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

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March 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 February 27, 2015)

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

Plenty of good reasons to renew
fishing and hunting licenses soon

Spring chinook salmon are moving into the lower Columbia River, several eastside lakes open for trout fishing March 1, and razor-clam digs are scheduled this month – including the first dig of the season on morning tides.

These fisheries are just the first of many set to open in the weeks ahead, and the year’s first hunting seasons aren’t far behind. A spring wild turkey season for hunters under age 16 is scheduled April 4-5 prior to the start of the general spring turkey hunt April 15.

With a new season of outdoor adventures about to begin, Washingtonians might want to consider purchasing 2015-16 fishing and hunting licenses before current licenses expire at midnight March 31.

“We encourage people to renew their fishing and hunting licenses early, so they can take advantage of all the great recreational opportunities available throughout the year,” said Joe Stohr, deputy director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

The cost of fishing and hunting licenses currently remain the same as last year. All fees included, a resident adult freshwater fishing license is $29.50; saltwater is $30.05; and a combination license is $54.25. Resident hunting licenses vary with package options, ranging from a small-game license at $40.50 to a deer/elk/cougar/bear combination license for $95.50.

Most annual licenses include a WDFW vehicle-access pass, which gives people access to more than 700 WDFW water access sites throughout the state. Or, for $35, individuals can purchase an annual Discover Pass, which also provides vehicle access to state parks and other state lands.

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

For more information about outdoor activities coming up this month, see the Weekender Regional Reports athttp://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:  Rivers are now closed to steelhead fishing throughout the region, but anglers are still reeling in blackmouth salmon from Puget Sound and trout from area lakes.

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 areas 7 (San Juan Islands) and 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) are closed to salmon fishing.

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 1 million yearling and almost 9 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.

Looking forward to summer salmon fishing? Several public meetings have been scheduled throughout March and April as fishery managers continue to develop the 2015 salmon seasons, which will be finalized in early April. For more information on the meetings, visit WDFW’s North of Falcon website.

Cutthroat trout are also an option this time of year, especially for those who don’t mind a hike, said Justin Spinelli, a WDFW fish biologist. 

“On those days when the sun is making an appearance, anglers should consider hike-in waters for cutthroat trout, said Spinelli.  “Fishing usually picks up later in the spring, but heading out for a hike and casting for a trout is a perfect opportunity to avoid spring cleaning.  Check the weather and road conditions, and dress appropriately.”

Hike-in cutthroat opportunities can be found throughout the region. Spinelli suggests the following excursions:

  • Skagit County: Whistle Lake in Anacortes
  • Snohomish County: Temple Pond in Lord Hill Park, Lake Ida which is southeast of Lake Chaplain, and Lake Evan off the Mountain Loop Highway
  • Island County: Admiralty Bay Ponds near Fort Casey
  • Whatcom County: Squires Lake, also Pine and Cedar lakes on Chuckanut Mountain

For large fish, Spinelli recommends Lone Lake in Island County and Rattlesnake Lake in King County for rainbows, Pass Lake in Skagit County for rainbows and brown trout, and Squalicum Lake in Whatcom County for rainbows and the occasional tiger trout.
Anglers should also consider fishing cutthroat in the Sound.  Sea-run cutthroat catch and release fishing picks up in March, and often fly fishers can have success with chum fry patterns during tidal changes near structure in the vicinity of rivers.

Fishing for kokanee in area lakes is also expected to pick up this month, particularly at Meridian (in Snohomish County), Angle (King County), Stevens (Snohomish County) Cavanaugh (Skagit County) and Samish (Whatcom County).

“Because kokanee feed near the surface in low light conditions and then move deeper as the day progresses, successful anglers vary their depth and tackle throughout the day,” said Spinelli.

Anglers fishing Lake Whatcom or Lake Samish are reminded that mandatory boat inspections are in effect to help prevent the spread or introduction of aquatic invasive species.

Fishing for bass (smallmouth and largemouth), panfish (yellow perch, pumpkinseed, rock bass, bluegill), and catfish (channel and brown bullhead) are increasingly productive options as spring approaches and lowland waters warm. 

“In March, these species can still be found around their winter haunts, near bottom structure (rocky outcroppings, points, and humps) in deep water,” said Danny Garrett, fisheries biologist for WDFW. “However, the warmest days in March will bring lethargic bass, catfish, and panfish out of the depths into warmer, shallower waters for brief periods.” 

By following the weather patterns and targeting the warmest days of the month, anglers will increase their chances of success this time of year, said Garrett. “Though catch rates are lower in March, some of the largest bass are caught this time of year.”

For more information on the when’s, where’s and how-to’s of fishing in western Washington, anglers can visit the Fish Washington web feature available from the department's homepage.

And, for those planning fishing vacations throughout the state, Great Washington Getaways is a WDFW website that showcases some of the state's best family travel and fishing opportunities.

Anglers using these web features should also consult WDFW’s sportfishing regulations for details on fishing seasons and limits.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2015 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field.

In mid-April, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2015. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in the general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington.
Winners also may choose any weapon type when applying for a special permit to hunt deer or elk.

“This is a great opportunity for hunters to extend their hunting season this fall,” said Mick Cope, game manager for WDFW.  “Rather than having to choose just one hunting method over another, the multiple season permit allows more flexibility.”

Cope noted that the tags can be used only during general seasons and in game management units that are open during a modern firearm, muzzleloader, or archery general season. For example, winners may not hunt during the muzzleloader general season in an area that is not open for the muzzleloader general season.

Also, hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk.

Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at an authorized license dealer or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $7.10 for residents and $110.50 for nonresidents.

Wildlife viewing: Birdwatchers have an opportunity to take part in the "Wings Over Water" Northwest Birding Festival March 13, 14, and 15 in Blaine, Semiahmoo, and Birch Bay. The festival features wildlife viewing field trips, speakers and raptor presentations. For more information visit the festival website.

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

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

Fishing: Anglers can head to coastal rivers to fish for steelhead, Puget Sound for salmon or ocean waters mid-month for lingcod. Two razor clam digs also are proposed in March.

Wild steelhead fishing on the northern peninsula has been good when the flows have allowed, said Mike Gross, north coast district fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). He advises anglers to keep an eye on river condition.

“It’s been a roller coaster with the flows this year, but the current conditions have provided some nice fishing,” Gross said. “We should be careful what we ask for, however, because it looks like this pattern may hold for a while, and we need some significant snowfall in the Olympics to meter out flows this summer and fall.”  

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 wild steelhead may be retained.

For hatchery steelhead, anglers should try fishing rivers in the Chehalis River Basin, said Mike Scharpf, another WDFW fish biologist. “The Satsop, Skookumchuck and Wynoochee rivers offer the best opportunities for hatchery steelhead in March, and we anticipate fishing will improve with the recent rainfall,” Scharpf said.

Several areas of Puget Sound are open to fishing for blackmouth salmon. Anglers fishing near Sekiu (Marine Area 5), the eastern straight (Marine Area 6), near Tacoma and Vashon Island (Marine Area 11) along the Hood Canal (Marine Area 12 or south Sound (Marine Area 13) can keep two hachery salmon each day but must release wild chinook.

“South Puget Sound has been really good for salmon fishing so far,” said Ryan Lothrop, Puget Sound recreation salmon fisheries manager. The Sekiu area, which opened mid-February, also has been a hotspot for blackmouth in previous years, he said.

Anglers should also consider targeting cutthroat trout in the Sound. Catch-and-release fishing for sea-run cutthroat picks up in March, and often fly fishers can have success with chum fry patterns during tidal changes near structure in the vicinity of rivers.

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.

Looking ahead, planning for Washington’s summer salmon fishing season is in full swing. Several public meetings have been scheduled throughout March as fishery managers continue to develop the 2015 salmon seasons, which will be finalized in mid-April. For more information on the meetings, visit WDFW’s North of Falcon website.

Meanwhile, lingcod fishing begins March 14 in marine areas 1-3, south of Cape Alava. The minimum size for lingcod in these areas is 22 inches, with a daily limit of two fish per angler. For lingcod fishing regulations, check the Fishing in Washington pamphlet.

Razor clam diggers can look forward to several days at the beach in March. Shellfish managers have given the OK for the first of two razor clam openings on the following ocean beaches, dates and low tides: 

  • March 2, Monday, 4:49 p.m.; 0.5 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • March 3, Tuesday, 5:26 p.m.; 0.4 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • March 4, Wednesday, 5:59 p.m.; 0.4 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • March 5, Thursday; 6:30 p.m., 0.5 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors

WDFW has tentatively planned another March opening with evening digs beginning March 16 and switching to morning tides March 21. This dig will be approved if marine toxin tests performed later this month show the clams are safe to eat. The proposed schedule includes:

  • March 16, Monday, 4:15 p.m.; 0.3 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • March 17, Tuesday, 5:08 p.m.; -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • March 18, Wednesday, 5:57 p.m.; -0.5 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • March 19, Thursday; 6:42 p.m., -0.5 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • March 20, Friday, 7:26 p.m.; -0.4 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks

Seasonal switch to morning tides

  • March 21, Saturday, 7:55 a.m.; -0.5 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors Copalis, Mocrocks
  • March 22, Sunday, 8:42 a.m.; -0.7 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors Copalis, Mocrocks
  • March 23, Monday, 9:31 a.m.; -0.6 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • March 24, Tuesday, 10:21 a.m.; -0.3 feet, Long Beach, Twin Harbors

WDFW has information on razor clam regulations, upcoming digs and advice on digging and cleaning clams on its webpage.

Ocean Shores will host its annual razor clam festival March 20 to 22. The festival includes a chowder cookoff. More information is available on the event website.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2015 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field.

In mid-April, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2015. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington.
Winners also may choose any weapon type when applying for a special permit to hunt deer or elk.

“This is a great opportunity for hunters to extend their hunting season this fall,” said Mick Cope, game manager for WDFW.  “Rather than having to choose just one hunting method over another, the multiple season permit allows more flexibility.”

Cope noted that the tags can be used only during general seasons and in game management units that are open during a modern firearm, muzzleloader, or archery general season. For example, winners may not hunt during the muzzleloader general season in an area that is not open for the muzzleloader general season.

Also, hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk.

Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at an authorized license dealer or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $7.10 for residents and $110.50 for nonresidents.

Wildlife viewing: Gray whales making their annual journey north from the coast of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, creating whalewatching opportunities in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. Although most of the gray whales simply pass through on their way to Alaska, others linger along the Strait of San Juan de Fuca and other areas of the Puget Sound in spring and summer months. In February, whale-watchers reported several sightings of killer whales around south Puget Sound. For recent whale sightings, visit Orca Network.

Bald eagles can sometimes be seen nesting during the month of March at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The last week of the month is also a good time to see and hear spring migrant birds at the refuge. For more information, visit the refuge’s webpage.

WDFW wildlife biologists across the region note that unseasonably warm weather may bring hungry black bears out of their winter dens early this year. Anyone living in or around bear country – virtually any forested habitat – should avoid unintentionally drawing black bears to food sources by taking down winter bird feeders, keeping pet food indoors, and securing trash and compost piles. State law prohibits both intentional and unintentional feeding of bears and other wild carnivores. More information is available at Living with Black Bears.

Olympic National Park's winter speaker series continues March 10 when sea star wasting syndrome will be discussed. 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.   

The Discovery Speaker series wraps up March 19 when Joe Evenson, a WDFW biologist, gives a presentation on Puget Sound shorebirds. The event takes place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at LOTT’s WET Science Center, 500 Adams St. NE, Olympia.

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

Fishing:  Steelhead fishing is heating up on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers, kokanee are biting at Merwin Reservoir, and five area lakes are set to receive thousands of rainbow trout this month. Starting March 2, sturgeon fishing is limited to catch-and-release in the Bonneville Pool, but anglers can keep one legal-size fish per day in The Dalles and John Day pools until annual harvest guidelines have been met.

Even so, the main attraction this month is the spring chinook fishery in the lower Columbia River, the first major salmon fishery of 2015. Anglers have already reeled in several nice springers, but the real action begins later in March.

Based on pre-season projections, 312,600 adult spring chinook are expected to return to the big river this year, including 232,500 upriver fish bound for rivers and streams above Bonneville Dam. The forecast for upriver chinook is just shy of last year’s return of 242,600 upriver fish.

“The stage is set for another great spring chinook fishery this year,” said Ron Roler, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “Not only is the run forecast well above average, but water conditions also appear to be favorable for the upcoming season.”

Initial seasons set by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon 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 adult daily catch limit is two 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 6 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 adult daily catch limit will be two  hatchery salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a chinook.

Anglers are required to use barbless hooks in both areas, and release any salmon or steelhead not visibly marked as a hatchery fish by a clipped adipose fin.

Under this year’s initial catch guidelines, anglers fishing below the dam will be allowed to catch up to 11,500 spring chinook before an updated run forecast is released in late April or early May. Another 1,200 adult upriver chinook will be reserved for anglers fishing between Bonneville Dam and 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.

Several tributaries will also be open to fishing for hatchery spring chinook salmon and hatchery steelhead in March. A strong return of 11,200 spring chinook is expected this year to the Cowlitz River, which is currently open with an adult daily catch limit of two  hatchery salmon.  Late stock winter hatchery steelhead have also been biting anglers’ hooks on the Cowlitz.

On the Kalama River, anglers can catch one adult hatchery salmon per day, along with hatchery steelhead. Returns of late stock winter hatchery steelhead have been good so far – so good that the daily limit on the lower Kalama will increase to three fish starting March 1

Wind River and Drano Lake open for salmon fishing March 16, with a daily limit two hatchery chinook, or two hatchery steelhead, or one of each.

In anticipation of low returns, the mainstem Lewis and North Fork Lewis rivers are closed to spring chinook fishing under an emergency rule, although both remain open to fishing for hatchery steelhead.

In addition, anglers should be aware that March 15 is the last day to fish for steelhead on Abernathy, Cedar (Clark Co.), Germany, Mill (Cowlitz Co.), Rock (Skamania Co.), and Salmon (Clark Co.) creeks and on the Coweeman, Elochoman, Grays, East Fork Lewis, South Fork Toutle, and Washougal rivers. Barbless hooks are required in all Washington Columbia River tributaries. 

Anglers are advised to check for emergency fishing rules before they head out to make sure they are aware of any updates to state regulations.

Meanwhile, thousands of catchable trout will be planted this month in Clark County lakes, including Klineline Pond, Battleground Lake and Lacamas Lake. Two lakes in Cowlitz County – Sacajawea and Silver Lake – will also receive plants of rainbow trout.

Walleye fishing has been good in The Dalles and John Day pools, and bass should start biting there and in Bonneville Pool as the water warms up.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2015 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field. In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2015. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington.
Winners also may choose any weapon type when applying for a special permit to hunt deer or elk.

“This is a great opportunity for hunters to extend their hunting season this fall,” said Mick Cope, game manager for WDFW.  “Rather than having to choose just one hunting method over another, the multiple season permit allows more flexibility.”

Cope noted that the tags can be used only during general seasons and in game management units that are open during a modern firearm, muzzleloader, or archery general season. For example, winners may not hunt during the muzzleloader general season in an area that is not open for the muzzleloader general season.

Also, hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk.

Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at an authorized license dealer or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $7.10 for residents and $110.50 for nonresidents.

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

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

Meanwhile, bears are also becoming active, many drawn out of the dens early this year by the spring-like weather. As always, their first thought will be to find food, said Rich Beausoleil, WDFW statewide bear and cougar specialist.

“Although it’s about a month early for these bears to be emerging from dens, some radio-collared bears are already active in western Washington,” Beausoleil said. “Females with new cubs will be particularly hungry and may be attracted to human-provided sources of food such as compost, bird feeders, garbage cans, and fruit trees.”

To avoid attracting bears, Beausoleil recommends securing garbage cans in a shed or fenced area, and keeping meat scraps in the freezer until shortly before garbage cans are picked up or hauled away.

For other tips on avoiding conflicts with bears, see the Living with Wildlife series on WDFW’s website.

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

Fishing:  With earlier than usual warm weather, the dozen lakes throughout the region that open to fishing March 1 should be ready for action.

Six Tucannon River impoundments on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) Wooten Wildlife Area in Columbia County – Big Four, Blue, Deer, Rainbow, Spring and Watson lakes – were being stocked with fish the last week of February.  The only one that may not receive fish before the first of March is Big Four, due to fluctuating river levels that usually make hatchery truck access difficult at this time.

Throughout the spring these popular fishing lakes are stocked with both “catchable” size rainbow trout (10-12-inchers or one-third pounders) and “jumbo” size (over 14 inches and one pound each.)  From now through June, Big Four  is slated to receive a total of 2,000 catchables and 300 jumbos; Blue gets 16,000 catchables and 400 jumbos; Deer – 2,550 catchables, 50 jumbos;  Rainbow – 13,000 catchables and 325 jumbos; Spring – 9,000 catchables and 325 jumbos; Watson – 14, 000 catchables and 325 jumbos. 

Fishhook Pond in Walla Walla County also opens on March 1 and this year has been stocked with 3,000 catchable-size and 100 “jumbo” trout.  Stocking had been discontinued a couple years ago because angler access to Fishhook forced crossing a set of railroad tracks, but WDFW staff worked with the Corps of Engineers to create a safe access trail.

WDFW Tucannon Fish Hatchery staff are also stocking other year-round-open fisheries in southeast Washington including:  Asotin County’s Golf Course and West Evans ponds; Columbia County’s Dam, Dayton Juvenile and Orchard ponds; Walla Walla County’s Bennington Lake and Hood Park, Jefferson Park, Lions Park and Quarry ponds; Franklin County’s Quarry and Dalton lakes and  Marmes Pond;  and Whitman County’s Pampa Pond.

Anglers can find the total trout allotments for these and other fisheries, as well as weekly catchable trout plant reports, at Fish Stocking Reports.

March 1 opening fisheries in the central district of the region rely on “put, grow and take” or trout fry stocking, says Randy Osborne, WDFW central district fish biologist. “Fry planted in lakes last last fall or spring have grown and are ready for anglers this season,” he explained.  “Other lakes are stocked with larger fish this spring that can be harvested on the opener where regulations allow it.”

Amber Lake, in southwest Spokane County, was stocked with 5,000 rainbows and 1,000 cutthroat trout last May. It opens for catch-and-release only fishing March 1, and then shifts to a two-trout-per-day harvest season April 25.  Selective gear rules apply at Amber Lake and internal combustion motors are prohibited.

Medical Lake, in southwest Spokane County, was stocked with 2,500 rainbows last May, and will be stocked with 2,000 brown trout this spring. Medical Lake is also under selective gear rules, motors are prohibited, trout minimum size is 14 inches, and the daily catch limit is two trout.

Downs Lake, east of Sprague on the Lincoln/Spokane county line, should be stocked with 5,000 rainbows by the March 1 opener if the weather continues to cooperate. Downs also has warmwater fish species, and there is a black crappie minimum size of nine inches and a catch limit of 10.

Liberty Lake, in eastern Spokane County, received stockings of brown trout and rainbow trout fry last season, and should be stocked with some catchable size rainbows this spring if weather allows.

Coffeepot Lake in Lincoln County received 5,000 “put, grow and take” rainbows last spring, and should receive another 5,000 this year. Selective gear rules are in effect, plus an 18-inch minimum size and one-fish daily catch limit.

Coffeepot anglers should be aware that due to low water conditions, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has closed the boat launch area at Coffeepot Lake to prevent boat trailers from getting stuck in the mud.  Recreation managers at the BLM’s Spokane District reported that small boats not requiring trailers can still be launched from the shoreline, but larger boats will not be able to access the ramp. BLM intends to reopen the launch area once conditions improve.

An alternative fishing site for anglers with trailered boats is the BLM’s nearby Upper Twin Lake, located west of Harrington, where water levels are higher and the boat launch is open.

Deer Lake in southern Stevens County also opens March 1 and during the first month of fishing it’s best for lake trout.

March is the last month to fish the region’s four winter-only trout lakes – Hatch and Williams in Stevens County, Hog Canyon in Spokane County, and Fourth of July in Lincoln County. These Dec. 1-March 31 fisheries usually provide through-the-ice action, but all have been more or less open water for several weeks during the warm winter.

“But fishing opportunity still exists at these winter season waters,” Osborne said.  “Anglers should plan on casting from shore or bringing a small boat. Just remember that Hog Canyon and Fourth of July are under the rule that no more than two of your daily five trout can be over 14 inches.”

Year-round-open fishing waters are also an option this month and might be better than usual at this time of year because of warmer weather.

Far and away the best year-round fishery in the region is Lake Roosevelt, the huge Columbia River reservoir on the border of Lincoln and Stevens counties.  Both bank and boat anglers at Lake Roosevelt have continued to do really well fishing for rainbow trout in the 14-20 inch range.  Boat anglers there have also reported good catches of walleye and kokanee.

Silver Lake, in southwest Spokane County, can be fair at this time for largemouth bass, yellow perch, and tiger muskie.  Eloika Lake, in north Spokane County, might be fair for brown trout, yellow perch and largemouth bass. Newman Lake in eastern Spokane County could provide decent action on black crappie, bluegill and largemouth bass.

Another kind of fishing is available at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s 55th annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, March 19-22 at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. Some 5,000 trout are stocked in three huge indoor lakes for kids to catch at “Fishing World,” and there’s a “Virtual Reality Fishing Simulator,” fishing demonstration tank, lots of fishing seminars by experts, and hundreds of fishing equipment and charter service vendors. WDFW staff will be on site selling fishing licenses and “Fish Washington” sweatshirts, and talking with visitors about all things fish and wildlife.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2015 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field.

In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits. Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2015. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington. Winners also may choose any weapon type when applying for a special permit to hunt deer or elk.

“This is a great opportunity for hunters to extend their hunting season this fall,” said Mick Cope, game manager for WDFW.  “Rather than having to choose just one hunting method over another, the multiple season permit allows more flexibility.”

Cope noted that the tags can be used only during general seasons and in game management units that are open during a modern firearm, muzzleloader, or archery general season. For example, winners may not hunt during the muzzleloader general season in an area that is not open for the muzzleloader general season.

Also, hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk.

Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at an authorized license dealer or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $7.10 for residents and $110.50 for nonresidents.

Another kind of hunting is available at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s 55th annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, March 19-22, at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. Among other things, the show offers a rifle range, archery range, laser shot shooting simulators, and of course the origins of the event – “Trophy Territory,” where hundreds of hunter-harvested antlered and horned animals are displayed and judged by Boone and Crocket scorers. WDFW staff will be on site selling hunting licenses and talking with visitors about all things fish and wildlife.

Wildlife viewing:Although length of daylight is usually the primary trigger for spring bird migrations, the unusual warm weather seems to have both birds and birdwatchers out in force throughout the region.

Hundreds of migrating tundra swans can be viewed now on Calispell Lake northwest of Newport in Pend Oreille County, said WDFW assistant district wildlife biologist  Annemarie Prince in Colville.  “The swans travel through the Pend Oreille River Valley, resting and feeding on Calispell Lake on their migration to breeding grounds in the high tundra across the top of North America,” Prince explains. “If you want to view the swans, remember to stay on the roads and don’t trespass on private property. The birds should remain on the lake until about mid-April.”

Rough-legged hawk stooping on top of wooden pole

Rough-legged hawk

Red-winged blackbird in flights with open wing side view

Red-winged blackbird

March 21 is the annual Tundra Swan Festival , sponsored by the Pend Oreille River Tourism Alliance, with pre- and post-swan-viewing talks at the Kalispel Tribe of Indians’ Camas Wellness Center at Usk.

Western meadowlarks, killdeer, and other migrants have returned to parts of the region, including Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County. A rough-legged hawk or two might still be seen in and around the wildlife area, but as winter-only residents in Washington, most are, or will soon be, winging their way much further north to breeding grounds.

WDFW’s Wooten Wildlife Area Manager Kari Dingman said wildflowers are blooming and lots of birds, from red-winged blackbirds to bluebirds, are back and singing.

“The bighorn sheep have already started moving around from the Tucannon Hatchery Ridge area and haven’t been as easy to find,” Dingman said. “There are a handful of elk crossing over the top of Hatchery Ridge from Cummings Creek to the Tucannon. River otters have been seen in Blue and Rainbow lakes. Bald eagles have been seen around the lakes and flying up and down the river.”

Deer and elk throughout the region are more visible this month as they browse on newly emerging green forbs and grasses.

“Even though we had a relatively mild winter, this is a critical time for our large ungulates as they adjust to a new diet,” said WDFW Wildlife Biologist Woody Myers. “It takes time for the microflora in their stomachs to be able to break down the green forage and use the new form of nutrition. That’s why it’s important to give these animals some distance to reduce stress.”

Myers also recommended waiting until May to look for shed antlers to avoid disturbing deer and elk. Some parts of the region’s wildlife areas are closed to all entry through the month of March to protect wildlife, including the Wooten’s Cummings Creek drainage; motorized access is prohibited until April on the Asotin Creek Wildlife Area’s Lick Creek Road and South Fork Road.

WDFW wildlife biologists across the region note that unseasonably warm weather may bring hungry black bears out of their winter dens early this year. Anyone living in or around bear country – virtually any forested habitat – should avoid unintentionally drawing black bears to food sources by taking down winter bird feeders, keeping pet food indoors, and securing trash and compost piles. State law prohibits both intentional and unintentional feeding of bears and other wild carnivores. More information is available at Living with Black Bears.

Another kind of wildlife viewing is available at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s 55th annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, March 19-22 at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. Exhibitors include wildlife artists and photographers and WDFW staff will be on site talking with visitors about all things fish and wildlife.

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

Fishing: Currently mild weather has dozens of Columbia Basin lakes that are stocked with rainbow trout ready for great fishing on the season opener March 1.

That’s the word from WDFW District Fish Biologist Chad Jackson in Moses Lake.
“If this nice weather holds, fishing should be fantastic,” Jackson said. “Quincy, Martha, and Caliche lakes should be excellent for 11-13-inch yearling rainbows and winter-carryovers up to 20 inches.  Burke Lake, which we rehabilitated in 2013, should have some nice size carryovers. And Dusty Lake will fish well for 14-20 inch trout.”

All are in Grant County, Caliche and Martha lakes near the town of George, and Quincy, Burke and Dusty lakes on the Quincy Wildlife Area southwest of the town of Quincy. The “Quincy Walk-in Lakes” (Crystal, Cup, Upper and Lower Spring, and Cliff) west of Evergreen Reservoir on the Quincy Wildlife Area, offer good fishing for anglers who prefer to hike into smaller lakes to fish with fewer people.
 
Jackson also noted Lenice, and Nunnally lakes, on the Crab Creek Wildlife Area just east of Beverly in south Grant County, should also fish really well for trout ranging in size from 14 to 20 inches.
 
A catch-and-release only fishing season opens March 1 at Lenore Lake, near the town of Soap Lake in Grant County, where big Lahontan cutthroat trout are the draw.
“Our staff will be checking anglers at most of these lakes on the morning of the opener,” Jackson said. “Know the rules, remember to be safe and courteous to your fellow fishers, and good luck.”

Check the Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet under Eastside Lakes – Special Rules for all March 1 opening fisheries in the region. Anglers can find the total trout allotments for these and other fisheries, as well as weekly catchable trout plant reports, at Fish Stocking Reports.

Columbia Basin fishing fans planning ahead this spring will want to note that five lakes will not have trout fishing available for the April 1 fishing season opener. Sago, Hourglass, Widgeon, and Upper and Lower Hampton lakes were treated with rotenone last fall to rid them of pumpkinseed sunfish to restore the popular trout fisheries, Jackson said. All are on the Columbia Basin National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which does not allow catchable-size trout stocking in federal refuge waters. The five lakes will be stocked with rainbow trout fry and fingerlings that will be catchable size by the 2016 season opener.

March is the last month for the catch-and-keep fishing season at several Okanogan County lakes that shift to catch-and-release April 1. Green and Lower Green lakes near Omak, Rat Lake near Brewster, and Davis Lake near Winthrop have been producing rainbow trout catches since the first of December, initially through the ice, but lately in open water. Year-round-open Patterson Lake near Winthrop has also been a good trout fishing spot.

Hatchery steelhead fishing continues on the mainstem Columbia River from Rock Island Dam to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam, and on portions of other northcentral region waterways, including the Wenatchee, Icicle, Entiat, Methow, Similkameen, and Okanogan rivers.

An additional section of the Wenatchee River, from the Icicle River Road Bridge to 400 feet below Tumwater Dam above Leavenworth, recently opened to hatchery steelhead fishing to reduce the proportion of hatchery fish on the spawning grounds.

A section of the Methow River, from the upstream boundary of Heckendorn Park to the Highway 20 Bridge in Winthrop, closes March 1 to fishing for steelhead to allow capture of natural origin steelhead broodstock to meet hatchery production and genetic management goals.

Also closed to fishing by March 1 are two areas of the Okanogan River, from the first power line crossing downstream of the Hwy 155 Bridge in Omak to the mouth of Omak Creek, and from the Tonasket Bridge downstream to the Tonasket Lagoons Park boat launch.

Steelheaders are reminded that at all locations open to steelhead fishing, the retention of hatchery steelhead is mandatory. Hatchery steelhead are identified by a missing adipose fin with a healed scar at the location of the clipped fin. The daily limit is two hatchery steelhead and selective gear rules and night closures are in effect for all steelhead fishery areas, except the use of bait is allowed on the mainstem Columbia River. Adipose-fin-present steelhead must be released unharmed and cannot be removed from the water prior to release.

Anglers should check Emergency Rule Updates for any changes.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2015 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field.

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

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2015. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington.
Winners also may choose any weapon type when applying for a special permit to hunt deer or elk.

“This is a great opportunity for hunters to extend their hunting season this fall,” said Mick Cope, game manager for WDFW.  “Rather than having to choose just one hunting method over another, the multiple season permit allows more flexibility.”

Cope noted that the tags can be used only during general seasons and in game management units that are open during a modern firearm, muzzleloader, or archery general season. For example, winners may not hunt during the muzzleloader general season in an area that is not open for the muzzleloader general season.

Also, hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk.

Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at an authorized license dealer or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $7.10 for residents and $110.50 for nonresidents.

Wildlife viewing:March is always a great month for birdwatching throughout the northcentral region, but with this year’s mild winter and continuing warmer-than-usual weather, it may be spectacular.

Rich Finger, WDFW’s Columbia Basin district wildlife biologist in Moses Lake, reports large numbers of waterfowl have moved back into the Basin. “We’ve noticed a significant increase in mallards and pintails on wetlands throughout the Columba Basin Wildlife Area,” he said. “Now is a great time to get out and observe waterfowl completing their courting flights and mating rituals.”

Sandhill cranes may be the easiest to spot for even casual or novice birdwatchers because they’re so big and there are so many.  About 35,000 of these four-foot, prehistoric-looking birds  migrate through the Pacific Flyway and  make feeding and resting stopovers in the Columbia Basin on their way to nesting sites in Alaska.  The greatest concentration of cranes is found in the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge marsh units, Frenchmen Reserve, Potholes Reservoir, Scootney Reservoir, and Winchester Reserve. Good numbers of the big birds are usually in the area through mid-April.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes

The 18th annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival  is March 27-29 this year and registrations for limited-capacity bus tours, field trips and other presentations are now underway online.

Waterways in the Sinlahekin Valley of Okanogan County are open and drawing a variety of waterfowl into the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, according to manager Justin Haug. Trumpeter swans, hooded mergansers, ring-necked ducks and a variety of other species can be observed on Conners, Blue and Fish lakes.

Pine grosbeak upside down in a tree branch Many swans in water.
Pine grosbeak

Swans

Early warm weather has food sources – from insects to plant buds – available to western bluebirds, pine grosbeaks, robins, red-winged blackbirds, and other birds throughout the Sinlahekin.

Mule deer are very viewable as they forage on greening hillsides, including areas of the Chilliwist unit of the Sinlahekin that burned in last summer’s wildfires. Haug reminds visitors that even though winter was relatively mild, deer should be given a wide berth to avoid disturbing them during this critical foraging time.

Mule deer on Chiliwist eating in field

Mule deer on Chiliwist

WDFW Okanogan District Wildlife Biologist Scott Fitkin notes that later in the month blue grouse will be active in courtship displays.  The single-focused grouse may be oblivious to viewers then, but it’s always a good idea to give them space and use binoculars and scopes to aid viewing.

WDFW wildlife biologists across the region note that unseasonably warm weather may bring hungry black bears out of their winter dens early this year. Anyone living in or around bear country – virtually any forested habitat – should avoid unintentionally drawing black bears to food sources by taking down winter bird feeders, keeping pet food indoors, and securing trash and compost piles. State law prohibits both intentional and unintentional feeding of bears and other wild carnivores. More information is available at Living with Black Bears.

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

Fishing:  This year’s run of spring chinook salmon will be moving up the Columbia River in the coming weeks, setting the stage for one of the region’s most popular fisheries. According to the pre-season forecast, the run will include 227,000 upriver spring chinook – well above last year’s return of just 123,100 upriver fish.

“All signs point to a great season this year,” said Ron Roler, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

But the big run of springers isn’t expected to arrive in this area for weeks, raising the question of what anglers can catch in the meantime.

Trout are an obvious choice, said Eric Anderson, a WDFW fish biologist based in Yakima. In March, WDFW will stock 20 lakes and ponds open year-round in Yakima, Kittitas, Franklin and Benton counties with thousands of “catchable size” rainbows, along with hundreds of jumbo trout weighing 1 to 1½ pounds apiece.

“We start stocking trout in year-round lakes in early March and continue right through June,” Anderson said. “This fishery is really our bread and butter, and anglers look forward to it all year.” For more information, see the regional trout stocking report on the department’s website.

Then again, anglers can also do well targeting hatchery steelhead, which tend to go on the bite right before the season closes March 31. Some of the best catch rates of the season are often recorded in March near the Ringold Springs Hatchery, said Paul Hoffarth, another WDFW fish biologist.

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

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

Rather catch white sturgeon? The retention fishery for sturgeon will run through July 31 in Lake Wallula, the 64-mile reservoir behind McNary Dam. Lake Umatilla, which extends from John Day Dam upriver to McNary Dam, is also expected to remain open through March for white sturgeon. 

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

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

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

Still thinking about spring chinook? See the Jan. 22 joint staff report for more information on prospects for springers, summer chinook, sockeye and other runs coming soon.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2015 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field. In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2015. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington.
Winners also may choose any weapon type when applying for a special permit to hunt deer or elk.

“This is a great opportunity for hunters to extend their hunting season this fall,” said Mick Cope, game manager for WDFW.  “Rather than having to choose just one hunting method over another, the multiple season permit allows more flexibility.”

Cope noted that the tags can be used only during general seasons and in game management units that are open during a modern firearm, muzzleloader, or archery general season. For example, winners may not hunt during the muzzleloader general season in an area that is not open for the muzzleloader general season.

Also, hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk.

Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at an authorized license dealer or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $7.10 for residents and $110.50 for nonresidents.

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

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

In celebration of these ancient, majestic birds, the City of Othello will host the 13th annual Sandhill Crane Festival March 27-29. The festival features tours of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge/Potholes area, Missoula Floods and the channeled scablands.