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

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February 2013

(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 7, 2013)

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

No need to wait until spring
to catch fish, observe wildlife

Temperatures are warming, birds are singing and spring chinook salmon are starting to move into the lower Columbia River. Spring is still a ways off, but February offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

This year’s return of spring chinook is expected to be lower than in the past few years, but the fishery still offers anglers an opportunity to catch some of the Northwest’s most highly prized fish, said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“We’ve already received a few reports of anglers catching springers, and the action should pick up in the weeks ahead,” Hymer said. “The size of the run is one factor in catching fish, but being in the right place at the right time counts for a lot, too.”

For information about the spring chinook season, see the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/news/jan3013a/.

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

  • Blackmouth salmon: More areas of Puget Sound are opening to fishing for blackmouth chinook salmon, including Hood Canal, Marine Area 11 (Tacoma-Vashon) and – later in the month – Sekiu. Good fishing for blackmouth has also been reported around the San Juan Islands and the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  • Razor clams: An evening dig has been approved Feb. 7-12 at Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis and Mocrocks beaches. Another dig is tentatively planned Feb. 23-24 at Twin Harbors and Long Beach. For updates on these and future digs, check the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/current.html.
  • 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, Point Defiance Park Pier in Tacoma and the Indianola Pier in Kitsap County. For more information, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/squid/howto_fish.html

Anglers and hunters eager to gear up for seasons ahead will have several good chances to do so at a trio of sportsmen’s shows this month. They include the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show, Feb. 6-10 in Portland; the Central Washington Sportsmen Show, Feb. 15-17 in Yakima; and the Wenatchee Valley Sportsmen Show, Feb. 22-24 in Wenatchee. WDFW will have booths at all three shows, which also feature fly-casting pools, trophy displays, and experts on topics ranging from fly fishing to elk bugling.

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 around the world. From Feb.15-18, 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. 

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
(Island, King, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties)

Fishing: With fishing for steelhead and other game fish closing 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, according to fish biologists with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).  Anglers fishing waters around the San Juan Islands (Marine Area 7)– 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.

Seattle/Bremerton waters (Marine Area 10) are closed to salmon fishing, except for certain fishing piers including the Elliott Bay Fishing Pier at Terminal 86, Seacrest Pier, Waterman Piers, the Bremerton Boardwalk and Illahee State Park Pier. Detailed season and rule information is available on the WDFW website.

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 also 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.

Fishing for steelhead and other game fish closes Feb. 1 in many regional river systems. However, some waters near WDFW fish hatcheries will remain open through Feb. 15 to provide anglers an opportunity to catch and keep hatchery steelhead. Those waters include portions of the Skagit, Wallace, Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers. Anglers should check WDFW’s sportfishing regulations pamphlet for details.

Freshwater anglers may also want to try their luck on 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.

Hunting: Hunters and other members of the public can comment through Feb. 15 on changes to hunting rules proposed by WDFW. WDFW is accepting written comments on 17 proposals, posted on WDFW’s website. The proposals include:

  • Expanding spring black bear hunting opportunities in the northern Puget Sound area to reduce bear damage to trees in commercial timberlands.
  • Allowing the use of illuminated arrow nocks for archery equipment.
  • Restoring antlerless elk opportunities for archery hunters in Yakima County, specifically in Game Management Units 352 (Nile) and 356 (Bumping).

Written comments may be emailed to wildthing@dfw.wa.gov or mailed to: Wildlife Program Commission Public Comments, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, a nine-member citizen panel that set policy for WDFW, will discuss the proposals and hold a final round of public comments during a meeting set March 1-2 in Moses Lake. The commission is scheduled to vote on the new hunting rules during a meeting April 12-13 in Olympia.

Wildlife viewing: With 15 minutes of spare time, birders can 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.15-18, 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 backyards or anywhere they choose.

In late 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. 23-24, and will feature tours and speakers for the experienced and beginning birder. For more information, visit the festival’s website.

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

Fishing: Blackmouth fishing opportunities expand in February, when several marine areas in Puget Sound re-open for salmon. In the rivers, steelhead are still the best bet – especially on the coast, where two razor clam digs also are scheduled at ocean beaches.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has given the green light to an evening razor clam dig at several ocean beaches. The opening dates and evening low tides are:

  • Feb. 7, Thursday, 4:22 p.m., -0.5 ft., Twin Harbors
  • Feb. 8, Friday, 5:11 p.m., -0.9 ft., Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis, Mocrocks
  • Feb. 9, Saturday, 5:56 p.m., -1.0 ft., Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis, Mocrocks
  • Feb. 10, Sunday, 6:37 p.m., -0.9 ft., Twin Harbors, Long Beach
  • Feb. 11, Monday, 7:17 p.m., -0.5 ft., Twin Harbors
  • Feb. 12, Tuesday, 7:54 p.m., 0.0 ft., Twin Harbors

Later in February, WDFW will proceed with another digging opportunity if marine toxin tests are favorable. Tentative opening dates and evening low tides for that dig are:

  • Feb. 23, Saturday, 5:12 p.m., +0.3 ft., Long Beach, Twin Harbors
  • Feb. 24, Sunday, 5:47 p.m., +0.1 ft., Long Beach, Twin Harbors

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 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, anglers will have additional opportunities to fish for blackmouth in the marine areas of Puget Sound on Feb. 1, when marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon) and 12 (Hood Canal) open for salmon. Marine areas 13 (South Puget Sound) and 6 (eastern Strait) are already open for salmon fishing.

“Fishing has been very good in the eastern Strait and Marine Area 7 (San Juan Islands), especially at Coyote, Hein and Partridge banks,” said Ryan Lothrop, WDFW’s Puget Sound recreational salmon fishery manager. “That should continue into February.”

Later in month, anglers will also have a chance to hook blackmouth in Marine Area 5 (Sekiu), where salmon fishing open Feb. 16. “Last February, blackmouth fishing started strong at Sekiu, and anglers continued to do well over the next several weeks,” Lothrop said. “Hopefully fishing will be just as good this year once the season gets under way.”

Saltwater anglers in southern Puget Sound are hooking resident coho salmon, said Larry Phillips, district fish biologist for WDFW. “The Tacoma Narrows has been decent for resident coho, and I’ve heard they are finding a few blackmouth as well,” he said. “The Squaxin Island area and Eld Inlet off Evergreen Beach are two other spots anglers might want to try fishing for resident coho this time of year.”

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 the 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.

Another option is to head to a local lake and hook some trout. Anglers fishing American Lake (Pierce County) and Saint Clair Lake (Thurston County) have been doing well for rainbow trout, said Phillips. “They’ve been hooking some nice trout in the 13- to 16-inch range at both lakes, which have decent carry over rates for trout stocked the previous summer,” he said. 

In the northern rivers, the hatchery steelhead run is winding down, but more wild steelhead are arriving each week, said Kirt Hughes, regional fishery manager for 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.

Farther south, anglers can still find hatchery steelhead in the Skookumchuck, Satsop, Wynoochee and mainstem Chehalis rivers, where late-run steelhead are still being caught, said Hughes.

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. Details are available at the derby’s website.

Hunting: Hunters and other members of the public will have through Feb. 15 to comment on changes to hunting rules proposed by WDFW.

The department is accepting written comments on the 17 proposals, posted on WDFW’s website. Written comments may be emailed to wildthing@dfw.wa.gov or mailed to: Wildlife Program Commission Public Comments, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, a nine-member citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for WDFW, will discuss the proposals and hold a final round of public comments during a meeting set March 1-2 in Moses Lake. The commission is scheduled to vote on the new hunting rules during a meeting April 12-13 in Olympia.

Wildlife viewing: 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 over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.15-18, 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. After a 15-year run in North America, the bird count is going global for the first time in 2013. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose. 

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

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.”

The spring chinook fishery is open below the Interstate 5 Bridge until March 1, when new rules approved by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon extend the fishery further upriver. The current limit is two adult hatchery fish per day.

Barbless hooks are required to fish for salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout in the mainstem Columbia River from the north jetty to the Washington/Oregon border above McNary Dam. Anglers may still use single-point, double-point, or treble hooks in those waters, so long as any barbs have been filed off or pinched down.

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.

Anglers may also retain two adult hatchery spring chinook per day on the Cowlitz and Deep rivers. The limit on the Lewis River, East Fork Lewis and Kalama river is one spring chinook per day through Feb. 14, after which all or part of those rivers will close to retention of spring chinook will close until further notice. See WDFW’s Emergency Rules webpage for details.

“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. 

Starting March 1, the chinook fishery on the mainstem Columbia River will expand upriver to Beacon Rock – and to Bonneville Dam for bank anglers – under new fishing seasons approved in late January. The initial spring chinook fishery is scheduled to run through April 5, but could be extended if enough fish are still available under the harvest guideline, said Ron Roler, WDFW Columbia River policy manager.

According to the pre-season forecast, a total of 141,400 upriver spring chinook will return to the Columbia River Basin this year – well below last year’s return and the recent 10-year average of just under 200,000 fish. Another 67,600 spring chinook are expected to return to lower-river tributaries such as the Willamette and Cowlitz rivers.

“Salmon returns are highly variable, and we’ll have a better idea what the season holds once the bulk of the run starts moving upriver,” Roler said. “Although the preseason forecast is smaller than in recent years, it is still twice as large as those we saw in the 1990s.”

The harvest guideline through April 5 will allow anglers to catch up to 5,000 hatchery-reared upriver chinook below Bonneville Dam before the run forecast is updated in May. Another 670 adult fish will be reserved for anglers fishing between Bonneville and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam.

For more information on the new season, see the news release and the fishing rule change on the WDFW website.

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 and 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. Through April, angling is prohibited in the slough formed by Sand Island along the Oregon shore east of Rooster Rock State Park on the Columbia River.

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. 10 to preserve a portion of the 1,100-fish quota in that area for a summer fishery. Fishery managers anticipate that 850 (or more) 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 the same meeting where fishery managers set new spring chinook rules, they also established joint sturgeon-fishing seasons below Bonneville Dam that reflect ongoing concerns about sturgeon populations in the lower Columbia River. For more information, see the news release and fishing rule change on the WDFW website.

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 are lakes with tens of thousands of them in the past two months, and most are still available to anglers, said John Weinheimer, another WDFW fish biologist based in Vancouver. In addition, Battle Ground Lake and Klineline Pond will each be stocked with 3,000 catchable-size trout in February.

Weinheimer said he’s also getting reports of kokanee being caught at Merwin Reservoir, adding that the action should pick up throughout the month.

Anglers and hunters who want to get prepped for the seasons ahead might want to drop by the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show, which runs Feb. 6-10 at the Portland Expo Center. WDFW will have a booth at the show, which will also feature plenty of outdoor gear, a kids’ trout pond and experts on topics ranging from fly fishing to elk bugling.

Hunting: Hunters and other members of the public can comment through Feb. 15 on changes to hunting rules proposed by WDFW. WDFW is accepting written comments on 17 proposals, posted on WDFW’s website. The proposals include:

  • Expanding spring black bear hunting opportunities in the northern Puget Sound area to reduce bear damage to trees in commercial timberlands.
  • Allowing the use of illuminated arrow nocks for archery equipment.
  • Restoring antlerless elk opportunities for archery hunters in Yakima County, specifically in Game Management Units 352 (Nile) and 356 (Bumping).

Written comments may be emailed to wildthing@dfw.wa.gov or mailed to: Wildlife Program Commission Public Comments, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, a nine-member citizen panel that set policy for WDFW, will discuss the proposals and hold a final round of public comments during a meeting set March 1-2 in Moses Lake. The commission is scheduled to vote on the new hunting rules during a meeting April 12-13 in Olympia.

Wildlife viewing:  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 over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.15-18, 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. After a 15-year run in North America, the bird count is going global for the first time in 2013. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose. 

A good place to see a variety of birds is the William Clark Trail along the Columbia near Washougal. WDFW wildlife biologists recently saw tundra swans, Canada geese, mallards, pintails, gadwall, shovelers, widgeon, ring-necked ducks, scaup, merganzers, buffleheads, coots and bald eagles along the trail. For more information, see the Clark/Vancouver Parks’ website.

Speaking of trails, the Washington Trails Association is sponsoring a work party Feb. 9-10 to repair eroding portions of the Labyrinth trail at Coyote Wall in the Columbia River Gorge east of Bingen. Two more work parties are scheduled Feb. 16 and Feb. 23 to construct a trail reroute near the old grist mill at Whipple Creek. For more information, email ryan@wta.org.

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

Fishing:  February fishing throughout the region can be good for those willing and equipped to brave wintery conditions.

In the central district, two winter-only rainbow trout lakes continue to produce decent catches. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) district fish biologist Randy Osborne reports fishing at Hog Canyon Lake, in southwest Spokane County off the Fishtrap I-90 exit, has been slow but anglers are hooking rainbows from 11 to 18 inches.  Meanwhile, Fourth of July Lake, on the Lincoln-Adams county line south of the town of Sprague, was producing catch limits of fish over 14 inches. Osborne reminds anglers that the daily catch limit at both lakes is five fish but only two fish over 14 inches may be retained. 

The region’s other two winter-only fishing lakes – Hatch and Williams in northern Stevens County – also continue to provide catches of rainbows through the ice.

Osborne reminds anglers to “use common sense” when ice fishing. The ice depth at Fourth of July is about eight inches at the narrows and about five inches at the south end, Osborne said. Although that ice is safe for the most part, there may be some thin sections or open water around the edges. 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.

Year-round-open fishing lakes in the region are also a good bet in February. The best is probably Lake Roosevelt, the huge reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam that stretches along the north border of Lincoln County and between Ferry and Stevens counties. Most of the best fishing has been lower in the reservoir near the dam.  

Fish biologist Randy Osborne shows off his Lake Roosevelt kokanee catch.
Fish biologist Randy Osborne shows
off his Lake Roosevelt kokanee catch.

“Rainbow trout and kokanee fishing has been really good for those willing to be out on the water braving the cold,” said Osborne, who was recently among those fishing at the lake.  “We’ve heard many reports of limits of rainbows ranging from 15 to18 inches.  And although fewer and farther between, anglers have been catching kokanee weighing up to 3.5 pounds.”

Other smaller year-round waters still producing include Silver Lake in southwest Spokane County and Eloika Lake in northern Spokane County, both with good catches of yellow perch up to 9 inches.  Rock Lake in Whitman County has been consistent through the winter for rainbow and brown trout catches, but anglers should be prepared for wind. Sprague Lake, on the Lincoln-Adams county line, has been fair for rainbow trout. Bead Lake, north of Newport in Pend Oreille County, traditionally has catches of burbot at this time.

Waitts Lake in southern Stevens County, which has provided decent catches of both trout and perch, closes at the end of February.

Hunting: Hunters and other members of the public can comment through Feb. 15 on changes to hunting rules proposed by WDFW. WDFW is accepting written comments on 17 proposals, posted on WDFW’s website. The proposals include:

  • Expanding spring black bear hunting opportunities in the northern Puget Sound area to reduce bear damage to trees in commercial timberlands.
  • Allowing the use of illuminated arrow nocks for archery equipment.
  • Restoring antlerless elk opportunities for archery hunters in Yakima County, specifically in Game Management Units 352 (Nile) and 356 (Bumping).

Written comments may be emailed to wildthing@dfw.wa.gov or mailed to: Wildlife Program Commission Public Comments, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, a nine-member citizen panel that set policy for WDFW, will discuss the proposals and hold a final round of public comments during a meeting set March 1-2 in Moses Lake. The commission is scheduled to vote on the new hunting rules during a meeting April 12-13 in Olympia.

Wildlife viewing: February can be an excellent time for viewing wildlife, especially birds. Raptors or birds of prey are highly visible while they hunt snow-covered fields throughout the region, with northern shrikes, rough-legged hawks, and snowy owls among the species noted at this time. Drivers traveling through the region’s agricultural areas may see winter-visiting snow buntings and Lapland longspurs among roadside groups of horned larks. Backyard feeder birds are even easier to spot, with an abundance of finches, juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers taking advantage of provided seed and suet.

Juli Anderson, WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area manager, said Hungarian partridge coveys and smaller groups of pheasants are often seen picking up grit at roadsides this time of year in the shrub-steppe habitat of Lincoln County.

WDFW Wooten Wildlife Area manager Kari Dingman says a pair of bald eagles that nest on the area in Columbia County have recently been visible foraging along and in the Tucannon River. Bald eagles can also be seen along the Snake and Grande Ronde rivers in the southeast district, as well as along other major waterways throughout the region.

Woody Myers, WDFW ungulate researcher, notes that late winter is almost always a good time to see both bald and golden eagles, ravens, and magpies cleaning up carcasses of road-killed or otherwise winter-killed deer and other wildlife.

WDFW vegetation ecologist Kurt Merg notes that usually by the third week of February some of the earliest returning waterfowl, like pintails and widgeon, can be spotted on the ephemeral ponds of the Palouse and lakes throughout the scablands. 

With all that bird-watching opportunity and more, it’s a great time to participate in a little “citizen science.” It only takes about 15 minutes to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual survey of birds sighted over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.15-18, 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. After a 15-year run in North America, the bird count is going global for the first time in 2013. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose. 

Other wildlife watching at this time of year can be closer than expected as winter-weary animals seek easier travel corridors or forage.  Myers advises motorists to slow down on roads through deer, elk and moose country and reminds viewers to maintain respectable distances from animals. “It’s still very much winter throughout the region,” Myers said. “Keep your distance from wildlife that are likely experiencing stress from persistent snow cover, cold temperatures, and limited forage.”

A herd of about 12 elk was recently seen a few miles southwest of WDFW’s Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County, where the big animals really stand out in the nearly tree-less shrub-steppe habitat.

WDFW wildlife biologist David Woodall of Clarkston reports bighorn sheep are very visible near the Hellar Bar area of the Snake River above the mouth of the Grande Ronde River in Asotin County.

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

Fishing:  Fishing for steelhead in northcentral Washington continues through February on three waterways: 1) the mainstem Columbia River from Rock Island Dam to the boundary markers below Wells Dam and from Highway 173 Bridge in Brewster to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam; 2) the Okanogan River from the mouth upstream to the Highway 97 Bridge in Oroville; and 3) the Similkameen River from the mouth upstream to 400 feet below Enloe Dam.

“It’s been slow steelheading in the mainstem Columbia River above Brewster due to cold daytime temperatures,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Okanogan District Fish Biologist Bob Jateff. “Fishing should pick up as things start to warm up a little this month.”

Jateff reminds steelheaders that the Okanogan and Similkameen rivers are under selective gear rules, and there is a mandatory retention rule in effect for all steelhead fishing areas.  The daily catch limit is two adipose-fin-clipped, hatchery-origin fish, with a minimum size of 20 inches.  Any steelhead with an adipose fin must be released unharmed and can’t be removed from the water.

WDFW Chelan District Fish Biologist Travis Maitland also reports steelheading on the Upper Columbia River from Rock Island Dam to Wells Dam has been slow, although a few harvestable hatchery steelhead are being caught.

Beginning Feb. 8, the Wenatchee and Icicle rivers will open for steelhead fishing. The Wenatchee River will be open from the mouth to 400 feet below Tumwater Dam, while the Icicle River will be open from the mouth to 500 feet downstream of the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery Barrier Dam. Anglers can also fish for whitefish beginning Feb. 8 on the Wenatchee River, from the mouth to the Highway 2 Bridge at Leavenworth.

The daily limit on the Wenatchee and Icicle rivers is two hatchery steelhead, marked with a clipped adipose fin and measuring at least 20 inches in length. Anglers must retain any legal hatchery steelhead they catch until they reach their daily limit of two fish. For more information, check the fishing rule change.

Other fishing opportunities in the region through February are through the ice for trout and spiny-ray fish at year-round or otherwise still-open lakes.

Maitland reports quite a bit of weekend ice fishing pressure at Fish Lake north of Leavenworth, with mixed bags of yellow perch and rainbow trout.  Some of the larger perch have been 11 to 12 inches, he said. 

Roses Lake, just north of Manson, has been producing mostly rainbows through the ice, Maitland says, but there are some nice perch to be found also.

“Last year the perch at Roses ran on average larger than those caught out of Fish Lake,” he said.  “We also still have some of those large tiger and brown trout in Roses Lake. One angler told me that he had hooked into something that he could not control and eventually broke his line.  Who knows what that was?”

Jateff says ice fishing is in full swing during February in Okanogan County at the following lakes:

  • Davis (near Winthrop) for rainbow trout 11-13 inches
  • Patterson (near Winthrop) for yellow perch 7-9 inches and kokanee to 11 inches
  • Leader (near Omak) for bluegill, black crappie, bass, yellow perch, rainbow trout
  • Big and Little Green (near Omak) for rainbow trout to 13 inches
  • Rat (near Brewster) for rainbow and brown trout to 15 inches
  • Palmer (near Loomis) for yellow perch to 10 inches and kokanee
  • Sidley/Molson (near Oroville) for rainbow trout 11-14 inches
  • Bonaparte (near Tonasket) for eastern brook trout and kokanee

Jateff and Maitland remind anglers to take a cautious approach when ice fishing. Repeated thawing and re-freezing can make ice unsafe. Here are some ways to reduce the risk of fishing on ice:

  • 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.

WDFW staff will be available to answer fishing and other questions at the first annual Wenatchee Valley Sportsmen Show, Feb. 22-24, at the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee. For more info see http://www.shuylerproductions.com/wvss.php .

Hunting: Hunters and other members of the public can comment through Feb. 15 on changes to hunting rules proposed by WDFW. WDFW is accepting written comments on 17 proposals, posted on WDFW’s website. The proposals include:

  • Expanding spring black bear hunting opportunities in the northern Puget Sound area to reduce bear damage to trees in commercial timberlands.
  • Allowing the use of illuminated arrow nocks for archery equipment.
  • Restoring antlerless elk opportunities for archery hunters in Yakima County, specifically in Game Management Units 352 (Nile) and 356 (Bumping).

Written comments may be emailed to wildthing@dfw.wa.gov or mailed to: Wildlife Program Commission Public Comments, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, a nine-member citizen panel that set policy for WDFW, will discuss the proposals and hold a final round of public comments during a meeting set March 1-2 in Moses Lake. The commission is scheduled to vote on the new hunting rules during a meeting April 12-13 in Olympia.

Wildlife viewing:  February wildlife viewing can add to the enjoyment of non-motorized outdoor recreation in the snowy northcentral region.  Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat-tire snow bicycling are at a peak this month, as are opportunities to see wildlife.

WDFW Methow Wildlife Area manager Tom McCoy of Winthrop reports abundant snow, recreation enthusiasts, winter birds and other wildlife on the area in Okanogan County.

“It seems that any point on the wildlife area that can be reached with a vehicle is being used as a jumping off point for outdoor recreation,” he said.  “We’ve seen people skinning up and skiing down Lewis Butte, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing both on and off the new winter sports trail that crosses our Lloyd Ranch unit northeast of Pearrygin Lake, riding fat bikes, and enjoying the sights and sounds of hawks, eagles, owls and other wildlife here.”

Fishers and hunters with annual licenses receive a complimentary WDFW Vehicle Access Pass for parking at wildlife areas, but others will need the Discover Pass (available at http://www.discoverpass.wa.gov/.)  McCoy noted that the primary roads through the wildlife area are not open to public use with motorized vehicles, but are being heavily used by winter recreationists. 

The Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA) offers “Nature of Winter” family snowshoe tours focusing on wildlife and tracks and winter ecology every Saturday through February. Tours begin at 11 a.m. and run 90-120 minutes, depending on conditions. MVSTA trail passes or a MVSTA snowshoe trail pass ($5) are required for each person.  Passes and snowshoe rentals are available at Sun Mountain Ski Shop, North Cascades Basecamp, Mazama Ski Shop, Methow Cycle & Sport and Winthrop Mountain Sports. Tour groups are limited to 10 people. Reservations are not required; space is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Call MVSTA at 996-3287 or email events@mvsta.com for more information.

Wintering mule deer on the Rendezvous and other winter range units of the Methow Wildlife Area should be viewed from respectful distances, to avoid stressing the animals. Deer cross Highway 20 in the Methow Valley, so motorists should drive slowly throughout the area.

Winter persists in the southern portions of the region, too, but big waterways like Moses Lake and Potholes Reservoir have enough open water this month to begin enticing some of the earliest waterfowl migrants— mostly Canada geese and pintail ducks. Bald eagles can also be readily observed in the same areas where they’re taking advantage of the influx of waterfowl.

Some of the best wildlife viewing now might be close to home, with finches, juncos, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers taking advantage of seed and suet at backyard feeders. 

With all the bird-watching opportunity, it’s a great time to participate in a little “citizen science.” It only takes about 15 minutes to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual survey of birds sighted over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.15-18, 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. After a 15-year run in North America, the bird count is going global for the first time in 2013. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose. 

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

Fishing:  Winter has cast a chill on many area fisheries, but 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 start to rise.

In addition, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will start stocking Dalton Lake, Quarry Pond and the Columbia Park juvenile-fishing pond with trout next month.

But for whitefish, prime time is 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, WDFW fish manager for southcentral Washington. “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 on 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.

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.

For additional information on all these fisheries, see the Fishing in Washington pamphlet, available online.

Anglers and hunters who want to get prepped for the seasons ahead might want to drop by the Central Washington Sportsmen Show, running Feb. 15-17 at the Yakima Sundome. WDFW will have a booth at the show, which will also feature plenty of outdoor gear, a fly-casting pool and experts on topics ranging from fly fishing to elk bugling.

Hunting: Hunters and other members of the public can comment through Feb. 15 on changes to hunting rules proposed by WDFW. WDFW is accepting written comments on 17 proposals, posted on WDFW’s website. The proposals include:

  • Expanding spring black bear hunting opportunities in the northern Puget Sound area to reduce bear damage to trees in commercial timberlands.
  • Allowing the use of illuminated arrow nocks for archery equipment.
  • Restoring antlerless elk opportunities for archery hunters in Yakima County, specifically in Game Management Units 352 (Nile) and 356 (Bumping).

Written comments may be emailed to wildthing@dfw.wa.gov or mailed to: Wildlife Program Commission Public Comments, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, a nine-member citizen panel that set policy for WDFW, will discuss the proposals and hold a final round of public comments during a meeting set March 1-2 in Moses Lake. The commission is scheduled to vote on the new hunting rules during a meeting April 12-13 in Olympia.

Wildlife viewing:  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 over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.15-18, 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. After a 15-year run in North America, the bird count is going global for the first time in 2013. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of hungry elk and big-horn sheep have descended from the high country to dine on alfalfa hay and pellets at WDFW’s winter feeding program at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area. Bald and golden eagles are also on display and are visible on the cliffs behind the feed site.

The department conducts truck tours of the area, but some of the best views are from the parking lot, said Ross Huffman, wildlife area manager. “Binoculars help, but the animals are clearly visible without them,” he said. “Many families return year after year to take in this winter spectacle.”

Those planning a visit can check the recorded message on the headquarters phone (509) 653-2390 for updates on feeding and elk-viewing tours. Tour reservations must be made at least 48 hours in advance by calling (509) 698-5106. Driving instructions and other information on the wildlife area are available on WDFW’s website.

Visitors should be aware that a state Discover Pass or Access Pass is required to park at the Wildlife Area. Visitors can purchase a Discover Pass at the area headquarters or online from WDFW’s website.