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

March 3, 2010

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

Anglers face some tough choices: Steelhead, spring chinook or razor clams

Anglers are catching increasing numbers of steelhead from rivers on the Olympic Peninsula, while others flock to the lower Columbia River for spring chinook.  Dozens of lakes opened for trout fishing March 1 in eastern Washington, and a weeklong razor clam dig is tentatively scheduled later this month at various ocean beaches.

For anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts, deciding among these options can present a real challenge, said Steve Thiesfeld, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). 

"This is a great time of year for fishing and other outdoor activities, but deciding where to go can be tough," Thiesfeld said.  "With so many opportunities out there, anglers have to make some hard choices about how they want to spend their weekends."

The spring chinook season is just getting started, but the fishery for wild steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula is nearing its peak.  Before heading out, anglers planning to participate in these popular fisheries are advised to check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet ( http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ ) for current fishing rules along with the regional updates below.

Rather dig some razor clams?  WDFW is planning a weeklong dig March 26-April 1 at various ocean beaches if upcoming marine toxin tests show the clams are safe to eat.  As discussed in the regional report for the South Sound/Olympic Peninsula below, the proposed dig is scheduled to start on evening tides, then switch to morning tides for the final four days.

"The dig planned this month spans the seasonal change, when the lowest tides shift from evening to morning hours," said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager.  "It’s another sign that spring is almost here."

So is the fact that large numbers of birds, from violet-green swallows to Canada geese, are becoming increasingly visible throughout the state.  Majestic sandhill cranes, standing up to four feet tall with seven-foot wingspans, will be the center of attention March 26-28 at the 13th annual Sandhill Crane Festival in Othello.

For more information on these and other outdoor activities in Washington, see the regional reports below.

North Puget Sound  

Fishing: While there have been a few reports of anglers hauling in some nice blackmouth, salmon fishing in Puget Sound continues to be slow. "To have any success in northern Puget Sound, anglers really need to put in some time on the water," said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist.

Anglers fishing Marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) and 9 (Admiralty Inlet) have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook. Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) is closed to salmon fishing. 

Thiesfeld said anglers might want to consider heading to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where salmon fishing continues to be good.

Marine areas 5 and 6 have been the hotspots, he said. In Sekiu, 23 anglers in eight boats landed 17 blackmouth during the last day in February. Anglers have also been landing good numbers of fish at the Ediz Hook ramp in Port Angeles. "The season started strong in the Strait and it’s stayed that way," said Thiesfeld.  "It’s definitely the best bet for blackmouth right now."

Meanwhile, numerous rivers are closed to steelhead fishing, including the Skagit, Sauk and Samish. The three rivers, usually open in March, closed early to protect wild steelhead that are listed as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act. The closures include:

  • The Skagit River, from the mouth upstream to Highway 536 (Memorial Hwy. Bridge) at Mount Vernon, through April 30; and from Highway 536 (Memorial Hwy. Bridge) at Mount Vernon upstream to the Gorge Powerhouse through May 31.
  • The Sauk River, from the mouth upstream to the Whitechuck River through June 4.
  • The Samish River, from the mouth to the Hickson Bridge, through June 4.

Before heading out, anglers should check the current regulations for all fisheries in WDFW's Fishing in Washington pamphlet ( http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ ).

Hunting: WDFW is accepting applications for spring black bear hunting permits through March 12. To be eligible for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2010 hunting license that includes bear as a species option. A drawing will be held in mid-March for 345 permits in western Washington and 185 permits on the east side of the state. Successful applicants will be notified by March 31.

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

Wildlife viewing: The annual gray whale migration is under way and several sightings of the large marine mammals in Puget Sound have been reported. The Whidbey and Camano Island areas, particularly Saratoga Passage, seem to be the hotspots for catching a glimpse of the massive animals. The whales are part of a larger population making its annual journey north from the coast of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, where the animals 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 summer months.

South Sound/Olympic Peninsula

Fishing:   Anglers are reeling in increasing numbers of steelhead from rivers on the Olympic Peninsula, while catch rates remain strong for blackmouth salmon in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Lingcod fishing opens March 13 in ocean areas south of Cape Alava, and another razor clam dig is tentatively scheduled March 26-April 1 at various ocean beaches.

"This is a great time of year for fishing and other outdoor activities, but deciding where to go can be tough," said Steve Thiesfeld, a WDFW fish biologist.  "With so many opportunities out there, anglers have to make some hard choices about how they want to spend their weekends."

Steelhead fishing on the northern peninsula is definitely a good bet right now, said David Low, another WDFW fish biologist.  During a creel check on the Sol Duc River conducted during the last four days of February, 78 anglers reported catching 74 wild steelhead (and releasing 64 of them) along with 13 hatchery fish (and releasing four of those).  On the Calawah River, 21 anglers reported catching 22 wild fish and releasing 19.

"This is peak season for wild steelhead on most of these rivers," Low said.  "Anglers need to keep an eye on river conditions, but fishing is definitely good right now."

As in years past, anglers may retain only one wild steelhead per license year on the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Hoh, Hoko, Pysht, Quillayute, Quinault and Sol Duc rivers.  On all other rivers, anglers may retain only hatchery-reared steelhead marked with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar.

Low specifically reminds anglers that no wild steelhead may be retained on the Hoh River above the DNR Oxbow Campground.  Rules for each river are described in the 2009-10 Fishing in Washington pamphlet at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ .

Not surprisingly, angler turnout on the north coast has been strong - due to good catch rates and the fact that most rivers in the Puget Sound region are now closed to steelhead fishing.  Low suggests the Skookumchuck River as a viable alternative for anglers looking to catch steelhead.

"This tributary to the Chehalis River is a great option for Puget Sound anglers looking for a fishing opportunity closer to home," said Low, noting that the Skookumchuck offers a strong run of late-returning hatchery fish.  "Besides, it’s pretty tough to find an empty seat in a guide boat on the Olympic Peninsula at this point in the season."

Rather catch a blackmouth salmon ?  Several areas of Puget Sound are open to fishing for resident chinook, although marine areas 5 and 6 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca have clearly been the hotspots.  In Sekiu, 23 anglers in eight boats landed 17 blackmouth during the last day in February.  Anglers have also been landing good numbers of fish at the Ediz Hook ramp in Port Angeles.

"The season started strong in the Strait and it’s stayed that way," said Thiesfeld, who also monitors the fishery elsewhere in Puget Sound.  "It’s definitely the best bet for blackmouth right now."

Another option is lingcod fishing, which gets under way March 13 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. In Marine Area 2 (Westport/Ocean Shores), recreational fishing for rockfish or lingcod is not allowed in waters deeper than 30 fathoms. Additional information about the lingcod fishery and other bottom fish is available on the WDFW Fishing Hotline (360) 902-2500 or online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ .

WDFW has also announced plans for a razor-clam dig tentatively scheduled March 26-April 1 at various ocean beaches.  As always, final approval of the dig - the first of the spring season - will depend on results of marine toxin tests that show the clams are safe to eat.

Prospective diggers should note that the proposed dig would start on evening tides, then switch to morning tides for the final four days, said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager. "The digs planned this month span the seasonal change, when the lowest tides shift from evening to morning hours," he said. "As in past months, razor-clam digging will be allowed after noon for the first three days of the opening, but will then switch to morning hours starting Monday, March 29."

Tentative days, tides and beach openings for this month’s dig are:

  • Friday, March 26, (4:29 p.m., +0.1) Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Kalaloch
  • Saturday, March 27, (5:19 p.m., -0.1) Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
  • Sunday, March 28, (6:04 p.m., 0.0) Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks
  • Monday, March 29, (6:35 A.M., -0.1) Long Beach and Twin Harbors only
  • Tuesday, March 30, (7:22 A.M., -0.7) Long Beach and Twin Harbors only
  • Wednesday, March 31, (8:07 A.M., -1.0) Long Beach and Twin Harbors only
  • Thursday, April 1, (8:52 A.M., -1.0) Long Beach and Twin Harbors only

Any 2009-10 annual shellfish/seaweed license or combination license is valid through March 31. However, a new license will be required for anyone age 15 or older to participate in a subsequent dig, tentatively scheduled April 16-18. Descriptions of the various licensing options are available on the WDFW website at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov .

Hunting: WDFW is accepting applications for spring black bear hunting permits through March 12. To be eligible for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2010 hunting license that includes bear as a species option. A drawing will be held in mid-March for 345 permits in western Washington and 185 permits on the east side of the state. Successful applicants will be notified by March 31.

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

Wildlife viewing: With spring on the way the rites of the season are visible everywhere. Wildlife watchers need go no farther than their own backyards to note the changing plumage of the area's common birds. As the mating season starts, the junco's coloring becomes crisper and house finches turn bright red. Atop pilings around Puget Sound, adult cormorants also take on vibrant plumage as they prepare to breed.

For a view of a rare bird to the area, head to Ocean Shores, where a king eider duck has been spotted. An uncommon visitor to Washington, the king eider’s usual range is the coastal waters of the Arctic. This single duck has been seen with hundreds of scoters in the bay behind the Ocean Shores STP, according to a report on Tweeters birding website ( http://birdingonthe.net/mailinglists/TWET.html ).

Meanwhile, a large flock of trumpeter swans has been spotted in the Chehalis Valley. The flock - numbering more than 200 swans - has been seen in the valley for the last several weeks along the Brady Loop Road east of Montesano.

Southwest Washington

Fishing:   Spring chinook fever continues to spread on the Columbia River, although the prized fish were hard to find during the last week of February.  On the last Saturday of the month, 250 bank anglers and more than 300 boats were counted on the lower river - twice as many boats as the same time last year.  But only three spring chinook, all from lower-river stocks, turned up in WDFW creel checks that day.

"We’ve had a pretty good showing of lower-river springers, but the upriver fish are off to another slow start," said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist.  "So far, we have seen little evidence of the huge run of upriver fish expected this year, but that could change any day now."

According to the pre-season forecast, 559,900 spring chinook salmon - 470,000 of which are upriver bound - will return to the Columbia River and its tributaries this year, the largest run since 1938.  While most of those fish aren’t expected to arrive until later this month or early April, it’s hardly surprising that anglers are eager to test the waters.

"This is shakedown time for the spring chinook fishery," Hymer said. "It’s a good time to get your boat and gear in order and pick your spots before the crowds arrive.  Catching fish is a bonus at this point in the season."

Under regulations established by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon, the fishery is now open at the following places and times:

  • Buoy 10 upstream to the I-5 Bridge: Seven days per week from March 1 through April 18, except closed on the following Tuesdays: March 9, 16, 23 and 30.
  • I-5 Bridge upstream to I-205 Bridge: Seven days per week from March 1-14, except closed on Tuesday March 9. Beginning March 18 through April 3, fishing will be limited to three days per week, Thursday through Saturday.
  • I-205 Bridge upstream to Bonneville Dam: Bank angling only, seven days per week from March 1-14, except closed on Tuesday, March 9. Beginning March 18 through April 3, fishing will be limited to three days per week, Thursday through Saturday.
  • Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam: Seven days per week from March 16 through May 31. Bank fishing only from Bonneville Dam upstream to the Tower Island power lines, six miles downstream from The Dalles Dam.

Anglers fishing below Bonneville Dam may retain one adult spring chinook salmon per day, while those fishing above the dam can keep two per day. As in previous years, only hatchery-reared fish marked with a clipped adipose fin and a healed scar may be retained.  All wild spring chinook, identifiable by an intact adipose fin, must be released unharmed.

After watching spring chinook runs fall short of expectations for the past two years,  fishery managers exercised caution in setting fishing seasons below Bonneville Dam.  In calculating the number of fish available for harvest, they set aside a 40 percent "buffer" until the forecast can be verified by data collected once the run is under way. 

On area tributaries, the first spring chinook of the season has returned to the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery and some springers have been showing up in the catch on the Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis rivers.  In addition, anglers are catching late-run hatchery steelhead , particularly on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers where the run is reaching its peak.  As an added bonus, anglers fishing the lower Cowlitz River may now keep steelhead with a clipped right ventral fin.

In other waters, 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.), Salmon (Clark Co.) creeks and on the Coweeman, Elochoman, Grays, East Fork Lewis and Washougal rivers.

Other rule changes coming up in the days ahead will affect several tributaries to the Bonneville Pool:

  • Drano Lake:   The anti-snag rule will no longer be in effect as of March 16.  Starting April 16, fishing around the outlet of Drano Lake will be limited to bank fishing west of a line projected from the eastern-most pillar of the Highway 14 Bridge to a posted marker on the north shore.
  • Wind River:   Starting March 16, the anti-snag rule will no longer be in effect from the mouth upstream to the Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge.
  • Klickitat River:   Starting April 3, anglers fishing from the Fisher Hill Bridge downstream will be able to retain two hatchery chinook, hatchery steelhead or one of each as part of their daily limit.  Fishing will be open four days per week - Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Meanwhile, anglers have been reeling in some legal-sized white sturgeon from The Dalles Pool, although none were found in creel checks conducted the last week of February.  Sturgeon retention is closed in the Bonneville and John Day pools, and fishing has been slow below Bonneville Dam where most of the big fish have yet to awaken from their winter slumber.

In mid-February, fishery managers from Washington and Oregon adopted fishing seasons for white sturgeon that provide greater protection for declining numbers of sturgeon below Bonneville Dam.  New harvest guidelines approved by both states will limit this year’s catch below the dam to 24,000 fish, a 40 percent reduction from levels approved in 2009.  Of that total, 19,200 will be available for harvest by the sport fishery and 4,800 by the commercial fishery.

To increase protection for spawning sturgeon, fishery managers also agreed to expand the existing six-mile sanctuary area below the dam, where sturgeon fishing is prohibited in late spring and early summer. The new agreement expands the sanctuary 3.5 miles downstream to Skamania Island and extends the fishing prohibition from May 1 to Aug. 31, adding the month of August.  Oregon will also establish a new spawning sanctuary on the Willamette River downstream from Willamette Falls to Interstate 205.

Fishing seasons for retention of white sturgeon approved for the 2010 sport fishery in the Columbia River and adjacent tributaries are as follows:

  • Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines:   The retention fishery for white sturgeon is open seven days per week through April and again from May 22 to June 26.  The fork length of retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 38 inches through April and 41 inches beginning in May. Maximum fork length is 54 inches.  Catch-and-release fishing is allowed during non-retention days.
  • Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam:   The retention fishery for white sturgeon will be open three days per week (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) through July 31, and again from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. The fork length of retained sturgeon must be a minimum of 38 inches and a maximum of 54 inches.  Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when sturgeon retention is prohibited, except in the sanctuary area from May through August.

The fishing periods will be reassessed in June based on available catch data, and may be modified to match catch guidelines.

Smelt (eulachon) dipping is now closed in all Washington rivers except the mainstem Columbia River, but fishing for walleye and bass is picking up above Bonneville Dam.  Boat anglers fishing the John Day Pool have been averaging a bass per rod and a walleye for every three rods.  The Dalles Pool is also giving up some walleye.

A recent creel check at Klineline Pond tallied 26 bank anglers with 42 rainbow trout .  Klineline was recently stocked with 2,300 half-pound rainbows, while Battleground Lake got 1,000 and Kress Lake near Kalama got 16 surplus hatchery steelhead averaging 10 pounds apiece.

Hunting: WDFW is accepting applications for spring black bear hunting permits through March 12. To be eligible for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2010 hunting license that includes bear as a species option. A drawing will be held in mid-March for 345 permits in western Washington and 185 permits on the east side of the state. Successful applicants will be notified by March 31.

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

Wildlife viewing: Visit the fish-viewing window at Bonneville Dam right now and you might see a late-run steelhead or chinook salmon moving up the fish ladder. But things should start getting a lot more interesting later this month, when hundreds - then thousands - of spring chinook weighing up to 40 pounds apiece start moving past the dam on a daily basis.

To monitor daily fish counts from home, check the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website at https://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/op/fishdata/home.asp . Or stop by the Washington Shore Visitor Complex and see the annual parade of fish for yourself. To get there, take Washington State Highway 14 east to Milepost 40 (about 5 miles from Stevenson) and turn into the Bonneville Dam visitor center. The visitor center is the glass building at the end of the powerhouse.

Eastern Washington

Fishing:   Anglers enjoyed spring weather at the region’s dozen or so lakes that opened to fishing March 1, with catches coming out of open water instead of through the ice.

The seven impoundments off the Tucannon River on WDFW’s Wooten Wildlife Area in Columbia County provided lots of action on hatchery rainbow trout . Beaver, Big Four, Blue, Deer, Rainbow, Spring and Watson lakes were stocked with "catchable-size" (about one-third pound) and "jumbo" (about 1.5 pound) trout from the Tucannon and Lyons Ferry fish hatcheries.

WDFW Fish Biologist Jeremy Trump checked anglers on opening day at most of the Tucannon lakes, where fish averaged about 12 inches.  Better fishing seemed to be in the morning, except for at Big Four, where fishing was slower than expected all day. Spring Lake had the highest average number of fish caught per angler - just over three - and Big Four had the lowest, at less than one fish apiece. The largest rainbow measured was a 17.3-inch fish caught at Rainbow Lake.

Wooten Wildlife Area Assistant Manager Kari Dingman said camping activity on the area is picking up, along with the fishing, because of the warm weather.

Fishhook Pond in Walla Walla County and Pampa Pond in Whitman County were also well-stocked with rainbows for the March 1 opener, although no creel checks were conducted at those waters.

Chris Donley, WDFW central district fish biologist, said there was good fishing at most March 1-opening fisheries near Spokane. Downs Lake was producing largemouth bass in the three- to four-pound range, along with a few rainbow trout and yellow perch . Liberty Lake shore anglers on the opener averaged one fish each and boat anglers averaged three fish each - almost all were brown trout in the 14- to 20-inch range, with the occasional winter carryover rainbow up to 18 inches. Anglers fishing Medical Lake on opening day averaged three fish each.

Donley said that anglers at Amber Lake, which opened for catch-and-release fishing March 1, averaged five to six trout each. About 90 percent of the catch at Amber was rainbows measuring 13 to 20 inches. The remainder of the catch was cutthroat trout that measured between 14 to 18 inches.

Coffeepot Lake also opened for catch-and-release fishing, and although it was not officially surveyed, Donley said fishing was slow.

Bill Baker, WDFW northeast district fish biologist, reports that fishing for lake trout and rainbows was fair at Stevens County’s Deer Lake on the March 1 opener.  Lake trout anglers averaged less than one fish apiece, from 24 to 34 inches.  Rainbow trout anglers averaged one fish apiece, from 13 to 15 inches.  Baker said the water temperature was still cold, at around 37 degrees, so fishing will likely pick up as the lake warms up.

Baker also noted the winter-season fisheries, Hatch and Williams lakes, will remain open to fishing through March 31.

WDFW Fish Biologist Marc Divens said that although water temperatures are still a little cold to expect fast action, anglers interested in warmwater "spiny-ray" species have many opportunities now and in coming weeks and months at both year-round and early-opening waters.

For year-round lakes: Lake Roosevelt offers walleye and smallmouth bass , along with rainbows and kokanee ;  Silver Lake has tiger muskie , largemouth bass , and yellow perch ; and Newman Lake has tiger muskie, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and crappie .

Among March 1-opening waters: Liberty Lake has largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, and yellow perch; Downs Lake has largemouth bass, yellow perch and crappie; Coffeepot Lake has bass, crappie and perch; and Deer Lake has smallmouth bass.

Anglers can gear up and learn about fishing opportunities at the third annual Great Western Sportfishing Show , March 5-7, at the Spokane Convention Center. The show includes inland trout lakes seminars conducted by WDFW Fish Biologist Chris Donley. For more information see http://www.greatwesternsportfishingshow.com/Home.html .

Anglers can also pick up lots of information at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s 50th annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show , March 18-21, at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. An indoor kids’ fishing pond, where youngsters can learn to cast and actually catch trout to take home and eat, is one of the highlights of this event.  A non-profit organization, the council donates proceeds from the show to fish and wildlife projects. For more information about the show, see http://www.wildlifecouncil.com/ .

Hunting:  March 12 is the deadline to purchase and submit applications for spring black bear hunting permits. A drawing will be held in mid-March for 185 permits in specific areas east of the Cascades (and others on the west side of the state). Permit winners will receive notification in the mail by March 31. Applicants may also check the results of the drawing at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting   on the WDFW website. To apply for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2010 hunting license that includes bear as a species option. Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ , by calling (866) 246-9453, or at any license vendor in the state. Special permit applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ , or by calling (877) 945-3492.

Hunters can pick up information about other hunting opportunities, as well as gear and services, at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s 50th annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, March 18-21, at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. A non-profit organization, the council donates proceeds from the show to fish and wildlife projects. For more information about the show, see http://www.wildlifecouncil.com/ .

The Washington State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation ( http://nwtf.ipower.com/ ) will conduct a drawing for extra wild turkey hunting tags on March 20 at the Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show in Spokane.  The $5 raffle tickets may only be purchased from the Turkey Federation, either in advance of the show through chapter contacts (see website link) or at the show. The winner receives three extra turkey tags that can be used from April 1 through May 31 and Sep. 1 through Dec. 31. Funds from the raffle support WDFW wild turkey management.

Wildlife viewing: The sights and sounds of spring are everywhere, including long strings of honking Canada geese overhead, wild turkeys gobbling in the woods, California quail calling to each other as they pair up, and bald eagles, great horned owls, red-tailed hawks, ravens and magpies already tending nests.

While enjoying those and other signs of the changing season, some wildlife enthusiasts are looking for shed deer, elk and moose antlers in areas where the animals have been wintering. WDFW biologists urge shed antler collectors to avoid pushing these hungry ungulates off early green-up areas or otherwise disturbing them.

Now is the time to see hundreds of tundra swans making migration stopovers in the Pend Oreille River Valley north of Spokane.  The largest concentration of swans resting and feeding before going on north to breeding grounds is at an Audubon-designated Important Birding Area, Calispel Lake, northwest of Newport. Now is also the time to register for limited space in the third annual Tundra Swan Festival, co-hosted by the Natural Resources Department of the Kalispel Tribe of Indians and the Pend Oreille River Tourism Alliance (PORTA). The festival is on Saturday, March 20. The day starts at 10 a.m. at the Tribe’s Camas Wellness Center on LeClerc Road in Usk, with travel by bus to Calispel Lake, where private landowners are allowing group access. Register by PayPal on the PORTA website: www.porta-us.com : $10 for adults, and $5 for children under 12 years of age, including lunch at the Camas Center.

Wolves and wolverines are the topic of a program at the Spokane Audubon chapter monthly meeting, March 10, presented by WDFW Okanogan District Wildlife Biologist Scott Fitkin. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Riverview Community Bldg., E. North Crescent Ave., just east of Avista headquarters on Mission and Upriver Dr. in Spokane. For more information see http://www.spokaneaudubon.org/ .

Wildlife viewers can pick up information about other wildlife-viewing opportunities, as well as gear and services, at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s 50th annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show , March 18-21, at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. A non-profit organization, the council donates proceeds from the show to fish and wildlife projects. For more information about the show, see http://www.wildlifecouncil.com/ .

Northcentral Washington

Fishing:   Anglers from 12 counties (six westside, six eastside) fished the Columbia Basin’s opening day on March 1 on ice-free lakes and under sunny skies with unseasonably warm weather. "There were lots of folks out, considering that the opener fell on a Monday," said WDFW District Fish Biologist Chad Jackson of Moses Lake. "As far as fishery performance, it was a bit of a mixed bag with some good, some bad, and some under-utilized lakes."

Jackson said the greatest effort and catches were checked at Martha, Upper Caliche, and Lenice lakes.  At Martha and Caliche lakes, anglers averaged nearly five-fish limits of rainbow trout , with several taking full limits in less than an hour. Most rainbows caught at Martha Lake were about 13 inches, with a few winter-carryovers running 16 to 24 inches. The size of trout harvested at Caliche Lake was smaller at 10 to 11 inches.

Lenice Lake was the most popular and best performing selective-gear water on the opener, with most anglers catching and releasing around six trout each in two to four hours of fishing. Most of the trout were 19 to 21 inches, with a few up to 24 inches. A few anglers surveyed by Jackson said they had caught and released a few of last year’s plants of tiger trout .

Nunnally and Merry lakes, near Lenice and also under the selective-gear and one-trout daily retention rules, were not checked on the opener. But Jackson said fishing, at least on the larger Nunnally, is similar to Lenice.  Nunnally and Lenice will be re-stocked with trout this spring, he noted.

"Two lakes that underperformed this opener were Quincy and Burke," Jackson said.  "Despite our supplemental catchable-size trout plants, on top of sizeable spring fry plants, both lakes failed to produce a harvest rate of one trout per angler. However, since the catchable trout plant occurred only two weeks ago, I expect that these two lakes will fish a lot better as the spring progresses."

Anglers who did catch trout at Burke had 12- to 24-inch rainbows, and those at Quincy had 20- to 21-inch fish from fry plants.

Jackson said angler effort appeared to be down on the opener at Dusty and Lenore lakes. The highest angler counts recorded during the creel survey at Dusty and Lenore lakes were eight and 13, respectively.  That made determining the overall opening day success difficult, he said.  Among the anglers checked at Dusty, one rainbow trout and one tiger trout were measured, both at 16 inches.  At Lenore, which is catch-and-release through May, anglers each reported catching about seven cutthroat trout of 14 to 22 inches in length. "Both Dusty and Lenore will be very good to fish as the season progresses," Jackson said.

Other Columbia Basin lakes that opened March 1, but were not surveyed, are several "walk-in" waters on WDFW’s Quincy Wildlife Area - Cascade, Cliff, Crystal, Cup, Dot, George and Spring.

Matt Polacek, WDFW fish biologist, said anglers are catching yellow perch at the Coulee City Marina on Banks Lake. Pre-spawn perch can be found in or near weed beds throughout the lake.

WDFW Okanogan District Fish Biologist Bob Jateff reminds steelhead anglers that two sections of the Okanogan River will close March 15 - from the first powerline crossing downstream of the Highway 155 Bridge in Omak (Coulee Dam Credit Union Building) upstream to the mouth of Omak Creek; and from the Tonasket Bridge (4th Street) downstream to the Tonasket Lagoons Park boat launch.  Those closures are necessary to protect natural origin steelhead staging prior to spawning in those tributaries.

The rest of the steelhead areas upstream of Wells Dam will remain open until March 31, but Jateff advises anglers to periodically check for fishery changes on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ .

Whitefish remains open on portions of the Methow and Similkameen rivers until March 31.  The daily catch limit is 15 whitefish and gear restrictions are in effect. Check the rules pamphlet for all details.

Hunting:   March 12 is the deadline to purchase and submit applications for spring black bear hunting permits. A drawing will be held in mid-March for 185 permits in specific areas east of the Cascades (and others on the west side of the state). Permit winners will receive notification in the mail by March 31. Applicants may also check the results of the drawing at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting on the WDFW website. To apply for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2010 hunting license that includes bear as a species option. Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ , by calling (866) 246-9453, or at any license vendor in the state. Special permit applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ , or by calling (877) 945-3492.

Hunters can pick up information about other hunting opportunities, as well as gear and services, at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s 50th annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show , March 18-21, at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. A non-profit organization, the council donates proceeds from the show to fish and wildlife projects. For more information about the show, see http://www.wildlifecouncil.com/ .

The Washington State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation ( http://nwtf.ipower.com/ ) will conduct a drawing for extra wild turkey hunting tags on March 20 at the Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show in Spokane.  The $5 raffle tickets may only be purchased from the Turkey Federation, either in advance of the show through chapter contacts (see website link) or at the show. The winner receives three extra turkey tags that can be used from April 1 through May 31 and Sep. 1 through Dec. 31. Funds from the raffle support WDFW wild turkey management.

Wildlife viewing:   Spring is coming, even to the northernmost parts of the region, including WDFW’s Sinlahekin Wildlife Area in northcentral Okanogan County. Those 14,000-plus acres are a year-round home to a variety of wildlife, but spring visitors boost the animal population substantially. WDFW Sinlahekin Area Manager Dale Swedberg recently reported an influx of tundra swans at or near waterways on the Sinlahekin. The swans are on their way further north to breeding grounds in Canada.  Assistant Manager Justin Haug photographed some of the swans on Conners Lake.  Haug also photographed one of the area’s many bald eagles near Forde Lake, and several bighorn sheep at the north end of the area near Loomis.

Photos by Justin Haug
Tundra swans at Conner Lake - Photo by Justin Haug
Tundra swans
Bald eagle at Forde Lake - Photo by Justin Haug
Bald eagle
Bighorn sheep near Loomis - Photo by Justin Haug
Bighorn sheep

Some wildlife enthusiasts are looking for shed deer antlers in areas where the animals have been wintering. WDFW biologists urge shed antler collectors to avoid pushing these hungry deer off early green-up areas or otherwise disturbing them.

Further south in the region, the Columbia Basin has been full of noisy spring migrants for weeks, from thousands of Canada geese, northern pintails and mallards to red-winged, yellow-headed , and even a few tri-colored blackbirds.  

Joining the party just this week are sandhill cranes , the stars of one of the state’s most popular wildlife viewing events, the Othello Sandhill Crane Festival , which is celebrating its 13th year March 26-28. Up to four-feet tall with seven-foot wingspans, these long-legged, long-necked stately birds are visible without binoculars or scopes from roadsides throughout the agricultural areas of the Basin, where they gather in the thousands to feed and rest during migrations to northern breeding grounds. Festival tours and presentations for minimal fees, scheduled during the peak of the crane migration, fill up so fast that pre-registration is recommended at http://www.othellosandhillcranefestival.org/ .

The 29,000-plus acres of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, just northwest of the town of Othello, hosts about 15,000 sandhill cranes alone during March and April, especially on the refuge fields near Corfu, Road E SE, and Barton Road. For more information see http://www.fws.gov/columbia/ .

Free pre-festival scouting tours for cranes , long-billed curlews and burrowing owls are scheduled for Saturday, March 20, starting at refuge headquarters in Othello, 7:30-11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. to dark. Led by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Randy Hill and others, these tours will search out the best crane and curlew viewing areas near feeding fields and roosts. The morning tours will end with a search for burrowing owls north or east of Othello, while the evening tours will start with a search for owls. These trips are official scouting trips to locate viewing locations for festival weekend. Participants are required to sign refuge volunteer agreements.

Southcentral Washington

Fishing:   WDFW hatchery crews have been stocking catchable-size (one-third pound and nearly one pound) rainbow trout over the last couple weeks at waterways throughout Kittitas and Yakima counties.  Eric Anderson, WDFW district fish biologist, said there are lots of good fishing opportunities during these warm, pre-spring days.

In Kittitas County, McCabe Pond recently received 510 one-third-pound rainbows, Woodhouse Ponds got 810, South Fio Rito got 1,500, North Fio Rito got 3,210, and Mattoon Lake got 1,610. North Fio Rito Lake also received 700 nearly one-pounders, and Mattoon Lake got 400.

In Yakima County, I-82 Pond #4 and Pond #6 each received 2,520 one-third pound rainbows, Sarge Hubbard Pond got 308, Rotary Lake got 2,520, and Myron Lake got 504. Sarge Hubbard also received 100 nearly one-pound rainbows, and Myron Lake got 500.

All catchable-size trout plants are posted weekly on the WDFW website at   http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/ .

Hunting:   March 12 is the deadline to purchase and submit applications for spring black bear hunting permits. A drawing will be held in mid-March for 185 permits in specific areas east of the Cascades (and others on the west side of the state). Permit winners will receive notification in the mail by March 31. Applicants may also check the results of the drawing at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting on the WDFW website. To apply for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2010 hunting license that includes bear as a species option. Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ , by calling (866) 246-9453, or at any license vendor in the state. Special permit applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ , or by calling (877) 945-3492.

The Washington State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation ( http://nwtf.ipower.com/ ) will conduct a drawing for extra wild turkey hunting tags on March 20 at the Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show in Spokane.  The $5 raffle tickets may only be purchased from the Turkey Federation, either in advance of the show through chapter contacts (see website link) or at the show. The winner receives three extra turkey tags that can be used from April 1 through May 31 and Sep. 1 through Dec. 31. Funds from the raffle support WDFW wild turkey management.

Wildlife viewing: Spring migrating waterfowl numbers are up on the Columbia and Snake rivers and local wetlands, said WDFW District Wildlife Biologist Mike Livingston in Pasco. Canada geese, along with mallards, pintails, and other ducks, are especially concentrated on various units of WDFW’s Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges like McNary and Umatilla.

"Watch the skies and listen for migrating sandhill cranes from Pasco to Prosser," Livingston said.  "I have received reports and have seen them myself as they move northward to their staging grounds in the Columbia Basin. Keep an eye out 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."

Livingston also reports ferruginous hawks are arriving on their territories throughout Benton and Franklin counties, where they are foraging for rodents and small mammals in the shrub steppe, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, and wheat fields.

"Burrowing owls have also been arriving in the area," he said. "Many males have already selected burrows and are waiting for opportunities to mate with females who should begin arriving this month. These owls are great subjects for photographs, but please be careful to not disturb them by staying at least 200 yards from their burrow."

Winter-feeding of elk and bighorn sheep at Oak Creek Wildlife Area northwest of Yakima has ended, although some animals are still very visible. WDFW Area Assistant Manager Bruce Berry reminds visitors that area and road closures - including Forest Service Road 1400 (Oak Creek Road), the Bethel Ridge Road which goes through the Oak Creek headquarters, and the Bethel Ridge/ Meloy Canyon Road - remain in effect until 6 a.m. on May 1 to limit disturbance to animals.

Vehicle gates also are closed to all entry on other wildlife areas in the region. The Mellotte Road into the Wenas Wildlife Area, the Robinson Canyon and Joe Watt Canyon roads into the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area, and roads on the Whiskey Dick and a portion of the Quilomene wildlife areas in Kittitas County are closed until May 1 to protect elk.