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April 2011 (Updated 4/15/2011)

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

April brings flurry of 'opening days'
leading to statewide lake trout season

For many anglers, “opening day” is synonymous with the start of the lowland lakes trout-fishing season, which gets under way April 30 this year. More than 300,000 Washingtonians are expected to descend on trout-stocked waters throughout the state that day to kick off the new season.

But anglers – and hunters, too – are also looking forward to a variety of other “opening days” this month for seasons ranging from lingcod fishing on the north coast to turkey hunting throughout the state. A morning razor clam dig has been approved for April 7-9, and another is scheduled for April 19-23, pending the results of marine toxin tests.

“April really marks the start of the new year for fishing and hunting,” said Joe Stohr, deputy director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “Some winter fisheries are still going strong, but the annual cycle is beginning again with a new year of outdoor activities.”

For most people, a valid 2011-12 fishing or hunting license is required to get in on the action after March 31, when all 2010-11 licenses expire. The exception is young people under age 15, who may fish for free.

Licenses and permits are avaiIable online, by phone (1-866-246-9453) and from sporting goods stores and other retail license dealers around the state. A list of license vendors is available online and from local WDFW offices around the state.

Key dates for anglers and hunters to keep in mind for the month of April include:

  • April 2-3 – A two-day spring turkey hunt for hunters age 15 and younger is scheduled statewide.
  • April 7-9 – A morning razor-clam dig has been approved at Long Beach and Twin Harbors, pending the results of marine toxin tests. See WDFW’s razor clam webpage for details.
  • April 15 – The general spring turkey hunt opens for hunters of all ages and runs through May 31. See WDFW's Washington Wild Turkey Spring Season pamphlet for details.
  • April 16 – Lingcod fishing opens off Neah Bay in Marine Area 4. The fishery has been open in ocean marine areas 1-3 since mid-March.
  • April 19-23 – Morning razor-clam dig scheduled at several beaches, pending the results of marine toxin tests. See WDFW’s razor clam webpage for details.
  • April 30 – Several hundred lowland lakes open to trout fishing across the state for the biggest "opening day" of the year.

For more information about these and other outdoor activities coming up in the weeks ahead, see the region-by-region Weekender Reports on WDFW’s website. These reports are updated throughout the month for changes in fishing rules and other developments throughout the state.

North Puget Sound  

Fishing:  Thousands of anglers are gearing up for the lowland lakes trout opener in late April, but many remain focused on the marine areas of Puget Sound, where blackmouth salmon fisheries are still under way.

As March comes to a close, fishing continues to be slow for most anglers targeting blackmouth, said Steve Thiesfeld, Puget Sound salmon manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “For the most part it has been a real grind for anglers fishing Puget Sound,” he said. “But there have been a few bright spots. One angler recently caught a 27-pound hatchery chinook in the San Juan Islands and several participants in the recent Anacortes Salmon Derby did pretty good as well.”

A total of 101 fish were weighed during the Anacortes Salmon Derby, which took place March 26-27. Mike Campion of Bellingham took home the $15,000 grand prize with his 18.96-pound fish. Patrick Barton of Bellingham hooked a 18.74-pound salmon that was good enough for second place and $5,000, and Brett Engholm of Bellingham was awarded $2,500 for his third-place fish, which weighed in at 18.44 pounds.

“While anglers definitely have to put in some time on the water, it can be worth it for an opportunity to catch a large blackmouth,” Thiesfeld said.  

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 salmon. Thiesfeld reminds anglers that Marine Area 9 is open only through April 15, while Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) is already closed to salmon fishing.

Freshwater anglers looking to cast for trout will soon have numerous lakes to choose from. The lowland lakes trout season gets under way April 30, when many lakes – stocked with thousands of legal-sized trout – will open for fishing. Information on stocking schedules for rainbow, cutthroat and triploid trout is available on WDFW's website.

Anglers should note that the halibut season gets under way in May. The 2011 recreational halibut seasons approved for Washington's marine areas are:

  • Columbia River (Ilwaco): Marine Area 1 will open May 5, three days a week, Thursday through Saturday until 70 percent of the quota is reached, or until July 17. The fishery will then reopen on Aug. 5 and continue three days a week (Friday through Sunday) until the remaining quota is reached, or Sept.30, whichever occurs first. The 2011 catch quota is 15,418 pounds.
  • South Coast (Westport/Ocean Shores): Marine Area 2 will open on May 1, two days a week, Sundays and Tuesdays. During the fourth week in May the fishery will be open Sunday only (May 22). Beginning the following week the fishery will resume the Sunday, Tuesday structure until the quota is reached. The northern nearshore area will be open seven days per week, until the quota is reached. The 2011 catch quota is 43,500 pounds.
  • North Coast (La Push/Neah Bay): Marine areas 3 and 4 will open on May 12, two days per week, Thursdays and Saturdays, through May 21. If sufficient quota remains, the fishery will reopen the week of June 2. If sufficient quota remains after that opener, the fishery will reopen starting June 16. The 2011 catch quota is 108,792 pounds.
  • Strait of Juan de Fuca/Puget Sound: Marine areas 6 through 10 (Strait, Port Angeles, Admiralty Inlet and Everett) will be open May 5 through May 29. Marine Area 5 (Sekiu) will be open May 26 through June 18. These fisheries will be open three days a week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday closed Sunday through Wednesday except for Memorial Day weekend when they will be open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The 2011 combined catch quota for these areas is 58,155 pounds.

All areas that will be open to halibut fishing have a one-fish daily catch limit, with no minimum size, a possession limit of one fish while on the vessel, and a possession limit of two fish in any form once the angler is on the shore.

Halibut fishing will remain closed in marine areas 11 (Tacoma) and 13 (southern Puget Sound) to protect three species of rockfish listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. Marine Area 12 (Hood Canal) will remain closed due to low dissolved-oxygen conditions.

Hunting: The spring wild turkey season runs April 15 through May 31 around the state. The general season follows a special hunt April 2-3 for people age 15 and younger. For more information, check out the Wild Turkey Spring Season pamphlet.

Wildlife viewing: Reports of gray whale sightings picked up at the end of March. The whales have been spotted throughout Puget Sound, with sightings ranging from Vashon Island north to the San Juan Islands. 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. 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

Fishing: April will see the traditional opening of the statewide lowland lakes trout fishing season, the expansion of lingcod fishing on the north coast and up to two rounds of razor-clam digging on ocean beaches.

One morning razor clam dig has been approved at two beaches -- Long Beach and Twin Harbors – April 7-9. Digging dates and morning low tides are:

  • April 7 (Thursday), 9:37 a.m. (0.1 feet); Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • April 8 (Friday), 10:19 a.m., (0.2 feet); Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • April 9 (Saturday), 11:07 a.m. (0.4 feet); Long Beach, Twin Harbors

Later in April, razor clammers could have another opportunity if marine toxin tests show the clams are safe to eat. Tentative opening dates and low tides for that dig a

  • April 19 (Tuesday), 8:07 a.m. (-1.8 feet); Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • April 20 (Wednesday), 8:54 a.m. (-1.7 feet); Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • April 21 (Thursday), 9:42 a.m. (-1.4 feet); Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks
  • April 22 (Friday), 10:33 a.m. (-0.8 feet); Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks
  • April 23 (Saturday), 11:27 a.m. (-0.2 feet); Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks (Digging allowed until 1 p.m.)

No digging will be allowed after noon on any of the razor-clam beaches, except on April 23 when digging is allowed until 1 p.m. on the four beaches. Fishery managers agreed to an extra hour of digging April 23 because low tide won’t occur until 11:27 a.m. that morning, said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

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 harvester’s clams must be kept in a separate container.

Noting that 2010-11 state fishing licenses expire March 31, Ayres reminds diggers age 15 or older that they must purchase a 2011-12 license to participate in the April openings. Various licenses, ranging from a three-day razor-clam license to a multi-species combination license, are available online, by phone (1-866-246-9453) and from sporting goods stores and other retail license dealers around the state.

Also on the coast, the lingcod fishery is under way in marine areas 1 (Ilwaco), 2 (Westport-Ocean Shores) and 3 (LaPush). Beginning April 16, Marine Area 4 (Neah Bay) also will open for lingcod. For more information on lingcod fishing regulations, check the Fishing in Washington pamphlet.

Meanwhile, fishing for blackmouth is still an option. Marine Areas 5 (Sekiu) and 6 (eastern Strait) are open through April 10, although Marine Areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon), 12 (Hood Canal) and 13 (South Puget Sound) will remain open through April 30.

Anglers fishing marine areas 11 and 12 have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook. Those fishing the Strait of Juan de Fuca – marine areas 5 and 6 – and Marine Area 13 have a daily limit of one salmon.

In freshwater, anglers still have an opportunity to hook wild steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula. As in years past, anglers may retain only one wild steelhead per license year on the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Hoh, Quillayute, Quinault and Sol Duc rivers. Wild steelhead retention continues through April 30 on most of those rivers. The exceptions are the Clearwater, Hoh and Quinault rivers, where wild steelhead retention runs through April 15. Anglers should be aware that portions of the Dickey River closed in mid-March. For more information on steelhead fishing regulations, check the Fishing in Washington pamphlet.

Lake fishing opportunities expand at the end of the month, when the lowland lakes trout season gets under way. Many lakes – stocked with thousands of legal-sized trout – open for fishing April 30. Information on stocking schedules for rainbow, cutthroat and triploid trout is available on WDFW's website.

Anglers should note that the halibut season gets under way in May. The 2011 recreational halibut seasons approved for Washington's marine areas are:

  • Columbia River (Ilwaco): Marine Area 1 will open May 5, three days a week, Thursday through Saturday until 70 percent of the quota is reached, or until July 17. The fishery will then reopen on Aug. 5 and continue three days a week (Friday through Sunday) until the remaining quota is reached, or Sept.30, whichever occurs first. The 2011 catch quota is 15,418 pounds.
  • South Coast (Westport/Ocean Shores): Marine Area 2 will open on May 1, two days a week, Sundays and Tuesdays. During the fourth week in May the fishery will be open Sunday only (May 22). Beginning the following week the fishery will resume the Sunday, Tuesday structure until the quota is reached. The northern nearshore area will be open seven days per week, until the quota is reached. The 2011 catch quota is 43,500 pounds.
  • North Coast (La Push/Neah Bay): Marine areas 3 and 4 will open on May 12, two days per week, Thursdays and Saturdays, through May 21. If sufficient quota remains, the fishery will reopen the week of June 2. If sufficient quota remains after that opener, the fishery will reopen starting June 16. The 2011 catch quota is 108,792 pounds.
  • Strait of Juan de Fuca/Puget Sound: Marine areas 6 through 10 (Strait, Port Angeles, Admiralty Inlet and Everett) will be open May 5 through May 29. Marine Area 5 (Sekiu) will be open May 26 through June 18. These fisheries will be open three days a week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday closed Sunday through Wednesday except for Memorial Day weekend when they will be open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The 2011 combined catch quota for these areas is 58,155 pounds.

All areas that will be open to halibut fishing have a one-fish daily catch limit, with no minimum size, a possession limit of one fish while on the vessel, and a possession limit of two fish in any form once the angler is on the shore.

Halibut fishing will remain closed in marine areas 11 and 13 to protect three species of rockfish listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. Marine Area 12 will remain closed due to low dissolved-oxygen conditions. 

Hunting: The spring wild turkey season runs April 15 through May 31 around the state. The general season follows a special hunt April 2-3 for people age 15 and younger. For more information, check out the Wild Turkey Spring Season pamphlet.

Wildlife viewing: For those interested in spring bird watching, two popular birding festivals are coming up in the region. The first takes place along the bays, estuaries and beaches near the Strait of Juan de Fuca at the Olympic Peninsula Birdfest in Sequim April 8-10. The annual festival, sponsored by the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society, Dungeness River Audubon Center and Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, offers a full slate for beginning birders, experts and those who enjoy the outdoors. Events include guided birding trips, boat tours, silent auction, banquet and presentations. Participants with a little extra time on their hands can sign up for a three-day, two-night birding cruise through the San Juan Archipelago. The cruise departs April 10, with overnight stays at the Roche Harbor Resort. For more information, visit the festival’s website.

The second festival takes place in Grays Harbor County, where the annual Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival will be held April 29 through May 1. This event takes place during the annual migration of hundreds of thousands of shorebirds as they stop at the Grays Harbor estuary to feed and rest before departing for their nesting grounds in the Arctic. For more information, visit shorebird festival website.

Southwest Washington

Fishing:  Columbia River anglers have through April 19 to catch hatchery-reared spring chinook salmon below Bonneville Dam, where tough fishing conditions have held this year’s catch below expected levels since late last month.

Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon extended the season for a second time to give anglers more time to reach the initial harvest guideline set at the beginning of the season. In all, the fishery has been extended by 12 days since April 4 for a catch assessment.

Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said test fisheries have found relatively high concentrations of spring chinook salmon in the lower river, but water conditions have slowed their passage over Bonneville Dam and made them hard to catch with a hook and line.

“Anglers have been catching fish in some areas of the lower river, but turbid, high-water conditions have put a damper on overall catch rates,” LeFleur said. “Visibility underwater is about two feet, so the fish have a hard time seeing anglers’ lures.”

Through April 15, lower-river anglers were projected to have caught and kept a total of 5,900 spring chinook, including 4,600 upriver fish that count toward the 7,700-fish  harvest guideline.

This year’s harvest guideline for the lower river fisheries is based on a projected return of 198,400 upriver fish, minus a 30 percent “buffer” to guard against overestimating the run. Based on the estimated catch through April 19, the fishery will close with a buffer of approximately 43 percent, said Guy Norman, WDFW southwest regional director.

“After this extension, we don’t anticipate making any changes in the season until more fish pass over the dam and we can update the run-size forecast,” Norman said. “We want to give lower-river anglers a chance to catch some more fish, but we also have to make sure we can meet our conservation objectives and our obligations to upriver fisheries.”

The fishery affected by the extension ranges from Buoy 10 upriver to Rooster Rock for boat and bank anglers, and to the fishing boundary below Bonneville Dam for bank anglers only. When the fishery is open, anglers can retain one marked, hatchery-reared adult chinook salmon as part of their daily limit.

Anglers may also retain shad and hatchery-reared steelhead when the spring chinook fishery is open. However, all wild salmon and steelhead not marked as a hatchery fish by a clipped adipose fin must be released unharmed. 

The fishing extension does not affect the spring chinook season above Bonneville Dam, which will be reviewed at a joint-state hearing April 20. That fishery is open seven days a week through April 24 between the Tower Island powerlines below The Dalles Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. Bank fishing is also allowed from Bonneville Dam upriver to the powerlines located about 6 miles below The Dalles Dam through April 24. 

Anglers fishing above Bonneville Dam can retain up to two marked, hatchery-reared adult chinook salmon or hatchery steelhead as part of their daily limit.

Meanwhile, WDFW Fish Biologist Joe Hymer has some other fishing opportunities to recommend:

  • Fish a tributary: This is the time of year when anglers start picking up increasing number of spring chinook in the Cowlitz, Lewis and Kalama rivers. Winter steelhead are still providing lots of action on the Cowlitz – especially near the trout and salmon hatcheries – and summer steelhead are moving into several other tributaries to the lower Columbia River. Note that the lower East Fork Lewis River and the Lower Washougal River open to steelhead fishing April 16. Check the Fishing in Washington rule pamphlet for current rules before you go.
  • Head upriver: In April, the daily number of spring chinook passing Bonneville Dam usually jumps from hundreds to thousands of fish, which move into the Bonneville, The Dalles, and John Day pools and a number of tributaries in between. Wind River, Klickitat River and Drano Lake are all good bets for spring chinook in April. Walleye fishing is also picking up in The Dalles Pool and the John Day Pool.
  • Catch some trout: Hundreds of lowland lakes open for trout fishing April 30 throughout the state, drawing tens of thousands of anglers out for their first cast of the year. While most lakes in southwest Washington are open year-round, “opening day” does mark the start of trout fishing in such perennial favorites as Mineral Lake (Lewis County), Swift Reservoir (Skamania County) and the Rowland Lakes (Klickitat County). Meanwhile, fishing is already good for kokanee running 12-15 inches in Merwin Reservior on the North Fork Lewis River.
  • Fish for sturgeon: In the last days of March, catch rates for legal-size sturgeon showed a marked improvement in the lower Columbia River below Bonneville Dam.  This trend should continue in the weeks ahead as higher flows over Bonneville energize both the fish and the fishery. Note, however, that the Sand Island Slough near Rooster Rock will be closed to fishing at least through April 30. Also be aware that the retention fishery for sturgeon in the John Day Pool closes April 10, when the catch is expected to reach the 500-fish harvest guideline.
  • Dig some razor clams: One morning razor clam dig has been approved for April 7-9 and a second is tentatively scheduled April 19-23, pending the results of marine toxin tests. The first is scheduled for Long Beach and Twin Harbors only, If test results are favorable, those beaches will reopen for digging April 19-23 and two others – Copalis and Mocrocks will be open April 21-23. For more information, see the WDFW razor clam webpage.

Anglers and clam diggers over age 14 are reminded that a 2011-12 license is required to participate in any of the April openings, since 2010-11 licenses expire March 31. Licenses ranging from a three-day razor-clam license to a multi-species combination license are avaiIable online, by phone (1-866-246-9453) and from sporting goods stores and other retail license dealers around the state.

Hunting: The general spring wild turkey season runs April 15 through May 31 around the state, with a youth only hunt set for April 2-3. For information about these hunts, see the Wild Turkey Spring Season pamphlet on the department’s website.

Wildlife viewing:  With the arrival of spring, the Vancouver Lowlands have come to resemble Grand Central Station, with great movements of birds in and out of key nesting and resting areas. Several thousand Canada geese are now on display at the Shillapoo Wildlife Area and thousands more have already flown west down the Columbia River, leaving their wintering grounds for points north.

“The birds seem to follow the Columbia to the ocean, then turn north to Canada and Alaska,” said Sandra Jonker, WDFW regional wildlife manager for southwest Washington. 

Meanwhile, osprey have returned to inspect their nests in preparation for the breeding season. In recent weeks, birders and anglers have reported sighting osprey from the marshlands near Vancouver to the Cowlitz River.

Birds aren’t the only species in transit these days. Spring chinook salmon are moving upstream past the fish-viewing window at Bonneville Dam in increasing numbers, with thousands more right behind them.

To monitor daily fish counts from home, check the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website. 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:  Some of the region’s best fishing will begin at the end of the month with the lowland lakes season opener on April 30, but there’s plenty of good fishing to be had until then.

“Some waters that open in late-April that are well-stocked, such as Badger, Williams, West Medical, Fishtrap, Fish, and Clear lakes, will likely be excellent again,” said Chris Donley, district fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “But until then, try some March 1-opening waters or year-round fisheries.”

Coffeepot Lake in Lincoln County is producing 18- to 22-inch rainbow trout on chironomids and other flies, Donley said. Regulations at Coffeepot Lake include is selective gear rules (no bait, artificial flies and lures only, knotless nets), a minimum size limit of 18 inches and daily catch limit of one trout.

Liberty Lake, in eastern Spokane County, “boomed at ice-out,” with catches of brown trout that ran 16 to 25 inches, Donley said. Liberty still has lots of good fishing for both those trout and, as the water warms, some of the earliest yellow perch and crappie.
 
Downs Lake in southwest Spokane County just received some hatchery “catchable-size” (9 to 12 inches) rainbow trout, and is fishing well for largemouth bass. Downs also has yellow perch and crappie.

Medical Lake, near the town of the same name in southwest Spokane County, has brown and rainbow trout.

Catch-and-release fishing for both rainbow and cutthroat trout at Amber Lake has been “awesome,” Donley said. Amber is under selective gear rules and shifts to a catch-and-keep season on April 30 when the daily limit will be two trout of at least 14 inches. Rainbows with clipped adipose fins caught at Amber must be released even after April 30.

A year-round fishery, Rock Lake in Whitman County, is consistently a good spot for catches of both brown and rainbow trout.

Bill Baker, WDFW northeast district fish biologist, said that year-round Lake Roosevelt keeps producing big rainbows most days, with kokanee on some days. Baker also notes Deer Lake in southern Stevens County, which opened March 1, is finally warming and likely producing some catches of rainbow and lake trout, with bass, crappie, perch catches not far behind.

“Most fishing lakes in the northeast district won’t open until April 30, and even then, some at higher elevation may still have pretty cold water temperatures, if not some ice or snow.” Baker said. “But the usual good producers will be the ones to plan on fishing late in the month.”

In Stevens County, those include Waitts, Loon, Deep, Cedar, and the Little Pend Oreille chain of lakes, plus Potter’s Pond and a few selective gear fisheries such as Bayley, Rocky and Starvation lakes. In Ferry County, traditional favorites opening in late April include Ellen, Davis, Swan and Trout lakes, plus fly-fishing-only Long Lake. Pend Oreille County waters opening April 30 include Diamond, Frater, Big Meadow, North and South Skookum, Marshall and Sacheen lakes.

In the south end of the region, the Tucannon River impoundments, on WDFW’s Wooten Wildlife Area, have been producing nice rainbow catches since the March 1 opener. Area Manager Kari Dingman said Big Four, Blue, Deer, Rainbow, Spring and Watson lakes are all well-stocked with hatchery trout and slowly warming up as spring advances. Beaver Lake has water depth and vegetation growth issues that preclude it from viable fish stocking this year.

April 18 is the deadline to register for the May 7 Kids’ Fishing Event at Clear Lake in Spokane County. For details on the registration form, see the Youth Fishing 2011 Event Calendar on WDFW’s website.

Hunting:  Healthy flocks of wild turkeys are spread across the region, promising good hunting opportunities when the general spring season opens April 15. The early youth weekend of turkey hunting, April 2-3, could still see the big birds concentrated in snow-free lowland areas, especially in the northeast game management units (GMU) that traditionally provide the bulk of the state’s spring harvest. But by mid-month, flocks may be more scattered and some at higher elevations, depending on weather.

Dana Base, WDFW northeast district wildlife biologist, said that although overall turkey numbers are still somewhat down from four years ago – prior to the severe winters of 2007-08 and 2008-09 – flocks are rebuilding and relatively healthy.  Winter surveys indicate the highest number of turkeys are in GMU 117 (Chewelah) and GMU 108 (Douglas).

The latest harvest compilations (2009) show that all northeast units (101-136) combined provided 62 percent of the statewide spring turkey harvest. In the south end of the region, where the second highest turkey harvest usually occurs, WDFW Wooten Wildlife Area Manager Kari Dingman said turkeys have been strutting and gobbling since mid-March.

Check all details in the Wild Turkey Spring Season hunting regulations pamphlet.

Also opening April 15 is spring black bear special permit hunting season in 14 GMUs throughout the region. A total of 209 special permitees, drawn from applications submitted by March 10, will be afield through the end of May.

Wildlife viewing:  WDFW wildlife biologists agree there’s nothing quite like the sight and sound of wildlife in April to chase away winter doldrums.

“Flocks of Canada geese are moving in and through the region, bluebirds and chickadees are checking out nest boxes, woodpeckers are drilling out nest cavities and advertising for mates, and glacier lilies, spring beauties and other wildflowers are popping up,” said Howard Ferguson, WDFW district wildlife biologist. “Between rain showers, it’s a great time of year to be outdoors.”

WDFW Wooten Wildlife Area Manager Kari Dingman said pheasants crowing, wild turkeys strutting and gobbling, and other signs of spring are advancing throughout the Blue Mountains in the southeast end of the region.

“It wants to be spring here on the Wooten, even though there’s still snow in some areas and it’s still getting cold at night,” Dingman said.  “The wildflowers are just beginning to bloom with the warmer daytime temperatures. And the elk are still fairly low and visible from the main road.”

Birders throughout the region are reporting “First of Year” sightings of many migrant bird species that either nest here or are moving through to nesting grounds further north. An osprey was seen at a traditional nest site near the Snake River south of Asotin.  A long-billed curlew was spotted in the Walla Walla area and south Columbia Basin.

Yellow-headed blackbirds and tree and violet-green swallows were reported at Peone wetlands in Spokane County. A loggerhead shrike, vesper sparrows and Brewer’s blackbirds were spotted on WDFW’s Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County.

Northcentral Washington

Fishing:  About three dozen lakes throughout the region open to fishing or shift to catch-and-release on April 1.

The bulk of those fisheries are in the Columbia Basin where WDFW District Fish Biologist Chad Jackson predicts a “fair to good” season, depending as always on weather. All but one are within or adjacent to the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge south of Potholes Reservoir, and over half are planted with either spring and/or fall rainbow trout fry.

“Those who traditionally fish the April 1 opener should note that North and South Teal lakes will not be fishable this year because we treated those lakes last fall to remove carp and other spiny rays to restore the trout fishery,” Jackson said.  “We’ll be stocking them with fingerling rainbows later this spring so fishing should be good for next year’s opener.”

There are lots of other fishing spots to try now and the best may be Dry Falls Lake, the only one of the April 1-opening waters not in or near the refuge. It’s located in Sun Lakes State Park, northeast of Park Lake and west of Coulee City in the north end of Grant County.

Jackson says anglers should expect to catch 13- to 14-inch yearling rainbows with carryovers 18 inches or greater on opening day at Dry Falls Lake.  A total of 10,150 rainbow, 756 tiger trout, and 1,026 brown trout fry were stocked there in 2010.

“Just remember that Dry Falls has a selective gear regulation and a one trout daily bag limit,” Jackson said.  As defined in the Sportfishing Rules Pamphlet, selective gear is only unscented artificial flies or lures with one single-point, barbless hook, bait prohibited, and knotless nets.

Other April 1 opening waters in the Columbia Basin include:

  • Upper and Lower Hampton lakes, in Grant County north of Othello on the refuge, stocked with 28,507 and 5,047 rainbow trout fry in the spring, respectively; Lower Hampton also received a trout fry plant of 4,500 in the fall. Lower Hampton should produce 12- to 14-inch yearling trout catches, probably an average of about three per angler; Upper Hampton may have larger fish, but the catch rates will probably again be slow.  
  • Pillar-Widgeon chain of lakes in Grant County on the refuge, stocked with trout fry in the spring as follows: Pillar – 2,500; Gadwall – 750; Snipe – 600; Shoveler – 750; Cattail – 1,500; Poacher – 150; Lemna – 450; Hourglass – 300; Sago – 300; and Widgeon – 1,650.  Access to this lake chain is just southeast of Soda Lake. Try either the entire chain or at least three or four of the lakes to catch some 12- to 13-inch yearlings and carryover trout in the 18-inch or better range.  Shore fishing is available at most, but consider packing in a float tube to increase chances for success. The best tend to be Widgeon, Sago, and Pillar, but all can produce well.
  • Hutchinson and Shiner lakes on the refuge in Adams County with excellent largemouth bass and bluegill fishing.  Only non-motorized boats are allowed.
  • Coyote, Bobcat, and Hayes creek ponds, located just south of Morgan and Halfmoon lakes, on the refuge in Adams County.  These ponds are relatively small and shallow, warming up quickly for good largemouth bass fishing
  • Deadman Lake located just off McManamon Road next to Halfmoon Lake, on the refuge in Adams County, for bass and other warmwater species fishing.                          

In the north end of the region, in Okanogan County, a few other fisheries open April 1. Bob Jateff, WDFW Okanogan district fish biologist, said Spectacle Lake – nine miles southwest of Tonasket – should be good for rainbow trout in the 10- to 12-inch range. During the month of April, Spectacle will receive up to 800 one- to two-pound triploid rainbows.

Washburn Island Pond, located four miles east of Brewster on the Columbia River, offers largemouth bass and bluegill fishing starting April 1. A Colville tribal license is required if fishing from shore, but not if fishing from a boat. No internal combustion engine boats are allowed, only electric motors.
Jateff notes several Okanogan lakes switch to catch-and-release, selective gear rules, and electric boat motors only on April 1:

  • Davis, Cougar, and Campbell lakes, located within the Methow Wildlife Area near Winthrop, with rainbow trout 10 to 12 inches and carryover fish up to 15 inches; small graveled boat launches at all three; could still have some ice during the first part of April.
  • Rat Lake, located north of Brewster, with rainbow and brown trout 10 to 12 inches; WDFW access site with concrete boat ramp; should be thawed out by first week in April.
  • Big and Little Green lakes, located five miles northwest of Omak, with rainbow trout 10 to 13 inches; WDFW access site on Big Green with concrete boat ramp;  should be thawed out by first week or two in April.

Many more Okanogan County lakes will open April 30 to provide good trout fishing, including:

  • Pearrygin Lake, near Winthrop, with rainbows 10 to 12 inches and carryover fish up to 15 inches; up to 500 triploid rainbows (one to two pounds each) will be stocked before the opener; boat launching facilities available at State Park, resort and WDFW access site.
  • Conconully Reservoir and Lake, near town of Conconully, with rainbow trout 10 to 12 inches and carryover fish up to 15 inches; boat launching available at State Park and resorts at both lakes.
  • Blue Lake, located within the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, with rainbow trout 10 to 16 inches and some brown trout also available; selective gear rules, electric motors only; camping and gravel boat launch sites.  
  • Big Twin Lake, near Winthrop, with rainbow trout 12 to 16 inches; selective gear rules and electric motors only; resort and WDFW access site with gravel boat launching facilities.
  • Chopaka Lake, near Loomis, with rainbow trout 12 to 18 inches; fly fishing only and no boat motors allowed; Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campsites and gravel boat launch.
  • Aeneas Lake, near Tonasket, with rainbow trout 12 to 16 inches, brown trout up to 18 inches; fly fishing only and no boat motors allowed; WDFW access site with camping and gravel boat launch.

Hunting:  The youth (only hunters under 16 years of age) wild turkey hunting season is April 2-3, followed by the general statewide spring season April 15-May 31.
Scott Fitkin, WDFW Okanogan district wildlife biologist, says turkey hunters should be prepared for limited access due to lingering low elevation snowpack.

The northcentral region usually provides a couple hundred turkeys in the overall statewide harvest of some 4,000-5,000 birds.

Wildlife viewing: WDFW District Wildlife Biologist Rich Finger said there are sandhill cranes throughout the Columbia Basin in good numbers, as they make their annual migration stopover to feed and rest before going north to nesting grounds in Canada. “Sandhill cranes can typically be seen using grain fields in the area five to 15 miles west and northwest of Othello,” Finger said. The big birds are usually around and visible for at least the first half of April.

Burrowing owls are also showing up and can be seen mostly east of Othello,” Finger said. “Search any low, less than four feet high, perching structure for these little owls. They can often be seen very close to the road, so park some distance away and observe from your vehicle to avoid disturbance and potential nest abandonment.”

Finger also notes Washington ground squirrels and their newly emerging pups can be observed occasionally along gravel roads in the Seep Lakes Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, or between highway 262 and the Lind Coulee arm of Potholes Reservoir. “These squirrels are protected and cannot be hunted,” Finger said.  “Avoid disturbance by observing from a distance.”

Also seen within the Seep Lakes Unit are long-billed curlews, which have traveled to the area to nest from their wintering grounds along the coastal marshes from Oregon to Mexico.

WDFW Okanogan District Wildlife Biologist Scott Fitkin says April is a good time to view mule deer on low elevation spring range, particularly in the Methow Valley of Okanogan County. “Our later-than-average green-up, associated with the late snowpack, means energy reserves of these animals are low,” Fitkin said. “That means wildlife watchers should avoid stressing deer by keeping their distance and using binoculars, scopes and telephoto camera lenses.”

Fitkin also reports spring bird migration is under way throughout the north district, with lots of waterfowl on local lakes and rivers. Both the Sinlahekin and Methow wildlife areas are great spots for viewing migrating songbirds, including bluebirds, swallows, and blackbirds.

In Chelan County, the 34th annual Ardenvoir Swallow Festival is April 9 in the town of Ardenvoir. This tribute to the Entiat River community's returning flocks of swallows attracts nearly as many humans as birds to its parade, barbecue and kids games. For details, call Cooper's Store and Cafe at 509-784-1666.

Southcentral Washington

Fishing:  This is the time of year that area anglers start thinking seriously about trout, because the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is planting plenty of fish in local waters right now. Thousands of catchable-size trout are scheduled to be planted in Columbia Park Pond, Dalton Lake, Powerline Lake, Quarry Pond, Marmes Lake, and other lakes in April. Many lakes are also being stocked with jumbo trout, weighing over a pound apiece.

“This is a good time to get outdoors and celebrate spring by catching some fish,” said Paul Hoffarth, a fish biologist for the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). ”Thousands of fish around southcentral Washington are just waiting to be caught.”

A complete trout-planting schedule for southcentral lakes and ponds is available on the WDFW website.

Hoffarth reminds anglers over the age of 14 that a 2011-12 fishing license is required to fish for trout and other species after March 31, when 2010-11 licenses expire. Licenses ranging from a three-day razor-clam license to a multi-species combination license are avaiIable online, by phone (1-866-246-9453) and from sporting goods stores and other retail license dealers around the state.

Most steelhead sport fisheries are now closed in the Columbia and Snake rivers, although a "bank only" fishery adjacent to WDFW’s Ringold Springs Hatchery near the Tri-Cities is open April 1 through April 15. The daily limit is two hatchery steelhead along the Franklin County shoreline from the WDFW marker a quarter-mile downstream from the Ringold irrigation wasteway outlet to the marker a half-mile upstream from Spring Creek. 

Meanwhile, spring chinook salmon will be moving into the area in increasing numbers throughout the month of April. On the Columbia River, anglers can keep two adipose-fin-clipped hatchery chinook per day through April 24 from Bonneville Dam upstream to the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. The lower Yakima River opens to spring chinook fishing May 1.

“Springers usually start arriving in fishable numbers around the middle of April,” Hoffarth said. “Anglers should keep an eye out for emergency rules that open and close fishing on short notice.” For updates, he recommends checking the department’s website, the Fishing Hotline (360-902-2500) and local news media.

Sturgeon anglers are also advised to stay abreast of new regulations. As of late March, anglers could still catch and keep legal-size sturgeon in Lake Umatilla (John Day Dam to McNary Dam), but that fishery will close as soon as the 500-fish quota for those waters is reached. 

Rather catch warm-water fish? Catch rates should continue to improve on area rivers for smallmouth bass, channel catfish and walleye in April right through spring.

Hunting: The general spring wild turkey season runs April 15 through May 31 around the state, with a youth only hunt set for April 2-3. For information about these hunts, see the Wild Turkey Spring Season pamphlet on the department’s website.

Wildlife viewing: Othello’s Sandhill Crane Festival is over for another year, but plenty of the magnificent birds – often in flocks of a hundred or more – can be seen throughout the region. A hundred cranes were recently spotted flying over Tampico in Yakima County and birders have reported hundreds more along the banks of the Columbia River to Vancouver.

The McNary National Wildlife Refuge just southeast of the Tri-Cities is a good place to look for waterfowl and shorebirds of all kinds right now. Many species are nesting there, including mallards and redhead ducks, black-crown night herons, great blue herons, pied-billed grebes, long-billed curlews, burrowing owls, long-billed marsh wrens, and yellow-headed, red-winged, and Brewer's blackbirds.

Ring-billed gulls, California gulls, Forester's terns and spotted sandpipers also nest in colonies on the river islands in the Hanford Islands Division of the refuge. See the division’s website for more information and updates on the new environmental education center under construction.
Ever thought of birding Bateman Island near Richland? The Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society is sponsoring a guided bird walk April 2 starting at 8 a.m. at the Wye Park. For more information, check the First Saturday Bird Walk listing on the chapter’s website.