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

December 9, 2009 - January 5, 2010

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

Editor's Note: This is the holiday edition of Weekender. The next Weekender will appear January 6, 2010.

Celebrate the season with bird count,
steelhead fishing or a razor clam dig

Despite the winter chill, Washingtonians have plenty of reasons to head outdoors during the holiday season. Birding, steelhead fishing and the prospect of a New Year's clam dig are just a few recreational highlights in the weeks ahead.

If you're a bird watcher - or think you might want to be - spotting teams are forming around the state for the 110th annual Christmas Bird Count, which starts Dec. 14 and runs through Jan. 5. Birders in Washington, along with those from Alaska to Argentina, will be counting every bird they see in one 24-hour period within those dates and reporting their results to the Audubon Society.

The results are compiled into the longest-running database in ornithology, invaluable for tracking bird population trends. To get involved, visit the website for Audubon at http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/ or call one of the contacts listed in the regional summaries below.

Meanwhile, winter-run hatchery steelhead are moving up Northwest rivers in increasing numbers, providing new fishing opportunities from the Olympic Peninsula to the Columbia River Basin. Most agree catch rates will pick up once freezing temperatures give way to winter rain.

Rather dig razor clams? Evening digs are tentatively scheduled at ocean beaches from Dec. 31 through Jan. 3, pending the results of marine toxin tests. "We had 22,000 people on the beach in 2006, the last time conditions allowed for a New Year's dig," said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "It's a great way to welcome the new year."

For more information on fishing, hunting and wildlife-viewing opportunities available around the state, see the regional reports below:

North Puget Sound  

Fishing: Effort has been light in the region, but a few stalwart anglers who made it out on Puget Sound recently have hooked some bright salmon. "There are not a lot of anglers out on the Sound right now," said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fisheries biologist. "But those anglers who put in some time on the water over the last week are finding some fish. It's certainly not red hot, but fishing has been fair in some areas."

Marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner), and 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) are open for salmon. Anglers fishing those marine areas have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook.

Thiesfeld reminds anglers that Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) is closed to salmon fishing through Jan. 15.

Crabbing also is an option in select marine areas. Marine Area 10 and most of Marine Area 9 are open for crabbing seven days a week through Jan. 2, 2010. The portion of Marine Area 9 south of a line from Foulweather Bluff to Olele Point is closed for the season. Crab fishing also is open seven days a week through Jan. 2 in marine areas 4 (Neah Bay), 5 (Sekiu) and 13 (south Puget Sound).

The daily catch limit in Puget Sound is five Dungeness crab, males only, in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6¼ inches. Fishers may catch six red rock crab of either sex per day, provided those crab measure at least 5 inches across. For more information about recreational crabbing in Puget Sound, see WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab .

In the rivers, there have been a few reports of anglers hooking some bright steelhead but, overall, fishing has been slow.

Anglers should be aware that a portion of the North Fork Nooksack River closed to sportfishing Dec. 1 until further notice. The river is closed from the yellow post located at the upstream most corner of the hatchery grounds, approximately 1,000 feet upstream of the mouth of Kendall Creek, downstream to the Mosquito Lake Road Bridge. The closure is necessary to ensure egg-take goals are met for hatchery winter steelhead at the Kendall Creek Hatchery.

Other rules and regulations for all freshwater and saltwater fisheries can be found at WDFW's fishing regulation website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ .

Hunting: Frigid temperatures have made for slow waterfowl hunting in the region, said Don Kraege, WDFW waterfowl manager. "With most inland waters frozen, hunters are limited to the fields and saltwater areas," he said. "Waterfowl hunting should improve, especially in the wetland areas, when temperatures climb and we get more rain." Waterfowlers have through Jan. 31 to hunt for ducks and geese in the region.

Meanwhile, big-game hunts are still under way. Archers have through Dec. 15 to hunt deer in Game Management Units (GMU) 466 and 460, and through Dec. 31 in 407, 410 and 454. The region's musket hunts for deer run through Dec. 15. Most muzzleloader and archery hunts for elk also continue in the region through Dec. 15.

Before going afield, hunters should check the Big Game Hunting pamphlet and the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet for details. (http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/ )

Wildlife viewing: During the holiday season, several Audubon Society chapters throughout the region are coordinating Christmas Bird Counts (CBC). For more information on the Christmas Bird Count, see the Audubon website at http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/history . To get involved, visit the Washington Ornithology Society's website at http://www.wos.org/WACBCs.htm for a counting circle in your area.

Below is a list of some of the bird-count organizers and counting dates in the region.

South Sound/Olympic Peninsula

Fishing: From the coast to Puget Sound, anglers have several opportunities to add seafood to their holiday menu, including razor clams, chum salmon, Dungeness crab and steelhead.

Favorable tides have allowed WDFW to tentatively schedule a razor clam dig starting New Year's Eve. If marine toxin levels show the clams are safe to eat, an evening dig will be held Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 at all five ocean beaches, followed by another evening of digging Jan. 2 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks. One beach, Twin Harbors, is scheduled for an evening dig Jan. 3. Final word will be issued about a week before the dig, after a final round of marine toxin tests has been completed.

"The last time low tides allowed for a New Year's Eve opener, more than 22,000 people came out," said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager. "We'll let folks know whether it's a 'go' as soon as we can."

For best results, Ayres recommends that people start digging at least one hour before low tide. No digging will be allowed before noon any day. Evening low tides for the upcoming dig are:

  • Thursday, Dec. 31 (6:16 p.m. -1.1 ft.) all beaches  
  • Friday, Jan. 1 (7:01 p.m. -1.8 ft.) all beaches 
  • Saturday, Jan. 2 (7:45 p.m. -1.6 ft.) Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks 
  • Sunday, Jan. 3 (8:29 p.m. -1.2 ft.) Twin Harbors

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.

A license is required for anyone age 15 or older. Any 2009 annual shellfish/seaweed license or combination fishing license is valid. Another option is a razor-clam only license available in annual or three-day only versions. Descriptions of the various options are available on the WDFW website at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov .

Meanwhile, steelhead fishing is heating up on north coast rivers. A recent creel survey conducted on the Bogachiel River in the Quillayute system showed 162 anglers with 146 hatchery steelhead and two wild steelhead. All hatchery fish were retained and the two wild steelhead were released. "After a long stretch of high and colored waters, we're seeing some prime fishing conditions," said Mike Gross, WDFW fish biologist.

Although the Hoh and Calawah rivers drew fewer anglers, they're likely to see more action in the weeks ahead, Gross said. "December and January are prime months for hatchery steelhead and should be productive for anglers as long as the rivers stay in shape."

Wild steelhead-retention rules are now in effect on the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Hoh, Hoko, Pysht, Quillayute, Quinault and Sol Duc rivers. Anglers may retain one wild steelhead per license year. Because retention rules and the length of the wild steelhead season vary for each river, Gross strongly recommends that anglers check the 2009-10 Fishing in Washington pamphlet at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ before heading out.

Farther south, anglers are still catching late-run hatchery coho on the Humptulips River where salmon fishing is open through January. "The river's been quite busy and anglers are doing well," Gross said. Still, anglers fishing Grays Harbor rivers are looking forward to steelhead season in the weeks ahead. Popular local rivers include the Satsop, Wynoochee and Wishkah.

Chum salmon fishing has all but wrapped up in most places, but is just beginning in the Nisqually River, which is open to salmon fishing through January. The late chum run doesn't hit full stride until mid- to late December and generally remains strong until at least mid-January, said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist. "The Nisqually's a good fishery and the chum are typically bright and in good shape," he said.

Thiesfeld also suggests some winter blackmouth fishing in Puget Sound, where the salmon fisheries in marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) and 12 (Hood Canal) are open through Dec. 31. "Participation's been slow with this cold weather, but anglers who've been out are finding blackmouth in Hood Canal," Thiesfeld said.

Anglers fishing these areas may retain one chinook as part of their two-fish daily limit.

Recreational crab fishers have a few more weeks to drop a pot or two, but should note that all Puget Sound marine areas close to crab fishing Jan. 2, 2010. Until then, crab fishing is open seven days a week in marine areas 4 (Neah Bay), 5 (Sekiu), 10 (Seattle/Bremerton), 13 (south Puget Sound), and a portion of Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet). The portion of Marine Area 9 south of a line from Foulweather Bluff to Olele Point is closed for the season.

The daily catch limit in Puget Sound is five Dungeness crab, males only, in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6¼ inches. Fishers may catch six red rock crab of either sex per day, provided those crab measure at least 5 inches across.

Recreational crabbers are required to send in a winter catch card or report their catch online by Jan. 15. People failing to submit their winter reports will receive a $10 fine when they apply for a 2010 Puget Sound crab endorsement. For more information about recreational crabbing in Puget Sound, see WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab .

Hunting: The hunting season for blue , ruffed and spruce grouse ends Dec. 31, but duck and geese season will remain open seven days a week through Jan. 31 in all parts of the region except Pacific County (Goose Management Area 2B), which is open Wednesdays and Saturdays only through Jan. 16. For more information, see WDFW's Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet, (http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/ ).

Meanwhile, archers and muzzleloaders are winding up late-season hunts for deer and elk . Late-hunting seasons for those end Dec. 15 in many areas, although some areas remain open for archery deer hunting through Dec. 31. See WDFW's 2009 Big Game Hunting pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/ ) for details.

Big game (deer, elk, black bear and turkey) hunters are reminded to report harvest within ten days of a kill, or if unsuccessful by Jan. 10, 2010, to be eligible for special hunting permits next year. All big game hunters must submit hunting reports by Jan. 31, 2010. See page 13 of the Big Game Hunting pamphlet for all details.

Hunters should be aware that the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has suspended garbage service at eight DNR campgrounds on state trust lands in Clallam and Jefferson counties. DNR asks the public to pack out what they pack in. Campgrounds include Bear Creek in Clallam County and Hoh Oxbow, Coppermine Bottom, Cottonwood, South Fork Hoh, Willoughby, Minnie Peterson and Upper Clearwater in Jefferson County. 

Wildlife viewing: Birders throughout the nation are making preparations for the 110th annual Christmas Bird Count, scheduled Dec. 14 through Jan. 5. Specific counting dates have already been announced in several areas of western Washington, where birders turn out by the hundreds to count and categorize the birds they see to benefit avian science. Veteran birdwatchers and novices alike are welcome to contribute their findings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database.

The following is a list of bird-count organizers and counting dates throughout the region:

More information is available on the Washington Ornithological Society's website at http://www.wos.org/index.htm , or the Audubon website at http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/ .

Southwest Washington

Fishing: Anglers have been catching increasing numbers of winter steelhead on tributaries to the lower Columbia River, although fishing was slowed in early December by a winter freeze. Meanwhile, a pre-season forecast of next year's upriver spring chinook run is expected to cast a warm glow on fishing prospects for early 2010.

Hatchery-reared winter steelhead are striking in increasing numbers on the Cowlitz River near the trout hatchery as well as in the lower river, said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist. Steelhead action is also starting to pick up in the Lewis, Kalama, Grays, Washougal and Elochoman rivers, he said, while noting that returns to several area hatcheries have lagged behind last year's levels.

"Steelhead fishing has been locked in kind of a deep freeze during the early part of the run," Hymer said. "But once things warm up - especially if we get some rain - this fishery could really come alive."

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

During the week ending Dec. 6, Tacoma Power employees released 165 adult coho, one adult fall chinook and one winter-run steelhead into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton. They also released 323 adult coho into Lake Scanewa above Cowlitz Falls Dam and another 216 adult coho into the upper Cowlitz River at the Skate Creek Bridge in Packwood.

A total of 70 hatchery-origin sea-run cutthroat trout were recycled downstream to the Barrier Dam boat launch.

Frigid weather has also slowed fishing for white sturgeon on the lower Columbia River, which is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from the Wauna powerlines upriver to Bonneville Dam through Dec. 31. Only one legal-sized fish was counted among the hearty bank anglers who braved the cold east winds below the dam during an early December creel check.

"A thaw would give anglers a chance to catch a few more sturgeon before they lock up for winter," Hymer said.

A better bet might be Battleground Lake or Klineline Pond, he said. On Dec. 7, WDFW planted 2,500 catchable-size rainbows in each location. Weather permitting, the department also plans to plant a similar number of fish at Battleground and Klineline close to the holidays, Hymer said.

Looking forward to spring chinook fishing? The technical committee advising Columbia River fishery managers has released its forecast for the 2010 spring chinook run. If the fish show up as projected, the forecast of 470,000 spring chinook would be the largest return to the Columbia since 1938.

The forecasted run is up significantly from last year’s final run of 169,300 fish.

Because of challenges in forecasting the spring chinook returns in recent years, members of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) had to reconsider the model they have used in past years to predict the number of returning fish.

According to Stuart Ellis, current chair of the TAC and fisheries scientist of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), committee members were leery of the record number of spring chinook “jacks” counted at Bonneville Dam in 2009. In the past few years, forecasts relying heavily on jack counts from the previous season had overstated the actual return of adult fish by an average of 45 percent.

Ellis said this year the committee considered several additional models that took into account other factors such as ocean conditions.

“The number of jacks that returned in 2009 was four times greater than anything we’ve seen before, which made the number a statistical anomaly,” Ellis said. “At the same time, we know the environment for young salmon appears to be changing and we needed to account for that.”

“We’re still projecting a strong return for upriver spring chinook salmon next year, but we needed to temper last year’s jack return with other indicators of spring chinook abundance,” he added.

Hunting: The chill wind blowing down from the north in early December should bring more ducks into the region, said Eric Holman, WDFW wildlife biologist. Duck hunting cooled off after local bird populations took note of the season opener, but nothing draws more ducks from the north than sub-freezing winds, he said.

"We definitely expect duck hunting to pick up in the days ahead," Holman said. "The conditions are right."

Hunting seasons for both duck and geese are open daily in goose management areas 3 (Lewis and Skamania counties) and 5 (Klickitat County). In Goose Management Area 2A (Wahkiakum, Cowlitz and most of Clark County), goose hunting is open Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, except in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. There, goose hunting is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (closed Christmas and New Year's Day).

Through Nov. 29, hunters reported 635 Canada geese at check stations in Area 2A, including those in Vancouver, Woodland, Cathlamet and at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. That represented an average of 1.9 birds per hunter among those who brought birds to the check stations. Although the number of geese per hunter was similar to years past, both participation and total harvest are down by approximately 15 to 20 percent from the same time last year.

Cackling Canada geese were the primary sub-species taken by hunters, with Taverner's Canada geese the next most common species reported. Inside the refuge, 115 hunters bagged 99 ducks and 20 geese during the last week of November. For more information about hunting in the refuge, see http://www.fws.gov/ridgefieldrefuges/Ridgefield/recreation/ .

Most general hunting seasons for deer and elk end by mid-December, but several others in the southwest region remain open through Dec. 31 to archers hunting deer. For information on those hunts, see the Big Game Hunting pamphlet at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.

Wildlife viewing: Have you seen a barn owl in Cowlitz County anytime in the past year? How about a hermit warbler in Clark County?

Matt Bartels at the Washington Birder website (http://wabirder.com/bartel.html ) is compiling another list of birds seen during the past year in counties throughout the state. No viewings have been reported this year for some likely suspects (ruffed grouse in Lewis County, blue-winged teal and ruddy duck in Skamania County) and he'd like to make sure his list is as complete as possible. His goal is to compile a list that keeps tabs on these species from year to year. See the website above for ways to help complete Matt's list for 2009.

Meanwhile, the Christmas Bird Count will get under way Dec. 14 in southwest Washington and throughout the Americas. Sponsored by Audubon, the annual event enlists birdwatchers - veterans and novices alike - to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database.

For more information on the Christmas Bird Count, see the Audubon website at http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/history . To get involved, see the Washington Ornithology Society's website at http://www.wos.org/ for a counting circle in your area.

Eastern Washington

Fishing: Bill Baker, WDFW district fish biologist from Colville, reports that Hatch and Williams lakes in Stevens County produced good catches of rainbow trout on the Dec. 1 winter-only season opener, but are now icing up.

"Anglers were easily catching limits of rainbows at Williams, with fish ranging from 9 to 12 inches," Baker said. "Anglers were having to work a bit harder at Hatch Lake, but were still catching limits of 10 to 13-inch rainbows if they were persistent. All these fish are robust and overall, fishing is good."

With the region's recent single digit temperatures at night, both lakes are icing up quickly, but probably not enough to safely walk out on to ice fish, Baker said. A week or more of the same conditions and both might offer safe ice fishing.

The region's two other winter-only trout lakes - Fourth of July on the Lincoln-Adams county line and Hog Canyon in southwest Spokane County - will offer no fishing this season because they were treated this fall to eliminate undesirable fish and will not be restocked with rainbows until spring. Chris Donley, WDFW central district fish biologist from Spokane, reports that despite posted signs and several earlier notices of the situation, some anglers are attempting to access the lakes.

"If anyone catches a fish out of either of those lakes it would be a miracle," Donley said. 

Baker says fishing for burbot on year-round Sullivan and Bead lakes in Pend Oreille County should be productive later in the winter as safe ice conditions develop.

Marc Divens, WDFW warmwater fish biologist, notes three year-round waters near Spokane - Eloika, Newman, and Silver - could produce decent catches of everything from crappie to perch through the ice when conditions are safe. At all three lakes winter anglers will see new boat launches and docks recently completed for use next spring.

All three fish biologists emphasize that winter anglers must be very cautious about ice. According to U.S. Coast Guard guidelines, no one should venture onto lake ice unless it is at least 4 inches thick, clear and solid. As much as 9 inches may be needed to safely support snowmobiles or other vehicles. Such ice depths can form after at least a week of below-freezing temperatures, both day and night.

Ice depths vary throughout a waterway due to underwater structures, springs, geothermal activity, and water movement caused by flows, wind, or waterfowl use. Rivers and streams rarely have safe ice because of constant currents. Thawing and re-freezing can create air pockets that leave ice "honeycombed" or porous and significantly weakened.

Drilling a hole in the ice from a safe, near-shore location can give anglers an idea of ice depth. However, drilling only provides an estimate of the ice depth because shallow water near shore freezes quicker than deeper water in the middle of a lake where springs may slow the freezing process.

WDFW does not measure ice on fishing lakes and cannot guarantee ice fishing safety. But here are a few tips to help keep an outing safe:

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

Some of the best open water fishing in the region continues to be found at year-round Sprague Lake. The rainbow trout there range from 15-25 inches, and five-fish limits are still being caught. Sprague anglers are reminded that only two of the five trout they retain can be over 20 inches.

Lake Roosevelt, the Columbia River reservoir formed by Grand Coulee Dam, is also open year-round and is producing big net-pen-reared rainbows. Both boat trollers and shore anglers are catching fish throughout the reservoir.

Snake River steelhead action hasn't been officially measured recently. But anecdotal reports indicate the big ocean-going rainbows, which have returned in record numbers this year, are still being caught by those willing and able to brave the extreme cold and wind chill on the big water.

Hunting: As wintery weather advances through the region, both waterfowl and upland game bird hunting should improve for hunters willing and able to brave the elements. With icy conditions, ducks and geese from the north are more likely to concentrate on the region's open waterways, from the Pend Oreille River up north to the Snake River down south. When snow cover inevitably accumulates, pheasants, quail and partridge may hold better and provide shooting opportunities for hunters with dogs. All bird hunting continues into the new year throughout the region.

The late fall general hunting season for wild turkey continues through Dec. 15 in game management units 105 - 124 in the north end of the region where the big birds are abundant in large groups now.

Snow cover should also help late archery, muzzleloader and Master Hunter deer and elk hunting, most of which concludes Dec. 15, depending on the game management unit and season.

Big game (deer, elk, black bear and turkey) hunters are reminded to report harvest within ten days of a kill, or if unsuccessful by Jan. 10, 2010, to be eligible for special hunting permits next year. All big game hunters must submit hunting reports by Jan. 31, 2010. See page 13 of the Big Game Hunting Seasons & Regulations pamphlet for all details at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/ .

Wildlife viewing: Participation in the 110th annual Christmas Bird Count , held at several locations across the region from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5, is one of the best ways for novices to learn from veteran birdwatchers. The counts tally species and numbers of birds across North America for the world's longest-running bird database. For more information on the tradition and use of the information for conservation management, see the Audubon Society website at http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/ . Most local counts are day-long events that get started early, like the birds, and conclude with count tally gatherings around warm food and drink.

Here's where and when to join in, and who to contact for more information:

  • Colville, Dec. 19, Barbara Harding at barbara_harding@fws.gov or 509-684-8384 or Warren Current at 509-684-8308
  • Lewiston-Clarkston, Jan. 2, Terry at clgtlg@moscow.com
  • Pullman-Moscow, Dec. 19, Dave Holick at daveholick@moscow.com or Tom Weber at tweber@roadrunner.com
  • Spokane, Dec. 27, Alan McCoy of Spokane Audubon Society at ahm2352@gmail.com or 509-448-3123; the count area includes the confluence of the Little Spokane and Spokane Rivers, Wild Rose Prairie, Peone Prairie, Dishman Hills, the South Hill, and Riverside State Park; backyard bird feeder watchers also welcome to report
  • Walla Walla, Dec.19, Mike and MerryLynn Denny at 509-529-0080; convene 7:30 a.m. in the Harper Joy parking lot on the Whitman College campus; those unable to participate can count birds in your own yard and call in your findings to the Dennys at the end of the day.

Other Christmas Bird Counts in the region might be posted as information becomes available on the Washington Ornithological Society website at http://www.wos.org/WACBCs.htm .

Northcentral Washington

Fishing: Bob Jateff, WDFW Okanogan district fish biologist from Twisp, says steelhead fishing is slowing down a bit now in all Columbia River fishery areas above Wells Dam as water temperatures drop. Anglers are reminded of the mandatory retention of hatchery-marked steelhead caught in the upper Columbia River fishery. Daily limit is four adipose-fin-clipped hatchery steelhead.

"Ice fishing opportunities will improve as colder temperatures help increase ice thickness," Jateff said. "Lakes to try in Okanogan County are Patterson and Davis near Winthrop, Big and Little Green near Omak, Rat near Brewster, and Sidley near Oroville. Rainbow trout are the predominant species in these lakes, with a five-trout daily catch limit. Patterson also has a good population of yellow perch with no minimum size and no daily catch limit."

Jateff emphasizes that winter anglers need to be very cautious about ice. According to U.S. Coast Guard guidelines, no one should venture onto lake ice unless it is at least 4 inches thick, clear and solid. As much as 9 inches may be needed to safely support snowmobiles or other vehicles. Such ice depths can form after at least a week of below freezing temperatures, both day and night.

Ice depths vary throughout a waterway due to underwater structures, springs, geothermal activity, and water movement caused by flows, wind, or waterfowl use.

Rivers and streams rarely have safe ice because of constant currents. Thawing and re-freezing can create air pockets that leave ice "honeycombed" or porous and significantly weakened.

Drilling a hole in the ice from a safe, near-shore location can give anglers an idea of ice depth. However, drilling only provides an estimate of the ice depth because shallow water near shore freezes quicker than deeper water in the middle of a lake where springs may slow the freezing process.

WDFW does not measure ice on fishing lakes and cannot guarantee ice fishing safety. But here are a few tips to help keep an outing safe:

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

Jateff also notes whitefish season opened Dec. 1 on selected areas of the Similkameen and Methow rivers. "Anglers need to be aware that in any area that is currently open to steelhead fishing, whitefish gear rules are not in effect, which means that anglers fishing for whitefish must abide by steelhead gear rules," Jateff said.

In areas where steelhead fisheries are not taking place (Similkameen above Enloe Dam and the Methow/Chewuch rivers above Winthrop), standard whitefish gear rules apply - one single point hook, maximum hook size 3/16 inch measured point to shank, and bait is allowed.

Hunting: Rich Finger, WDFW district wildlife biologist from Moses Lake, says waterfowl hunting opportunities in the Columbia Basin are changing with conditions as winter advances.

"A recent weather system in southern Alberta with several days of snow and north winds should have pushed out the last of the northern mallards," Finger said. "At the same time the Columbia Plateau received a significant cold front, with single digit temperatures and strong north winds. Only moving water will remain open for birds in these conditions. With the wind, it's likely that many ducks continued south, hopefully only temporarily. Fortunately, there is no snow cover so far on the Columbia Plateau, so it's likely that some ducks will return as forecasted conditions ease. But with several days of single digit lows still to come, it's likely that most ponds will remain frozen through the remainder of the waterfowl season, and only big, moving water will hold birds."  

Watch for new postings of North Basin Waterfowl Surveys on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/about/regions/region2/waterfowl_surveys.html .

Late archery deer hunting concludes Dec. 15 in select game management units. All big game (deer, elk, black bear and turkey) hunters are reminded to report harvest within ten days of a kill, or if unsuccessful by Jan. 10, 2010, to be eligible for special hunting permits next year. All big game hunters must submit hunting reports by Jan. 31, 2010. See page 13 of the Big Game Hunting Seasons & Regulations pamphlet for all details at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/ .

Wildlife viewing: Participation in the 110th annual Christmas Bird Count , held at several locations across the region from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5, is one of the best ways for novices to learn from veteran birdwatchers. The counts tally bird species and numbers across North America for the world's longest-running bird database. For more information on the tradition and use of the information for conservation management, see the Audubon Society website at http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/ . Most local counts are day-long events that get started early, like the birds, and conclude with count tally gatherings around warm food and drink.

Here's where to join in, and who to contact for more information, including dates and times (if not listed):

Other Christmas Bird Counts in the region might be posted as information becomes available on the Washington Ornithological Society website at http://www.wos.org/WACBCs.htm .

Mule deer should be visible soon if not already on winter range in the Methow Valley of Okanogan County. Scott Fitkin and Jeff Heinlen, WDFW wildlife biologists, recently completed post-hunting-season mule deer aerial surveys in the Okanogan district and observed the highest buck to doe ratio since 2002. Out of about 3,500 deer, they saw 20 bucks for every 100 does. They also observed about 77 fawns per 100 does, which Fitkin says is about average over the long-term.

"The deer look healthy and fat," Fitkin said, "With virtually no snow over much of the winter range and none in the extended weather forecast, the early prognosis for over-winter fawn survival looks positive."

Southcentral Washington

Fishing: The region's winter-only season rainbow trout water, North Elton Pond along Interstate 82 near Selah in Yakima County, is well-stocked with hatchery fish. Eric Anderson, WDFW district fish biologist, reminds anglers the daily catch limit at North Elton is two trout.

Anderson notes that winter anglers need to be very cautious about ice. According to U.S. Coast Guard guidelines, no one should venture onto lake ice unless it is at least 4 inches thick, clear and solid. As much as 9 inches may be needed to safely support snowmobiles or other vehicles. Such ice depths can form after at least a week of below freezing temperatures, both day and night.

Ice depths vary throughout a waterway due to underwater structures, springs, geothermal activity, and water movement caused by flows, wind, or waterfowl use.

Rivers and streams rarely have safe ice because of constant currents. Thawing and re-freezing can create air pockets that leave ice "honeycombed" or porous and significantly weakened.

Drilling a hole in the ice from a safe, near-shore location can give anglers an idea of ice depth. However, drilling only provides an estimate of the ice depth because shallow water near shore freezes quicker than deeper water in the middle of a lake where springs may slow the freezing process.

WDFW does not measure ice on fishing lakes and cannot guarantee ice fishing safety. But here are a few tips to help keep an outing safe:

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

Anderson notes that winter whitefish action on the Yakima River's 3,500-foot stretch below Roza Dam will likely pick up as winter advances. Whitefish are also fair game now on sections of the Naches and Klickitat rivers. Check the fishing rules pamphlet for specific river stretch descriptions. Whitefish gear is restricted to one single-point hook with a maximum hook size of 3/16-inch from point to shank (hook size 14). Up to 15 whitefish can be retained daily. Most will run from 10 to 13 inches, found in winter groups in deep pools, and usually caught maggots or small artificial flies or lures.

Hunting: Waterfowl hunting opportunities are changing with weather conditions. Small waters are quickly icing up, leaving only big moving waters to concentrate ducks and geese. Watch for new postings of South Basin Waterfowl Surveys on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/about/regions/region3/waterfowl_surveys.html .

Late archery deer hunting concludes Dec. 15 in select game management units. All big game (deer, elk, black bear and turkey) hunters are reminded to report harvest within ten days of a kill, or if unsuccessful by Jan. 10, 2010, to be eligible for special hunting permits next year. All big game hunters must submit hunting reports by Jan. 31, 2010. See page 13 of the Big Game Hunting Seasons & Regulations pamphlet for all details at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/ .

Wildlife viewing: Participation in the 110th annual Christmas Bird Count , held at several locations across the region from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5, is one of the best ways for novices to learn from veteran birdwatchers. The counts tally bird species and numbers across North America for the world's longest-running bird database. For more information on the tradition and use of the information for conservation management, see the Audubon Society website at http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/ . Most local counts are day-long events that get started early, like the birds, and conclude with count tally gatherings around warm food and drink.

Here's where to join in, and who to contact for more information, including dates and times (if not listed):

  • Cle Elum, Dec. 14, Michael Hobbs at BirdMarymoor@verizon.net or 425-869-2370
  • Ellensburg, Phil Mattocks at pmattocks@kvalley.com
  • Tri-Cities, Jan. 2, Dana Ward at 509-545-0627; convening at 7:30 a.m. at three locations: Richland - Howard Amon Park, Pasco - McDonalds at 2200 W Court St., Kennewick - Audubon Natural Trail in Columbia Park; those unable to participate can count birds at backyard feeders and report counts by 5 p.m.
  • Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge, Dec. 20, Andy Stepniewski at steppie@nwinfo.net or 509-877-6639; no-host breakfast at the Branding Iron Restaurant in Toppenish at 7 a.m.
  • Yakima Valley, Dec. 19, Denny Granstrand at dgranstrand@charter.net or 509-453-2500; no-host breakfast at 7 a.m. at IHOP on Valley Mall Blvd.

Other Christmas Bird Counts in the region might be posted as information becomes available on the Washington Ornithological Society website at http://www.wos.org/WACBCs.htm .

Winter feeding of elk and bighorn sheep usually gets under way when snow cover is substantial at WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area southwest of Yakima. Even before feeding begins, some animals are visible near traditional winter feeding sites.

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

Vehicle access to the wildlife area's Bethel Ridge and Oak Creek roads closed Dec. 1 and will remain closed through April 30. Rock-climbing areas on the wildlife area are open through January.

Bald eagles can usually be seen along the Yakima River where they're feeding on spawned-out coho salmon at this time of year.