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

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January 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 January 4, 2012)

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

Waterfowl hunters, steelheaders, birders
bundle up and make the most of winter

The start of the new year is prime time for Washingtonians to hunt for ducks and geese, fish for hatchery-reared steelhead and enjoy the annual spectacle of bald eagles, snow geese, elk, big-horn sheep and other wintering wildlife.

Winter storms are good news – up to a point – for waterfowl hunters, who welcome the surge of ducks and geese that comes with wet, blustery weather. Success rates for waterfowl hunters typically pick up once the winter storms rolled in.

January is also prime time to fish for hatchery-reared steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula, squid in Puget Sound and whitefish in the Yakima, Naches and Cle Elum rivers. In addition, two razor clam digs are tentatively scheduled in January, as outlined on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/current.html.

But winter weather is an important consideration wherever you go. Ice fishing can be a dicey proposition in many parts of the state and heavy rains can render a river “unfishable” – even dangerous – virtually overnight.

“Preparation is essential for any outdoor activity, especially in winter,” said Mike Cenci, WDFW deputy chief of enforcement. “Check the weather conditions, river conditions and road conditions – and let people know where you’re going before you head out.”

Weather notwithstanding, WDFW fish and wildlife managers want to pass along a few other seasonal reminders:

  • Barbless hooks:  Starting New Year’s Day, Columbia River anglers are required to use barbless hooks when fishing for salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout from the mouth of the river to the state border with Oregon, 17 miles upstream from McNary Dam.
  • Crab reports:  The Puget Sound crab fishery closed Dec. 31, and crabbers are required to report their winter catch by Feb. 1.
  • Hunter reports:  Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports are due by Jan. 31 for each 2012 license, permit or tag they purchased.

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: Winter has arrived, but anglers still have opportunities to hook hatchery steelhead on several streams and blackmouth salmon in Puget Sound. Weather will be a major factor in deciding where to fish; if rivers are out of shape from heavy rain, anglers may want to head out onto Puget Sound for blackmouth salmon.

The San Juan Islands traditionally reward salmon fishers with some of the highest catches during winter months. 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.

Areas open throughout January for salmon fishing include marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner), Edmonds Fishing Pier in Marine Area 9 and Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton). Anglers fishing those marine areas have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook salmon. The rest of Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) opens for salmon fishing Jan. 16 under the same rules.

In freshwater, several rivers are open for hatchery steelhead fishing, including the Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish, Skykomish, Snoqualmie and Green rivers. “If the rivers fall back into shape, fishing for hatchery steelhead should be decent in early January,” said Bob Leland, steelhead program manager for WDFW. “Anglers usually find bright fish through the month.”

Leland reminds anglers that fishing for steelhead and other game fish will close in January in Puget Sound and along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to protect wild steelhead. The early closures will affect the Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish, Green and Puyallup river systems, along with several streams along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Most river systems will close Feb. 1. However, the Puyallup River system and the lower section of the Green River will close 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 Leland. “By taking this action, we can protect wild steelhead that do make it back to these river systems,” he said.

Meanwhile, a section of Tokul Creek – from the Fish Hatchery Road Bridge to the posted cable boundary marker downstream of the hatchery intake – has opened for trout, hatchery steelhead and other game fish, ahead of its Jan. 15 scheduled opening date. The early opener was possible because the hatchery facility is ahead of schedule collecting winter steelhead broodstock.

For more information on Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca steelhead seasons, check fishing regulations and emergency rule changes on the WDFW website.  

Winter is prime time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. Good spots include the 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.

The Puget Sound crab fishery closes at sunset Dec. 31. Crab fishers are required to report their activity to WDFW by Feb. 1, whether or not they actually fished or caught Dungeness crab. To submit catch reports, crabbers may send their catch record card to WDFW by mail or file their report on the department’s licensing website. The mailing address is WDFW CRC Unit, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. The online reporting system is available Jan. 1-Feb. 1. For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s catch record card webpage.

Hunting: Most big-game hunts in the region will be closed by the start of January, although waterfowl hunters still have time to bag ducks and geese. Waterfowl hunters, who have through Jan. 27 to hunt ducks and geese in the region, should check the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet for details.

In addition, WDFW has approved a brant hunt in Skagit County is scheduled Jan. 12, 13, 16, 19, 20, 23, 26, and 27 with a bag limit of two geese per day. See the news release for more information.

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.

Hunters who file their annual report by Jan 10 on hunting activities for black bear, deer, elk or turkey have a chance to win one of nine 2013 special hunting permits. Those who meet the deadline will be included in a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. The permits will be valid from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, 2013.

To qualify for the drawing, hunters must submit a report to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for each black bear, deer, elk or turkey tag they purchased and for each special hunting permit they received in 2012.

All hunters, whether successful or not, are required to submit hunting reports for those species by Jan. 31. Failure to meet the deadline can result in a $10 fine, payable before a hunter can purchase a 2013 license.

The annual hunting reports are an important source of information for managing the resource and developing future hunting seasons, said Dave Ware, WDFW game manager.
“The drawing for special permits is an extra incentive for hunters to file their reports early,” said Ware,

Hunt reports may be filed by phone at (877) 945-3492 or on the Internet https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov. Hunters should be prepared to note the game management unit they hunted and their individual WILD identification number, which is printed on license documents. Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.

As in recent years, hunters are required to file separate reports for general-season hunting activities and for special-permit hunts for deer, elk, black bear and turkey.

More information the WDFW’s incentive permit drawing is available on page 17 of the 2012 Big Game Hunting pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/).

Wildlife viewing: The Audubon Society continues to compile bird sightings from the annual Christmas Bird Count through Jan 5. For more information on bird sightings in Washington, check the Audubon’s website.

This compilation of sightings provides important information about bird populations, in Washington and throughout the Americas. But keeping a list of birds seen throughout each year is also a personal endeavor, a common practice among birders, veterans and novices alike. Some birders record their sightings in journals, others on computer software programs. Some keep track in their field guides where and when they saw each species. The Washington Ornithological Society (WOS) offers a wealth of information on birds and birding, including a checklist available on its website.

Birders along the Skagit River shouldn’t have any trouble marking the bald eagle box on their checklist. January is a great time to see the raptors wintering in the area. Each winter, hundreds of the 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.

Birders in the region may also want to check out the flocks of snow geese wintering in the Skagit Valley. 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.

Meanwhile, sightings of snowy owls have been reported in the region. The large, white owls with yellow eyes are most frequently seen this time of year in Whatcom County, but can be found in the coastal areas of Skagit, Grays Harbor, and Pacific Counties as well. Birders can check the Tweeters birding website for the latest reports on sightings of snowy owls, as well as other birds.

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

Fishing: Anglers have several winter fishing opportunities, including salmon in the marine waters of Puget Sound, hatchery steelhead on several streams, and razor clams at ocean beaches. 

Current information about razor clam digs is posted on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) razor clam webpage.

Meanwhile, January is typically one of the best months for hatchery steelhead fishing on the north coast rivers, said Kirt Hughes, regional fishery manager for WDFW. “The rivers are running cold and the snow is sticking to the higher elevations,” he said. “If the weather holds up, fishing for hatchery steelhead should be great through 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. Information on weekly steelhead catches in the Quillayute River system and the Hoh River are available on WDFW’s website.

Hughes reminds anglers that they will not be allowed to catch and keep wild steelhead on eight Olympic Peninsula rivers until mid-February. The annual opening date for wild steelhead retention is Feb. 16 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.

Later in January, anglers might want to try fishing for hatchery steelhead in the Chehalis River Basin, said Hughes. “Anglers who don’t want to make the trip to the north coast rivers should find some good fishing for hatchery steelhead in the basin, particularly at the Chehalis, Satsop and Wynoochee rivers,” he said.

Freshwater anglers looking to hook salmon also have opportunities in January. Anglers can find late-run hatchery coho salmon in some of the region’s rivers, including the Humptulips, Satsop and Willapa, said Hughes.

On Puget Sound, Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound) remains open for salmon. However, regulations for Marine Area 13 change Jan. 1, when anglers will have a daily limit of one salmon. Anglers should be aware that salmon fisheries in marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) and 12 (Hood Canal) are closed in January.

In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Marine Area 6 (Eastern Strait) remains open for salmon through April 10. Anglers fishing Marine Area 6 have a daily limit of two salmon, but must release wild chinook. Marine Area 5 (Seiku) is closed to salmon fishing.

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

Anglers can also 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.

The Puget Sound crab fishery closes at sunset on Dec. 31, and crabbers are reminded that they are required to report their winter catch to WDFW by Feb. 1. Reports are due for the winter season, whether or not crabbers actually fished or caught Dungeness crab. To submit catch reports, crabbers may send their catch record card to WDFW by mail or file their report on the department’s licensing website. The mailing address is WDFW CRC Unit, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. The online reporting system is available Jan. 1-Feb. 1. For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s catch record card webpage.

Hunting: Most big-game hunts in the region will be closed by the start of January, although, waterfowl hunters still have time to bag ducks and geese. 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. The brant hunting season in Pacific County is open Jan. 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, and 20.

Waterfowl hunters should check the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet for details.

Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports on their hunting activities are due by Jan. 31 for each 2012 license, permit or tag purchased. Hunters can file their reports by calling (877) 945-3492, or via the Internet. Hunters who submit their reports by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. Those who miss the Jan. 31 deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can purchase a 2012 hunting license.

Wildlife viewing: The Audubon Society continues to compile bird sightings from the annual Christmas Bird Count, which comes to a close in early January. For more information on bird sightings in Washington, check the Audubon’s website.

This compilation of sightings provides important information about bird populations, in Washington and throughout the Americas. But keeping a list of birds seen throughout each year is also a personal endeavor, a common practice among birders, veterans and novices alike. The Washington Ornithological Society (WOS) offers a wealth of information on birds and birding, including a checklist available on its website

Birders can get started on that checklist by visiting the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, on the Nisqually River Delta in southern Puget Sound, offers 3,000 acres of salt and freshwater marshes, grasslands, riparian, and mixed forest habitats that provide resting and nesting areas for migratory waterfowl, songbirds, raptors, and wading birds. Bird watchers should note that a portion of the Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail will be closed through Jan. 27. The closure is required for the safety of visitors while waterfowl hunting takes place on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and WDFW lands near the trail. For more information, check the refuge’s website.   

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

Fishing: Winter steelhead are still the name of the game for many anglers in the lower Columbia River Basin, although several other fisheries are beginning to compete for anglers’ attention. Sturgeon fishing reopens Jan. 1 from the mouth of the Columbia to McNary Dam, and more than 30,000 catchable-size rainbow trout will be planted along with any excess broodstock in lakes and ponds around the region by the end of the month.

Anglers opting to fish for steelhead, salmon, or cutthroat trout should be aware that barbless hooks will be required on a large section of the mainstem Columbia River starting Jan. 1. The new rule issued by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in late December will be in effect from the mouth of the river – including the north jetty – to the state border with Oregon, 17 miles upstream from 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.

State fishery managers said the rule is necessary to make Washington’s fishing regulations consistent with those in Oregon, where that state’s fish and wildlife commission recently banned the use of barbed hooks on the Columbia River as part of a broad-based measure to restructure the fishery.

“Fisheries can be very difficult to manage under two different sets of rules,” said Guy Norman, WDFW southwest region director. “The two states have worked together for nearly a hundred years to maintain regulatory consistency on the river that serves as a common boundary.”

In recent months, both states have discussed a ban on barbed hooks as part of the restructuring plan, which also includes phasing out the use of gillnets by non-tribal fishers in the mainstem Columbia River. The rule issued in December will remain in effect until further notice.

For steelhead, the Cowlitz River is still the best bet in January, although the Lewis, Kalama, Grays, Washougal, Elochoman rivers – and Salmon Creek in Clark County – are also producing fish, said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist stationed in Vancouver.

In addition, the areas of the White Salmon River will reopen for steelhead fishing Jan. 5 – the first such opening since Condit Dam was breeched in 2011. WDFW fish biologists report that both winter- and summer-run steelhead are available for harvest. See the Fishing Rule Change for more information.

As usual, river conditions basically determine success at this time of year,” Hymer said. “Most anglers do best when water levels are rising or dropping. It’s a lot harder to catch steelhead in the peaks and troughs.”

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. The daily limit on all area rivers is two marked, hatchery-reared steelhead.

Starting Jan. 1, anglers may also retain up to two hatchery adult chinook salmon per day on the mainstem Columbia from the I-5 Bridge downstream and in the Cowlitz and Deep rivers. On the Lewis and Kalama rivers, the daily limit is one hatchery adult chinook per day.

While the bulk of the spring chinook run isn’t expect to arrive until March, Hymer said anglers will likely start catching early-arriving fish by late January or early February.

“It’s good to keep the chinook regulations in mind, even if you’re fishing for steelhead,” he said. “Somebody has to catch the first springer of the year, and it could be you.”

WDFW recently released preliminary forecasts of Columbia River salmon and steelhead returns for 2013, predicting an upriver run of 141,400 adult spring chinook, down from  last year’s return of 203,100 fish. Approximately 180,500 sockeye and 73,500 summer chinook are also expected to return at levels below last year. However, the outlook for upriver bright fall chinook shows improvement over 2012.

The preliminary forecasts, along with anticipated fishing seasons, are posted on WDFW’s website. Current fishing rules are described in 2012-13 Fishing in Washington pamphlet and river conditions are available from the Northwest River Forecast.

Rather catch sturgeon? All fishing areas will open to anglers Jan. 1 from the mouth of the Columbia River to McNary Dam under the rules outlined in the 2012-13 Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet. Like last year, retention fishing is allowed daily in all waters except the stretch from the Wauna powerlines upstream to Bonneville Dam (including all adjacent Washington tributaries), where retention is limited to Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The daily limit is one white sturgeon per day with an annual limit of five fish.

Angling will be prohibited in the slough formed by Sand Island along the Oregon shore east of Rooster Rock State Park on the Columbia River.

One change adopted by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon in December establishes a winter season in the Bonneville Pool that will run through Feb. 10 or until 1,150 sturgeon are caught, whichever comes first. The goal of that fishery is to preserve an estimated 850 fish for a summer fishery.

But broader regulatory changes may lie ahead when fishery managers meet Jan. 30 to establish new guidelines for the 2013 sturgeon and spring chinook seasons. In December, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission held back 10 percent of the lower-river sturgeon quota for conservation purposes and reduced the annual catch limit to one legal-sized fish per angler in response to ongoing concerns about declining sturgeon populations. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has directed WDFW Director Phil Anderson to seek an even tighter catch quota during upcoming negotiations.

“Washington anglers won’t be affected by any of these developments in January, but should keep an eye on the department’s website for possible changes in the months ahead,” said Brad James, a WDFW fish biologist. The upcoming season-setting meeting, which is open to the public, will be held Jan. 30 at 10 a.m. at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel, 8235 Northeast Airport Way, in Portland.

Another option is to head for a local lake and catch some trout. Through January, WDFW plans to stock more than 30,000 catchable-size rainbows – plus any available excess broodstock – in 13 lakes and reservoirs around the region.

Those trout were raised at state hatcheries in Goldendale and Vancouver with the intent of providing winter fishing opportunities in the southwest region, said John Weinheimer, another WDFW fish biologist.

“We want to give area anglers a chance to get outdoors in the wintertime and catch some fish,” Weinheimer said. “All of these waters can be fished from shore, so you don’t need a boat and a lot of gear to get in on the action.”

Weather and road conditions allowing, WDFW plans to stock catchable-size rainbows in Fort Borst Park Pond (1,500) in Lewis County; Silver Lake (4,000), Sacajawea Lake (3,000), Horseshoe Lake (2,000) and Kress Lake (2,000) in Cowlitz County; Battleground Lake (2,000) and Klineline Pond (2,000) in Clark County; Icehouse Lake (817) and Little Ash Lake (1,000) in Skamania County; and Rowland Lake (3,000), Spearfish Lake (1,800) and Maryhill Pond (500) in Klickitat County.

But when it comes to eulachon smelt, Hymer said there will be no fishing of any kind this year. Once abundant in the Columbia River Basin, eulachon were listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act in May 2010. Since then, Washington and Oregon have closed all sport and commercial dipping in the Columbia River system. All marine and freshwater areas in Washington are also closed to fishing for eulachon smelt.

Hunting:  Most big-game hunts in the region are now closed for the season, but waterfowl hunters can continue to bag ducks and geese through Jan. 27. Hunting rules are outlined in the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet.

“Now that the heavy weather has rolled in, duck hunting has been picking up throughout the state,” said Dave Ware, WDFW wildlife manager. “The northern birds have been moving in for the past month, so the main challenge for hunters is finding open water as the temperatures continue to drop.”

Goose Management Area 2A (Cowlitz, Wahkiakum and part of Clark County) is open to hunting for ducks and geese Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. Waterfowl hunting in Management Area 3 (Lewis and Skamania counties) and Area 5 (Klickitat County) is open seven days a week. As of late December, all dusky goose areas were open, but hunters planning to hunt those areas should keep an eye on WDFW’s website for any announcements.

Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports on their hunting activities are due by Jan. 31 for each 2012 license, permit or tag purchased. Hunters can file their reports by calling (877) 945-3492, or via the Internet. Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.

Hunters who submit their reports by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. Those who miss the Jan. 31 deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can purchase a 2013 hunting license.

Wildlife viewing:  Salmon are now spawning near the mouth of the Klickitat River, which makes the area a natural destination for bald eagles migrating south for the winter. That, in turn, is a big draw for birdwatchers, who flock to the area to see the raptors congregating in the trees near the river, often more than a dozen a time.

One popular spot for eagle watching is the Balfour-Klickitat Day Use Park, near the entrance to Lyle. Another is the 31-mile Klickitat Trail, which starts in Lyle and climbs to the Goldendale Plateau.

“The best time of day to observe the eagles is earlier in the day, rather than later in the evening,” according to the Klickitat Trail Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the trail. “Be sure to wear warm clothing and bring binoculars and a camera.”

Meanwhile, large numbers of waterfowl are beginning to congregate on the Columbia River and on Chamberlain Lake, which is adjacent to the Klickitat River on Highway 14. Further west, look for gatherings of geese, sandhill cranes and egrets in the fields of the Woodland Bottoms. In the La Center Lowlands, the lineup includes geese, cranes and swans.

The Cowlitz/Columbia counting circle will conduct it annual bird count New Year’s Day, during the last week of the 113th Annual Christmas Bird Count. Watch for this year’s continental count on Audubon’s website during the coming weeks.

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

Fishing:   As wintery weather waxes and wanes throughout the month of January, anglers need to be careful about ice conditions on waterways. “Shelf ice” along the shorelines of rivers and streams can be hazardous and lake fishing on and through ice is only safe after extended day and nighttime below freezing temperatures.

Randall Osborne, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) central district fish biologist in Spokane, reports winter season rainbow trout lakes – Hog Canyon and Fourth of July – had been fishing well in late December when ice started forming near the shorelines.

“Given the nighttime freezing/daytime thawing patterns we’ve had, I’m pretty sure any ice out there is not safe to fish on yet,” Osborne said. “Until we get a week or more of continued freezing and ice is deep enough to safely support anglers, the fishing will be from shore if open spots can be found for casting. Finding those spots will probably require a bit of hiking.”

WDFW Enforcement Sgt. Mike Sprecher, said Hog Canyon Lake is almost completely covered with thin ice and Fourth of July Lake has thin ice on about the north third and open water on the south two-thirds. Fishing activity was very light due to those ice conditions, he said.

Bill Baker, WDFW northeast district fish biologist, relays similar caution to anglers seeking rainbows at Stevens County’s two winter-only fisheries – Hatch and Williams lakes. It may not be long, but in late December ice was still not thick enough on either lake for safe ice fishing.

WDFW does not measure ice on fishing lakes and cannot guarantee ice fishing safety. But here are a few tips to help keep an outing safe:

  • 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 for weather conditions and emergencies. Dress in layers and wear thermal underwear, fleece or wool, and wind and waterproof outerwear, especially for feet, hands and head. Take extra clothes, food, water, sand for on-ice traction, and a sled for easy on-ice transport of all equipment. Carry equipment such as ice picks or awls, rope, and personal flotation devices. Also pack a first-aid kit and matches for starting a fire.

January is a good time to fish year-round-open Lake Roosevelt, the Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam. Anglers are catching 16- to 18-inch rainbow trout from Seven Bays downstream. “Fishing is not red-hot at Roosevelt,” said Osborne. “But for those willing to put in a little time, limits of trout in that size range are not uncommon.”

Osborne also reports anglers on year-round-open Long Lake (Lake Spokane) have been doing fairly well on crappie and yellow perch. Year-round Sprague Lake, on the Lincoln-Adams county line, can be good for bluegill, crappie and trout, but ice is forming on much of the lake and may not yet be safe for ice-fishing.

Snake River steelhead fishing continues, although participation has been low with recent wintery conditions. Best catch rates in late December were on the Grand Ronde River, a tributary of the Snake, where creel checks indicate about three hours of fishing effort per steelhead caught (including both released wild fish and kept hatchery-marked fish.)  Anglers checked on most stretches of the mainstem Snake River have averaged about 20 hours of fishing effort per steelhead caught. 

Hunting:   Snow cover throughout the region should help upland game bird hunters, whose seasons continue through Jan. 13 for pheasants and Jan. 21 for quail, chukars and gray partridge.  Birds tend to hold better, scenting conditions for bird dogs are improved, and tracking is easier in snow. Wild pheasants are plentiful this season and even young roosters are colored up enough by this time for easy distinction from hens. 

Private lands with bird cover in the central and southeast districts of the region may be best at this point in the season, but be sure to secure permission first. The new “Hunt by Reservation” system, which includes landowners in Whitman and Garfield counties, is accessible now through written permission directly from the on-site landowners.

Decent upland game bird hunting opportunities also still exist on WDFW properties, such as pheasants on Revere Wildlife Area in Whitman County and Hungarian partridge on Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County, and other public lands like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers habitat management units along the Snake River. For details see the interactive mapping program “Go Hunt” on WDFW’s website.

Wherever water remains ice-free and ducks and geese have secure roosting, opportunities are also still out there for waterfowl hunters. Ducks and geese are fair game through Jan. 27.

WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area assistant manager Mike Finch said waterways on the wildlife area are frozen at this time, but geese have been sitting on winter wheat fields in Lincoln County. Large groups of geese have also been reported on grain fields in Spokane County. Hunters are reminded they must secure permission from private landowners before hunting.

Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports on their hunting activities are due by Jan. 31 for each 2012 license, permit or tag purchased. Hunters can file their reports by calling (877) 945-3492, or via the Internet. Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.

Hunters who submit their reports by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. Those who miss the Jan. 31 deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can purchase a 2013 hunting license.

Wildlife viewing:  Bald eagles are showing up along waterways throughout the region, feeding on winter-spent fish and waterfowl. WDFW field staff also report the big white-headed scavengers are honing in on road-killed deer and other roadside wildlife casualties.

In north Spokane County, thousands of Canada geese are feeding on winter wheat on Peone Prairie during the day, and moving off to night roosts on the Spokane River or other local waterways.  Birders are also reporting lots of rough-legged hawks, northern harriers and American kestrels hunting the prairie, including on and around the Spokane County-owned Feryn Conservation Area, just south of Mount Spokane State Park. Ducks, pheasants, and horned larks are also abundant in the area.

A snowy owl is still hunting around Mt. Spokane High School on Hwy. 206 in north Spokane County.  Another snowy owl continues to be seen in Lincoln County south and west of Creston, near and on the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area.

Birdwatchers in the Colville area of Stevens County are watching for the usual winter species like Bohemian and cedar waxwings, Cooper's hawk, Northern pygmy owl, Clark's nutcracker and gray jay. The recently completed Christmas Bird Count in the area may have broken last year’s record for number of species, with the “birds of the day” being a canyon wren and pine grosbeak.

WDFW’s W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area staff recently reported about 100 elk in lower Cummings Creek, a part of the wildlife area in Columbia County that closes to all access Jan. 1-April 1 to protect wintering wildlife. The Lick Creek Road and South Fork Road on the Asotin Creek Wildlife Area in Asotin County have been closed to motorized vehicles since Dec. 1 to protect wintering wildlife through March.

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

Fishing: Some traditional year-round fisheries in Okanogan County may now be through the ice catches – Patterson and Davis lakes in the Winthrop area, Rat Lake near Brewster, and Big and Little Green lakes west of Omak.

“It’s mostly a rainbow trout show at Davis, Rat, and Green lakes, with fish in the 10- to 12-inch range,” said Bob Jateff, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) Okanogan District fish biologist. “Patterson Lake has yellow perch in the seven- to eight-inch range.  Powerbait works well for trout, and small jigs tipped with mealworms work well for perch.”

Anglers are cautioned to be alert and aware of changing ice conditions at these and other waters. WDFW does not measure ice on fishing lakes and cannot guarantee ice fishing safety. But here are a few tips to help keep an outing safe:

  • 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 for weather conditions and emergencies. Dress in layers and wear thermal underwear, fleece or wool, and wind and waterproof outerwear, especially for feet, hands and head. Take extra clothes, food, water, sand for on-ice traction, and a sled for easy on-ice transport of all equipment. Carry equipment such as ice picks or awls, rope, and personal flotation devices. Also pack a first-aid kit and matches for starting a fire.

Okanogan County’s Leader Lake, located three miles west of the town of Okanogan on Hwy. 20, opens Jan. 1 for an extra four months of fishing. This mixed-species fishery is usually open from late April through September, but if new proposed regulations are adopted next spring, it would be open year-round.

Jateff says the new winter fishery at Leader Lake provides extra opportunity to fish for an abundance of crappie, bluegill, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and rainbow trout. Statewide gear and freshwater species rules are in effect for all game fish.

Rufus Woods reservoir, on the Okanogan County south boundary off Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River, has big triploid rainbow trout that can be caught throughout the winter months. 

Jateff notes there are several areas upstream of Chief Joseph Dam that can be accessed by the shore angler.  Boat anglers can launch at the Army Corps of Engineers boat ramp and can explore upstream any one of numerous back bays and shorelines that could hold triploids. 

Steelhead fishing remains open on the Okanogan and Similkameen rivers, and parts of the mainstem Columbia River.

Hunting:  January is the last – and often the best – month for waterfowl hunting. Migrant ducks and geese from the north are in the region and if large bodies of water remain open for their roosting use, they can provide good hunting opportunities.

Additional “Feel Free to Hunt” access is now available through the annual contracts made with Columbia Basin landowners in the Corn Stubble Retention Project (CSRP), including acreage in the George area of Grant County.

Since ducks and geese feed primarily on waste grain such as corn and wheat, the CSRP pays growers to leave corn stubble standing, rather than plowing it under, to benefit waterfowl and waterfowl hunters. These fields are all part of WDFW’s Feel Free to Hunt access program, and are available to hunters as soon as corn harvest is completed. Details on CSRP locations are available here.

Upland game bird hunting continues through Jan. 13 for pheasants and Jan. 21 for quail and partridge, and snow cover throughout the region could make for good hunting. Pheasant, quail and chukar partridge numbers are fairly good in the Columbia Basin and birds will hold better with snow. Be sure to secure permission first to hunt private lands, or check out public lands, like WDFW’s Desert Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area Complex between Potholes Reservoir and the town of George. For details see the interactive mapping program “Go Hunt”.

Protected sharp-tailed grouse.
Protected sharp-tailed grouse.

WDFW Scotch Creek Wildlife Area Manager Jim Olson reminds upland game bird hunters to identify game birds before shooting and be aware of protected sharp-tailed grouse on the area in Okanogan County.  “This species is closed to hunting because it’s state listed as threatened and it’s a federal species of concern,” Olson said. “Sharp-tails can sometimes be confused with Hungarian partridge or chukar partridge.  In the winter they occupy the same habitats although sharp-tailed grouse are a bit larger and unlike huns and chukars, they vocalize a “tuck, tuck, tuck” when flushed.  Also look for the sharp pointed tail with white borders.”

Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports on their hunting activities are due by Jan. 31 for each 2012 license, permit or tag purchased. Hunters can file their reports by calling (877) 945-3492, or via the Internet. Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.

Hunters who submit their reports by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. Those who miss the Jan. 31 deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can purchase a 2013 hunting license.

Wildlife viewing:  January is a good month to view the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in northcentral Washington. This chicken-sized bird is a threatened species in the state of Washington and a federal species of concern.  One particular good viewing area is on the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area, about 12 miles northwest of Omak in Okanogan County. 

“Look for the birds feeding in the birch trees adjacent to Scotch Creek and along the Conconully Highway,” said WDFW’s Scotch Creek manager Jim Olson. “They are generally easy to spot when they are around, as they tend to perch at the very tops of the tallest trees. Just after a good snowfall is a good time to look as the birds are pushed from their preferred upland habitats.” In the winter they occupy the same habitats as Hungarian and chukar partridge, Olson said. “You can distinguish them because they’re a bit larger, and unlike Huns and chukars, they vocalize a “tuck, tuck, tuck” when flushed,” he said.  “Also look for the sharp pointed tail with white borders.”

Many other birds are visible now throughout the Okanogan including snowy owls, rough-legged hawks, snow buntings, and redpolls. Keep an eye out, too, for mule deer and bighorn sheep on winter range.

It’s also a good time to take in a “Nature of Winter” snowshoe tour on winter ecology, wildlife and wildlife tracks, and more in the Methow Valley of Okanogan County.  These family-friendly tours are available on Saturdays – Jan. 5, 12, 19, 26 and Feb. 2, 9, 16, 23 –  and are sponsored  by the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA). The 90 minute to two-hour tours (depending on conditions) begin at 11 a.m.

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 size is limited to 10 people. Reservations are not required; space is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Call MVSTA at 996-3287 or visit the website for more information.

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

Fishing:  Anglers continue to reel in hatchery steelhead from portions of the Columbia and Snake rivers, although the lure of bigger fish will undoubtedly prompt some to switch gears. Starting Jan. 1, the John Day Pool (Lake Umatilla) will reopen for retention of white sturgeon that measure 43 to 54 inches from their snout to the fork in their tail.

Anglers planning to go after sturgeon should be aware there is a 500-fish annual quota for sturgeon on Lake Umatilla, said Paul Hoffarth, a regional fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “In recent years, the quota has been reached in a couple of months, so I’d advise anglers to get out early if they want to take a sturgeon home for dinner,” he said.

Another option is McNary Pool (Lake Wallula), including the Snake River below Ice Harbor Dam, which reopens for sturgeon retention Feb. 1. There is no quota on that pool, which often keeps anglers busy up until the area closes to sturgeon retention Aug.1.

Walleye fishing can get slow in winter, but there’s always a chance of catching a lunker. 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.

Typical of the winter fishery, steelhead fishing has been up and down, said Hoffarth, noting that some of the best catches on the Columbia River have been reported in the Ringold area. In the Tri-Cities area, the fishery is open for retention of hatchery steelhead from John Day Dam upstream to the wooden power line towers at the old Hanford town site through March 31, 2013.

The lower Snake River is also open for the retention of hatchery steelhead through March 31. The daily limit in the Snake is three hatchery steelhead. Barbless hooks are required.

Winter whitefish seasons are currently open on the Yakima, Naches, Tieton, Cle Elum and Bumping rivers. Whitefish gear rules are in effect on the the Yakima River from the Highway 223 Bridge at Granger to Keechelus Dam through Feb. 28. Whitefish seasons for the other rivers run Dec. 1 to March 31. Anglers are advised to check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet for regulations that apply to specific river reaches.

Eric Anderson, a WDFW fish biologist stationed in Yakima, recommends that anglers fishing for whitefish concentrate their fishing efforts in deep pools below riffles. Whitefish gear is restricted to one single-point hook with a maximum hook size of 3/16-inch from point to shank (hook size 14), and bait is allowed. Anderson said most whitefish are caught with a small fly, tipped with a maggot. The individual limit is 15 whitefish per day, most of which range from 10 to 15 inches long. 

Rather catch trout? A catch-and-release trout fishery is open year-round above Roza Dam under selective gear and whitefish gear rules. Above Easton Lake, there is no size or catch limit for eastern brook trout. 

Those interested in fishing local ponds near Yakima should know that WDFW recently stocked several of them with more than 400 brood stock rainbows, averaging 5 to 10 pounds apiece. I-82 Pond #4, Rotary, and Myron lakes and the pond at Sarg Hubbard Park all received some of the lunkers in December. Sarg Hubbard Park Pond is open only to juvenile anglers under 15 years old and anglers with a disability and reduced fee license.

Several other waters stocked with big trout in November are also still worth a try, Anderson said. North Elton Pond near Selah got 2,000 jumbo rainbows (1.5 lbs. each), while North Fio Rito and Mattoon Lakes in the Kittitas Valley got 250 rainbow brood stock (5-10 lbs. each). Anglers are reminded to check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet for special gear and catch limits that apply on lakes and ponds.   

Hunting:  Most big-game hunts in the region are now closed for the season, but waterfowl hunters can continue to bag ducks and geese through Jan. 27. Hunting rules are outlined in the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet.

“Now that the heavy weather has rolled in, duck hunting has been picking up throughout the state,” said Dave Ware, WDFW wildlife manager. “The northern birds have been moving in for the past month, so the main challenge for hunters is finding open water as the temperatures continue to drop.”

The Snake and Columbia Rivers and associated water bodies hold tens of thousands of ducks when the weather gets below freezing. Access can be gained at the McNary and Umatilla National Wildlife Refuges and the Hanford Reach National Monument. Hunters pursue them in the farm fields near the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Most of the land is private, so secure permission before hunting.

Other tips about this year’s hunt are available in WDFW’s 2012 Hunting Prospects report.

Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports on their hunting activities are due by Jan. 31 for each 2012 license, permit or tag purchased. Hunters can file their reports by calling (877) 945-3492, or via the Internet. Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.

Hunters who submit their reports by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state. Those who miss the Jan. 31 deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can purchase a 2013 hunting license.

Wildlife viewing: WDFW’s winter feeding program is now under way at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area, where hundreds of hungry elk and big-horn sheep are descending from the high country to dine on alfalfa hay and pellets. Bald and golden eagles are also on display throughout the area.

The department will begin truck tours of the area Jan. 4, 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.

Meanwhile in Ellensburg, WDFW staff will discuss Colockum elk herd research and current elk winter-range closures at a public meeting Jan. 7. Ted Clausing, regional wildlife program manager, will discuss data collected during a four-year study of the herd and a long-term recommendation for the winter range closure.

The meeting will start at 6 p.m. in rooms 137 A & B of the Student Union & Recreation Center in the center of the Central Washington University (CWU) campus at 400 E. University Way. Parking on campus is free.