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

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October 2011

(This document is updated periodically throughout the month to reflect current rules and opportunities. Please download the latest copy before heading out! Last updated October 6, 2011)

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

Head outdoors for deer, waterfowl, salmon, sturgeon

Some of Washington's most popular hunting seasons will get under way Oct. 15, when hunters take to the field for ducks, geese and deer. Other hunting seasons opening in October include those for pheasant, quail, chukar and gray partridge.

Migratory waterfowl numbers are expected to be strong this year, said Dave Ware, game manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

"The wet winter and spring really benefitted migratory waterfowl populations," Ware said. "As usual, early hunting opportunities will be focused on resident waterfowl, then turn to migratory birds as more start arriving in November."

Big game hunts also look promising this fall, said Ware, who expects hunters' success to be similar to last year. "Overall, hunters had a decent season for elk and deer last fall," Ware said. "That should be the case this year as well."

Ware notes that area-by-area summaries of hunting prospects around the state are available on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/prospects/.  

All hunters must carry a valid 2011-12 hunting license for the species they are hunting. Detailed information on upcoming hunting seasons is available in WDFW's Big Game Hunting pamphlet and the Waterfowl and Upland Game Regulation pamphlet, both available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.

Meanwhile, WDFW has tentatively scheduled the first razor-clam opening of the season Oct. 28-29 on evening tides at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks.

Further east, a highly anticipated fishery for hatchery steelhead is now open on the upper Columbia River above Rock Island Dam, and on the Wenatchee, Icicle, Entiat, Methow, and Okanogan rivers. Salmon fishing on the Columbia River from Wells Dam to Brewster also re-opened Sept. 28 and will run through Oct. 15.

In Puget Sound, anglers are hooking coho salmon, but the best action for silvers will likely shift to the rivers later in the month.

Also in Puget Sound, seven marine areas will reopen for recreational crab fishing beginning Oct. 8.

For more information about fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing available this month, see the Weekender Regional Reports posted on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/weekender/. These reports are updated throughout the month to provide current information about recreational opportunities around the state.

North Puget Sound

Fishing:  October is usually primetime for coho fishing in the region, where anglers should continue to find fish in the marine areas. However, the best action for coho likely will be in the rivers later in the month.

"Anglers can still find coho in the marine areas in early October, but fishing in the rivers will steadily improve as the month progresses," said John Long, statewide salmon manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Several rivers are open in October for salmon fishing, including the Nooksack, Skagit, Cascade, Stillaguamish, Snohomish, Skykomish, Wallace, Snoqualmie and Green. Because regulations vary for each river, anglers should check WDFW's sportfishing regulations pamphlet before heading out.

In the marine areas, anglers fishing for coho should try Point No Point, Jefferson Head, Possession Bar and Shipwreck. Fishing regulations for those areas – and other waters of marine areas 9 (Admiralty Inlet) and 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) – change in October. Beginning Oct. 1, anglers fishing Marine Area 9 will have a daily limit of two salmon, but must release all chinook. Those fishing Marine Area 10 will have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook.

Anglers looking to get an early start on the region's blackmouth season might also want to head to Marine Area 10, said Long. Another option for blackmouth anglers is Marine Area 7 (San Juan Islands), where anglers can keep one chinook as part of a two-salmon daily limit beginning Oct. 1. However, anglers fishing Marine Area 10 must release wild coho.

Other salmon fishing options include marine areas 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay) and 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner). Anglers fishing those marine areas in October have a daily limit of two salmon but must release chinook.

Later in October, some saltwater anglers will turn their attention to chum salmon, said Long, who recommends trolling slow for chum and using a flasher with a green coyote spoon or a green, purple or pink mini-hoochie.

Elsewhere, Lake Sammamish is open for salmon fishing, with a daily limit of four salmon, of which two may be chinook. All sockeye must be released, and fishing is closed within 100 yards of the mouth of Issaquah Creek.

Lake Washington also is open to salmon fishing. Anglers are allowed four coho per day (minimum size 12 inches) from waters north of the Highway 520 Bridge and east of the Montlake Bridge.

Meanwhile, seven marine areas of Puget Sound will reopen for recreational crab fishing Oct. 8, while two others will reopen Nov. 21.

The openings were approved by fishery managers after summer catch assessments by WDFW indicated more crab are available for harvest, said Rich Childers, shellfish policy coordinator for the department.

Waters reopening to sport crabbing Oct. 8 at 8 a.m. include marine areas 4 (Neah Bay), 5 (Sekiu), 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island, and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner), and a portion of Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) north of a line that extends from Olele Point to Foulweather Bluff.

Marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) and 13 (South Puget Sound) will reopen for sport crabbing at 8 a.m. on Nov. 21.

In each area, crabbing will be allowed seven days a week through Dec. 31. 

Sport crabbing will not reopen this year in marine areas 10 (Seattle/Bremerton Area), 12 (Hood Canal) and the portion of marine area 9 south of line that extends from Olele Point to Foulweather Bluff. The annual quotas in those areas were reached during the summer fishery, said Childers.

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. In addition, fishers may catch six red rock crab of either sex per day, provided those crab measure at least 5 inches across. Additional information is available on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab/

All crab caught in the late-season fishery should be recorded on winter catch cards, which are valid until Dec. 31. Winter cards are available at license vendors across the state. Those catch reports are due to WDFW by Feb. 1, 2012. For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab/crc.html.

Hunting: The region's popular waterfowl hunting season gets under way in mid-October. The duck season will be open from Oct. 15 through Oct. 19, and then re-open again Oct. 22. Goose hunts will run Oct. 15 through Oct. 27 in the region, and then start again Nov. 5. However, snow, Ross and blue geese seasons in Goose Management Area 1 (Skagit and Snohomish counties) will run from Oct. 15 through Jan. 29 without a break.

Hunters who would like to participate in the Snow Goose Quality Hunt program on Fir Island and in the northern Port Susan Bay area should visit WDFW's website for information on the rules and requirements.

Meanwhile, the muzzleloader-only season for deer runs through Oct. 2, while the cougar hunt is open through Oct. 14. Beginning Oct. 1, muzzleloaders can go afield for elk. The modern firearm season for deer gets under way Oct. 15, when hunters using any weapon can go afield for cougar. 

Hunting seasons are under way in the region for bear and grouse, while the California quail, bobwhite and pheasant seasons get started Oct. 1.   

Before heading out, hunters should check the Big Game Hunting pamphlet and the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet for details. Also, area-by-area summaries of the hunting prospects throughout the state are available on WDFW's hunting prospects webpage.

Wildlife viewing: Snow geese will be making their way to the region this month. About 80,000 snow geese winter in western Washington each year. Most of those birds congregate in the Skagit Valley, and can be found in the area from mid-October through early May. Once they arrive, a great place to view the birds is at the Fir Island Farms Reserve Unit of WDFW's Skagit Wildlife Area. For more information on the Fir Island Farms Reserve Unit, visit WDFW's website.

October also is a good time to watch salmon moving up local streams to spawn. One of the best places to see fish is downtown Issaquah. Visitors can celebrate the return of spawning salmon during Issaquah Salmon Days, set for Oct. 1-2. This year's festival features educational displays, entertainment, food and other attractions. More information is available at the Salmon Days website.

South Sound/Olympic Peninsula

Fishing: Summer has come to a close, but salmon fishing is still going strong in the region, where marine and freshwater opportunities continue throughout October. In addition, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has tentatively scheduled the first razor-clam opening of the season Oct. 28-29 on evening tides at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks. As always, final approval of that opening will depend on results of marine toxin tests that show the clams are safe to eat.

For more information about the October dig and future openings scheduled through December, see the department’s Razor Clam Season webpage.

In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, anglers fishing Marine Area 6 (Port Angeles) can keep one chinook as part of a two-salmon daily limit beginning Oct. 1. Anglers are reminded that Marine Area 5 (Sekiu) is only open for salmon fishing through Sept. 30.

Farther south, anglers fishing in marine areas 11 (Tacoma/Vashon Island) and 13 (South Puget Sound) will have a two-salmon daily limit beginning Oct. 1. Note, however, all wild coho caught in Marine Area 13 must be released.

In Hood Canal (Marine Area 12), fishing regulations change Oct. 16, when anglers will have a daily limit of four salmon, but only one of which can be a chinook.

Grays Harbor (Marine Area 2-2) also is an option for salmon anglers. The harbor remains open through Nov. 30 with a daily limit of two salmon, but chinook and chum must be released.

In freshwater, area rivers that open for salmon Oct. 1 include the Elk, Hoquiam, Johns, Satsop and Wishkah rivers in Grays Harbor County; and Kennedy Creek in Thurston County. Anglers should check the WDFW's sportfishing rules pamphlet for specific regulations on these rivers.

Regulations are also changing on the Skokomish River in Mason County. Beginning Oct. 1, anglers may keep up to four adult salmon as part of a six-fish daily limit, but must release all chinook. All chum must be released through Oct. 15.

Elsewhere, anglers fishing in the Quillayute system – which includes the Bogachiel, Calawah, Dickey and Sol Duc rivers – can keep two adult salmon, plus two additional adult hatchery coho as part of the six-fish daily limit. In Clallam County, the Dungeness River opens to salmon fishing Oct. 16 with a daily limit of four coho only.

Meanwhile, seven marine areas of Puget Sound will reopen for recreational crab fishing Oct. 8, while two others will reopen Nov. 21.  

The openings were approved by fishery managers after summer catch assessments by WDFW indicated more crab are available for harvest, said Rich Childers, shellfish policy coordinator for the department.

Waters reopening to sport crabbing Oct. 8 at 8 a.m. include marine areas 4 (Neah Bay), 5 (Sekiu), 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island, and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner), and a portion of Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) north of a line that extends from Olele Point to Foulweather Bluff.

Marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) and 13 (South Puget Sound) will reopen for sport crabbing at 8 a.m. on Nov. 21.

In each area, crabbing will be allowed seven days a week through Dec. 31. 

Sport crabbing will not reopen this year in marine areas 10 (Seattle/Bremerton Area), 12 (Hood Canal) and the portion of marine area 9 south of line that extends from Olele Point to Foulweather Bluff. The annual quotas in those areas were reached during the summer fishery, said Childers.

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. In addition, fishers may catch six red rock crab of either sex per day, provided those crab measure at least 5 inches across. Additional information is available on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab/

All crab caught in the late-season fishery should be recorded on winter catch cards, which are valid until Dec. 31. Winter cards are available at license vendors across the state. Those catch reports are due to WDFW by Feb. 1, 2012. For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab/crc.html.

Hunting: The modern firearm season for deer runs Oct. 15-31, but not before muzzleloaders have had their turn in the field. The muzzleloader season for deer runs through Oct. 2 in select game management units (GMU) throughout the region. For elk, the early muzzleloader season runs Oct. 1-7.

Bird-hunting opportunities are also in the forecast, starting with pheasant, quail and bobwhite seasons opening Oct. 1. Then comes the start of general hunting seasons for ducks, coots and snipe, which run Oct. 15-19 and then reopen Oct. 22.  Goose-hunting seasons also get under way Oct. 15 in most areas and continue daily through Oct. 27 before picking up again in November. An exception is goose management area 2B (Pacific County), which is open Saturdays and Wednesdays only Oct. 15-26 and Nov. 5-Jan. 21. The statewide forest grouse hunting season continues through Dec. 31.

Meanwhile, the hunting season for black bear continues through Nov. 15, while muzzleloader-only hunts for cougar are open through Oct. 14. The cougar season opens to hunters using any weapon Oct. 15.

Before heading out, hunters should check the Big Game Hunting pamphlet and the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet for details. Also, area-by-area summaries of the hunting prospects throughout the state are available on WDFW's hunting prospects webpage.

Wildlife viewing: October and November are good months to visit the Kennedy Creek Natural Area Preserve, which is located on Totten Inlet off U.S. Highway 101 between Olympia and Shelton. The creek is one of the most productive chum salmon streams in Washington. While there, visitors can find numerous species of migrating shorebirds or walk the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail.

In Thurston County, Tumwater Falls Park continues to offer views of salmon as they make their way up the Deschutes River. The 15-acre park runs adjacent to Capitol Boulevard and Interstate 5 in Tumwater.

Wildlife also are on display in the region. Visitors to the Olympic Peninsula should be on the alert for the annual autumn Roosevelt elk rut. A great place to hear a bull elk bugle or clack antlers with a rival is the Quinault River valley upstream from Lake Quinault. The elk are most active during the early morning and evening hours. Observers should give the elk plenty of room, since they are easily disturbed and potentially dangerous.

Southwest Washington

Fishing:  Coho salmon are moving up the Columbia River and into area tributaries, where bright chinook are also still striking at lures and bait on some rivers. 

But starting Oct. 1, anglers have another option to consider:  Sturgeon fishing in the mainstem Columbia River from the Wauna powerlines upstream to Bonneville Dam. The fishery was originally scheduled to open Oct. 8, but fishery managers added three additional days – Oct. 1, Oct. 6 and Oct. 7 – to help reach the area harvest guideline.

"This is a great fishing opportunity for fall, especially for anglers who don't have boats," said Brad James, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "Bank anglers have done very well, historically, fishing for sturgeon just below Bonneville Dam."

Anglers may retain legal-size white sturgeon Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays only until the area quota is met. The daily limit is one legal-size fish, measuring 38 to 54 inches from its nose to the fork in its tail. There is also a limit of five sturgeon per year.

James said 2,626 white sturgeon are still available for harvest in the mainstem Columbia River under the annual quota for the area. "I wouldn't be surprised if the fishery starts out strong," he said. "Sturgeon have moved out of the estuary and have been chasing juvenile shad that are outmigrating past the dam."

Meanwhile, anglers fishing in the lower Columbia River and area tributaries have been catching respectable numbers of early stock hatchery coho, which will be reinforced by late-stock fish in the months ahead. In all, about 102,300 late-stock coho are expected to return this year on the heels of 168,500 early-stock fish, said WDFW fish biologist Joe Hymer.    

"Like last year, this year's run is about average, but it should provide some good fishing if the forecast proves out," he said.

All areas the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam will be open for chinook fishing as of Oct. 1, including the stretch from the Lewis River down to Rocky Point. The daily limit for adult fish below the dam is two chinook or hatchery coho, two steelhead or one of each.

As in past years, anglers must release all wild steelhead, which can be identified by an intact adipose fin. The same is true for coho intercepted on the Columbia River and its tributaries from the Hood River Bridge downstream. For catch limits and other rules applicable to salmon fisheries on the big river or its tributaries, see the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet.

For bright late-run coho, Hymer recommends the Cowlitz, Lewis, Grays, Klickitat, Kalama and Washougal rivers. He noted, however, that the Grays River will close to all fishing between Highway 4 and the South Fork on Oct. 16, when the West Fork will also close from the mouth to 300 yards below the hatchery road.

Although the focus of the salmon fishery switches to coho in October, chinook should continue biting through the month on a number of rivers. The Lewis and Klickitat rivers were hotspots in late September, as was Drano Lake. Anglers may retain any chinook salmon, clipped or not, on the North Fork Lewis, but Colvin Creek (upstream from the salmon hatchery) will close to all fishing Oct. 1 up to Merwin Dam. Fishing will be closed at Drano Lake throughout October from 6 p.m. Tuesdays to 6 p.m. Wednesdays.

For trout, Sept. 30 is the last day to fish Mineral Lake, but Swift Reservoir remains a good bet for rainbows. The area around the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery is also productive for hatchery sea-run cutthroats in October. Those aggressive fish averaging a foot or more can be caught on a variety of gear including bait, flies, or lures.

Anglers should also be aware that Goose Lake north of Carson was planted with 2,832 cutthroats averaging nearly a pound each in late September. It might also be a good time to hit other high mountain lakes when the fall foliage is in full color and the mosquitoes are dying down.    

Silver Lake near Castle Rock can also be good for crappie. There is a 9-inch minimum size limit and a daily limit of 10 fish.  

Hunting: The modern firearm season for deer runs Oct. 15-31, two weeks after muzzleloaders finish their turn in the field Oct. 2. For elk, the early muzzleloader season runs Oct. 1-7.

Bird-hunting seasons also open in October for a wide range of species, including ducks, geese, coot, snipe, pheasant, quail and bobwhite.

Hunters gearing up for these and other seasons may want to check WDFW's 2011 Hunting Prospects report for staff biologists' assessment of hunters' chances this year.

Eric Holman, a WDFW wildlife biologist for District 9, said the cold, wet winter and spring could dampen hunting success in some areas, although area deer populations remain stable at lower elevations.

"Successful hunting for black-tailed deer is primarily a function of the effort, focus and energy that hunters put into it," Holman said. "Black-tailed deer thrive in heavily vegetated habitats and are generally nocturnal in nature. This means successful hunters must be in position early in the morning and carefully hunt near sources of food and in secure cover."

Holman reminds elk hunters of several rules adopted last year that remain in effect in Game Management Units (GMUs) 568 (Washougal), 574 (Wind River) and 578 (West Klickitat). In all three areas, taking antlerless elk is illegal during modern firearms and muzzleloader seasons. In addition, a three-point antler restriction has been adopted for all general elk hunting seasons in those three areas.

Meanwhile, special-permit levels remain high in GMUs around Mount St. Helens to help balance the number of elk with available habitat. As part of that effort, WDFW is again seeking volunteers to help facilitate additional weekday motorized access for hunters during special elk permit seasons on the Weyerhaeuser St. Helens Tree Farm. Partners in the St. Helens Land Access Program, now in its fifth year, include Weyerhaeuser and a number of volunteer organizations. For more information, see WDFW's Access Program's website.

Hunters should also be aware that the cougar-hunting season for muzzleloaders only is open through Oct. 14, before opening to any weapon Oct. 15. The black bear season continues through Nov. 15.

New options for bird hunters start Oct. 1 with season openers for pheasant, quail and bobwhite. Then comes the start of general seasons for ducks, coots and snipe, which run Oct. 15-19, then reopen Oct. 22 through Jan. 29.

Goose-hunting seasons also get under way Oct. 15 in most areas and continue daily through Oct. 27 before picking up again in November. An exception is goose management area 2A (Cowlitz, Wahkiakum and part of Clark County), which does not open until Nov. 12. The statewide forest grouse hunting season continues through Dec. 31.

Before heading out, hunters should check the Big Game Hunting pamphlet and the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet for specific regulations.

Wildlife viewing:  Fall migration is in full swing on the Vancouver Lowlands with new arrivals showing up daily. Thousands of Canada geese can now be seen in area wetlands, along with sandhill cranes, great egret and the occasional American white pelican.

Some of the cranes will winter in the area but most, after resting and feeding for about two to three weeks will move further south for the rest of the winter. With the late corn harvest this year, the birds may not be in the usual locations, said Sandra Jonker, regional WDFW wildlife manager. "So far, most of the crane observed this year have been in pastures where they feed on grass, weed seeds, and invertebrates," he said.

Birders and others planning to be afield in the weeks ahead should be aware that a number of hunting seasons are getting under way throughout the region. While most hunters make sure of their target before they shoot, non-hunters can help to avoid an accident by wearing an orange wind-breaker and make their presence known to hunters.

Current hunting seasons are highlighted above in the Hunting section of this report.  For more information about specific times and locations, see the 2009 Big Game Hunting pamphlet and the Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet on the WDFW website.

Meanwhile, birders – and bluegrass fans – should also be aware that the 12th annual Birdfest & Bluegrass Festival runs Oct. 7-9 in Ridgefield.  Events include birding tours and tours, nature photography and a lot of down home music. The event is sponsored by the Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and the staff of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. For more information, see the website for the festival.

Eastern Washington

Fishing:  Snake River anglers continue to reel in good numbers of hatchery steelhead and hatchery fall chinook salmon, especially near the confluence with Idaho's Clearwater River. On the downside, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) enforcement officers report low compliance with regulations for those fisheries, and have issued a significant number of citations during recent patrols.

Under current rules, the daily limit for steelhead is three hatchery-marked fish measuring at least 20 inches in length with a clipped adipose or ventral fin and a healed scar at the location of the clipped fin. For salmon, the daily limit is three adipose fin-clipped adult chinook (24 inches in length and larger), and three adipose fin-clipped jack fall chinook (less than 24 inches). Minimum size for chinook that can be retained in the Snake River is 12 inches.

Barbless hooks are required when fishing for chinook or steelhead in the Snake River. All chinook and steelhead with unclipped adipose fins must be immediately released unharmed. Anglers are prohibited from removing any chinook or steelhead from the water unless it is retained as part of the daily bag limit. It is important that anglers accurately identify their catch, because unmarked chinook salmon, coho salmon and steelhead are also present in the Snake River during this fishery.

Anglers should refer to the current sport fishing rules pamphlet (available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/) for other regulations, including possession limits and safety closures. The hatchery steelhead season on the Snake runs through March of next year, but the fall chinook salmon fishery will close Oct. 31 – unless circumstances merit an extension.

October is the last month – and often a very good time – to fish the region's popular trout-stocked lakes, as well as some rivers and streams. Fall insect hatches are providing trout food, so anglers who use flies or lures that mimic that forage often do well.

Many waters in Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties produce good catches of rainbow trout and other species at this time. Some of Spokane County's best trout lakes closed Sept. 30, but there are enough exceptions to keep fishing productive. WDFW central district fish biologist Chris Donley of Spokane notes Clear, Chapman and Liberty lakes provide trout, bass and other fish through October. Amber Lake remains open through November for catch-and-release fishing.  A number of year-round waters – including Eloika, Long and Newman lakes – have trout, bass, crappie, perch and more.

Most rivers and streams in the region close Oct. 31, but sections of some major waterways, including the Spokane River, remain open year-round or into next spring, some with specific restrictions listed in the rules pamphlet.

Lake Roosevelt, the Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam, provides some of the best year-round fishing. Anglers trolling for big rainbows and walleye should find plenty of action, especially from the Daisy area north. Walleye fishers can also be successful casting jigs near the shoreline or using bottom bouncers.

In the south end of the region, the Tucannon River impoundments on WDFW's Wooten Wildlife Area remain open through Oct. 31, but three of the seven trout-stocked fisheries are currently not fishable. WDFW area manager Kari Dingman reports Watson and Beaver lakes are dry because the rising river blew out the inlets, and Curl Lake has been drained for maintenance. Rainbow, Blue, Spring and Big Four lakes are still fishable and catches should pick up during this last month with cooler weather.  

The WDFW public access area boat ramp at Spokane County’s year-round Newman Lake will be closed for replacement work Oct. 5 through the end of the month. Two private resorts on the lake provide boat access.

Dingman also notes that conditions in the Blue Mountains in general are still very dry so anglers and others passing through the area need to be very careful with anything that could start a wildfire.

Hunting:  The region's most popular hunting seasons open this month, and the prospects for most are fairly good.

Quail and chukar and gray partridge hunting open Oct. 1 for the next three and half months. Although wet weather during spring nesting and hatching didn't help bird numbers, re-nesting quail appear to have produced later broods in some areas. In the southeast district, quail numbers could be near average and chukar production and brood size may actually be increasing. Gray partridge brood numbers are good in Whitman and Lincoln counties. In the central district, most of the best quail habitat is in and around towns where access and no-shooting zones, so hunting opportunities are limited.    

Oct. 15 is the opening of modern firearm deer and waterfowl hunting seasons.

In the northeast district, hunters using modern firearms have posted success rates for white-tailed deer near the statewide average of about 24 percent. However, WDFW wildlife biologist Dana Base predicts a lower white-tail harvest this year due to continued restrictions in antlerless harvest opportunity and the new four-antler-point minimum restriction in Game Management Units (GMUs) 117 and 121. Mule deer in the northeast district weathered recent harsh winters better than whitetails and harvest should be near the 10-year average.

WDFW central district wildlife biologist Howard Ferguson reports whitetail numbers are recovering with the past mild winter and high forage production of a wet spring. Number of mature bucks may still be slightly lower than the high point in 2008, but Ferguson said the persistent hunter should have ample harvest opportunity. Overall mule deer numbers appear to be stable and hunting prospects should be similar to 2010 when success rates were around 30 percent.

In the southeast district, WDFW wildlife biologist Paul Wik says there should be excellent opportunity for whitetails in some areas, despite an overall population decline in recent years. The foothills of the Blue Mountains and river bottoms hold the largest concentrations of white-tailed deer, but much of that land is in private ownership so hunters need to seek permission before hunting. Mule deer populations appear to have stabilized along the breaks of the Snake River and in the lowlands, but remain lower in the mountain units.

Duck and goose hunting is somewhat limited in the region, depending largely on the number of migrants coming through from Canada and local weather conditions holding them on area waterways. Most duck hunting in the northeast district concentrates on the Pend Oreille River, which attracts diving ducks like goldeneyes. Canada geese are also available on major water bodies such as Lake Roosevelt, the Pend Oreille River, and large farm fields in valley bottoms.

In the central district, abundant water this spring appears to have come too late to enhance local production, so most hunting will focus on migrants as long as local waters remain ice-free. Spokane and Lincoln counties are within Goose Management Area 4, which is open only on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays during the season; the rest of the region is within Goose Management Area 5 which is open daily.

Pheasant hunting opens Oct. 22, and bird numbers aren't the best this year due to extended rain and cool temperatures during spring nesting and hatching.  But farm-reared roosters will be released several times during the season at nine sites, including  WDFW's Sherman Creek Wildlife Area, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Fishtrap Lake site, and several U.S. Army Corps of Engineer sites along the Snake River. All are described in detail at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/pheasant/eastern/  and mapped on WDFW's interactive Go Hunt website. Nontoxic shot is required on all pheasant release sites this year.

Oct. 29 is the opening of modern firearm elk hunting season and the best prospects in the region are in the Blue Mountains of the southeast district. Biologist Wik reports that elk sub-herd populations are at or near management objectives, with improved calf survival  in recent years to provide higher numbers of yearling bulls for harvest. Hunters lucky enough to draw the "any bull" permits will find excellent opportunity this year, noting that several bulls have been observed scoring over 400 in Boone and Crocket measurement. Mild weather conditions last winter and excellent rainfall during the spring and early summer have provided for optimum antler growth.

Elk are traditionally much fewer and farther between in the central and northeast districts of the region. In the central district, hunter access is an issue, since most elk herds are found on private land or on Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. In the northeast district, finding elk is the biggest challenge with so many densely forested areas. Biologist Base reports that the most successful northeast elk hunters tend to be archers and muzzleloaders, because as their seasons are at a time nearer the rut when elk are more vocal and easier to find and approach.

Many parts of the region are still very dry, so WDFW wildlife area managers remind hunters to be very careful with anything that could start a wildfire. 

All big and small game hunters in the northeast district who might harvest coyotes (open year-round) are reminded to be sure of species identification because wolves are in the area. The gray wolf is protected as an endangered species under state law and may not be shot or killed. See wolf-coyote comparisons on page 71 of the hunting rules pamphlet.

For complete hunting prospect details by district and game species, see WDFW's Hunting Prospects website. For past-season hunting harvest statistics by district and game species, see the Game Harvest Reports. For hunting regulations, see the 2011 Big Game Pamphlet.

Wildlife viewing:  October can bring some wildlife into easy view without much effort. Fall bird migrations are well under way for many species, and it's hard to miss the skeins of honking Canada geese moving overhead from fields to waterways and back again or the sporadic invasions of robins, grosbeaks or waxwings.

But unexpected wildlife movements at this time of year can be less pastoral. Both white-tailed and mule deer bucks are in rut in October, moving across the landscape with less than their usual wariness. At the same time, black bears can be tough to spot in the growing dimness as they roam in search of food, often moving closer to roads and human development. Bears are instinctively trying to fatten up as much as they can before going into winter dens later this fall.

WDFW officials remind all wildlife enthusiasts – both homeowners and recreationists in bear country – to avoid attracting bears by keeping any possible source of food out of their reach. That includes bird seed and suet, pet food, garbage, compost piles, and unpicked fruit or vegetables in orchards and gardens.

Elk were still bugling at the end of September on Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, just southwest of Spokane. Visitors to that area and other part of the region might still hear these calls, used to establish breeding dominance in early October.

WDFW Wooten Wildlife Area manager Kari Dingman reminds visitors to keep their eyes open for bighorn sheep. She recently photographed a group of ewes and lambs crossing the Tucannon River road near Watson Lake.

Northcentral Washington

Fishing:  Since the fishery opened opened Sept. 28, anglers have an opportunity to catch hatchery steelhead on the upper Columbia River above Rock Island Dam, and on the Wenatchee, Icicle, Entiat, Methow, and Okanogan rivers.

Salmon fishing on the Columbia River from Wells Dam to Brewster also re-opened Sept. 28 and will run through Oct. 15. Anglers fishing the Wenatchee River can also catch and keep chinook salmon through Oct. 15 and coho salmon through Oct. 31. The Methow and Icicle rivers are also open for retention of up to three coho (but no chinook) through Oct. 31. For more information on those fisheries, see the Rule Change on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) website.

WDFW regional fish manager Jeff Korth said about 18,000 adult steelhead are expected to return to the upper Columbia River this year – enough to allow the steelhead fisheries for the eighth straight season. However, both wild and hatchery-reared fish are expected to return in significantly lower numbers than in the past two years, requiring additional constraints on those fisheries.

"Allowable impacts on wild steelhead will be tighter this year, so we may have to close earlier than in the past two seasons," Korth said. Three areas of the Columbia River – Vernita, Priest Rapids and Wanapum – will not open at all for steelhead fishing this fall.

Steelhead fisheries are carefully managed to protect naturally spawning steelhead listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Korth said the fisheries will be closely monitored and fishing rules enforced to protect wild steelhead.

The daily limit on all rivers is two hatchery steelhead, marked with a clipped adipose fin and measuring at least 20 inches in length. Any steelhead with an intact adipose fin must be released unharmed and must not be removed from the water. Anglers must also release any steelhead with one or more round holes punched in their tail fin.

Like last year, anglers must retain any legal hatchery steelhead they catch until they reach their daily limit of two fish. Once they have retained two fish, they must stop fishing for steelhead.

"These selective steelhead fisheries are specifically designed to help maintain a high proportion of wild steelhead on the spawning grounds and enhance recovery of the region's wild steelhead," Korth said. "Anglers can play an important role in that effort by removing hatchery fish above the number needed to meet spawning goals."

Retention of hatchery steelhead on the Similkameen River opens Nov 1. As with the other fisheries, anglers are required to possess a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement as part of their valid fishing license. For all the rules, see WDFW's Rule Change webpage.

Meanwhile, time is running out for two fisheries set to close Oct. 15:

  • Lake Chelan tailrace: A new fishery for hatchery summer chinook salmon has been open since Sept. 14 in the tailrace of the hydroelectric powerhouse operated by the Chelan County Public Utility District in Chelan. The experimental fishery – designed to give anglers a shot at the hatchery fish moving through – is restricted to the outfall area extending one-third of a mile downstream from the safety barrier near the powerhouse to the railroad bridge at the Columbia River. No fishing is allowed in the Chelan River between the tailrace and Lake Chelan. See the Rule Change webpage noted above for current regulations.
  • Lower Wenatchee River:  Also closing Oct. 15 is the fishery for hatchery summer chinook salmon that opened on the lower Wenatchee River in August and expanded in September to include the stretch from Peshastin Creek to above Dryden Dam and the Icicle Creek road bridge west of Leavenworth. Anglers can retain two adipose-fin-clipped adult or jack summer chinook salmon, but all other fish must be released. Selective gear rules and night closure are in effect.

Some popular rainbow trout lakes in Okanogan County remain open through the winter for daily catches of up to five trout. Campbell, Cougar and Davis lakes in the Winthrop area are all open through March 31. WDFW Okanogan district fish biologist Bob Jateff says anglers at these lakes can expect fish in the 10-12- inch range, with carryovers up to 15 inches.

This is also a good time to hike up to one of many alpine lakes in Okanogan County and cast for cutthroat trout, Jateff said.

Hunting: October includes the opening of several popular hunting seasons and prospects throughout the region are good for most.

Oct. 1 is the start of quail and chukar and gray partridge hunting. Throughout the Columbia Basin quail numbers look good with favorable summer conditions for brood survival. WDFW district wildlife biologist Rich Finger of Moses Lake says decent quail hunting can be found on the Desert Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area Complex between Potholes Reservoir and the town of George, lower Crab Creek between Corfu and the Columbia River, Gloyd Seeps between Stratford and Moses Lake, the Quincy unit, and Dry Falls unit at the south end of Banks Lake.

The rest of the region is a mixed bag for quail. WDFW district wildlife biologist Dave Volsen of Wenatchee reports quail numbers have declined over the past few years in both Chelan and Douglas counties, and this year's wet spring has impacted brood production. WDFW district wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin of Winthrop says quail numbers appear to be up a bit this year in the Okanogan Valley.

Chukars and gray partridge may also be hit and miss. Finger says chukar broods may have fared as well as quail in the traditional hunting areas of the Basin and the Coulee Corridor areas around Banks and Lenore Lakes and along the Columbia River breaks north of Vantage. Volsen predicts chukars will be tough to find this year in the Douglas/Chelan district with brood production impacted by wet spring weather. Gray partridge are always in lower densities throughout the region.

Waterfowl hunting seasons open Oct.15 and biologist Finger says there is always good opportunity to harvest waterfowl during the opener in the Columbia Basin.  Duck production was up slightly from last year, based on annual brood route surveys, he said. Hunter success in the Basin has remained stable despite a long-term downward trend in local productivity, suggesting an influx of birds from elsewhere. A harvest rate of slightly above three ducks per person is common from year to year for the first weekend of the general waterfowl season. But the best Basin waterfowl hunting is actually later in November and December.

Biologist Volsen says resident duck populations in Douglas County have been limited by nesting opportunities due to drought conditions impacting pothole and wetland habitats. In Chelan (primarily along the Columbia River) and Douglas counties, most of the harvest is focused on migrant birds later in the year, which means that fall weather plays the major role in hunter success.

Oct. 15 also marks the opening of modern firearm deer hunting and there are good opportunities this year, especially in the Okanogan. "There should be some improvement over last year due to good buck escapement – a post-season ratio of 24 bucks per 100 does – and good fawn recruitment from the spring of 2010," biologist Fitkin said. "There should be more older-age bucks, and increased 2½ year-olds available. A good growing season this year should yield fat, healthy animals. Recent burns are currently producing high quality summer forage and may be good choices to look for bucks."

In Chelan County, biologist Volsen reports declines in the deer population, with a buck-to-doe ratio under management objectives of 25:100 does. Fawn numbers were down as well, reduced from some of the highs seen over the past few years.

"Weather plays a big role in finding deer in Chelan County," Volsen said. "Hunters should focus on thick timber and shrub dominated areas on north facing slopes where deer find forage in October. The warmer and drier the weather, the more deer occupy these habitats."

Volsen says deer hunter success in Douglas County is dictated primarily by access to private lands. The open nature of the habitats in Douglas County decreases buck escapement and lowers the age of bucks within the population. Road densities are high, ensuring access to almost all areas, and resulting in few older aged bucks post season. The impacts of extended drought conditions may also be playing a role in fawn production and survivorship.

Biologist Finger says the Basin is predominately mule deer hunting but white-tailed deer do occur in small isolated groups and are most prominent in GMU 284 (Ritzville). Most deer harvest occurs in GMUs 272 (Beezley) and 284 where post-hunt buck:doe ratios average 20–25 bucks per 100 does. With the mild winter conditions in 2010, post-hunt populations are believed to have experienced minimal levels of winter mortality so deer hunters should expect average success rates during the 2011 season.

Pheasant hunting opens Oct. 22 and fair numbers of wild birds should be available in the Columbia Basin. Biologist Finger says most birds likely went into winter in good condition due to early "green-up" of cool season grasses during fall 2010. Winter temperatures were fairly normal, and the area lacked long periods of snow crust that can result in low overwinter survival. Spring conditions were good.

"Most hunters who invest considerable effort and cover a lot of ground will cross paths with a few wild birds," he said. "The largest wild populations of pheasants on WDFW lands in the Ephrata district are likely to be found within the Desert Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area Complex between Potholes Reservoir and the town of George  For wild birds, dense thickets of Russian olive and cattail associated with Frenchmen and Winchester wasteways and ponds are likely to hold pheasants. Hunters will increase their odds greatly with a well trained dog to both flush and retrieve the birds in dense cover."

Other parts of the region offer only marginal pheasant habitat, so most hunting is supplemented with farm-raised pheasants released at 10 sites. This year birds will not be released on the Swakane Wildlife Area due to the loss of cover associated with recent wildfire.  All pheasant release sites are described in detail on WDFW's Enhancement Program website and mapped on WDFW's interactive Go Hunt website. Nontoxic shot is required on all pheasant release sites this year.

Oct. 29 is the opening of modern firearm elk hunting season, although the region offers limited elk habitat and thus hunting opportunity. The Mission Game Management Unit (GMU 251) in Chelan County traditionally has the highest elk harvest in the region. Hunters should take note that GMU 251 is under a "true spike" regulation to aid bull recruitment in the Colockum herd.

Black bear hunting continues in the region, although biologist Volsen reports bear hunters are not having the same success as last year. "The berry crop failure last year forced bears to travel widely in a search for food, thus exposing them to hunters," he said. "This year's late spring and summer have delayed the decline of forage in the high county, giving bears more feeding opportunities. It's likely bears are traveling less to feed before going into dens, and are tougher to find."

For complete hunting prospect details by district and game species, see WDFW's Hunting Prospects website. For past-season hunting harvest statistics by district and game species, see the Game Harvest Reports. For hunting regulations, see the 2011 Big Game Pamphlet.

Wildlife viewing: The 21st annual, award-winning Wenatchee River Salmon Festival runs Oct. 1-2 at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Leavenworth Fish Hatchery. The festival includes opportunities for all ages to learn about and enjoy a variety of wildlife and natural resources. Fun runs for "small fry" (kids under six years of age), "smolts" (kids 7-13 years), and "adults" (14 and older) are scheduled. See the Salmonfest website for details. 

The first annual Methow Salmon Celebration is scheduled Oct. 9 to honor salmon restoration efforts in the Methow Valley. The free event, which runs from 3 to 7:30 p.m. in Twisp, includes science displays, art activities, live music and a Bar-B-Que. WDFW is a partner in the celebration, sponsored by TwispWorks. See the organization's website for more information.

WDFW district wildlife biologists Dave Volsen and Scott Fitkin say fall is a great time to watch for raptor migrations along Chelan Ridge, with larger and more northerly species like goshawks, rough legged hawks, peregrines, golden eagles, possibly even northern hawk owls, often observed during the month of October. 

The Chelan Ridge raptor migration monitoring and banding station, located 13 miles northwest of Chelan and about five miles south of Methow, off State Hwy. 153, west on Black Canyon Road nine miles to Forest Service Road 8020, then south just over three miles) is in full swing now. It's a cooperative effort between Hawk Watch International and the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests to monitor and learn more about raptors migrating through the eastern Cascade Mountains of Washington within the Pacific Coast Flyway.

The project runs from late August through late October (or whenever the snow forces the crew off the ridge). Counts typically range between 2,000-3,000 migrants of up to 17 species per season. For more information, look for Chelan Ridge Raptor Migration Project on the Hawkwatch website.

Fall migrating waterfowl and other water birds, including sandhill cranes, should be visible throughout the Columbia Basin in growing numbers through the month of October. The Winchester and Frenchmen Reserves in Grant County are among the best observation areas.    

Southcentral Washington

Fishing:  Steelhead are moving into the Hanford Reach, but most anglers will likely stay focused on fall chinook salmon through mid-October. Approximately 90,000 chinook – some tipping the scales at 40 pounds apiece – are expected to return to the Reach this year, and early October is the best time to catch some, said Paul Hoffarth, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Anglers were averaging a half a chinook per boat in early September, but that should pick up as more fish move into the Reach and water temperatures cool, Hoffarth said.

"Folks have a great opportunity to catch bright, good-eating fish through the first half of the month," Hoffarth said.  "But these fish come to the Reach ready to spawn and they start turning dark later in the month." 

The salmon fishery is open through Oct. 22 from the Highway 395 Bridge in the Tri-cities to Wanapum Dam, but closes Oct. 15 upriver from Wanapum Dam. Anglers are advised to check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet for daily catch limits and other regulations that apply to specific sections of the Columbia River.

Meanwhile, pressure is growing to switch over to hatchery steelhead. Based on a moderately strong forecast, state fishery managers opened the steelhead fishery two weeks early from Highway 395 to the old Hanford wooden powerline towers.

"October is a good time to start targeting hatchery steelhead," said Hoffarth, noting that the fishery runs through March 31.  "The water is cooling off and the fish are getting more aggressive."

Another good prospect for salmon is the Yakima River, where fishing for fall chinook and coho usually comes alive around the second week of the month. Best bets for catching fish include waters downstream of Prosser Dam and Horn Rapids Dam, said Hoffarth, noting that fishing is closed within 400 feet downstream of those diversions.

"The salmon start moving slowly into the Yakima, then all of a sudden they're stacked like cordwood," he said. "I think we're going to see a dramatic improvement in that fishery in the weeks ahead."

Rather catch some walleye? October is also a great time to hook some of these toothy gamefish below McNary Dam, Hoffarth said. "Fall fishing for walleye is dynamite between Umatilla and Boardman," he said. "Those fish are putting on the feedbag for winter and are eager to strike big lures, night and day."

Meanwhile, trout fishing is still an option at many rivers and streams, including the Yakima, Naches, Little Naches, and Bumping rivers in Yakima County. Other possibilities include the upper reaches of Taneum Creek, Naneum Creek, Manastash Creek; the forks of the Teanaway in Kittitas County; or any of a number of high lakes.

Most rivers and creeks have statewide trout catch limits of two trout with an 8-inch minimum size. Many, however, also have special regulations, including like selective gear rules that prohibit bait. Regulations for these and other fisheries are described in the Fishing in Washington regulation pamphlet

Hunting:  New hunting opportunities in October begin with a variety of upland game birds, then expand to include ducks, geese, deer and elk. The cold, wet spring took a toll on some bird populations, but hunting opportunities for ducks and elk look promising this year.

Hunters gearing up for any of these seasons might want to check WDFW's 2011 Hunting Prospects report for staff biologists' assessment of hunters' chances.

Bird-hunting opportunities start with season openers for pheasant, quail and bobwhite Oct. 1. Next comes the start of general seasons for ducks, coots and snipe, which  run Oct. 15-19, then reopen Oct. 22 through Jan. 29.  Goose-hunting seasons also get under way Oct. 15 and continue under various schedules. Hunters should check the Migratory Waterfowl & Upland Game pamphlet for specific regulations.

The wet spring appears to have dampened production of forest grouse and quail in Yakima and Kittitas counties, but ducks clearly benefitted from all that rain. As usual, hunting success will likely drop off once local ducks "get educated," then pick up later in the season when migrant birds start to arrive in large numbers, said Mike Livingston, a regional WDFW wildlife biologist.

Livingston notes that Mesa Lake, along with the small ponds and lakes on WDFW's Windmill Ranch and Bailie Memorial Youth Ranch, can provide good hunting. The Snake and Columbia Rivers and associated water bodies will hold tens of thousands of ducks when the weather gets below freezing.

For pheasants, Windmill Ranch and Bailie Memorial Youth Ranch in northern Franklin County are also good bets. Each hunting area has two parking areas with a maximum of five vehicles per lot and has Register to Hunt boxes on site. Hunters might also consider buying a hunting permit for the Yakama Reservation near Toppenish for the excellent waterfowl and upland game hunting opportunities that it provides.

Deer hunting with modern firearms opens Oct. 15 after the early muzzleloader season wraps up Oct. 2. Elk seasons get under way Oct. 29 in selected game management units for hunters using modern firearms and muzzleloaders.

Deer populations have continued to decline in Yakima and Kittitas counties, but prospects for elk are good in that area, said Jeff Bernatowicz, another WDFW wildlife biologist. "The bull harvest is expected to increase this year," he said. "The northern part of the district had the best recruitment."

For more on deer and elk seasons, see the Big Game Hunting pamphlet, which also includes information about ongoing hunts for cougar and bear.

Wildlife viewing: Shorebirds have been scarce in the region so far this fall, according to a report by the Yakima Valley Audubon. The report, printed in the Yakima Herald-Republic, noted that spotted sandpiper, Baird's sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper and Wilson's snipe were the only peeps to be found on a recent trip to Wenas Lake.

Waterfowl spotted on the lake included American wigeon, mallard, northern pintail, green-winged teal, ring-necked duck, ruddy duck, red-necked grebe, pied-billed grebe and horned grebe. A Swainson's hawk was observed snatching a rodent, then perching on a power pole to eat its catch. A peregrine falcon was also spotted sitting atop the west face of the Larson Building in Yakima.

Birders and others planning to be afield in the weeks ahead should be aware that a number of hunting seasons are getting under way throughout the region. While hunters are trained to be sure of their target before they shoot, non-hunters can help to avoid an accident by wearing an orange wind-breaker and make their presence known to hunters.

Current hunting seasons are highlighted above in the Hunting section of this report.  For more information about specific times and locations, see the 2009 Big Game Hunting pamphlet and the Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet on the WDFW website.