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

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March 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 March 21, 2013)

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

Plenty of good reasons to renew
fishing and hunting licenses soon

Spring chinook salmon are moving into the lower Columbia River, dozens of eastside lakes open for trout fishing March 1, and two razor-clam digs are scheduled later in the month - including the first dig of the season on morning tides.

These fisheries are just the first of many set to open in the weeks ahead, and the year’s first hunting seasons aren’t far behind. A spring wild turkey season for hunters under age 16 is scheduled April 6-7 prior to the start of the general spring turkey hunt April 15.

With a new season of outdoor adventures about to begin, Washingtonians might want to consider purchasing 2013-14 fishing and hunting licenses before current licenses expire at midnight March 31.

“We encourage people to renew their fishing and hunting licenses early, so they can take advantage of all the great recreational opportunities available throughout the year,” said Bill Joplin, licensing manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “There’s no advantage in waiting and letting those opportunities slip by.”

The cost of fishing and hunting licenses remains the same as last year. All fees included, a resident adult freshwater fishing license is $29.50; saltwater is $30.05; shellfish/seaweed is $16.30; and a combination license is $54.25. Resident hunting licenses vary with package options, ranging from a small-game license at $40.50 to a deer/elk/cougar/bear combination license for $95.50.

Most annual licenses include a WDFW vehicle-access pass, which gives the bearer access to more than 600 WDFW recreational access sites throughout the state. Or, for $35, individuals can purchase an annual Discover Pass, which also provides vehicle access to state parks and other state lands.

Fishing licenses, hunting licenses and the Discover Pass are all available online (https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/), by phone (1-866-320-9933) and from license dealers around the state.

For more information about razor clam digs, spring chinook fishing and other outdoor activities coming up this month, see the Weekender Regional Reports 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 steelhead fishing closed in the region, anglers are now turning to other species, including rainbow trout in many of the region’s lakes and blackmouth salmon in Puget Sound. 

Anglers fishing marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 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. Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) is closed to salmon fishing.

Steve Thiesfeld, Puget Sound salmon manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said anglers fishing for blackmouth have had the most success in the San Juan Islands. “Central Puget Sound has been slow, but anglers fishing the San Juans have done really well this winter,” he said.

Before heading out, anglers can check creel reports for information on catch and effort in Puget Sound. Catch samplers with WDFW collect the information each week at fishing access sites throughout Puget Sound.
 
Anglers looking for some competition might want to enter the Everett Blackmouth Derby on March 16. Prizes include $3,000 for the largest fish, $1,500 for second place and $500 for third place. For details, visit the derby’s website.

Looking forward to the summer salmon fishing season? Several public meetings have been scheduled throughout March as fishery managers continue to develop the 2013 salmon seasons, which will be finalized in early April. For more information on the meetings, visit WDFW’s North of Falcon website.

Rather catch trout? The lowland lakes trout season doesn’t officially get under way until late-April, but anglers in the region can get an early start on the action. Twenty-three lakes that are open to fishing year-round will be stocked with 97,000 fish in March. Those lakes include:

  • Island County:  Cranberry and Lone.
  • King County:  Alice, Angle, Beaver, Green, Meridian, Rattlesnake (selective gear rules, catch-and-release only), and Sawyer.
  • Snohomish County:  Ballinger, Blackmans, Cassidy, Chain, Flowing, Gissberg Ponds (Twin Lakes), Ketchum, Loma, Lost (Devil’s), Martha (Warm Beach), Panther, Shoecraft, Silver, and Tye.

Other good bets include lakes Goodwin and Roesiger in Snohomish County, where several thousand rainbow trout that were stocked in December should be growing to catchable size this spring and summer.

“Whether you’re new to the sport or a veteran, there are plenty of fishing opportunities for both boat and shore anglers,” said Justin Spinelli, fisheries biologist for WDFW.

Fishing for kokanee should pick up this month, particularly at Angle, Stevens, Cavanaugh and Samish lakes. “Because kokanee feed near the surface in low light conditions and then move deeper as the day progresses, successful anglers vary their depth and tackle throughout the day,” said Spinelli.

Fishing for bass, yellow perch, catfish, black crappie, and bluegill is also an option.  In March, these species can still be found around bottom structure (rocky outcroppings, points, and humps) in deep water, said Danny Garrett, fisheries biologist for WDFW. 

“Anglers should slowly work their gear and plan to change location regularly because these fish are on the move in spring,” Garrett said. “As water temperatures warm later in the month, yellow perch begin to congregate in schools in shallower depths to spawn, while bass and other warmwater species aggressively feed in preparation for spawning in May and June.” 

Before heading out, anglers should check the Sportfishing Rules Pamphlet for more information on fishing regulations.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2013 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field. In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2013. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in the general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington.

Hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk during the general season. Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at an authorized license dealer, or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $7.10 for residents and $110.50 for nonresidents.

Wildlife viewing: Birdwatchers have an opportunity to take part in the "Wings Over Water" Northwest Birding Festival in mid-March in Blaine. The festival features wildlife viewing field trips, speakers and raptor presentations. For more information visit the festival website.

Farther south, sightings of snowy owls continue to be reported in the Stanwood area. The large, white, yellow-eyed owls are most frequently seen in the winter 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.

The annual gray whale migration is under way and whalewatchers could have several opportunities in March to spot the large marine mammals. In fact, there have already been reports of gray whale sightings in the Whidbey and Camano Island areas. The whales are making their annual journey north from the coast of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, where they spend the summer feeding before heading south again. While most continue on to Alaska, some gray whales linger in the waters of the Pacific Northwest during the spring and summer months, dipping into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and other areas of Puget Sound. The best way to spot a gray – from land or sea – is to look for "spouts" of water that can reach 10 to 12 feet in the air when the whales exhale.

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

Fishing:  Blackmouth salmon fisheries are in full swing in Puget Sound, the lingcod season gets under way mid-March in ocean areas south of Cape Alava and several ocean beaches are scheduled to open for a razor clam dig this month. 

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) approved the late-March dig after marine toxin test showed the clams are safe to eat.

Twin Harbors beach will be open for morning razor clam digging March 28-31. Long Beach, Copalis and Mocrocks will be open to digging March 29-30.

No digging will be allowed at any beach after noon. The schedule, along with morning low tides, is:

  • March 28, Thurs., 7:57 a.m., -0.3 ft., Twin Harbors
  • March 29, Fri., 8:40 a.m., -0.6 ft., Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis, Mocrocks
  • March 30, Sat., 9:26 a.m., -0.7 ft., Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis, Mocrocks
  • March. 31, Sun., 10:16 a.m., -0.6 ft., Twin Harbors

Under state law, diggers can take 15 razor clams per day, and are required to keep the first 15 they dig. Each digger's clams must be kept in a separate container.

All diggers age 15 or older must have a valid fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licensing options range from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, which can be purchased on WDFW's website and from license vendors around the state.

Meanwhile, fishing for blackmouth – resident chinook – is an option in several areas of Puget Sound. Anglers fishing marine areas 6 (eastern Strait), 11 (Tacoma-Vashon) and 12 (Hood Canal) have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook. Those fishing marine areas 5 (Sekiu) and 13 (South Puget Sound) have a daily limit of one chinook salmon.

“Fishing has been really good in the straits,” said Steve Thiesfeld, Puget Sound salmon manager. “The straits and Hood Canal are the places to be for blackmouth fishing now.”

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.

Rather hook a lingcod? Fishing for lingcod gets under way March 16 in marine areas 1-3, south of Cape Alava. The minimum size for lingcod in these areas is 22 inches, with a daily limit of two fish per angler. For lingcod fishing regulations, check the Fishing in Washington pamphlet.

In the rivers, wild steelhead returns to northern peninsula streams reach their peak in March. As in years past, anglers may retain only one wild steelhead per license year on the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Hoh, Quillayute, Quinault and Sol Duc rivers. On all other rivers, anglers may retain only hatchery-reared steelhead marked with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar. For more information on steelhead fishing regulations, check the Fishing in Washington pamphlet. Information on weekly steelhead catches in the Quillayute River system and the Hoh River are available on WDFW’s website.

Meanwhile, there’s still time to provide input on the summer salmon fishing seasons. Several public meetings have been scheduled throughout March as fishery managers continue to develop the 2013 salmon seasons, which will be finalized in mid-April. For more information on the meetings, visit WDFW’s North of Falcon website.

Hunting: Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2013 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field.

In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern-firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2012. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington. They also may apply for any weapon type deer or elk special permit.

Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at authorized license dealers, or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $6 for residents and $100 for nonresidents. A 2013 hunting license is not required to submit an application, but winners of the drawing must purchase one before they can purchase a multiple-season tag.

Wildlife viewing: The annual gray whale migration is under way and whalewatchers could have several opportunities in March to spot the large marine mammals. The whales are making their annual journey north from the coast of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, where they spend the summer feeding before heading south again. While most continue on to Alaska, some gray whales linger in the waters of the Pacific Northwest during the spring and summer months, dipping into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and other areas of Puget Sound. The best way to spot a gray – from land or sea – is to look for "spouts" of water that can reach 10 to 12 feet in the air when the whales exhale.

Too busy to get away? Wildlife viewers can visit WDFW’s Watchable Wildlife page http://wdfw.wa.gov/viewing/ for live views and video footage of a variety of interesting species from bats to salmon to swifts.

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

Fishing:  Despite modest run-size forecasts, this year’s spring chinook fishery got off to an early start on the lower Columbia River, where anglers were reeling in ocean-fresh “springers” by mid-February. Fishing will continue to ramp up through March, as the bulk of the run moves in from the ocean, said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“The fishery got off to a fairly quick start, no doubt due to favorable weather and river conditions through late February,” Hymer said. “If those conditions continue, anglers should do well in the weeks ahead.”

Sport fishing for salmon and steelhead has been open since Jan.1 below the Interstate 5 bridge, but expands upriver to Beacon Rock beginning March 1. Bank anglers can fish up to the fishing boundary below Bonneville Dam but boats will be limited to Beacon Rock downstream.

The fishery below Bonneville Dam is scheduled to run through April 5, but will close on two Tuesdays – March 26 and April 2 – to accommodate possible commercial fisheries.

Above Bonneville Dam, the fishery will be open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from March 16 through May 5 between the Tower Island powerlines six miles below The Dalles Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the Tower Island powerlines during that time.

Effective March 1, the daily limit is six adipose-clipped salmonids, including no more than two adult fish and no more than one adult chinook below Bonneville Dam. The limit is the same above the dam, except that anglers may keep two adult chinook starting March 16.

To facilitate the release of wild, unmarked fish, anglers fishing for salmon, steelhead or cutthroat trout are now required to use barbless hooks on the mainstem Columbia River downstream of the Washington/Oregon state line. 

Barbless hooks are not currently required on Columbia River tributaries, but that issue will likely be considered during this year’s North of Falcon season-setting process. The public will have an opportunity to comment on that and other issues at a meeting scheduled March 12 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, 4600 SE Columbia Way, Vancouver, Wash.

Based on this year’s preseason forecast, 141,400 upriver spring chinook will return to the Columbia River in 2013 – about 25 percent below the 10-year average. That forecast follows three years of strong returns of fish destined for waters above Bonneville Dam, including last year’s run of 203,000 upriver fish.

“The preseason forecast is definitely down this year, but – for perspective – it is still twice as large as those we saw in the 1990s,” Hymer said.

Based on that forecast, the initial harvest guideline allows anglers fishing below the dam to catch up to 5,000 hatchery-reared upriver chinook before the run update in late April or early May. Another 670 adult fish will be reserved for anglers fishing between Bonneville Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam.

Fishery managers expect anglers fishing below Bonneville to reach the 5,000-fish guideline by April 5, but could extend the season if enough fish are still available for harvest, said Ron Roler, WDFW Columbia River policy manager. “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,” he said

While upriver fish make up the bulk of the catch, spring chinook returning to the Willamette, Cowlitz and other area tributaries also contribute to the mainstem fishery. However, due to subpar run projections, in-river fisheries for spring chinook will be closed or curtailed in several of those rivers this year to meet spawning goals at area hatcheries. Rivers affected by emergency rules are:

  • Lewis River: All chinook must be released from the mouth upstream to the mouth of the East Fork until further notice.The mainstem Lewis remains open for hatchery steelhead.
  • North Fork Lewis River: All chinook must be released from the mouth of the East Fork upstream to  Merwin Dam until further notice. Through May 31, fishing is closed for all species from Johnson Creek (located downstream from the Lewis River Salmon Hatchery) upstream to Merwin Dam. The North Fork Lewis from Johnson Creek downstream remains open to fishing for hatchery steelhead,
     
  • Kalama River: All chinook must be released from the boundary markers at the mouth upstream to the upper salmon hatchery (Kalama Falls Hatchery). The Kalama River remains open to fishing for hatchery steelhead.
  • Wind River: The entire river will be closed to fishing March 16-31. From April 1 through July 31, anglers will be limited to one hatchery chinook or one hatchery steelhead per day from the mouth (boundary line/markers) upstream to 400 feet below Shipherd Falls. Wild chinook and wild steelhead must be released. All fishing is closed until further notice from 400 feet below Shipherd Falls upstream, including all tributaries.

For additional information, see the rule change notices on the WDFW website.

Hymer said WDFW will monitor returns to all four rivers to determine if the emergency restrictions can be lifted. No emergency restrictions are currently planned for the Cowlitz River, Klickitat River, or Drano Lake, where fishing regulations for spring chinook and steelhead are consistent with those in the Fish Washington rules pamphlet.

In other waters, anglers should be aware that March 15 is the last day to fish for steelhead on Abernathy, Cedar (Clark Co.), Germany, Mill (Cowlitz Co.), Rock (Skamania Co.), and Salmon (Clark Co.) creeks and on the Coweeman, Elochoman, Grays, East Fork Lewis, South Fork Toutle, and Washougal rivers.

Meanwhile, anglers can catch and keep white sturgeon from Buoy 10 upstream to Bonneville Dam, and in The Dalles and John Day pools. Fishing has been slow, but anglers have been landing a few legal-size fish, particularly in the John Day Pool.

The daily limit is one white sturgeon per day in all waters where retention is allowed. The annual retention limit is currently five fish in Washington, although the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission recently voted to reduce the annual limit to two fish starting May 1. Watch the WDFW website for more information on the new annual retention limit in the weeks ahead. 

Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon reduced this year’s harvest rate for white sturgeon by 15 percent on the lower Columbia River, but that reduction is largely offset by a slight increase in the legal-size sturgeon population – the first indication of improvement in five years. As a result, the harvest guideline for the recreational sturgeon fishery below Bonneville Dam will remain virtually unchanged at 7,790 fish.

As in years past, 80 percent of the allowable catch will be allocated to the sport fishery and 20 percent to the commercial fishery. Under the new harvest rate, the portion of the catch available to recreational fisheries will be allocated as follows: 4,040 fish in the estuary, 2,020 above the Wauna powerlines, and 1,730 in the Willamette River.

Fishing seasons approved for 2013 in the lower Columbia River are as follows:

  • Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines:  Retention of white sturgeon is allowed daily from Jan. 1 through April 30 and from May 11 through June 30. From Jan. 1 through April 30, sturgeon must measure between 38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. From May 11 through the end of the season they must measure between 41 inches to 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited.
  • Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam:  Retention of white sturgeon is allowed three days per week (Thursday through Saturday) from Jan. 1 through June 15 and from Oct. 19 through Dec. 31. Sturgeon must measure between 38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited. Effective through April 30, angling is prohibited from a line between the upstream end of Sand Island, located east of Rooster Rock State Park, to a marker on the Oregon shore downstream to a line between the lower end of Sand Island and a marker on the Oregon shore.
  • Pools above Bonneville Dam:  Fishery managers reduced the harvest guideline for the Bonneville Pool from 2,000 fish to 1,100, because monitoring data indicate that the sturgeon population did not increase over the past three years as expected. Sturgeon retention was allowed through Feb. 10, with additional days possible in June. Retention fisheries in the two reservoirs between The Dalles and McNary dams are scheduled to proceed until their respective 300 fish and 500 fish guidelines are met.

Another option is walleye, which are now on the bite above Bonneville Dam. The kokanee fishery is also picking up in Merwin Reservoir and should improve throughout the month. For other freshwater fishing options, check the stocking schedule on WDFW’s website for trout plants throughout the region.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2013 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field. In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2013. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington.

Hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk during the general season. Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at an authorized license dealer, or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $7.10 for residents and $110.50 for nonresidents.

Wildlife viewing:  With spring fast approaching, sandhill cranes are now arriving in the Vancouver Lowlands to begin their annual mating dance. Thousands of the large birds – with wingspans of up to seven feet – will visit prime feeding areas such as the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge before leaving for the long trip north.

A birder from Tacoma recently observed more than 200 cranes fly overhead at the refuge. “Their calls are utterly primeval and haunting, and we couldn't get enough of them flying over,” he wrote in a report on the Tweeters birding website. Another birder patrolling the Woodland Bottoms spotted 15 cranes at the junction of Vista and Caples Road in the Woodland Bottoms, along with a red-shouldered hawk, a bald eagle, northern harriers and an American Kestral.

Rather watch fish move upriver? Visit the fish-viewing window at Bonneville Dam in March and you might see spring chinook salmon or late-run steelhead passing up the fish ladder. But things should start getting a lot more interesting in April, when hundreds – then thousands – of spring chinook weighing up to 40 pounds apiece start moving past the dam on a daily basis.

To observe the annual parade of fish, stop by the Washington Shore Visitor Complex at the dam. To get there, take Washington State Highway 14 east to Milepost 40 (about 5 miles from Stevenson) and turn into the Bonneville Dam visitor center. The visitor center is the glass building at the end of the powerhouse.

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

Fishing:  About a dozen lakes throughout the region open to fishing March 1, and all should be ready for action.

Six Tucannon River impoundments on WDFW’s Wooten Wildlife Area in Columbia County – Big Four, Blue, Deer, Rainbow, Spring and Watson lakes -- are looking good, said area manager Kari Dingman. “It already looks like spring on the Wooten,” Dingman said. “The lakes are all stocked and the campgrounds are cleaned up and ready for opening day. There is still snow up high on the ridge tops, and it’s still a little muddy along the lake shorelines, but the sun has been shining and the pussy willows are starting to bud.”

Big Four Lake received its allotted 2,000 “catchable” rainbow trout (10- to 12-inch, one-third pounders) and 300 “jumbo” rainbows (measuring more than 14 inches and weighing one pound each).  By the opener the other five lakes will receive the first of several plants of similar sized rainbows, with subsequent stocking periodically through June.

Glen Mendel, WDFW district fish biologist, said because Beaver Lake, a seventh Tucannon River impoundment, is weedy and shallow it will not be stocked for the third consecutive year. Fish Hook Pond in Walla Walla County also will not be stocked this year, he said.

WDFW Tucannon Fish Hatchery Manager Doug Maxey reports that other year-round-open fisheries in southeast Washington will be stocked. Asotin County’s Golf Course and West Evans ponds; Columbia County’s Dam, Dayton Juvenile and Orchard ponds; and Walla Walla County’s Bennington Lake and Hood Park, Jefferson Park, Lions Park and Quarry ponds, are all receiving initial trout plants. Quarry and Dalton lakes, as well as Marmes Pond in Franklin County, will be stocked by March 1, as will Golf Course and West Evans ponds in Asotin County. Pampa Pond, in Whitman County, opens March 1 and will be well-stocked with catchable-size rainbows.

Anglers can find the total trout allotments for these and other fisheries, as well as weekly catchable trout plant reports, on WDFW’s website.

Other fisheries in the region that open March 1 rely more on “put, grow and take” trout stocking, says Randy Osborne, WDFW central district fish biologist. “These are about eight-inch trout stocked last fall or spring that have grown and are ready to harvest this season,” he said.

Amber Lake, in southwest Spokane County, was stocked with 5,000 rainbows and 1,000 cutthroat trout last May. It opens for catch-and-release only fishing March 1, and then shifts to a two-trout-per-day harvest season April 27.

Medical Lake, in southwest Spokane County, was stocked with 2,500 rainbows last May, and will be stocked with another 1,000 rainbows, plus 2,500 brown trout, this spring. Medical Lake is under selective gear rules, motors are prohibited, the minimum size limit for trout is 14 inches, and the daily catch limit is two trout.

Downs Lake, east of Sprague on the Lincoln/Spokane county line, should be stocked with 5,000 rainbows by the March 1 opener if weather allows. Downs also has warmwater fish species, and there is a minimum size limit of nine inches for black crappie and a daily catch limit of 10.

Liberty Lake, in eastern Spokane County, received 45,000 brown trout fry last fall and 700 “jumbo size” (at least one-pound) browns this spring.  Liberty is also being stocked this spring with 5,000 catchable size (one-third pound or 10-inch) rainbows, and 100 jumbo size rainbows.

Coffeepot Lake in Lincoln County received 5,000 “put, grow and take” rainbows last spring, and will receive another 5,000 this year. Selective gear rules are in effect, plus an 18-inch minimum size and one-fish daily catch limit.

Osborne also notes that March is the last month to fish the winter-only lakes in the region – Hog Canyon Lake in Spokane County, Fourth of July Lake in Lincoln County, and Hatch and Williams lakes in Stevens County. These Dec. 1-March 31 fisheries are mostly ice-fishing opportunities, but Osborne notes recent mild weather has probably left ice conditions dangerous.

Year-round-open waters in the region can be very productive during March. Lake Roosevelt is still providing catches of rainbow trout and kokanee, mostly in the Grand Coulee Dam area. Rock Lake in Whitman County is still producing decent catches of rainbow and brown trout.  Silver Lake in Spokane County has been yielding yellow perch up to nine inches through the ice, although ice conditions are likely deteriorating.

Another kind of fishing is available at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s 53rd annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, March 21-24, at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. Some 5,000 trout are stocked in three huge indoor lakes for kids to catch at “Fishing World,” as well as a “Virtual Reality Fishing Simulator,” a fishing demonstration tank, lots of fishing seminars by experts, and hundreds of fishing equipment and charter service vendors. WDFW staff will be on site selling fishing licenses and talking with visitors about all things fish and wildlife.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2013 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field. In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2013. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in the general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington.

Hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk during the general season. Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at an authorized license dealer, or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $7.10 for residents and $110.50 for nonresidents.

Another kind of hunting is available at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s 53rd annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, March 21-24, at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. Among other things, the show offers a rifle range, archery range, laser shot shooting simulators, and “Trophy Territory,” where hundreds of hunter-harvested antlered and horned animals are displayed and  judged by Boone and Crocket scorers. WDFW staff will be on site selling hunting licenses and talking with visitors about all things fish and wildlife.

Wildlife viewing:  Increasing daylight hours are bringing many birds back into or through the area. Influxes of evening and pine grosbeaks, red crossbills, pine siskins and goldfinches are descending on backyard bird feeding stations in greater numbers. The earliest waterfowl migrants – mallards and pintails – are moving throughout the eastern region as well.  WDFW habitat biologist Sandy Dotts of Colville reports robins, western bluebirds, and red-winged blackbirds have arrived.

Tundra swans are returning to the northeast district and March 16 is the Tundra Swan Festival at Calispell Lake in northeast Washington’s Pend Oreille County. This annual event is sponsored by the Pend Oreille River Tourism Alliance, with pre-and post-swan-viewing talks at the Camas Center for Community Wellness at Usk. More information on the festival and registration is available here

Deer and elk are more visible this month as snow cover recedes, south facing slopes open up, and new green forbs and grasses emerge.

“This is a critical time for our large ungulates because the new growth presents both good and not so good things for them,” said WDFW wildlife biologist Woody Myers.”It’s good in that new forage represents the first opportunity for these animals to reverse the energy deficits they have been experiencing all winter. But it’s not so good because it will take some time for the microflora in their stomachs to be able to break down the forage so they can use the new form of nutrition. That’s why it’s important to give these animals some distance to reduce stress, especially the cows and does that are entering the third trimester of pregnancy.”

Myers also recommends waiting until May to look for shed antlers to avoid disturbing deer and elk. Parts of some of the region’s wildlife areas are closed to all entry through the month of March to protect wildlife, including the W.T. Wooten’s Cummings Creek drainage. In addition, motorized access is prohibited until April on the Asotin Creek Wildlife Area’s Lick Creek Road and South Fork Road.

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

Fishing:  Fishing for whitefish and hatchery steelhead opens March 1 on the Methow River, from the mouth at the Highway 97 bridge to the confluence with the Chewuch River in Winthrop. 

The re-opening of the steelhead fishery will help reduce the proportion of hatchery fish on the spawning grounds and further reduce competition between natural origin and hatchery juvenile production.

Steelheaders have a daily limit of two fish, with a minimum size of 20 inches, and must keep hatchery steelhead – identifiable by a missing adipose fin. Adipose-fin-present steelhead must be released unharmed and cannot be removed from the water prior to release. Night closure and selective gear rules are in effect. Anglers are required to possess a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement as part of their valid fishing license.

Whitefish anglers must follow selective gear rules in areas open to steelhead fishing, and the daily limit is 15 whitefish.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) district fish biologist Bob Jateff said the Methow and other steelhead fisheries may be closed on short notice depending on participation and catch rates of natural origin fish.  He advises anglers to regularly check the fishing hotline at 360-902-2500 or the WDFW webpage.

Also opening March 1 are dozens of Columbia Basin lakes stocked with rainbow trout, and WDFW District Fish Biologist Chad Jackson reports almost all are ice-free and fishable.

“Anglers should expect to have good catch rates on 12-inch yearling rainbows in Upper Caliche, Martha, Burke, and Quincy lakes,” Jackson said. “Upper Caliche and Quincy lakes will be the best bets for carryovers. Burke Lake was rehabilitated last October and   restocked with about 12,000 catchable size rainbows in mid-February, so it should fish well, but there will be no larger carryover fish there.”

Jackson said another March 1-opening fishery -- Lenore Lake, near the town of Soap Lake in Grant County -- still had about 20 percent ice coverage in late February.
“But with all the wind and warmer weather, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lenore is ice free on the opener,” he said. “Either way, it’s still fishable.” Lenore is on a catch-and-release only season through May. Big Lahontan cutthroat trout are the draw there. 

March 17 marks the close of steelheading on two sections of the Okanogan River to protect natural origin steelhead. The sections are from the first powerline crossing downstream of the Highway 155 Bridge in Omak (Coulee Dam Credit Union Building) to the mouth of Omak Creek, and from the Tonasket Lagoons Park boat launch to the Tonasket Bridge (4th Street).

Other northcentral region waters that will continue to be open for steelhead angling until further notice include:

  • Mainstem Columbia River from Rock Island Dam to boundary markers below Wells Dam and from Highway 173 Bridge at Brewster to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam.
  • Wenatchee River from the mouth to 400 feet below Tumwater Dam, including the Icicle River from the mouth to 500 feet downstream of the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery Barrier Dam.
  • Okanogan River from the mouth to the Highway 97 Bridge in Oroville, except for the two sections that close March 17.
  • Similkameen River from the mouth to 400 feet below Enloe Dam.

March is the last month for the catch-and-keep fishing season at several Okanogan County lakes that shift to catch-and-release April 1. Big and Little Green lakes near Omak, Rat Lake near Brewster, and Davis Lake near Winthrop have been producing rainbow trout catches through the ice.  Year-round-open Patterson Lake near Winthrop has also been a good trout ice fishing spot. But Jateff warns anglers to use caution as the weather starts to warm this month and ice thickness diminishes.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2013 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field. In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2013. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in the general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington.

Hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk during the general season. Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at an authorized license dealer, or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $7.10 for residents and $110.50 for nonresidents.

Wildlife viewing:  Scott Fitkin, WDFW Okanogan district wildlife biologist in Winthrop, says migrating waterfowl are evident on thawing lakes in the Okanogan Valley. Early songbird migrants will start arriving in force, particularly in the shrub-steppe and riparian or streamside habitat areas.

WDFW Habitat Biologist Ken Bevis said it's an exciting time of year to watch for the earliest season migrants, those “FOY” or “First of Year” birds. 

Bluebirds, Say's phoebe, rufous hummingbird are good FOY candidates,” said Bevis. “Raptors will start staking out their nesting platforms and territories early.  It's fun to see the red-tailed hawks on their stick nests before the leaves come out on the trees.  Find your local nesting birds and monitor the sites over the season.  Keep a journal for your favorite location, and note when these events occur.  That way you can see how they change and keep track from year to year.”

Bevis said the past winter has been a big one for “irruptive species” – species that are seen in great numbers only once every so often – like snowy owls and red polls coming down from Canada. He encourages birdwatchers to also keep track of when these visitors depart.

Fitkin notes that later in the month blue grouse will be quite active in courtship displays and mule deer will be gathering in areas of early green-up. Deer should be given a wide berth to avoid disturbing them during this critical foraging time.

Spring arrives in the Columbia Basin with the return of the first sandhill cranes this month. About 35,000 cranes migrate through the Pacific Flyway and many make stopovers in the Basin in the spring on their way to nesting sites in Alaska. The greatest concentrations of cranes are found in the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge marsh units, Frenchmen Reserve, Potholes Reservoir, Scootney Reservoir, and Winchester Reserve. Good numbers of the big birds are usually in the area through mid-April. The 16th annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival is April 5-7 this year.

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

Fishing:  Spring chinook salmon are moving up the Columbia River, steelhead fishing should pick up soon and trout fishing will definitely improve starting early this month. 

“We start stocking trout in year-round lakes in early March and continue right through June,” said Eric Anderson, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “This fishery is really our bread and butter, and anglers look forward to it all year.”

In March, WDFW will stock 20 lakes and ponds in Yakima, Kittitas, Franklin and Benton counties with thousands of “catchable size” rainbows, along with hundreds of jumbo trout weighing 1 to 1½ pounds. For more information, see the regional trout stocking report on the department’s website.

Paul Hoffarth, another WDFW fish biologist, said anglers should also be aware fishing for hatchery steelhead usually picks up right before the season closes March 31. Some of the highest catch rates of the season are often recorded in March near the Ringold Springs Hatchery, he said.

“A lot of steelhead that have been hanging out all winter will make their final spawning runs,” Hoffarth said. “That’s when catch rates start rising again.”

Fisheries for hatchery steelhead are open through March on the Snake River and on the Columbia River downstream from the wooden powerline towers at the Old Hanford townsite. Steelhead fishing is not permitted anywhere on the Yakima River.

Rather catch white sturgeon? The retention fishery for sturgeon is expected to run through July 31 above McNary Dam (Lake Wallula). Lake Umatilla, which extends from John Day Dam to McNary Dam, is also expected to remain open through March for white sturgeon. 

Hoffarth notes, however, that the Lake Umatilla fishery is managed on a quota system and could close abruptly when the quota is reached. Anglers planning to fish the lake should keep an eye on the WDFW website for possible updates.

In both areas, anglers may retain only those white sturgeon that measure between 43 inches and 54 inches when measured from the tip of the snout to the fork of the tail.

Hoffarth also reminds anglers that some of the year’s biggest walleye are caught in the spring. These fish are now preparing to spawn and are nearing their highest weight of the year, he said.  Once commonly caught in Lake Umatilla below McNary Dam, walleye are now routinely caught above McNary Dam in Lake Wallula, including the lower Snake River and the Hanford Reach.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2013 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field. In mid-April, WDFW will randomly draw names for 8,500 multiple-season deer permits and 1,000 multiple-season elk permits.

Winners of the drawing will be eligible to purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2013. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in the general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington.

Hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk during the general season. Hunters may purchase a multiple-season permit application at an authorized license dealer, or by calling (866) 246-9453. The permit application is $7.10 for residents and $110.50 for nonresidents.

Wildlife viewing:  Migrating waterfowl continue to increase in number on the Columbia and Snake Rivers and local wetlands. Many Canada geese – along with mallards, pintails, and other ducks – are concentrated on WDFW’s Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area and federal refuges, including McNary and Umatilla. 

Sandhill cranes are making their annual migration stopovers in the Columbia Basin to feed and rest up before moving further north. Look for cranes foraging in local corn stubble fields near the towns of Mesa, Connell and Basin City. When water levels are right, they can be observed roosting on the mudflats of local lakes.

Meanwhile, the winter-feeding program at Oak Creek Wildlife Area for bighorn sheep has ended due to lack of snow, although WDFW staff expect to continue feeding elk that congregate in the area into March. Ross Huffman, WDFW area manager, recommends that potential visitors call for an update (509-653-2390), because recent warm weather could bring the feeding operation to an end at any time. He notes, however, that some animals will continue to linger in the area, and remain visible from the parking lot.

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.

Huffman notes that large sections of the Cowiche and Oak Creek wildlife units near the feeding area are currently closed, as are a number of access roads. Eyes in the Wood have set up remote cameras to monitor the closures, he said.

“This is a critical time for elk and other wildlife and we need to limit human disturbances in the area,” Huffman said. “These closures are designed to protect animals making the transition from winter feeding back to natural forage.”