely as conditions warm and winds push from the south. “Waterfowl hunting should be good to great and will likely be best during weather fronts, particularly windy days,” he said.   

WDFW’s on-line Hunt by Reservation program includes seven new private properties in Grant County now open to hunting, with more to come in other game management units in coming weeks. The properties are Adams Road x Road 6.5; Road H x Road 4; Road I North of I-90 #1; Road I North of I-90 #2; Road I x Rd 5; Road Q x Road 2; and Road O x Road 5.

All properties now open to waterfowl and upland game hunters are part of the department’s Columbia Basin Cropland Hunting Access Initiative (CHAI), formerly known as the Corn Stubble Retention Program. One group of up to four hunters will be allowed to access the sites at a time on CHAI sites, which are open for reservations at 8 a.m., 14 days prior to hunt dates. Those dates can fill up quickly, but open on a first-come, first-served basis if hunters with reservations don’t show up or leave early (indicated by no vehicles in the designated parking area of the site).

Most CHAI sites also have days set aside for youth and disabled hunters. For more information, contact WDFW’s Northcentral Region office via email or call 509-754-4624.

WDFW Okanogan district wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin of Winthrop notes late archery deer hunting is underway 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: December is a good time to view ducks and geese in the Columbia Basin as advancing winter conditions move more waterfowl into areas where big water is still open and grain fields provide forage.

Although conditions have not yet allowed a good aerial survey, ducks and geese are virtually everywhere with windy conditions, said Rich Finger, a WDFW district wildlife biologist.

Backyard winter bird feeding stations throughout the region are in full swing now and “armchair birders” are reporting all the usual diners at their spreads – black-capped and mountain chickadees; house and Cassin’s finches; red-breasted, white-breasted and pygmy nuthatches; downy and hairy woodpeckers; northern flickers; dark-eyed juncos; and American goldfinches.  Backyard birders are reminded to keep bird feeding stations clean to avoid spreading disease and to locate feeders to minimize predation by domestic cats.

Another popular way to view birds this month is by participating in the 115th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC), running Dec. 14 through Jan. 5. 

The CBC is the longest running citizen science survey in the world, providing 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.

Many local Audubon chapters conduct pre-count field trips this month to hone bird identification skills and prepare for official counts. Some of the counts allow backyard birders whose properties lie within the count parameters to be a part of the tally, too. Six CBCs are conducted in this region, open to participation by contacting the coordinators listed here by area and count dates:

All birdwatchers are encouraged to report species observations at the newly-launched, inter-agency, cooperative on-line reporting system. WDFW wildlife biologists will be using bird data provided by citizens through “eBird” to support future range mapping, distribution modeling, and status and trend assessments.

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.

Columbia River anglers should be aware that an additional stretch of the Hanford Reach opened to fishing for hatchery steelhead on Thanksgiving Day. Anglers can now retain up to two hatchery steelhead on the Columbia River from the Highway 24 bridge (Vernita Bridge) upstream to Priest Rapids Dam. Under the new regulation, anglers must retain any hatchery steelhead they intercept and must record those fish on their Catch Record Cards. “Selective gear rules” are in effect in this area, although the use of bait is allowed.

The area is scheduled to remain open through the winter months, but may close early.  Check the WDFW website for emergency rule closures. 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.

Just how many anglers will brave the elements to fish for hatchery steelhead in area waters remains to be seen. “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.”

During the third week in November, both bank and boat anglers averaged 11.5 hours per steelhead caught. Through Nov. 23, anglers had caught 686 since the fishery got under way Oct. 1.

In the early 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. Bank anglers tend to 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.

Another option is walleye. Anglers don’t typically catch as many walleye each day as during the summer months, but the fish they do catch are often much larger. Some record-holders have been taken in the dead of winter.

Retention fishing for sturgeon is currently closed on Lake Umatilla (John Day Reservoir) and Lake Wallula (McNary Reservoir), but catch-and-release fishing is allowed. Lake Umatilla will reopen to allow the harvest of sturgeon Jan. 1, 2015, and Lake Wallula will open for retention Feb. 1. Check the Washington Sport Fishing Rules for more details.

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 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 2,000 jumbo rainbows in the North Elton Pond near Selah, which opens to fishing Dec. 1 with a two-fish daily limit. 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.

Hunting: Large numbers of ducks arrived from the north in early November and have provided good hunting throughout the region ever since. That’s not surprising, given the record count of ducks on the breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska last spring, said Matt Wilson, WDFW waterfowl specialist.

“We’re seeing a lot ducks everywhere, and it looks like they’re sticking around,” said Wilson, who is based in Yakima. “There’s a real opportunity for good hunting right through the season as long as the birds don’t get blown south by winter storms.”

Canada geese are also in good supply, along with an estimated 25,000 snow geese have returned to Benton County near Paterson this year, said Don Kraege, WDFW waterfowl manager. The best bet for hunting ducks and geese is around rivers that resist freezing, although warm winds can quickly open waters for birds – and hunters – anywhere in the region.

“Anytime a chinook wind opens a crack in the ice, there’s a good chance the birds will be there,” Kraege said.

Hunting seasons for both ducks and geese run through Jan. 25 throughout the region, as described in the 2014-15 Migratory Waterfowl & Upland Game Seasons pamphlet. Hunters may also find WDFW’s 2014 Hunting Prospects report helpful in determining the best places to hunt.

Kraege noted that WDFW’s online Hunt by Reservation program includes two new private properties in Franklin County now open to hunting – with more to come in other game management units (GMU) in coming weeks. The two properties are Mesa Lake in GMU 379 (Ringold) and Krug Road in GMU 81 (Kahlotus).

Those properties are part of the department’s Columbia Basin Cropland Hunting Access Initiative (CHAI), formerly known as the Corn Stubble Retention Program. One group of up to four hunters is allowed to access the sites at a time on CHAI sites, which are open for reservations at 8 a.m., 14 days prior to hunt dates.

Those dates can fill up quickly, but open on a first-come, first-served basis if hunters with reservations don’t show up or leave early (indicated by no vehicles in the designated parking area of the site). Most CHAI sites also have days set aside for youth and disabled hunters. For more information, contact WDFW’s Southcentral Region office via email or call 509-575-2740.

Meanwhile, archers and muzzleloaders will be in the field for late deer and elk hunts in a few regional GMUs this month. Rules for those hunts are described in the Big Game Hunting pamphlet.

Game managers will have a much better indication of how those seasons 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 2014.

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.

Dave Ware, WDFW game manager, reminds hunters of WDFW’s fourth-annual 2015 Big Game Hunting Pamphlet Cover Photo Contest. With year’s theme “Women: Hunting Through the Generations,” the winning photo will be used to illustrate the cover of 475,000 pamphlets next year.

“We hope that hunters throughout the state pack their cameras and share pictures with the rest of the hunting community,” Ware said.

Wildlife viewing: In winter, hundreds of hungry elk and big-horn sheep descend on WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area, where visitors can watch them dine on alfalfa hay and pellets. The department’s winter feeding program gets under way once the snow starts to pile up, sometimes as early as December.

To check the status of the feeding program, Oak Creek visitors can hear a recorded message on the headquarters phone by calling (509) 653-2390. 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.