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

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December 2012

(This document is updated periodically throughout the month to reflect current rules and opportunities. Please download the latest copy before heading out! Last updated December 6, 2012)

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

Outdoor adventures inspire
some great holiday gift ideas

Despite the winter chill, Washingtonians have plenty of reasons to head outdoors during the holiday season. Steelhead are surging up coastal rivers, waterfowl hunting is in full swing and birders are gearing up around the state for the 113th annual Christmas Bird Count.

Those planning to do some holiday shopping between their outdoor adventures can share their appreciation for Washington’s renowned recreational opportunities with the gift of a fishing license, hunting license or a Discover Pass.

Although the new licensing year doesn't begin until April 1, a lot of people like to have their license in hand a few months early, said Bill Joplin, licensing manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“It's always great to be prepared when the new season arrives,” Joplin said. “Besides, hunting and fishing licenses make great holiday gifts.”

Starting Dec. 1, state fishing and hunting licenses are available for the 2013 season by phone (866-246-9453), online (https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/), and from licensing dealers around the state (http://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/vendors/). A Vehicle Access Pass to lands owned by WDFW is free with most types of fishing and hunting licenses.

For even broader access to state lands, a state Discover Pass also makes a fine holiday gift. At $35, an annual pass provides access to nearly seven million acres of state-managed recreation lands, including state parks, water-access points, heritage sites, wildlife and natural areas, trails and trailheads.

New this year is the option to choose the activation date for an annual Discover Pass purchased online or from an authorized WILD licensing dealer.

“Those who buy an annual Discover Pass through the WILD system can now activate the pass immediately or anytime within one year of the purchase date,” Joplin said.  “On-line gift buyers can select a future start date so long as they allow 10 days to receive their Discover Pass by mail.”

For details on purchasing a Discover Pass, see http://discoverpass.wa.gov/.

For more information about the full array of fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing available over the next 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
(Island, King, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties)

Fishing: Regional waters offer plenty of gifts for fishers — from river steelhead fishing to Puget Sound’s crab and blackmouth salmon.

Marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands) and 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) are open for hatchery chinook salmon fishing in December. Anglers fishing those marine areas have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook salmon.

Traditionally, anglers find success fishing for blackmouth in the San Juans at this time of year, depending on weather conditions. Before heading out, anglers can check creel reports for information on catch and effort in Puget Sound. Recreational fishery samplers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) collect the information each week at fishing access sites throughout Puget Sound.

Crabbing is open throughout December in some marine areas of Puget Sound, including marine areas 4 (Neah Bay), 5 (Sekiu), 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 7, 8-1 (Deception Pass), 8-2 (Port susan and Port Gardner) and 9 (Admiralty Inlet).
In each area, crabbing is allowed seven days a week through Dec. 31.

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.

All crab caught in the late-season fishery must be recorded on winter catch cards, which are valid until Dec. 31. Winter cards are available at fishing license vendors across the state. Catch reports are due to WDFW by Feb. 1, 2013. For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s catch record card webpage.

For a change of pace, anglers in the region may want to venture out in the evening to jig for squid. Good spots include the Elliott Bay Pier in Seattle and the Edmonds Pier. Check the WDFW website for information on squid and fishing piers.

In freshwater, several rivers are open for hatchery steelhead fishing — including the Skagit, Snohomish, Skykomish, Snoqualmie and Green (Duwamish) — although recent heavy rains have hampered activity, said Bob Leland, WDFW’s steelhead program manager. “When the high waters recede, opportunities should be good as fish move upstream toward hatcheries,” Leland said. “Fishing for hatchery steelhead picks up around mid-December, when we traditionally see the peak of the run.

Rainbow trout are another option for freshwater anglers, who might want to try casting for lunkers at Beaver Lake near Issaquah. About 2,000 hatchery rainbows – averaging 2 to 3 pounds each – were released into the lake in late October. Beaver Lake, which is one of several westside lowland lakes open to fishing year-round, is best fished by small boat, although anglers also can be successful fishing from shore.

Other good bets during December are Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish, where anglers can hook perch, cutthroat and smallmouth bass. Anglers targeting perch should fish near deep ledges, using nightcrawlers. For cutthroat or smallmouth bass, try trolling deep, 30-100 feet or more. Anglers may have to put in some time to hook a smallmouth, but they could catch a big fish.

Hunting: Waterfowl hunting is in full swing in the region, where success rates should continue to improve as New Year’s approaches. “If the weather and tides cooperate, waterfowl hunting should be good throughout the month,” said Dave Ware, game manager for WDFW. Waterfowl hunters have through Jan. 27 to hunt ducks and geese in the region.

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.

Another option is a Waterfowl Quality Hunt Program, which provides duck and goose hunting opportunities at more than 40 sites in Whatcom, Skagit and north Snohomish counties. For more information, visit the quality hunt program’s webpage.

Meanwhile, upland bird hunters have through Dec. 31 to hunt forest grouse.

Big-game hunts also are under way in several areas. Archers have through Dec. 8 to hunt deer in Game Management Unit (GMU) 437, through Dec. 15 in 466 and 460, and through Dec. 31 in 407, 410 and 454. The region's muzzleloader hunts for deer run through Dec. 15. Muzzleloader and archery hunts for elk also continue in the region through Dec. 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.

As noted on page 17 of the pamphlet, Jan. 31 is the deadline for hunters to report their hunting activity for each special permit acquired and each deer, elk, bear, and turkey tag purchased in 2012. Those who do not meet the deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can buy a license next year. Those who report by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for one of nine special elk or deer permits.

Wildlife viewing: Looking for a holiday treat for an outdoor enthusiast? A great gift is the Discover Pass — the vehicle access pass to millions of acres of Washington State parks and recreation lands. Now purchasers can choose the pass activation date when buying online or from recreational license vendors.  Please allow 10 days for mailing for online pass purchases.

“Those who buy an annual Discover Pass through the WILD system can now activate the pass immediately or anytime within one year of the purchase date,” said Bill Joplin, WDFW Joplin said. “On-line gift buyers can select a future start date so long as they allow 10 days to receive their Discover Pass by mail.”

During the holiday season, several Audubon Society chapters throughout the region are coordinating Christmas Bird Counts (CBC), which get under way this month. Sponsored by Audubon, the annual event enlists birdwatchers – veterans and novices – to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database. For more information on the CBC, visit the Audubon website. To get involved, visit the Washington Ornithology Society's website for a counting circle in your area.

Birders might want to consider conducting their counts along the Skagit River this season. Each winter, hundreds of bald eagles spend December and January along the river, where the carcasses of spawned salmon provide a feast for the birds. After a few weeks of dining, the eagles head north to their summer homes in Alaska and British Columbia.

The Skagit Valley also is a great spot for birders. Thousands of snow geese congregate in the Skagit Valley each winter, and can be found in the area from mid-October through early May. 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.

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

Fishing: The holiday season has arrived and with it comes opportunities to hook hatchery steelhead on several coastal streams, catch crab and salmon in Puget Sound and dig razor clams on ocean beaches.

Early in December, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will proceed with an evening razor clam dig at several ocean beaches. Opening dates and evening low tides are:

  • Dec. 11, Tuesday, 4:51 p.m., -1.1 ft., Twin Harbors
  • Dec. 12, Wednesday, 5:40 p.m., -1.6 ft., Twin Harbors
  • Dec. 13, Thursday, 6:29 p.m., -1.9 ft., Twin Harbors
  • Dec. 14, Friday, 7:15 p.m., -1.8 ft., Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks
  • Dec. 15, Saturday, 8:01 p.m., -1.6 ft., Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks
  • Dec. 16, Sunday, 8:47 p.m., -1.0 ft., Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Another digging opportunity is tentatively scheduled later in December. Tentative opening dates and evening low tides for that dig are:

  • Dec. 28, Friday, 6:42 p.m., -0.3 ft., Twin Harbors
  • Dec. 29, Saturday, 7:15 p.m., -0.3 ft., Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • Dec. 30, Sunday, 7:47 p.m., -0.2 ft., Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks
  • Dec. 31, Monday, 8:20 p.m., 0.0., Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks

Clam diggers are reminded that they should take lights or lanterns for nighttime digs and check weather and surf forecasts before heading out. No digging will be allowed before noon on any of the razor-clam beaches. Harvesters are allowed to take no more than 15 razor clams and must keep the first 15 they dig, regardless of size or condition. Each digger’s clams must be kept in a separate container.

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2012-13 fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, are available on WDFW’s website and from license vendors around the state.

Meanwhile, fishing for hatchery steelhead in the region is usually at its best in December. “Of course weather is always a big factor this time of year,” said Kirt Hughes, regional fishery manager for WDFW. “As long as the weather cooperates and the rivers stay in shape, fishing should be pretty good throughout the month.”

Anglers fishing the Quillayute and portions of the Bogachiel, Calawah, Hoh, and Sol Duc rivers have a daily limit of three hatchery steelhead. In the Grays Harbor area, anglers fishing the Chehalis, Humptulips, Satsop and Wynoochee have a daily limit of two hatchery steelhead.

Rather catch salmon? Anglers can find late-run hatchery coho salmon in some of the region’s rivers, including the Chehalis and Satsop. For winter chum salmon, anglers might want to try fishing the Nisqually River. The late-chum run hits full stride mid- to late December and generally remains strong until at least mid-January, said Hughes.

Portions of Puget Sound also are open for salmon. In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Marine Area 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) reopens for salmon Dec. 1. Anglers fishing that area have a daily limit of two salmon, but must release wild chinook. Marine Area 5 (Sekiu) remains closed for salmon fishing.

Farther south, anglers fishing marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) and 13 (South Puget Sound) can keep one chinook as part of a two-salmon daily limit. On Hood Canal (Marine Area 12), anglers have a daily limit of four salmon, but only two of those fish can be a chinook, and all wild chinook must be released.

“This time of year anglers fishing for blackmouth need to put some time in on the water,” said John Long, statewide salmon manager for WDFW, who recommends fishing the waters around Point Defiance. “But it can be worth it for an opportunity to hook a nice-size fish.”   

Before heading out, anglers can check creel reports for information on catch and effort in Puget Sound on WDFW’s website.

Crabbing also is open in some marine areas of Puget Sound, including in 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), 9 (Admiralty Inlet), 12 (Hood Canal), and 13 (South Puget Sound).

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

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

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, 2013. For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s catch record card webpage.

Hunting: Most archery and muzzleloader hunting opportunities for elk are open through Dec. 15 in the region, although the muzzleloader hunt in Game Management Unit 652 runs through Dec. 8. The region’s archery and muzzleloader hunts for deer wrap up on various dates in select game management units. For details, hunters should check the Big Game Hunting pamphlet.

Meanwhile, waterfowl hunters have through Jan. 27 to hunt for ducks in the region. Goose hunts in Goose Management Area 3 also are open seven days a week through Jan. 27. However, hunts in Goose Management Area 2B (Pacific County) are limited to Saturdays and Wednesdays only through Jan. 19.

Upland bird hunters have through Dec. 31 to hunt forest grouse.

Before heading out, hunters should check 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.

As noted on page 17 of the Big Game Hunting pamphlet, Jan. 31 is the deadline for hunters to report their hunting activity for each special permit acquired and each deer, elk, bear, and turkey tag purchased in 2012. Those who do not meet the deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can buy a license next year. Those who report by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for one of nine special elk or deer permits.

Wildlife viewing: During the holiday season, several Audubon Society chapters throughout the region are coordinating Christmas Bird Counts (CBC), which get under way this month. Sponsored by Audubon, the annual event enlists birdwatchers – veterans and novices – to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database. For more information on the CBC, visit the Audubon website. To get involved, visit the Washington Ornithology Society's website for a counting circle in your area.

Looking for a holiday treat for an outdoor enthusiast? A great gift is the Discover Pass — the vehicle access pass to millions of acres of Washington State parks and recreation lands. Now purchasers can choose the pass activation date when buying online or from recreational license vendors

“Those who buy an annual Discover Pass through the WILD system can now activate the pass immediately or anytime within one year of the purchase date,” said Bill Joplin, WDFW Joplin said. “On-line gift buyers can select a future start date so long as they allow 10 days to receive their Discover Pass by mail.”

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

Fishing: This year's winter steelhead season got off to a promising start just before Thanksgiving, when the first wave of fish started taking anglers' lures in several tributaries to the lower Columbia River. With decent river conditions, catch rates should continue to improve in the weeks ahead, said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“Despite recent high water, that first jag of winter steelhead was definitely on the bite,” Hymer said. “So long as the rivers don't rise too high or fall too low, we could be looking at a darn good fishery this year.”

Before planning a steelheading trip, anglers should be aware that WDFW plans to stock 10,000 rainbow trout in Lacamas Lake this month, 5,000 in Battleground Lake and another 5,000 in Klineline Pond. At Scanewa Lake (Cowlitz Falls Reservoir), the daily limit for adipose-clipped rainbows is 10 fish through the last day in April.

In addition, the department has scheduled two multi-day razor clam digs at Long Beach and other razor clam beaches this month. For current information, check WDFW’s razor clam website.

But for those intent on catching steelhead, Hymer recommends the the Cowlitz, Lewis (including north and east fork), Kalama, Grays, Washougal, Elochoman rivers, along with Salmon Creek in Clark County. All have a two-fish daily limit, but anglers should check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet for additional rules specific to each river.

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

Hymer notes that water conditions – often highly variable at this time of year – can make a big difference when it comes to catching fish. “If the water is too low, the fish get spooky – if it's too high it can be dangerous to be out there,” he said.

As basic preparation for a steelheading trip, Hymer recommends checking the Northwest River Forecast or other sources for river conditions before heading out. “Most anglers do best when water levels are rising or dropping,” Hymer said. “It's a lot harder to catch steelhead in the peaks and troughs.”

In deciding where to fish, it also helps to know how many smolts were planted in specific rivers and how many adult fish have returned to area hatcheries. In the first case, Hymer recommends checking WDFW’s smolt-planting schedule for 2011. WDFW also posts hatchery returns on a weekly basis.

While winter steelhead are the main attraction right now, late-stock coho will continue to bite through December. Most of those fish are too dark for consumption, but Hymer said some bright fish are still available. As he sees it, the best bet for coho is the Cowlitz River where over 9,000 fish returned through the middle of November. For fall chinook, the North Fork Lewis should continue to produce catchable fish through December.  Any chinook, adipose fin clipped or not, may be retained on the Lewis.

Hymer flagged several new fishing regulations that take effect Dec. 1 on those and other rivers:

  • Grays River – Opens to fishing for hatchery steelhead, hatchery coho and adipose and/or ventral fin clipped chinook from the Highway 4 Bridge to the South Fork. Also on Dec. 1, the open area on the West Fork also expands from the hatchery intake/footbridge to the mouth that day.
  • Green River, North Fork Toutle River, and the mainstem Toutle from the mouth to the forks will all be closed to fishing for steelhead and salmon. 
  • South Fork Toutle River – Closes to fishing for steelhead from the 4100 Bridge upstream. Fishing remains open from the mouth to the bridge under selective gear rules.
  • North Fork Lewis River – The night closure and anti-snagging rules are lifted from Johnson Creek to Colvin Creek. In addition, the area from Colvin Creek upstream to the overhead powerlines below Merwin Dam reopens for hatchery steelhead, chinook, and hatchery coho Dec. 16.
  • Cowlitz River from Mill Creek to the barrier dam – Night closure and anti-snagging rules are lifted.
  • Mill and Blue creeks (tributaries to Cowlitz River) – Mill Creek opens to fishing for hatchery steelhead under permanent rules. Blue Creek opened to fishing for hatchery steelhead and sea-run cutthroats from the mouth to the posted signs just above the rearing pond outlet in mid-November. Night fishing closures and anti-snagging rules are in effect on both streams.
  • Wind River – Catch-and-release fishing closes for game fish above Shipherd Falls. 
  • Klickitat River – Closes to fishing for trout, hatchery steelhead and salmon, except for salmon fishing from the Fisher Hill Bridge downstream, which remains open through January. The night closure remains in effect. The whitefish-only fishery opens from 400 feet upstream from #5 fishway upstream to the Yakama Reservation. Whitefish gear rules will be in effect.
  • Merwin Reservoir – Trout daily limit (including kokanee) goes back to five fish.
  • Swift Reservoir – Closes to fishing. 

Meanwhile, catch-and-release rules are in effect through December for sturgeon fishing in all waters below McNary Dam. Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon are scheduled to meet in mid-December to discuss retention rules for the pools above Bonneville Dam, but the outlook for retention fisheries below the dam is less certain.

Following declines in the white sturgeon population below Bonneville, both states are considering a proposal to keep catch-and-release rules in place in those and other waters as part of a broad-based effort to restructure fisheries in the lower Columbia River. Information about that effort and its implications for the sturgeon fishery is available on the WDFW website.

Hunting: Waterfowl hunting is in full swing in the region, where success rates should continue to improve as New Year’s approaches. “If the weather and tides cooperate, waterfowl hunting should be good throughout the month,” said Dave Ware, game manager for WDFW. Waterfowl hunters have through Jan. 27 to hunt ducks and geese in the region.

One exception is Goose Management Area 2A, where goose hunting will be closed from Nov. 26 through Dec. 4 before resuming on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday in the weeks that follow. Opening days differ in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, as outlined in WDFW’s Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet. Those interested in hunting geese in Area 2A are reminded of the certification and check station requirements detailed on pages 16, 20 and 21 of the pamphlet.

Upland bird hunters have through Dec. 31 to hunt forest grouse.

Meanwhile, archery and muzzleloader seasons for elk and deer run through various dates in select game management units throughout the region. Rules for those hunts are available in the Big Game Hunting pamphlet.

As noted on page 17 of the pamphlet, Jan. 31 is the deadline for hunters to report their hunting activity for each special permit acquired and each deer, elk, bear, and turkey tag purchased in 2012. Those who do not meet the deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can buy a license next year. Those who report by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for one of nine special elk or deer permits.

Wildlife viewing: During the holiday season, several Audubon Society chapters throughout the region are coordinating Christmas Bird Counts (CBC), which get under way this month. Sponsored by Audubon, the annual event enlists birdwatchers – veterans and novices – to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database. For more information on the CBC, visit the Audubon website. To get involved, visit the Washington Ornithology Society's website for a counting circle in your area.

Looking for a holiday treat for an outdoor enthusiast? A great gift is the Discover Pass — the vehicle access pass to millions of acres of Washington State parks and recreation lands. Now purchasers can choose the pass activation date when buying online or from recreational license vendors. Please allow 10 days for mailing for online pass purchases.

“Those who buy an annual Discover Pass through the WILD system can now activate the pass immediately or anytime within one year of the purchase date,” said Bill Joplin, WDFW Joplin said. “On-line gift buyers can select a future start date so long as they allow 10 days to receive their Discover Pass by mail.”

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

Fishing: Rainbow trout are healthy, hungry, plentiful and waiting to be caught during the winter-only fishing season that opens Dec. 1 at four lakes in the region.

WDFW district fish biologist Randy Osborne sampled rainbow trout at Fourth of July Lake
WDFW district fish biologist Randy Osborne
sampled rainbow trout at Fourth of July Lake

That’s the report from Randy Osborne, fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who recently sampled the catch at Hog Canyon Lake and Fourth of July Lake near Sprague.

“Anglers can expect to catch rainbows at Hog Canyon ranging from nine to 21 inches,” Osborne said. “The average size of fish we caught Nov. 26 was 16.4 inches. All the fish look great and are in top condition.” 

At Fourth of July Lake, the rainbows sampled Nov. 27 ranged from 12 to 23-inch rainbows, with an average size of 17.8 inches, Osborne said.

“With rain in the forecast and temperatures reaching to the mid 40s, it looks like anglers will have open water conditions for the opener,” said Osborne, noting that neither lake had any ice at the time of the sampling effort.

The daily limit on both Hog Canyon Lake and Fourth of July Lake is five trout, but only two fish catch over 14 inches may be retained. Both lakes offer shoreline and boat access, but boaters should be aware that internal combustion motors are prohibited on Fourth of July Lake. 

“Also, with the colder water temperatures at this time of year, boaters should make sure that everyone on board wears a life jacket,” Osborne said.

WDFW northeast district fish biologist Bill Baker of Colville also recently sampled Hatch and Williams lakes in Stevens County, which also open Dec. 1.

“Anglers at Hatch Lake can expect to catch 12 to 17-inch rainbow trout that are healthy and fat,” Baker said. “The average size of fish we caught Nov. 26 was 14.5 inches.  At Williams Lake you can expect to catch rainbows from 13 to 17 inches, also in good condition.  Our test fishing averaged catches of 15.5 inch trout. Catch rates on the opener should be high because these fish are actively feeding.”

The daily trout limit at both Hatch and Williams lakes is five fish. Once that daily limit is caught, fishing is catch-and-release.

Baker found no ice on either lake, and forecasts in the northeast district are also relatively mild for opening day. The season should start, with open water, so both shoreline and boat anglers will do well. 

“The usual bait, like nightcrawlers, Powerbait, and marshmallows, or lures like Mepps or Roostertails, or flies like Bionic or San Juan worms, should all be good producers,” Baker said.

Three year-round trout lakes also look promising: Rock Lake in Whitman County, Sprague Lake on the Lincoln-Adams county line, and Lake Roosevelt. 

WDFW enforcement officer Doug King said recent catches at Rock Lake are showing more rainbows and fewer brown trout in recent weeks. Boat fishing tends to be most productive, but King said anglers have also been catching fish from the shore at the roadside access site.

WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area manager Juli Anderson reports trout fishing also has been good at Z-Lake, located off Telford Road on the wildlife area in Lincoln County.

But Snake River steelhead action was slow as of late November. WDFW fish biologist Joe Bumgarner said the best catch rates recently recorded in the mainstem river were in the section between Little Goose and Lower Granite dams, where steelheaders averaged almost 15 hours per fish. The Grand Ronde River creel in Washington last showed close to 14 hours per steelhead caught.

Hunting: Late archery and muzzleloader seasons for deer and elk continue into December in select game management units throughout the region, along with late fall wild turkey hunting. Check all details in the hunting rules pamphlets posted on the WDFW website.

Upland game bird hunting also continues through the year around the region. WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area manager Juli Anderson says the Hungarian partridge season has been an “average year at best” in the Lincoln County wildlife area. Good pheasant hunting is available at WDFW’s Revere Wildlife Area in Whitman County. WDFW Wooten Wildlife Area manager Kari Dingman reports pheasant numbers are still good on the Hartsock Unit of the area in Columbia County.

Waterfowl hunting also continues through the year, although success is largely dependent on northern migrants moving through on big waterways. As of late November, shallow potholes at Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area – which usually attract ducks and geese – were just starting to “water up” after a dry summer, Anderson said.

“Z-Lake would be my recommendation for this area, but waterfowlers should check out other lakes and ponds along this Lake Creek drainage,” Anderson said. She specifically points to lands owned by the Bureau of Land Management southwest of Z-Lake, including the Telford Recreation Area to the north and Lakes Recreation Area. No hunting is allowed, however, in BLM’s Coffeepot Recreation Area, which is a waterfowl refuge further south along Lake Creek drainage.

For more details on hunting opportunities in the eastern region, see WDFW’s Hunting Prospects report.

Wildlife viewing: December is a great month for birdwatching, especially with Audubon’s 113th annual Christmas Bird Count scheduled Dec. 14 through Jan. 5. Everyone, from first-time birders to veterans, is welcome to help count birds by species in designated areas from Colville to Walla Walla. Past counts in this region have included everything from little red crossbills to big northern goshawks.

One species that is drawing a lot of attention again this season is the snowy owl. These easy-to-spot big white owls are migrants from the north that last year “irrupted” throughout the country in great numbers. Snowy owls have recently been seen in Asotin County, near Sprague, in Whitman County, and near Mt. Spokane in Spokane County. 

WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area manager Juli Anderson reports lots of rough-legged hawks around the Whitman County area this year. Birders have recently been enjoying ducks, geese and swans at Reardan’s Audubon Lake Wildlife Area just outside the town of Reardan.

“Just remember that the Reardan wildlife area is open only for viewing, not hunting,” Anderson said. “Of course, hunters are welcome to watch, and the Vehicle Access Pass that came with their hunting license provides them access to the parking lot. Non-hunters need to have the Discover Pass to park there and walk out to the viewing blinds at both the north and south access sites.”

WDFW Wooten Wildlife Area manager Kari Dingman said lots of wildlife should start to become more visible for viewing with deciduous trees shedding leaves and snow cover coming soon. The Wooten hosts mule and white-tailed deer, elk, bighorn sheep, an occasional moose, and a diversity of small mammals and birds.  

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

Fishing: Three lakes in Okanogan County – Rat Lake near Brewster and Big and Little Green lakes near Omak – open for “catch and keep” trout fishing Dec. 1, switching from catch-and-release rules to a five-trout daily limit.

WDFW Okanogan district fish biologist Bob Jateff of Twisp says these fisheries provide good angling throughout the winter months, either open water as they mostly are now, or iced-over later in the month or season.

“Expect rainbow trout in the 10 to 12 inch range,” Jateff said. “Catches are made on all kinds of bait, lures, and flies.” 

Fish Lake and Roses Lake in Chelan County usually provide good fishing during December and throughout the winter. WDFW Chelan district fish biologist Travis Maitland of Wenatchee said yellow perch and rainbow trout are the main winter targets at both lakes, which are open year-round.

Meanwhile, steelhead fishing on the upper Columbia River will close one hour after sunset on Dec. 1 from Wells Dam to the Highway 173 bridge at Brewster and on the Wenatchee, Icicle, Entiat, and Methow rivers.

Several whitefish fisheries scheduled to open that day will also close an hour after sunset Dec. 1, including those on the Wenatchee and Entiat rivers, as well as on the Methow River downstream from the confluence with the Chewuch River in Winthrop.

Jeff Korth, Regional Fish Manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said the closures are necessary to keep impacts on wild steelhead within limits established under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

He notes, however, that the closures will not affect steelhead or whitefish seasons on the mainstem Columbia River from Rock Island Dam to Wells Dam, or from the Highway 173 Bridge in Brewster to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam. Those fisheries, plus steelhead and whitefish seasons on the Okanogan and Similkameen rivers, will remain open until further notice under previously published rules.

“This year’s run is smaller than in recent years and contains a relatively high proportion of wild steelhead,” Korth said. “Those factors, combined with steady angler effort, increased the rate of encounters with natural-origin fish in some fishing areas this year.”
For more information see the fishing rule change notice on the WDFW website.

Hunting:  December is usually a great month for waterfowl hunting in the Columbia Basin. WDFW regional staff report northern migrant ducks have started to show up in all the usual waterways in Grant and Adams counties, and Canada geese are expected in good numbers throughout the Basin.  Good duck and goose hunting is under way and depending on weather, should only get better through the month.

WDFW Columbia Basin district wildlife biologist Rich Finger of Soap Lake recommends checking out his detailed information for waterfowlers in the District 5 Hunting Prospects publication.

Meanwhile, the late archery season for white-tailed deer runs through Dec. 15 in select game management units in the region. Check all details in the WDFW Big Game Hunting rules pamphlet.

Wildlife viewing: December is a great month for birdwatching, especially with Audubon’s 113th annual Christmas Bird Count scheduled Dec. 14 through Jan. 5. Everyone, from first-time birders to veterans, is welcome to help count birds by species in designated areas, from the Okanogan to the Columbia Basin. Past counts in this region have included everything from big snowy owls to little snow buntings. See Audubon’s website to find where and when you can participate.

Another option is the winter ecology snowshoe tours sponsored by the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association and other organizations. Starting Dec. 22, local volunteers will lead Saturday tours from Sun Mountain Lodge and the North Cascades base camp that focus on viewing and learning wintering wildlife. See the association’s website for more information on joining a tour.

Closer to home, motorists need to be alert to deer and other wildlife on the road, said WDFW wildlife biologist David Volsen of Wenatchee. As of late November, Volsen said deer-vehicle collisions in the Wenatchee and Chelan area were on the rise – even though most deer were still in the high country.

“Deer are most actively feeding at dawn and dusk, which coincides with driver commutes,” Volson said. “Also, late November is breeding season for deer, and bucks are actively seeking does and are much less wary near and on roadways.”

Volson said recent wildfires also may be changing the activity patterns of deer in the area. “Some may be displaced by the fires and some may be attracted into the fire area by fall green-up,” he said.

“Wildlife around us is one of those things that makes our area such a great place to live,” Volsen said. “By staying alert at this time of year we can have a safe commute and save wildlife, too.”

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

Fishing:  Catch rates for hatchery steelhead have picked up in the Hanford Reach, but are still running a little slower than normal. Paul Hoffarth, a district fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said fishing should remain productive through March as steelhead mill around waiting for the spring spawn.

The question, though, is whether anglers will brave the elements to catch those fish as they move upriver. “Angler participation definitely drops off as we head into the winter months,” Hoffarth said. “The fish are still out there, but fishing tends to get spotty – good one day, bad the next.”

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

The Yakima River Basin is closed to steelhead fishing, but the whitefish season opens Dec. 1 on both the Yakima and Naches rivers. As in years past, the catch limit is 15 fish per day, but anglers are required to use a single-point hook, measuring no more than 3/16 inch from point to shank (hook size 14).

Anglers fishing the Yakima River from Easton Lake to Keechelus Dam can catch eastern brook trout under selective gear rules. No size or daily limits are in effect for eastern brook trout, but fishing is strictly catch-and-release for all other species of trout.

In other waters, WDFW will stock half-pound rainbows in the North Elton Pond near Selah, which opens to fishing Dec. 1 with a two-fish daily limit. In addition, the department recently planted excess rainbow trout brood stock weighing 5-10 pounds apiece in North FioRito and Mattoon Lakes near Ellensburg.

Additional waters may be stocked with the large rainbow trout brood stock in the next few weeks, depending on availability. Watch for further word on weekly fish plants on WDFW’s website.

Hunting:  Duck hunting has been good this year, and should get even better as storms move more northern birds into the Columbia Basin in December. A record 48.6 million ducks were counted on the breeding grounds in Canada last spring and should start showing up in increasing numbers this month.

To get the most out of late-season hunting, watch for significant changes in the weather, says Jeff Bernatowicz, a WDFW wildlife biologist for Yakima and Kittitas counties.

“If there’s a quick thaw and rain, new ducks enter the area and hunting improves for a week or so before they find refuge on private land or the reserves,” he said.

Hunting seasons for both ducks and geese run through Jan. 27 throughout the region, although goose hunting is limited to Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays in Management Area 4 (which includes Benton and Franklin counties). For more information about the season, see WDFW’s Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game rule pamphlet on the WDFW website.

Upland bird hunters have through Dec. 31 to hunt forest grouse.

Meanwhile, archery seasons for elk and deer run through Dec. 8 in select game management units throughout the region. Rules for those hunts are described in the Big Game Hunting pamphlet.

As noted on page 17 of the pamphlet, Jan. 31 is the deadline for hunters to report their hunting activity for each special permit acquired and each deer, elk, bear, and turkey tag purchased in 2012. Those who do not meet the deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can buy a license next year. Those who report by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for one of nine special elk or deer permits.

Wildlife viewing: Starting in December, hundreds of hungry elk and big-horn sheep will descend on WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area, where visitors can watch them dine on alfalfa hay and pellets. With cold temperatures and heavy snow in the forecast, managers at the wildlife area 15 miles northwest of Yakima are expecting a strong turnout.

WDFW's winter feeding program usually gets under way when snow starts to pile up. Even before feeding begins, some elk are visible near traditional winter feeding sites. Bald eagles can also be observed feeding on spawned-out salmon along the Yakima River.

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

A valid state Discover Pass or WDFW Access Pass is required to park at the Wildlife Area. Visitors can purchase a Discover Pass at the Wildlife Area once the feeding starts, or on-line any time of the year. Access Passes are free with the purchase of certain fishing and hunting licenses.

Meanwhile, Audubon Society chapters around the region are preparing for the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), which gets under way this month. Sponsored by Audubon, the annual event enlists birdwatchers – both veterans and novices – to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database. For more information on the CBC, visit the Audubon website. To get involved, visit the Washington Ornithology Society's website for a counting circle in your area.