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

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February 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 February 10, 2012)

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

No need to wait until spring
to go fishing, enjoy wildlife

Now that the big January storm has passed, early signs of spring have begun to appear in many parts of the state. The days are getting longer, spring chinook salmon are moving up the Columbia River, and bluebirds have been spotted in several areas.

Then again, many lakes in eastern Washington are still iced over, and the winter whitefish season is reaching its peak.

“Winter isn’t prime time for most fisheries, but the action should start to pick up this month,” said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “For example, the spring chinook fishery in the lower Columbia River started getting pretty darn good around Valentine's Day last year.”

State fishery managers also point to several other good fishing opportunities available this month:

  • Steelhead: Beginning Feb. 16, anglers can catch and keep a wild steelhead on one of eight rivers on the Olympic Peninsula. The Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Hoh, Quillayute, Quinault and Sol Duc rivers are the only rivers in Washington where wild steelhead may be retained.
  • Razor clams: An evening dig is tentatively scheduled Feb. 18-19 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks beaches. WDFW will announce the final word on that dig once marine toxin tests are completed about a week ahead of time.
  • Squid: This is also prime time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. Good spots include the Elliot Bay Pier in Seattle, the Edmonds Pier, the Point Defiance Park Pier in Tacoma, and the Indianola Pier in Kitsap County.

Rather count birds for science?  All it takes is 15 minutes of your time to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual survey of birds sighted throughout North America. From Feb.17-20, birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, online at http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose. 

The snow cover remaining in many parts of the state has also made it easier to spot large animals – particularly deer, elk, and moose, said WDFW wildlife biologist Woody Myers. He suggests watching for those animals near forest cover early in the morning and late afternoon.

“Look, but keep your distance,” Myers said. “It’s important to avoid disturbing animals that are under stress from limited food sources, cold temperatures, and snow cover.”

At WDFW’s Oak Creek Wildlife Area, more than 400 elk and 150 bighorn sheep are on display daily when they congregate to feed on alfalfa hay and pellets near the area headquarters 15 miles northwest of Yakima. The elk usually feed from 1-3 p.m. daily, while the sheep dine in mid-morning.

To park at the wildlife area, visitors must display a WDFW Vehicle Access Pass – issued to holders of Washington hunting and fishing licenses – or a Discover Pass. A one-day Discover Pass ($10) or an annual pass ($30) can be purchased from license dealers, by phone (1-866-320-9933), or online at http://www.discoverpass.wa.gov/. Transaction and/or dealer fees may apply. Fees generated by the pass support state parks and outdoor-recreation areas managed by WDFW and the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

For more information about these and other opportunities to enjoy Washington’s great outdoors, 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:  With fishing for steelhead and other game fish scheduled to close early on several rivers in the region, anglers are shifting their attention to the marine areas where blackmouth salmon fisheries are under way.

“Over the last couple of years, the San Juan Islands have been the most productive for anglers fishing for blackmouth salmon in February,” said Steve Thiesfeld, a fish biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “Fishing isn’t red hot in the early part of the month, but there have been reports that indicate anglers have had some pretty good days.” 

Anglers fishing Marine Area 7 (San Juan Islands) – as well as marine areas 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) and 9 (Admiralty Inlet) – have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook salmon.

Thiesfeld reminds anglers that Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) is closed to salmon fishing.

Before heading out, anglers can check creel reports for information on catch and effort in Puget Sound. Recreational fishery samplers with WDFW collect the information each week at fishing access sites throughout Puget Sound.

Winter is prime time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. Good spots include the Des Moines Pier, Redondo Pier, Elliott Bay Pier in Seattle and the Edmonds Pier. More information is available on the department’s squid fishing webpage. Information on fishing piers is available here.

Meanwhile, fishing for steelhead and other game fish is closing early in several river systems in Puget Sound and along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to protect wild steelhead. The early closures affect the Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish and Puyallup river systems, along with several streams along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Most river systems close Feb. 1. However, the Puyallup River system closed Jan. 16, and some waters near WDFW fish hatcheries are scheduled to close Feb. 16.

Pre-season estimates developed by WDFW last fall indicate that wild steelhead will return to those watersheds in numbers far short of target levels, said Bob Leland, WDFW’s steelhead program manager. “By taking this action, we can protect wild steelhead that do make it back to these river systems,” he said.

Leland reminds anglers that the Samish River, from the I-5 Bridge to the Hickson Bridge, closed to fishing Dec. 1. The stretch of the Samish River from the mouth to the I-5 Bridge closed Jan.1. For more information on all the closures, check the emergency rule changes on WDFW’s website at http://1.usa.gov/hfDjYl.

With several of the region’s rivers closing early, freshwater anglers might turn their attention to local lakes. Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish are good spots to fish for perch, cutthroat and smallmouth bass, said WDFW fisheries biologist Danny Garrett. “Anglers have had success catching trout at both lakes recently, and bass and perch have been caught as well,” he said.

Before heading out, anglers should check WDFW’s sportfishing regulations pamphlet for details on all fisheries.

Hunting: WDFW is accepting enrollment applications through Feb. 15 for its Master Hunter program. The department enlists master hunters to participate in controlled hunts to remove problem animals that damage property or threaten public safety. For information, see WDFW’s Master Hunter webpage or call 360-902-8412. 

Wildlife viewing: Have 15 minutes to spare for bird science? That’s virtually all it takes to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), an annual survey of birds sighted throughout the North American continent over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.17-20, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the GBBC website. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose.

Later in February, birders can take part in the Port Susan Snow Goose and Birding Festival in the Stanwood and Camano Island areas. The festival is scheduled for Feb. 25-26, and will feature tours and speakers for the experienced and beginning birder. For more information, visit the festival’s website.

South Sound/Olympic Peninsula

Fishing: Several areas of Puget Sound open to blackmouth salmon fishing in February, as wild steelhead continue to move into coastal rivers. A razor clam dig also is tentatively scheduled later in the month.

If tests are favorable, WDFW will proceed with an evening razor clam dig at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks. Tentative opening dates and evening low tides are:

  • Feb.18, Saturday, 4:13 p.m. (0.0 feet) Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks
  • Feb.19, Sunday, 5 p.m. (-0.2 feet) Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks

Clam diggers are reminded that they should take lights or lanterns for the nighttime digs and to 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 2011-12 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, the hatchery steelhead run is winding down, but more wild steelhead are arriving to the northern rivers each week, said Kirt Hughes, regional fishery manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). 

Beginning Feb. 16, anglers can retain one wild steelhead per license year on the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Hoh, Quillayute, Quinault and Sol Duc rivers. Those eight rivers are the only waters in Washington where wild steelhead retention is allowed.

“The abundant wild steelhead populations returning to those rivers also provide great catch-and-release fishing opportunities,” Hughes said. Information on weekly steelhead catches in the Quillayute River system and the Hoh River are available on WDFW’s website.

Elsewhere, fishing for steelhead and other game fish closed early in several rivers along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where wild steelhead are expected to return in numbers far short of target levels.

The early closures, which take effect Feb. 1, affect the Dungeness, Pysht, Clallam and Seiku rivers, as well as Morse, Salt and Deep creeks. For more information on all the closures, check the emergency rule changes on WDFW’s website at http://1.usa.gov/hfDjYl.

On the other hand, saltwater salmon fishing opportunities will expand Feb. 1, with the opening of marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon) and 12 (Hood Canal). In addition, salmon fisheries also get under way in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where marine areas 5 (Sekiu) and 6 (eastern Strait) open Feb. 16.

Once the Strait opens, anglers might want to try trolling Coyote Bank, which is located about 13 miles north of the Washington shore between Port Angeles and Dungeness Spit, said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist. “This time of year, Coyote is a good bet for salmon anglers out in the Strait,” he said. “Weather can be issue, however, so make sure you check the forecast if you’re heading out that way.”

In South Puget Sound, anglers are hooking resident coho salmon, especially in the Tacoma Narrows area of Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound), said Larry Phillips, regional fish biologist for WDFW.  Other areas anglers might want to try fishing for resident coho include the Squaxin Island area and in Eld Inlet off Evergreen Beach.

Anglers can check creel reports for information on catch and effort in Puget Sound. Recreational fishery samplers with WDFW collect the information each week at fishing access sites throughout Puget Sound.

Winter is prime time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. Good spots include the Point Defiance Park and Les Davis piers in Tacoma, and the Illahee State Park, Waterman and Indianola piers in Kitsap County. More information is available on the department’s squid fishing webpage. Information on fishing piers is available here.

Before heading out, anglers should check WDFW’s sportfishing regulations pamphlet for details on all fisheries.

Looking for some competition? Anglers can take part in the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby over Presidents’ Day Weekend near Sequim. Prizes include $10,000 for the largest fish, $5,000 for second place and $1,500 for third place. Details are available at the derby’s website.

Hunting: WDFW is accepting enrollment applications through Feb. 15 for its Master Hunter program. The department enlists master hunters to participate in controlled hunts to remove problem animals that damage property or threaten public safety. For information, see WDFW’s Master Hunter webpage or call 360-902-8412. 

Wildlife viewing: Have 15 minutes to spare for bird science? That’s virtually all it takes to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), an annual survey of birds sighted throughout the North American continent over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.17-20, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the GBBC website. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose.

Southwest Washington

Fishing:   Ocean bright spring chinook salmon are beginning to move into the Columbia River, setting the stage for one of the state’s most popular fisheries. Anglers typically start landing early-returning “springers” in early February, but the fishery usually doesn’t catch fire until March.

“This is a good time to dust off your gear, order your bait, prepare your boat, and maybe do a little prospecting,” said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “You want to be ready to go when the bulk of the run arrives.”

According to the pre-season forecast, a total of 314,200 upriver spring chinook will return to the Columbia River Basin this year, which would be the fourth-largest run on record. Another 109,000 spring chinook are expected to head for tributaries to the lower Columbia such as the Cowlitz, Lewis and Willamette rivers.

Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said this year’s spring chinook fishery looks promising, especially compared to last season.

“Not only is the run forecast well above average, but fishing conditions should be a lot better than last year when anglers had to contend with weeks of high, turbid water,” LeFleur said.

As in previous years, only hatchery-reared fish marked with a clipped adipose fin and a healed scar may be retained. All wild spring chinook, identifiable by an intact adipose fin, must be released unharmed. 

Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon have adopted new fishing seasons for spring chinook that run from March 1 through April 6 below Bonneville Dam. (See the WDFW news release and rule changes for details.) Until then, seasons and regulations listed in the 2011-12 Fishing in Washington pamphlet  remain in effect.

Fishing for spring chinook is currently open on the Columbia River below the Interstate 5 Bridge, where the limit is two adult hatchery fish per day. Anglers may also retain two adult hatchery spring chinook per day on the Cowlitz and Deep rivers, but are limited to one adult hatchery chinook a day on the Lewis and Kalama rivers.

"The Cowlitz River and waters near the Willamette River are probably the best bets early in the season, because spring chinook usually start showing up there first," Hymer said.

Meanwhile, anglers continue to reel in hatchery steelhead from waters ranging from the Cowlitz River to the John Day Pool and beyond. In general, the steelhead in the lower tributaries are winter-run fish, while those above Bonneville Dam are left over from last year’s summer run, Hymer said.

"Hatchery-reared late-run winter steelhead are still moving up the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers and should be available to anglers for weeks to come," he said.

Anglers fishing the Columbia River can also catch and keep legal-size white sturgeon in areas both below and above Bonneville Dam. Anglers can keep one fish measuring 38-54 inches (fork length) per day from The Dalles Dam downstream. The minimum size is 43-54 inches (fork length) upstream from The Dalles Dam. 

Below Bonneville Dam, the retention fishery downstream from the Wauna powerlines is open on a daily basis. Waters above the powerlines to the dam are open for sturgeon retention Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays only.

Sturgeon retention is also open on a daily basis in The Dalles and John Day pools, but will close in the Bonneville Pool at the end of the day Feb. 17. Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon agreed to close retention fishing in the Bonneville Pool at the request of anglers who wanted to preserve a portion of the 2,000-fish quota in that area for a summer fishery. The two states anticipate that 900 legal-size fish will be available for that purpose after the closure this month. Catch-and-release fishing will continue in the Bonneville Pool, where dates for a summer fishery will be announced in the coming weeks.

At a public meeting late last month, the two states set joint sturgeon-fishing seasons below Bonneville Dam that are designed to reduce the harvest for the third straight year. Concerned by the continued decline of sturgeon below the dam, fishing seasons were tightened to reduce this year’s catch by 38 percent. For more information about summer and fall sturgeon seasons, see WDFW’s news release outlining the results of the Jan. 26 meeting of the Columbia River Compact.

Fishing for Columbia River smelt will remain closed in both fresh and saltwater statewide. In 2010, the federal government declared eulachon a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act.

Rainbow trout, on the other hand, are readily available in lakes throughout southwest Washington.  WDFW stocked tens of thousands of them in 15 area lakes last month, and is following up with several thousand more in February. In Clark County, Battle Ground Lake and Klineline Pond are each scheduled to receive 2,000 more rainbows this month, and Horseshoe Lake in Cowlitz County will receive 500 half-pound rainbow broodstock to augment fishing there.

“Most of the fish we’ve planted so far this year should be available to anglers through February,” said John Weinheimer, a WDFW fish biologist. Weinheimer said he’s also getting reports of kokanee being caught at Merwin Reservoir, adding that the action should pick up throughout the month.

Hunting: WDFW is accepting enrollment applications through Feb. 15 for its Master Hunter program. The department enlists master hunters to participate in controlled hunts to remove problem animals that damage property or threaten public safety. For information, see WDFW’s Master Hunter webpage or call 360-902-8412. 

Wildlife watching:  Have 15 minutes to spare for bird science? That’s virtually all it takes to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual survey of birds sighted throughout North America over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.17-20, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the bird count website. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose. 

Perhaps, like many in the area, they’ll see a horned lark. In recent weeks, birders have been reporting concentrations of these birds from Steigerwald Lake to Washougal. Fairly uncommon to this area, horned larks have brown-grey wings, with a striking black and yellow face pattern. They are usually found on open ground, including farmlands, prairies, deserts and golf courses.

“Horned larks are tough in Clark County,” said one birder reporting to the Tweeter website. “They may be here due to the flooding in Oregon/Washington combined with the ice storm in the Columbia River Gorge.”

WDFW wildlife biologists are also reporting large flights of ducks – including Northern pintail, wigeon, mallards, green-winged teal and even a few cinnamon teal – at the Shillapoo Wildlife Area. Daren Hauswald, assistant manager of the wildlife area, also had a rare winter sighting of a small flock of western bluebirds. Canada geese, sandhill cranes and bald eagles are among the other birds on display in the Vancouver Lowlands at this time of year.

Eastern Washington

Fishing:  Recent snow is keeping winter fishing wintery, at least in some parts of the region, and that can make access difficult. But fish are available for hardy anglers at several year-round and winter-only waters.

Anglers are reminded to be especially careful on iced-over lakes or around icy shorelines. Repeated thawing and re-freezing can make ice unsafe. Tips to help keep an outing safe include:

  • Don’t fish alone. Let others know exactly where you and your fishing partners are going and when you plan to return.
  • Keep fishing holes small and few. When drilling fishing holes with an ice auger, keep the diameter under eight inches. Bigger holes are not necessary to land fish and can create a safety hazard for others.
  • Watch your step. Avoid ice fishing near feeder streams or known springs; brush, logs, plants or docks; multiple ice cracks or ice that is popping or otherwise audible; and dark-colored ice that may be weak.
  • Spread out. Too many people congregated in one area may be more than the ice can safely support. Disperse weight and fishing holes.
  • Be prepared with appropriate clothing and equipment for weather conditions and emergencies.

 
Stevens County’s two winter-only lakes – Hatch and Williams – are still providing some catches through the ice, according to Bill Baker, WDFW northeast district fish biologist. Hatch Lake, about five miles southeast of Colville, was producing some carry-over rainbow trout up to 15 inches and others around 11 inches that were stocked last year as fry. Williams Lake, 14 miles north of Colville, hasn’t been checked recently, but usually provides 14-inch-plus rainbows through the season.

Year-round-open Lake Roosevelt, the Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam, has net-pen-reared rainbow trout that run 15 to 22 inches. But Baker reports that Roosevelt fishing was slow at the end of January.  Anglers fishing the reservoir’s deeper water near river mouths, like the Colville River, Hawk Creek, or near the Spokane arm, are catching burbot.

This is the last month to fish Waitts Lake, west of Valley along Hwy. 395 in southern Stevens County. This 455-acre lake is stocked with rainbow trout catchables, brown trout fingerlings, net-pen-reared trout of both species, and even some brood stock – all with good winter carry-over. Waitts closes Feb. 28.

In Spokane County, year-round Eloika Lake, north of Chattaroy, was recently producing some yellow perch catches. WDFW Police Sgt. Dan Rahn reported checking anglers on the ice at Eloika and said catch rates were fairly slow. With more rain than snow in the forecast, Rahn noted Eloika’s ice could become marginal and anglers should be cautious about venturing out on it.

Rahn also recently checked about 23 anglers at Hog Canyon Lake northeast of Sprague in southwest Spokane County and tallied an average of only about one rainbow trout per angler.  Catch rates had been better earlier in the season, which opened Dec. 1 and runs through March. But Rahn also noted all the fish checked were over 14 inches. Anglers have a daily five-trout catch limit at Hog Canyon but only two fish over 14 inches can be retained.

Fourth of July Lake, on the Lincoln-Adams county line south of Sprague, is on the same winter-only fishing season with the same rules. Anglers there are averaging a couple of trout each, all over 14 inches.

WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area Manager Juli Anderson reports potential remains for winter trout fishing at the Lincoln County area’s Z Lake. An aerated opening about half way up the lake keeps this an open-water opportunity, she said, but anglers need to walk in about a mile from the county road to get there.

Year-round Rock Lake in Whitman County has been consistent through the winter for brown and rainbow trout catches. But be prepared for wind if you go there.

WDFW Blue Mountains Wildlife Area Complex Manager Bob Dice reminds steelhead fishers of the recent addition of 2,200 acres in the Mountain View area in Asotin County, along two miles of the Grand Ronde River and north along Cougar Creek, open now for outdoor recreation. The acquisition is phase one of a multi-year project to put nearly 12,000 acres of the 4-O Ranch in public ownership for recreation and fish and wildlife habitat management as part of the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area.  Dice says many of the new property lines have been identified with “Wildlife Area” signs, but a map is available on WDFW’s website.

Hunting: WDFW is accepting enrollment applications through Feb. 15 for its Master Hunter program. The department enlists master hunters to participate in controlled hunts to remove problem animals that damage property or threaten public safety. For information, see WDFW’s Master Hunter webpage or call 360-902-8412. 

Wildlife viewing:  Recent snow has made viewing deer, elk, and moose easier. WDFW Wildlife Biologist Woody Myers says these ungulates can be seen moving and foraging early in the morning and late afternoon wherever browse is available near forest cover.

“Look, but keep your distance, to avoid disturbing animals that are under stress from limited food sources, cold temperatures, and snow cover,” Myers said. “Responding to disturbance increases energy requirements of animals that are already experiencing an energy deficiency at this time of year.”

Parts of some of the region’s wildlife areas are closed at this time of year to protect wintering wildlife from such disturbance. Lick Creek Road and South Fork Road on the Asotin Creek Wildlife Area in Asotin County are closed to motorized vehicles until April 1. The Cummings Creek drainage in the W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area in Columbia County is closed to all entry until April 1.

WDFW’s Wooten area manager Kari Dingman said that with January’s wind and rain, has melted a lot of snow. Elk have been moving back up in elevation to snow level, but there are still lots of deer in the bottom lands.

Todd Baarstad, WDFW wildlife biologist, recently observed a group of eight elk cows and calves just to the west of Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County. Baarstad also saw four mule deer at Meadow Lake, south of Swanson, which is unusually early for that area. “They normally show up around here in March,” he said.

WDFW Swanson Lakes area manager Juli Anderson says the area is an excellent spot for viewing raptors. “On any given day there’s a good possibility of seeing roughlegged hawks, northern harriers, a few redtailed hawks, an occasional short-eared owl, and lots of great horned owls,” she said.

Pheasants and gray partridge are out along the roads lately, collecting gravel for their crops,” Anderson said. “Huge flocks of horned larks have been seen, along with some snow buntings. Northern shrikes are sitting on the utility lines and fence posts throughout the wildlife area.”

WDFW Blue Mountains Wildlife Area Complex Manager Bob Dice reminds wildlife viewers of the recent addition of 2,200 acres in the Mountain View area in Asotin County. The property is situated along two miles of the Grand Ronde River and north along Cougar Creek and is now open for outdoor recreation. The acquisition is phase one of a multi-year project to put nearly 12,000 acres of the 4-O Ranch in public ownership for recreation and fish and wildlife habitat management as part of the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area. Dice says many of the new property lines have been identified with “Wildlife Area” signs, but a map is available on WDFW’s website.

Birdwatchers of all kinds can join in the 15th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) Friday, Feb. 17, through Monday, Feb. 20. This citizen-science survey across North America – sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and others – creates a real-time snapshot online of birds across the continent in late winter. Anyone can participate for free, counting birds anywhere for as little or as long as desired during the four-day period and tallying the highest number of each species seen at any one time. Reports are filed online, where tallies across the continent can also be seen, both current and from past years of the count.

During last year’s GBBC, 80 Spokane participants reported 5,129 birds of 52 species, the most abundant being American robin, Canada goose, house sparrow, dark-eyed junco, mallard, house finch, California quail and American goldfinch.

Northcentral Washington

Fishing:  WDFW Chelan District Fish Biologist Travis Maitland of Wenatchee reports fishing at year-round-open Fish and Roses lakes has been “relatively good.” Mostly rainbow trout and yellow perch, with the occasional brown trout, are being caught through the ice at both lakes. Roses Lake, about a mile north of Manson, is also producing an occasional largemouth bass. (Fish Lake is about 16 miles north of Leavenworth.)

Maitland reminds anglers to be aware of changing conditions at this time of year, because repeated thawing and re-freezing can make ice unsafe.

Tips to help keep an outing safe include:

  • Don’t fish alone. Let others know exactly where you and your fishing partners are going and when you plan to return.
  • Keep fishing holes small and few. When drilling fishing holes with an ice auger, keep the diameter under eight inches. Bigger holes are not necessary to land fish and can create a safety hazard for others.
  • Watch your step. Avoid ice fishing near feeder streams or known springs; brush, logs, plants or docks; multiple ice cracks or ice that is popping or otherwise audible; and dark-colored ice that may be weak.
  • Spread out. Too many people congregated in one area may be more than the ice can safely support. Disperse weight and fishing holes.
  • Be prepared with appropriate clothing and equipment for weather conditions and emergencies.

In Okanogan County, several winter-only ice fishing opportunities continue this month, but anglers there are also advised to watch for changing conditions. 

Patterson Lake near Winthrop was recently checked by WDFW police officers who reported several ice fishers catching lots of yellow perch in the seven to eight-inch range. Anglers are encouraged to retain as many perch as possible out of Patterson Lake. 

Davis Lake, also in the Winthrop area, Rat Lake near Brewster, and Big and Little Green lakes west of Omak have also been providing good catches of rainbow trout through the ice. 

WDFW police checks of the Okanogan and Similkameen rivers at the end of January found both waterways almost completely iced over and therefore without steelhead anglers. But conditions can change quickly at this time of year. Steelheaders planning to try fishing in the coming weeks these two rivers, which remain open until further notice, should keep the following rules in mind:

  • Mandatory retention of hatchery (adipose fin clipped) steelhead, daily limit two hatchery steelhead, 20-inch minimum size
  • Wild (adipose fin present) steelhead must be released unharmed and cannot be removed from the water prior to release.
  • Night closure and selective gear rules remain in effect.

Whitefish anglers must follow selective gear rules – including no bait allowed – in these areas open to steelhead fishing.

Hunting: WDFW is accepting enrollment applications through Feb. 15 for its Master Hunter program. The department enlists master hunters to participate in controlled hunts to remove problem animals that damage property or threaten public safety. For information, see WDFW’s Master Hunter webpage or call 360-902-8412. 

Wildlife viewing:  Scott Fitkin, WDFW’s Okanogan district wildlife biologist, says it’s a good time to get out to the Methow Valley and observe animal tracks. “Groomed snowmobile routes and cross-country ski trails in the valley access many hundreds of miles of wildlife-rich terrain,” Fitkin said. “Snow depth on mule deer winter range is about average for this time of year in the Methow, with forage still reasonably accessible, particularly on south facing slopes.  Snow depths in the Okanogan Valley are noticeably shallower.”

Fitkin recommends joining the guided “Nature of Winter” weekend snowshoe tours that provide information about winter ecology, wildlife and tracks. These family-friendly tours are available Feb. 4, 11, 18, 19, 25 and March 3. They are sponsored by the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA), U.S. Forest Service and Atlas Snowshoes. Reservations are not required, with space available on a first-come, first-serve basis. For more information, call MVSTA at 509-996-3287 or visit its website.

WDFW Methow Wildlife Area Manager Tom McCoy agrees this is a great month to ski or snowshoe throughout the snow-covered wildlife area to observe. For information on the area, see WDFW’s website.

WDFW Wells Wildlife Area Complex Manager Dan Peterson reports small flocks of snow buntings have been seen in the Mansfield area of Douglas County, some mixed with many large flocks of horned larks.  Peterson and other biologists also recently toured Rufus Woods Lake by boat to survey stands of water birch trees in shoreline riparian draws used by sharp-tailed grouse for winter forage, particularly those in Bailey Basin (Okanogan County) and the extreme northeast corner of Douglas County.   During the boat tour they observed numerous bald eagles, great blue herons and many ducks including goldeneye, bufflehead and common merganser.

Dave Volsen, WDFW Chelan district wildlife biologist, said enough snow has fallen at lower elevations to see a downward movement of deer and bighorn sheep on their winter ranges.

Birdwatching is excellent on WDFW’s Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, where manager Dale Swedberg reports observations of Clark’s nutcrackers, black-capped chickadees, red-tailed hawks, pileated woodpeckers, northern shrike, northern harriers, pine grosbeak, redpolls, trumpeter swans and Bohemian waxwings. For more information, check the Sinlahekin webpage.

Birdwatchers of all kinds can join in the 15th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) Friday, Feb. 17, through Monday, Feb. 20. This citizen-science survey across North America – sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and others – creates a real-time snapshot online of birds across the continent in late winter. Anyone can participate for free, counting birds anywhere for as little or as long as desired during the four-day period and tallying the highest number of each species seen at any one time. Reports are filed online, where tallies across the continent can also be seen, both current and from past years of the count.

During last year’s GBBC, 18 Winthrop participants reported 1,008 birds of 45 species, the most abundant being American goldfinch, red-winged blackbird, dark-eyed junco, mourning dove, black-capped chickadee, house finch, red-breasted nuthatch, Bohemian waxwing, California quail and bald eagle

Southcentral Washington

Fishing:  While winter has put a chill on many area fisheries, the action should pick up for several species in the weeks ahead. Steelhead fishing usually starts to come alive in late February or early March and walleye fishing should improve as water temperatures rise.

But for whitefish, prime time is here now. Relatively hard to find during most months of the year, whitefish appear during the winter months and tend to go on the bite after the snow starts to fly. Hardy anglers are now catching whitefish on the Naches and Tieton rivers, and on the Yakima River upstream from Union Gap.

“February is a perfect time to catch whitefish,” said John Easterbrooks, southcentral regional fish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “Now is when they start to congregate and the catch levels rise.”

Anglers can catch and keep 15 whitefish per day, but fishing gear is restricted to one size 14 single-point hook. The standard bait is a whitefish fly and a maggot. While bony, whitefish – often served smoked -- have a dedicated following.

Easterbrooks reminds anglers that all fishing is closed on the Yakima River between the Highway 223 Bridge in Granger to the Interstate 82 Bridge in Union Gap. WDFW and the Yakama Nation closed that stretch of the river to protect steelhead listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Sturgeon fishing is another option, especially since the McNary Pool (also known as Lake Wallula) opened Feb. 1 for retention of legal-size fish. Drawing anglers from throughout the region, the fishery extends from McNary Dam upstream to Priest Rapids Dam on the Columbia River and upstream to Ice Harbor Dam in the Snake River.

Paul Hoffarth, a WDFW district fish biologist located in Pasco, said the opening at Lake Wallula should take some pressure off the fishery under way at Lake Umatilla (John Day Pool), where anglers have been chiseling away at the annual quota. "That quota has been reached very early in recent years, so anglers should go soon – and keep an eye out for updates,” he said.

In both areas, only sturgeon measuring 43-54 inches from their snout to the fork in their tail may be retained. “That’s also the measurement anglers should note on their catch record card,” Hoffarth said.

Meanwhile, anglers continue to catch some hatchery steelhead at Ringold, both from the bank and by boat. Although fishing has been spotty this winter, catch rates should pick up in late February or early March, Hoffarth said. The lower Snake River is also open for the retention of hatchery steelhead through March 31. The daily limit in the Snake River is three hatchery steelhead and barbless hooks are required.

Walleye fishing can also slow down in winter, but there’s always a chance of catching a lunker. Hoffarth said some of the largest walleye of the year are boated during the winter months near the Tri-Cities – including the 19.3-pound state record taken in Lake Wallula in 2007. The Oregon record, just shy of 20 pounds, was taken on Lake Umatilla during the winter of 1990.

Rather catch some trout. Dalton Pond, east of the Tri-Cities and about five miles northeast of Ice Harbor Dam on the north side of the Snake River, is scheduled to be planted with rainbow trout from WDFW’s Lyons Ferry Hatchery by the end of February if the weather stays below freezing. Quarry Pond, located in Walla Walla County near the Tri-cities, should also be stocked by the end of February.

For additional information, see the Fishing in Washington pamphlet, available online.

Wildlife viewing:  Snow has finally come to WDFW’s Oak Creek Wildlife Area, and so have the elk and bighorn sheep. Ross Huffman, wildlife area manager, said visitors can now see more than 400 elk and 150 sheep feed on alfalfa hay and pellets near the area headquarters 15 miles northwest of Yakima.

Huffman said the elk usually feed from 1-3 p.m. daily, while the sheep dine in mid-morning. Human 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, required at least 48 hours in advance, can be made by calling (509) 698-5106.

To park at the wildlife area, visitors must display a WDFW Vehicle Access Pass – issued to holders of Washington hunting and fishing licenses – or a Discover Pass. A one-day Discover Pass ($10) or an annual pass ($30) can be purchased from license dealers, on line, or by phone (1-866-320-9933). Transaction and/or dealer fees may apply. Fees generated by the pass support state parks and outdoor-recreation areas managed by WDFW and the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Have 15 minutes to spare for bird science? That’s virtually all it takes to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual survey of birds sighted throughout North America over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.17-20, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the bird count website. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose.