Find Your Region
WDFW Regions
 Past Issues
2015 2014 2013
2012 2011 2010
Contact
Fish: 360-902-2700
Wildlife: 360-902-2515
 More to do Outside!
Wildlife Areas
Water Access Sites
Experience Washington
State Parks
Washington National Parks
National Forest Service
Audubon Washington
The Weekender Report
The latest in fish and wildlife recreational opportunities across Washington State

DOWNLOAD WEEKENDER
Download Weekender
Microsoft Word Format

February 2015

(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 30, 2015)

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

No need to wait until spring to catch fish, observe wildlife

Temperatures are warming, birds are singing and the lower Columbia River will soon be teeming with spring chinook salmon. Spring is still a ways off, but February offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

State fishery managers expect another strong run of adult spring chinook to the Columbia River this year. The fishery is open now below the Interstate 5 Bridge, but it usually doesn't catch fire until March when the fishery expands upriver to Bonneville Dam and beyond.

"This is a good time to dust off your gear, order your bait, prepare your boat, and maybe do a little prospecting," said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "You want to be ready to go when the bulk of the run arrives."

For information about the spring chinook season, see the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/news/jan2815b/.

Several other promising fishing opportunities available this month include:

  • Blackmouth salmon: More areas of Puget Sound are opening to fishing for blackmouth chinook salmon, including Hood Canal, Marine Area 11 (Tacoma-Vashon) and – later in the month – Sekiu.
  • Rainbow trout: Anglers fishing Lake Roosevelt in northeast Washington have been reeling in some nice rainbow trout. Anglers at many other lakes open to trout fishing also are doing well.
  • Razor clams: An evening dig continues through Feb. 6, and another is tentatively planned Feb. 15-22. For details, check the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/current.html.
  • Squid: This is also prime time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. For more information on fishing for squid in the Sound, check WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/squid/howto_fish.html.

Anglers and hunters eager to gear up for seasons ahead will have several good chances to do so at a trio of sportsmen's shows in the coming weeks. They include the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen's Show, Feb. 4-8 in Portland; the Central Washington Sportsmen Show, Feb. 20-22 in Yakima; and the Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, March 19-22 in Spokane. WDFW will have booths at all three events, which also feature fly-casting pools, trophy displays, and experts on topics ranging from fly fishing to elk bugling.

Rather count birds for science? All it takes is 15 minutes of your time to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count. From Feb.13-16, birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, online at http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose.

For more information about these and other opportunities to enjoy Washington's great outdoors, 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 fishing for steelhead and other game fish closing on several rivers in the region, anglers are shifting their attention to the marine areas where blackmouth salmon fisheries are under way.

Areas of northern Puget Sound open for blackmouth fishing include marine areas 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) and 9 (Admiralty Inlet).  All these areas have a two-salmon daily limit, but anglers must release wild chinook salmon.

"Most blackmouth anglers have success fishing very near the bottom during tidal changes and by trolling with gear that imitates candlefish or other baitfish," said Ryan Lothrop, Puget Sound recreational salmon manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). 

Marine area 7 (San Juan Islands) is only open to salmon fishing on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as noted in a recent news release. The daily catch limit is one salmon daily, and anglers are required to release wild chinook. Anglers should also check for updates on WDFW's Fishing Hotline (360-902-2500) or the department's website.

Salmon fishing in Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) is closed in February.

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. Recreational fishery samplers with WDFW collect the information each week at fishing access sites throughout Puget Sound.

Winter is also prime time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. Good spots include the Des Moines Pier, Redondo Pier, 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.

Fishing for steelhead and other game fish is closed in many regional river systems. However, some waters near WDFW fish hatcheries will remain open through Feb. 15 to provide anglers an opportunity to catch and keep hatchery steelhead. Those waters include portions of the Skagit, North Fork Stillaguamish, Wallace, and Snoqualmie rivers. Anglers should check WDFW's sportfishing regulations pamphlet for details and the emergency rules site for any last minute rule changes.

Anglers planning fishing vacations in North Puget Sound and throughout the state can also look at Great Washington Getaways, a feature on the department's website that showcases some of the state's best family travel and fishing opportunities. Anglers using the web feature should also consult WDFW's sportfishing regulations for details on fishing seasons and limits.

Hunting:  Hunters have until midnight Feb. 28 to purchase and submit an application to WDFW for a 2015 spring black bear hunting permit, applicable to specific areas of western and eastern Washington. To apply for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2015 hunting license that includes bear as a species option.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online, by calling (866) 246-9453, or at any license vendor in the state. Special permit applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may also be submitted online, or by calling (877) 945-3492.

Wildlife viewing: With 15 minutes of spare time, birders can contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), an annual survey of birds sighted throughout the North American continent over a four-day period. This year's bird count is scheduled Feb.13-16, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the GBBC website. Participants can conduct their count in their backyards or anywhere they choose.

In late February, birders can take part in the Port Susan Snow Goose and Birding Festival in the Stanwood and Camano Island areas. The festival is scheduled for Feb. 28 and Mar. 1, and will feature tours and speakers for the experienced and beginning birder. For more information, visit the festival's website.

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

Fishing: Several areas of Puget Sound open to blackmouth salmon fishing in February, as steelhead continue to move into coastal rivers. Razor clam diggers also will have plenty of opportunities to fill their buckets in February.

A razor clam dig that began in January continues for six days in February. Digs are scheduled on the following dates, beaches and low tides:

  • Feb. 1, Sunday; 5:15 p.m., 0.0 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • Feb. 2, Monday; 5:53 p.m., -0.1 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • Feb. 3, Tuesday; 6:27 p.m., -0.1 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • Feb. 4, Wednesday; 6:59 p.m., 0.0 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • Feb. 5, Thursday; 7:30 p.m., 0.2 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • Feb. 6, Friday; 8:00 p.m., 0.5 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors

A second razor clam dig has been proposed this month, tentatively scheduled to begin Feb. 15 if marine toxin tests are favorable. Updates on scheduled digs are available here.

Clam diggers are reminded that they should take lights or lanterns for the nighttime digs and to 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 2014-15 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.

In marine waters of Puget Sound, anglers will have additional opportunities to fish for blackmouth salmon beginning Feb. 1, when marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon) and 12 (Hood Canal) open for salmon fishing. Marine areas 13 (south Sound) and 6 (eastern strait) are already open.

Later in the month, anglers will also have a chance to hook a blackmouth salmon in Marine Area 5 (Sekiu), where salmon fishing opens Feb. 16.

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

Looking for some competition? Anglers can take part in the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby Feb. 20-22 near Sequim. Details are available at the derby's website.

Meanwhile, the hatchery steelhead run is winding down in the northern rivers, but wild steelhead are arriving each week. Beginning Feb. 16, anglers can retain one wild steelhead per license year from one of the following rivers: the Quillayute, Dickey, Bogachiel, Calawah, Sol Duc, Hoh, Clearwater, or Quinault rivers. Those eight rivers are the only waters in Washington where an angler can retain a wild steelhead.

"The wild steelhead populations returning to those rivers also provide great catch-and-release fishing opportunities," said Mike Gross, WDFW fish biologist. Information on weekly steelhead catches in the Quillayute River system and the Hoh River are available on WDFW's website.

Farther south, anglers can find hatchery steelhead in the Skookumchuck, Satsop, Wynoochee and mainstem Chehalis rivers, where late-run hatchery steelhead are still showing up, said Mike Scharpf, another WDFW fish biologist.

"Fishing picked up toward the end of January," Scharpf said. "If the weather cooperates, that should continue this month as more hatchery steelhead move into the system."

Winter also is prime time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. Good spots include the Des Moines pier, Edmonds pier, Point Defiance and Les Davis piers in Tacoma, and the Illahee State Park, Waterman and Indianola piers in Kitsap County. More information is available on the department's squid fishing webpage. Information on fishing piers is available here.

Another option is to head to a local lake and hook some trout. Best bets include American Lake in Pierce County; Saint Clair and Black lakes in Thurston County; Leland Lake in Jefferson County; Kitsap Lake in Kitsap County; and Spencer Lake Mason County.

Before heading out, anglers should check WDFW's sportfishing regulations pamphlet for details on all fisheries.

Hunting:  Hunters have until midnight Feb. 28 to purchase and submit an application to WDFW for a 2015 spring black bear hunting permit, applicable to specific areas of western and eastern Washington. To apply for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2015 hunting license that includes bear as a species option.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, by calling (866) 246-9453, or at any license vendor in the state. Special permit applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, or by calling (877) 945-3492.

Permit winners will receive notification in the mail no later than March 31. Applicants may also check the results of the drawing at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting on the WDFW website.

Wildlife watching: Have 15 minutes to spare for bird science? That's virtually all it takes to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual survey of birds sighted over a four-day period. This year's bird count is scheduled Feb.13-16, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the bird count website. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose.

Rangers at Olympic National Park are offering guided snowshoe walks at Hurricane Ridge on weekends and holiday Mondays through March 29. The walks, which cover about 1.5 miles, are being offered in conjunction with Discover Your Northwest. A $5 donation is requested. A signup sheet is available at Hurricane Ridge about 30 minutes prior to the 2 p.m. walks. Check out the park's website for more information.

Olympic National Park's winter speaker series continues Feb. 10. A fisheries biologist will discuss the abundance and migration patterns of salmonids. The monthly talk, which is open to the public, begins at 7 p.m. at the park's visitor center, 3002 Mt. Angeles Road, Port Angeles. Check out the park's newspaper for the full schedule of speakers.   

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

Fishing:  While February is generally a slow time of the year for fishing, dedicated anglers can still find ways to reel in dinner from area waters. Hatchery steelhead are still striking lures on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers, and the bite is picking up for walleye preparing to spawn in The Dalles and John Day pools.

Rather dip smelt? The Cowlitz River will be open to recreational dip netting along the shore from 6 a.m. until noon Saturday, Feb. 7, and again Saturday, Feb. 14 under rules recently approved by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). No fishing license is required, and each dip-netter may retain 10 pounds of smelt per day, with no more than one day's limit in possession.

"The primary goal of the opening is to gather biological data on species abundance, but it's OK to have fun catching them on days when the fishery is open," said Ron Roler, WDFW Columbia River policy coordinator. More information on the fishery is available in the news release and rule change notice on the department's website.

Anglers can also catch and keep one legal-size white sturgeon a day in the Bonneville Pool through March 1. Only sturgeon measuring 38-54 inches (fork length) may be retained, as noted in the rule change notice on WDFW's website. Farther upriver, anglers may retain sturgeon measuring 43-54 inches in The Dalles Pool and the John Day Pool until catch quotas have been met.

Waters below Bonneville Dam remain closed to sturgeon retention, but catch-and-release fishing is allowed year-round.

And don't forget that tens of thousands of rainbow trout are still available in lakes throughout the region, with more on the way. Battle Ground Lake and Klineline Pond are each scheduled to receive 3,000 catchable-size trout this month.

But for many anglers, the main event won't begin for several more weeks, when large numbers of ocean-bright spring chinook salmon start moving up the Columbia River, setting the stage for one of the state's most popular fisheries.

The fishery is now open below the I-5 Bridge, with a daily limit of two adult spring chinook per day. But the action usually doesn't pick up until March, when new rules adopted by Washington and Oregon change the catch limit and extend the fishery farther upriver.

"This is a good time to dust off your gear, order your bait, prepare your boat, and maybe do a little prospecting," said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist. "You want to be ready to go when the bulk of the run arrives."

This year's pre-season forecast anticipates a strong run of 312,600 adult spring chinook to the Columbia River, just shy of last year's banner return. The forecast projects a return of 80,100 lower-river spring chinook and 232,500 upriver fish bound for rivers and streams above Bonneville Dam.

As in previous years, only hatchery-reared chinook and steelhead with a clipped adipose fin and a healed scar may be retained. Anglers must release all wild, unmarked chinook and steelhead unharmed.

Daily salmonid limit is 6 fish (hatchery chinook or hatchery steelhead), of which no more than 2 may be adults, and no more than 1 may be an adult chinook. Release all wild chinook and wild steelhead. Salmon minimum size: 12 inches.

Other rules in effect during this year's spring chinook fishery are as follows:

  • Below Bonneville Dam:  Open from March 1 through April 10 to boat and bank fishing from Buoy 10 upstream to Beacon Rock. Bank fishing will also be allowed from Beacon Rock upriver to the fishing boundary just below the dam. The sport fishery will be closed March 24, March 31, and April 7 (Tuesdays) to allow for potential commercial fisheries. The daily catch limit is two adult hatchery salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a chinook.
  • Above Bonneville Dam:  Open daily from March 16 through May 9 to boat and bank anglers between the Tower Island powerlines (six miles below The Dalles Dam) and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles above McNary Dam. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the Tower Island powerlines during that time. As below the dam, the daily catch limit will be two adult hatchery salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a chinook.

For additional information, see the fishing rule change on the spring chinook season on WDFW's website. Roler notes that these seasons may be shortened or extended depending on catch and effort during the fishery.

Under guidelines approved for this year's season, anglers fishing below Bonneville Dam will be allowed to catch 11,500 spring chinook before an updated run forecast is available in early May. Another 1,200 adult upriver chinook are reserved for anglers fishing upriver from Bonneville Dam to the Washington/Oregon state line.

To guard against overestimating this year's run, the states will again manage the fisheries with a 30 percent buffer until the forecast is updated with information about actual returns.

Hunting:  Hunters have until midnight Feb. 28 to purchase and submit an application to WDFW for a 2015 spring black bear hunting permit, applicable to specific areas of western and eastern Washington. To apply for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2015 hunting license that includes bear as a species option.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online, by calling (866) 246-9453, or at any license vendor in the state. Special permit applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may also be submitted online, or by calling (877) 945-3492.

Wildlife viewing: Large flocks of snow geese have showed up in the Vancouver Lowlands, where geese are visible in the harvested corn fields. Canada geese and sandhill cranes can also be observed in the same areas.

Meanwhile, birders throughout the nation can contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), an annual survey of birds sighted throughout the North American continent over a four-day period. This year's bird count is scheduled Feb.13-16, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the GBBC website. Participants can conduct their count in their backyards or anywhere they choose.

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

Fishing:  Lake Roosevelt, the huge Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam that stretches along the Lincoln-Ferry and Ferry-Stevens county lines in the northeast district, has been fishing very well for both boat and shore anglers and should continue to provide success through the month of February.

WDFW Central District Fish Biologist Randy Osborne says creel checks show that daily catch limits of five trout are common. "Kokanee fishing at Lake Roosevelt has also been picking up in some areas of the lower reservoir," Osborne said. "Just remember that of your six kokanee daily catch limit, only two can be wild kokanee, or those with intact adipose fins."

Roosevelt anglers have also been picking up some decent walleye in the Spokane Arm area of the reservoir. Osborne reminds anglers that the Spokane Arm is open year-round, with a daily catch limit of 16 walleye. "The walleye fishing will just get better and better into spring," he said.

Osborne also reports that the central district's winter-only lakes – Hog Canyon in Spokane County and Fourth of July on the Lincoln-Adams county line – have been fishing pretty decent, but with fluctuating weather conditions, ice conditions may or may not be safe at any given time.  Anglers need to check conditions carefully before venturing out on ice, he said.  Osborne reminds anglers that the daily catch limit at both lakes is five trout but only two over 14 inches may be retained.

WDFW Northeast District Fish Biologist Bill Baker said the region's other two winter-only fishing lakes – Hatch and Williams in northern Stevens County – continue to provide catches of rainbows through the ice, although catch rates have slowed.

Baker reminds anglers to "use common sense" while ice fishing. Repeated thawing and re-freezing can make ice unsafe. Tips to help keep an outing safe include:

  • 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 with appropriate clothing and equipment for weather conditions and emergencies.

Year-round-open fishing waters throughout the region are also an option this month. Osborne notes that yellow perch fishing has been decent at Eloika and Silver lakes in Spokane County. However, he says the perch in Silver Lake are pretty small – six inches or less. Rock Lake in Whitman County should continue to give up some decent brown trout, along with a few rainbows.

Baker reminds anglers that fishing closes at the end of February at Waitts Lake in southern Stevens County. This month is the last chance to catch both trout and perch there, he says, at least until it re-opens the last Saturday of April.  

Photo of a Bald eagle perched on a tree branch.

Bald eagles can be seen along the Snake River south of Asotin (photo by David Woodall)

Wildlife viewing: With warmer than usual temperatures and less than usual snow cover in much of the region, wildlife viewers may get around easier this month but wildlife may not be in the usual and accustomed places.

WDFW Wooten Wildlife Area Manager Kari Dingman reports that with no snow cover, elk have not come down out of the Blue Mountains to the Tucannon River valley where they are usually fairly visible at this time of year. "On the other hand, bald eagles have been seen feeding in the open waters of Blue Lake quite frequently and river otters have been spotted in Rainbow Lake," Dingman said. "There are also lots of both white-tailed and mule deer around, as usual."

Dingman also notes bighorn sheep have been hanging out between Cummings Creek and the Tucannon Fish Hatchery.  She reminds visitors to the area that the Cummings Creek Winter Closure is in effect until April 1 to protect wintering wildlife.

Continued cloudy and foggy conditions in the early February forecast can mean that motor vehicle travel through deer, elk, and moose country can be hazardous and potentially provide a closer-than-desired view of wildlife. Woody Myers, WDFW wildlife biologist, said that many wild animals can be near or on roads at this time of year, seeking travel corridors or forage. He advises motorists to slow down and be especially alert on roads through traditional wildlife habitat.

"No matter the weather, it's still very much winter throughout the region," Myers said. "Keep your distance from wild animals that may be stressed from limited forage, if not snow cover."

Coyotes, bald and golden eagles, ravens, and magpies can often be spotted cleaning up carcasses near roads. Other raptors or birds of prey, including rough-legged hawks, northern harriers, and  northern shrikes, are busy hunting the region's open spaces at this time. Drivers traveling through the region's agricultural areas may also see winter-visiting snow buntings and Lapland longspurs among roadside groups of horned larks.

Backyard birds are even easier to spot, with an abundance of finches, juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers taking advantage of provided seed and suet at feeders. Some feeder watchers are reporting an influx or "irruption" of pine siskins and common redpolls this year.

February is the month of the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science project sponsored by Audubon and the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. It only takes a minimum of 15 minutes to contribute to this annual survey of birds sighted over a four-day period. This year's bird count is scheduled Feb.13-16, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the bird count website. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose. 

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

Fishing:  Although fishing for steelhead in the northcentral region has been slow, opportunities continue "until further notice" on the mainstem Columbia River from Rock Island Dam upstream to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam.

Steelheading is also still open on the Wenatchee River from the mouth at the Icicle Road Bridge, including the Icicle River from the mouth to 500 feet downstream of the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery Barrier Dam; the Entiat River from the mouth to about 1/2 mile upstream; 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.

All steelhead anglers must have a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement and comply with selective gear rules and night closures, except bait is allowed on the mainstem Columbia. The daily bag limit is two hatchery-marked (adipose fin-clipped) steelhead. All wild steelhead must be released. Anglers must also release all steelhead with a floy (anchor) tag attached and/or one or more round 1/4 inch diameter holes punched in the caudal (tail) fin.

Fishing the Columbia's reservoirs in the region may be more productive at this time. WDFW fish technician Aulin Smith said that Banks Lake is fishing well, especially for rainbow trout off the bank at and around the Grand Coulee end of the reservoir.

"They're catching rainbows by plunking off the bank with a marshmallow and worm," Smith said. "Whitefish have slowed a little but some are still being caught. Burbot have been taking jigs and blade baits fished in 40 to 50 feet of water. Random walleye are being picked up doing the same thing."

Smith notes that weather conditions have many boat launches open, like Coulee Playland, Northrup, and the mid-lake launches on both sides of the "million dollar mile."

"Lake Roosevelt is excellent right now at the Grand Coulee end with anglers on the bank and in boats catching limits of rainbows and bonus kokanee," Smith said. "Rufus Woods reservoir is also good, with limits of trout and burbot. The biggest burbot I weighed there during creel checks was 9.6 pounds."

Other fishing opportunities in the region through February are usually through the ice for trout and spiny-ray fish at lakes open for fishing. But ice conditions have fluctuated this winter to the point of being dangerous, so anglers are advised to be especially cautious, careful and prepared.

When safe, Fish Lake, north of Leavenworth, usually produces yellow perch and rainbow trout. Roses Lake, just north of Manson, usually produces mostly rainbows through the ice.

Lakes open in Okanogan County that usually provide good catches this month include:

  • Davis (near Winthrop) for rainbow trout.
  • Patterson (near Winthrop) for yellow perch and kokanee.
  • Leader (near Omak) for bluegill, black crappie, bass, yellow perch, rainbow trout.
  • Big and Little Green (near Omak) for rainbow trout.
  • Rat (near Brewster) for rainbow and brown trou.t
  • Palmer (near Loomis) for yellow perch and kokanee.
  • Bonaparte (near Tonasket) for eastern brook trout and kokanee.

Tips to help keep an outing at this time of year safe include:  

  • 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 with appropriate clothing and equipment for weather conditions and emergencies.
Photo of a Northern Pygmy Owl perched in a tree.

Northern Pygmy Owl on Sinlahekin Wildlife Area
 (photo by Justin Haug)

Photo of a Northern Pygmy Owl perched in a tree.

Northern Pygmy Owl on Sinlahekin Wildlife Area
 (photo by Justin Haug)

Wildlife viewing:  A drier and warmer than usual winter has at least some of the northcentral region with little or no snow cover, resulting in some wildlife being more scattered and sometimes less visible.

The Methow Valley of Okanogan County has bare south-facing slopes, and mule deer winter range is open with forage available. Scott Fitkin, WDFW Okanogan district wildlife biologist, said deer remain well distributed on the landscape and the low snowpack has allowed some animals to drift back up to higher than average elevations for mid-winter. In most areas, he says, deer generally look to be in average to better-than-average condition for this time of year. 

There's still excellent cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on the Methow Wildlife Area, however.The Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA) "Nature of Winter" family snowshoe tours, focusing on wildlife and tracks and winter ecology, continue every Saturday through Feb. 21. Tours begin at 11 a.m. and run 90-120 minutes, depending on conditions. MVSTA trail passes or a MVSTA snowshoe trail pass ($5) are required for each person.  Passes and snowshoe rentals are available at Sun Mountain Ski Shop, North Cascades Basecamp, Mazama Ski Shop, Methow Cycle & Sport and Winthrop Mountain Sports. Tour size is limited to 10 people. Reservations are not required; space is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Call MVSTA at 996-3287 or email events@mvsta.com for more information.

Sinlahekin Wildlife Area Manager Justin Haug reports northern pygmy owls have been spotted regularly this winter in the Sinlahekin Valley. Other birds recently seen in the valley include golden eagles, trumpeter swans, pine grosbeaks, and northern shrikes. Haug notes that bobcats and cougars have also been spotted recently.

Rough-legged hawks, northern harriers, and occasionally a snowy owl are often seen this month in the region's open landscapes, like Douglas County.

Big waterways in the region, like Moses Lake and Potholes Reservoir, usually have enough open water this month to begin enticing some of the earliest waterfowl migrants – mostly Canada geese and pintail ducks. Bald eagles can also be readily observed in the same areas where they're taking advantage of the influx of waterfowl.

February is the month of the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science project sponsored by Audubon and the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. It only takes a minimum of 15 minutes to contribute to this annual survey of birds sighted over a four-day period. This year's bird count is scheduled Feb.13-16, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the bird count website. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose.

Photo of a Golden Eagle in flight.   Photo of a Rough-legged Hawk perched on top of snowy tree.

Golden Eagle on Sinlahekin Wildlife Area
 (photo by Justin Haug)

 

Rough-legged hawk in Douglas County
 (photo by Justin Haug)

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

Fishing:  Winter is typically a slow time for fishing, but the action always picks up with the approach of spring. Steelhead fishing usually starts to come alive in late February or early March, and walleye fishing should improve as water temperatures start to rise.

But anglers also have several other good reasons to leave the house and wet a line this month.

Sturgeon, for example. Starting Feb. 1, the McNary Pool (also known as Lake Wallula) will be open for retention of one legal-size fish a day, drawing anglers from throughout the region. The fishery extends from McNary Dam upstream to Priest Rapids Dam on the Columbia River and upstream to Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake.

Only sturgeon measuring 43-54 inches from their snout to the fork in their tail may be retained, with an annual harvest limit of two fish. Only fish that are going to be kept may be removed from the water. 

The same catch and size limits apply to the sturgeon fishery currently under way in the John Day Pool, also known as Lake Umatilla. Anglers have been busily chiseling away at the 500-fish annual quota for the pool, so it doesn't pay to wait too long to go after those fish, said Paul Hoffarth, a district fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) stationed in Pasco.

"That quota lasted until June last year, but it has been taken by spring in other years," Hoffarth said. He advises anglers to watch for updates on the WDFW website.

There is also no time like the present to catch whitefish, said Eric Anderson, a WDFW fish biologist stationed in Yakima. Relatively hard to find most of the year, whitefish appear during the winter months and tend to go on the bite after the snow starts to fly, he said.

"This is the time of year when whitefish start to congregate, and catch levels rise," Anderson said. Hardy anglers are now catching whitefish on the Naches and Tieton rivers, as well as the Yakima River upstream from Union Gap.

While bony, mountain whitefish have a dedicated following and are often served smoked. The catch limit is 15 whitefish per day, and fishing gear is restricted to one size 14 single-point hook. The standard bait is a whitefish fly and a maggot.

Whitefish anglers should check the regulations for special rules and river sections, but generally whitefish seasons are open through Feb. 28 on the Yakima River and through March 31 on the Naches, Tieton, Bumping and Cle Elum Rivers.    

Meanwhile, steelhead fishing shows real promise in areas of the Hanford Reach and the Snake River over the next two months. While often a little spotty (good one day, bad the next), this year's winter fishery has been the best in five years and is likely to get even better by late February, Hoffarth said.

Three areas are open through March 31 for hatchery steelhead:

  • The Columbia River, from the Hwy 395 bridge upstream to the wooden power line towers at the old Hanford town site.
  • The Columbia River, from Vernita Bridge (Hwy 24) upstream to Priest Rapids Dam.
  • The Snake River, from the mouth to the Oregon border.

The daily limit in the Columbia River is two hatchery steelhead, while anglers fishing the Snake River can retain up to three hatchery steelhead per day. Barbless hooks are required when fishing for steelhead on both rivers.

Fishing prospects for rainbow trout will certainly improve later this month, when WDFW begins stocking thousands of catchable-size fish into Dalton Lake, Quarry Pond and the Columbia Park juvenile-fishing pond. Several other waters around Yakima – including I-82 Pond 4, Myron Lake and Rotary Lake – were stocked in late December with rainbow trout broodstock weighing up to 10 pounds apiece. Check WDFW's trout-stocking website to see what's coming next to a local lake or pond near you.

Walleye fishing can also be slow in winter, but it has been very good so far this winter and there's always a chance of catching a lunker. Hoffarth said some of the largest walleye of the year are boated during the winter months near the Tri-Cities – including the 20.3-pound state record taken in Lake Wallula last winter. The Oregon record, just shy of 20 pounds, was taken on Lake Umatilla during the winter of 1990.

Anglers and hunters who want to get prepped for the seasons ahead might want to drop by the Central Washington Sportsmen Show, running Feb. 20-22 at the Yakima Sundome. WDFW will have a booth at the show, which will also feature plenty of outdoor gear, a fly-casting pool, and experts on topics ranging from fly fishing to elk bugling.

Hunting:  Hunters have until midnight Feb. 28 to purchase and submit an application to WDFW for a 2015 spring black bear hunting permit, applicable to specific areas of western and eastern Washington. To apply for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2015 hunting license that includes bear as a species option.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online, by calling (866) 246-9453, or at any license vendor in the state. Special permit applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may also be submitted online, or by calling (877) 945-3492.

Wildlife viewing: Birders throughout the nation can contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), an annual survey of birds sighted throughout the North American continent over a four-day period. This year's bird count is scheduled Feb.13-16, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the GBBC website. Participants can conduct their count in their backyards or anywhere they choose.

Meanwhile, anyone planning to head to the Oak Creek Wildlife Area to see feeding elk is advised to call ahead for information. Feeding operations are on hold due to lack of snow, and few elk or big-horn sheep are visible in the area, said Ross Huffman, who manages the WDFW wildlife area. For an update, call 509-653-2390.