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

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February 2014

(This document is updated periodically throughout the month to reflect current rules and opportunities. Please download the latest copy before heading out! Last updated February 21, 2014)

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

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

Temperatures are warming, birds are singing and soon spring chinook salmon will be moving into the lower Columbia River in large numbers. Spring is still a ways off, but February offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.

Pre-season projections anticipate a strong run of 308,000 adult spring chinook to the Columbia River this year, up significantly from last year’s return of 195,200 fish. Salmon fishing is open now below the Interstate 5 Bridge, but it usually doesn’t catch fire until March when fishery expands upriver to Bonneville Dam and beyond.

Barbless hooks are required, and anglers must release any salmon or steelhead not visibly marked as a hatchery fish by a clipped adipose fin.

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

For more information about the upcoming spring chinook season, see the WDFW website at http: //wdfw.wa.gov/news/jan2914a/.

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

  • Smelt dipping: Starting Feb. 8, the first smelt in three years will get under way on the Cowlitz River. Under the new rules, fishing with dip nets will be allowed from the riverbank from 6 a.m. until noon each Saturday through March 1. Each dip-netter may retain 10 pounds of smelt per day.
     
  • Rainbow trout: Anglers fishing Lake Roosevelt in northeast Washington have been reeling in lots of rainbows averaging 15 to 17 inches. Many other lakes open to trout fishing lakes are also filling catch limits throughout the state.
  • Blackmouth salmon: Most areas of Puget Sound are open – or will be opening – to fishing for blackmouth chinook salmon this month. Waters around the San Juan Islands are usually the most productive for blackmouth, most weighing in at 6 to 10 pounds.
  • Whitefish: February is the prime time to catch whitefish in several rivers near Yakima. The daily limit is 15 whitefish, often served smoked.
  • Razor clams: The month opens with a razor clam dig in progress through Feb. 2 at several ocean beaches. Another dig is tentatively scheduled Feb. 26-28, provided marine toxin tests show the clams are safe to eat. For updates, check the WDFW website at http: //wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/current.html.
  • Squid: This is also prime time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. Good spots include the Elliot Bay Pier in Seattle, the Edmonds Pier, Point Defiance Park Pier in Tacoma and the Indianola Pier in Kitsap County.

Anglers and hunters eager to gear up for seasons ahead will have several good chances to do so at a trio of sportsmen’s shows this month. They include the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show, Feb. 5-9 in Portland; theCentral Washington Sportsmen Show, Feb. 14-16 in Yakima; and the Wenatchee Valley Sportsmen Show, Feb. 21-23 in Wenatchee.

WDFW will have booths at all three shows, which also feature fly-casting pools, trophy displays, and experts on topics ranging from fly fishing to elk bugling.

For more information about fishing and other opportunities available this 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: With fishing for steelhead and other game fish closing on several rivers in the region, anglers are shifting their attention to the marine areas where blackmouth salmon fisheries are under way.

In recent years, the San Juan Islands have been the most productive for anglers fishing for blackmouth salmon in February, according to fish biologists with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Starting Feb. 24, the daily catch limit in Marine Area 7 will be reduced to one salmon per day to control the fishery’s impacts on stocks of concern.

Other areas of northern Puget Sound  open for blackmouth fishing include marine areas 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), and 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner. Both areas have a two-salmon daily limit, but anglers must release wild chinook salmon. Marine area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) is closed in February, and effective Feb. 10, anglers will be limited to one salmon per day in Marine Area 9, the portion of Puget Sound stretching from Edmonds to Port Townsend.

Anglers support the blackmouth winter chinook fishery through their license purchase, a portion of which goes to the Puget Sound Recreational Fisheries Enhancement Fund. The fund currently supports a variety of recreational fishing opportunities through the release of more than one million yearling and almost nine million sub-yearling chinook each year.

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

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

Fishing for steelhead and other game fish is closed in many regional river systems. However, some waters near WDFW fish hatcheries will remain open through Feb. 15 to provide anglers an opportunity to catch and keep hatchery steelhead. Those waters include portions of the Skagit, North Fork Stillaguamish, Wallace, Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers. Anglers should check WDFW’s sportfishing regulations pamphlet for details and the emergency rules site for any last minute rule changes.

Anglers planning fishing vacations in North Puget Sound and throughout the state can also look at Great Washington Getaways, a new feature on the department's website that showcases some of the state's best family travel and fishing opportunities. The website provides an overview of vacation possibilities. Anglers using the web feature should also consult WDFW’s sportfishing regulations for details on fishing seasons and limits.

Hunting:  Hunters have until midnight Feb. 28 to purchase and submit an application to WDFW for a 2014 spring black bear hunting permit, applicable to specific areas of western and eastern Washington. To apply for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2014 hunting license that includes bear as a species option.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, by calling (866) 246-9453, or at any license vendor in the state. Special permit applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, or by calling (877) 945-3492.

A drawing will be held in mid-March for 383 permits in western Washington and 314 permits for hunts east of the Cascades. Permit winners will receive notification in the mail no later than March 31. Applicants may also check the results of the drawing at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting on the WDFW website.

Wildlife viewing: With 15 minutes of spare time, birders can contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), an annual survey of birds sighted throughout the North American continent over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.14-17, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the GBBC website. Participants can conduct their count in their backyards or anywhere they choose.

In late February, birders can take part in the Port Susan Snow Goose and Birding Festival in the Stanwood and Camano Island areas. The festival is scheduled for Feb. 22-23, and will feature tours and speakers for the experienced and beginning birder. For more information, visit the festival’s website.

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

Fishing: Several areas of Puget Sound open to blackmouth salmon fishing in February, as steelhead continue to move into coastal rivers. Razor clam digs also are an option this month.

Two days remain in a razor clam dig that opened in late January. The opening dates and evening low tides for those days are:

  • Feb. 1, Saturday, 7: 38 p.m.; -1.0 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • Feb. 2, Sunday, 8: 20 p.m.; -0.5 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks

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

  • Feb. 26, Wednesday, 4: 15 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Twin Harbors
  • Feb. 27, Thursday, 5: 04 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks
  • Feb. 28, Friday, 5: 49 p.m.; -0.8 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks

Updates on scheduled digs are available here.

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

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2013-14 fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, are available on WDFW’s website and from license vendors around the state.

Meanwhile, the hatchery steelhead run is winding down in the northern rivers, but wild steelhead are arriving each week. Beginning Feb. 16, anglers can retain one wild steelhead per license year from one of the following rivers: the Quillayute, Dickey, Bogachiel, Calawah, Sol Duc, Hoh, Clearwater, or Quinault rivers. Those eight rivers are the only waters in Washington where wild steelhead may be retained.

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

Farther south, anglers can find hatchery steelhead in the Skookumchuck, Satsop, Wynoochee and mainstem Chehalis rivers, where late-run steelhead are still being caught, said Mike Scharpf, another WDFW fish biologist.

“Fishing was pretty slow on those rivers through most of January due to the lack of rain,” Scharpf said. “But, if the weather cooperates, fishing should improve this month as more hatchery steelhead move into the system.”

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

Later in the month, anglers will also have a chance to hook blackmouth in Marine Area 5 (Sekiu), where salmon fishing opens Feb. 16.

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

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

Another option is to head to a local lake and hook some trout. Best bets include American Lake in Pierce County, Saint Clair and Black lakes in Thurston County, Leland Lake in Jefferson County, Kitsap Lake in Kitsap County and Spencer Lake Mason County.

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

Looking for some competition? Anglers can take part in the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby over Presidents’ Day Weekend near Sequim. Details are available at the derby’s website.

Hunting:  Hunters have until midnight Feb. 28 to purchase and submit an application to WDFW for a 2014 spring black bear hunting permit, applicable to specific areas of western and eastern Washington. To apply for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2014 hunting license that includes bear as a species option.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, by calling (866) 246-9453, or at any license vendor in the state. Special permit applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, or by calling (877) 945-3492.

A drawing will be held in mid-March for 383 permits in western Washington and 314 permits for hunts east of the Cascades. Permit winners will receive notification in the mail no later than March 31. Applicants may also check the results of the drawing at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting on the WDFW website.

Hunters interested in hunting on the Kapowsin Tree Farm should contact the tree farm before submitting an application to find out what areas are open. Those selected for the Kapowsin Tree Farm hunt must then purchase an access permit from Hancock Forest Management by calling (800) 782-1493.

Hunters selected for the Copalis hunt must obtain a Recreational Use Permit and should contact Rayonier at (360) 533-7000 during regular business hours.

Wildlife viewing: Have 15 minutes to spare for bird science? That’s virtually all it takes to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual survey of birds sighted over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.14-17, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the bird count website. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose.

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

Fishing:  While February is generally a slow time of the year for fishing, dedicated anglers can still find ways to reel in dinner from area waters. Hatchery steelhead are still striking lures on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers, and the bite is picking up for walleye preparing to spawn in The Dalles and John Day pools.

Rather dip smelt? On Saturday, Feb. 8, the first smelt in three years will get under way on the Cowlitz River under a new rule approved by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Under the new rule, fishing with dip nets will be allowed from the riverbank from 6 a.m. until noon each Saturday through March 1. Each dip-netter may retain 10 pounds of smelt per day. For more information, see the news release.

Anglers can also catch and keep one legal-size white sturgeon a day in the Bonneville Pool. Only sturgeon measuring 38-54 inches (fork length) may be retained. Harvest levels were lower than expected during a fishery that ended Feb. 17, so fishery managers approved another opening Feb. 24 through March 9. About 350 legal-size fish are available for harvest during that season.

Waters below Bonneville Dam remain closed to sturgeon retention, but catch-and-release fishing is allowed year-round.

And don’t forget that tens of thousands of rainbow trout are still available in lakes throughout the region, with more on the way. Battle Ground Lake and Klineline Pond are each scheduled to receive 3,000 catchable-size trout this month.

But for many anglers, the main event won’t begin for several more weeks. That’s when ocean-bright spring chinook salmon will begin to move into the Columbia River in large numbers, lighting the fuse for one of the state’s most popular fisheries.

The spring chinook fishery is currently open below the I-5 Bridge, but it usually doesn’t catch fire until March when new rules recently adopted by Washington and Oregon extend the fishery further upriver. The current limit is two adult hatchery fish per day.

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

Pre-season projections anticipate a strong run of 308,000 adult spring chinook to the Columbia River this year, compared to last year’s below-average return of 195,200 fish. This year’s projection includes 81,000 lower-river spring chinook and 227,000 upriver fish bound for rivers and streams above Bonneville Dam.

“The stage is set for a great fishery this year,” said Ron Roler, WDFW Columbia River policy manager. “Not only is the run forecast well above average, but the light snow pack makes it unlikely that anglers will have to contend with high, turbid water as they have in some years.”

Initial seasons set by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon are as follows:

  • Below Bonneville Dam: Open daily from March 1 through April 7 to boat and bank fishing from Buoy 10 upstream to Beacon Rock. Bank fishing will also be allowed from Beacon Rock upriver to the fishing boundary just below the dam. The sport fishery will be closed March 25 and April 1 (Tuesdays) to allow for potential commercial fisheries. The daily catch limit will be two adipose fin-clipped adult salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a chinook.
  • Above Bonneville Dam: Open daily from March 16 through May 9 to boat and bank anglers between the Tower Island powerlines (six miles below The Dalles Dam) and the Washington/Oregon state line. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the Tower Island powerlines during that time. As in the area below the dam, the daily catch limit will be two adipose fin-clipped adult salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a chinook.

Those seasons may be shortened or extended depending on catch and effort, Roler said.

The initial catch guideline for the area below Bonneville Dam is 12,400 adult spring chinook, with 1,325 upriver chinook reserved for the fishery above the dam. Roler noted that those catch guidelines are more than double those in effect last season, due to the higher run forecast and allocation changes approved last year as part of the Lower Columbia River Fisheries Reform Process.

To guard against overestimating this year’s run, the states will again manage the fisheries with a 30 percent buffer until the forecast is updated with information about actual returns.

In a separate action, WDFW recently announced that portions of the Lewis River and the Kalama River will be close Feb. 17 to spring chinook fishing to provide enough fish to meet hatchery escapement goals. In addition, a portion of the North Fork Lewis River will close to all fishing on the same day. For more information, see the WDFW Emergency Rule webpage.

Hunting:  Hunters have until midnight Feb. 28 to purchase and submit an application to WDFW for a 2014 spring black bear hunting permit, applicable to specific areas of western and eastern Washington. To apply for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2014 hunting license that includes bear as a species option.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, by calling (866) 246-9453, or at any license vendor in the state. Special permit applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, or by calling (877) 945-3492.

A drawing will be held in mid-March for 383 permits in western Washington and 314 permits for hunts east of the Cascades. Permit winners will receive notification in the mail no later than March 31. Applicants may also check the results of the drawing at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting on the WDFW website.

Wildlife viewing: Large flocks of snow geese have showed up in the Vancouver Lowlands, where geese are visible in the harvested corn fields. Canada geese and sandhill cranes can also be observed in the same areas.

Meanwhile, birders around the region have been reporting sightings of rusty blackbirds, which nest in the muskeg of across northern Canada but usually winter in the southeastern United States. One was recently spotted in Longview, another in Ridgefield. Formerly abundant, the rusty blackbird has undergone one of the most rapid declines of any abundant bird species in North America. Adults have a pointed bill and a pale yellow eye. “Rusty” refers to their brownish winter plumage.

Have 15 minutes to spare for bird science? That’s virtually all it takes to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual survey of birds sighted over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.14-17, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the bird count website. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose.

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

Fishing: Some of the best fishing in the region is at Lake Roosevelt, the huge Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam that stretches along the Lincoln-Ferry and Ferry-Stevens county lines in the northeast district.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW)enforcement officer Dan Anderson said he has checked many successful fishers from Lake Roosevelt’s Daisy boat launch south to the dam. “Boaters who are trolling have been very successful, and bank fishers have also been doing fairly well,” he said. “Average rainbow trout size has been 15 to17 inches. If the reservoir levels stay relatively high, as expected, fishing should continue to be very good.”

WDFWDistrict Fish Biologist Randy Osborne agreed that Roosevelt has been fishing really well for both boat and shore anglers. Creel checks show that daily catch limits of five trout are common. “Kokanee fishing at Lake Roosevelt has also been decent for those who can find them,” Osborne said. “Just remember that of your six kokanee daily catch limit, only two can be wild kokanee, or those with intact adipose fins.”

Roosevelt anglers have also been picking up some decent walleye in the Spokane Arm area of the reservoir. Osborne reminds anglers that the Spokane Arm is open year-round, with a daily catch limit of 16 walleye. “The walleye fishing will just get better and better into spring,” he said.

Osborne also reports that the central district’s winter-only lakes – Hog Canyon in Spokane County and Fourth of July on the Lincoln-Adams county line -- have been hit or miss. Temperature fluctuations could be part of the reason for inconsistent fishing effort and catch, and anglers need to check conditions carefully before venturing out on ice, he said. Osborne reminds anglers that the daily catch limit at both lakes is five trout but only two over 14 inches may be retained.

The region’s other two winter-only fishing lakes – Hatch and Williams in northern Stevens County – continue to provide catches of rainbows through the ice, although WDFWDistrict Fish Biologist Bill Baker suspects catch rates have slowed.

Both biologists reminds anglers to “use common sense” while ice fishing. Repeated thawing and re-freezing can make ice unsafe. Tips to help keep an outing safe include:

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

Year-round-open Rock Lake in Whitman County is reportedly giving up some decent brown trout, along with a few rainbows. Yellow perch fishing has been very good at year-round Eloika and Silver lakes in Spokane County. However, the perch in Silver Lake are pretty small – six inches or less, Osborne notes.

February is the last month to fish Waitts Lake in southern Stevens County, which has provided decent catches of both trout and perch. The lake closes Feb. 28 and doesn’t re-open until the last Saturday of April.

Hunting:  Hunters have until midnight Feb. 28 to purchase and submit an application to WDFW for a 2014 spring black bear hunting permit, applicable to specific areas of western and eastern Washington. To apply for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2014 hunting license that includes bear as a species option.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, by calling (866) 246-9453, or at any license vendor in the state. Special permit applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, or by calling (877) 945-3492.

A drawing will be held in mid-March for 383 permits in western Washington and 314 permits for hunts east of the Cascades. Permit winners will receive notification in the mail no later than March 31. Applicants may also check the results of the drawing at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting on the WDFW website.

Snowshoe hare tracks
Snowshoe hare tracks

Wildlife viewing: New snow throughout the region should improvewildlife viewing opportunities. WDFW Wooten Wildlife Area Manager Kari Dingman said that because of the lack of snow in late January, elk had not moved down from the high country of the Blue Mountains to the Tucannon River lowlands. Depending on how much snow pushes them down, elk and other wildlife, including mule deer and bighorn sheep, could be more visible this month. Dingman reminds wildlife viewers and shed antler hunters that the Cummings Creek drainage on the Wooten is closed until April 1 to protect wintering wildlife.

Even if wild animals are not spotted, fresh animal tracks should be easy to find with new snow cover. WDFW Wildlife Biologist Annemarie Prince in Colville suggests packing a wildlife track identification guide during weekend cross-country skiing or snowshoeing trips and turning the outing into a simple wildlife survey. Tracks from snowshoe hares, coyotes, and white-tailed deer are some of the most commonly found.

Late winter is almost always a good time to see both bald and golden eagles, ravens, and magpies feeding on animal carcasses.

Other raptors or birds of prey, including rough-legged hawks, northern harriers, and northern shrikes, are usually more visible while they hunt snow-covered fields throughout the region. Drivers traveling through the region’s agricultural areas may also see winter-visiting snow buntings and Lapland longspurs among roadside groups of horned larks. Backyard feeder birds are even easier to spot, with an abundance of finches, juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers taking advantage of seed and suet.

February is the month of the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science project sponsored by Audubon and the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. It only takes a minimum of 15 minutes to contribute to this annual survey of birds sighted over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.14-17, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the bird count website. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose.

Other wildlife watching at this time of year can be closer than expected as winter-weary animals seek easier travel corridors or forage. WDFW Wildlife Biologist Woody Myers advises motorists to slow down on roads through deer, elk and moose country and viewers to maintain respectable distances from animals. “It’s still very much winter throughout the region this month,” Myers said. “Keep your distance from wild animals that may be stressed from cold temperatures and limited forage, if not snow cover.”

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

Fishing: Fishing for steelhead in the northcentral region continues through Februaryon the mainstem Columbia River from Wells Dam upstream to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam; Methow River from the mouth upstream to the confluence with the Chewuch River in Winthrop; Okanogan River from the mouth upstream to the Highway 97 Bridge in Oroville; and Similkameen River from the mouth upstream to 400 feet below Enloe Dam.

All steelhead anglers must have a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement and comply with selective gear rules and night closures, except bait is allowed on the mainstem Columbia. Daily bag limit is two hatchery-marked (adipose fin clipped) steelhead. All wild (adipose fin present) steelhead must be released. Anglers must also release all steelhead with a floy (anchor) tag attached and/or one or more round 1/4 inch diameter holes punched in the caudal (tail) fin.

Travis Maitland, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Chelan district fish biologist, is hopeful that the three fisheries that were closed in December – the mainstem Columbia River from Rock Island Dam upstream to 400 feet below Wells Dam; Wenatchee River from the mouth upstream to the Icicle River Road Bridge; and Icicle River from the mouth upstream to 500 feet below the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery Barrier Dam – will be re-opened for steelheading sometime in early February. A re-opening of those waters depends on the numbers of both hatchery and wild steelhead that generally begin moving in this month.

Steelheaders need to keep an eye on WDFW Emergency Fishing Rule Updates, or subscribe to e-mail alerts about rule changes, for an announcement of that possible re-opening.

Other fishing opportunities in the region through February are usually through the ice for trout and spiny-ray fish at lakes open for fishing. But ice conditions have fluctuated this winter to the point of being dangerous, so Maitland advises anglers to be especially cautious, careful and prepared.

Tips to help keep an outing safe include:

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

When safe, year-round Fish Lake, north of Leavenworth, usually produces yellow perch and rainbow trout. Roses Lake, just north of Manson, usually produces mostly rainbows through the ice.

Lakes open in Okanogan County that usually provide good catches this month include:

  • Davis (near Winthrop) for rainbow trout
  • Patterson (near Winthrop) for yellow perch and kokanee
  • Leader (near Omak) for bluegill, black crappie, bass, yellow perch, rainbow trout
  • Big and Little Green (near Omak) for rainbow trout
  • Rat (near Brewster) for rainbow and brown trout
  • Palmer (near Loomis) for yellow perch and kokanee
  • Bonaparte (near Tonasket) for eastern brook trout and kokanee
  • Sidley (near Molson) for rainbow trout, home of the 10th annual Northwest Ice Fishing Festival on Feb. 15.

WDFW staff will be available to answer fishing and other questions at the second annual Wenatchee Valley Sportsmen Show, Feb. 21-23, at the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee.

Hunting:  Hunters have until midnight Feb. 28 to purchase and submit an application to WDFW for a 2014 spring black bear hunting permit, applicable to specific areas of western and eastern Washington. To apply for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2014 hunting license that includes bear as a species option.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, by calling (866) 246-9453, or at any license vendor in the state. Special permit applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, or by calling (877) 945-3492.

A drawing will be held in mid-March for 383 permits in western Washington and 314 permits for hunts east of the Cascades. Permit winners will receive notification in the mail no later than March 31. Applicants may also check the results of the drawing at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting on the WDFW website.

Snowshoe hare tracks
Snowshoe hare tracks

Wildlife viewing: New snow throughout the region should improvewildlife viewing opportunities. WDFW Okanogan District Wildlife BiologistScott Fitkin reports mule deer have been scattered this winter, but the new snow may bring them down to traditional wintering areas in the Methow Valley where they are more visible. Wintering deer on the Rendezvous and other winter range units of the Methow Wildlife Area should be viewed from respectable distances, to avoid stressing the animals further. Sometimes that’s hard to avoid when deer cross Highway 20 in the Methow Valley, so the key for motorists is to slow down throughout the area.

The snow will also provide more opportunities for non-motorized winter recreation that goes well with wildlife tracking and viewing – cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat-tire snow bicycling.

The Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA) “Nature of Winter” family snowshoe tours focusing on wildlife and tracks and winter ecology continue every Saturday through February. Tours begin at 11 a.m. and run 90-120 minutes, depending on conditions. MVSTA trail passes or a MVSTA snowshoe trail pass ($5) are required for each person. Passes and snowshoe rentals are available at Sun Mountain Ski Shop, North Cascades Basecamp, Mazama Ski Shop, Methow Cycle & Sport and Winthrop Mountain Sports. Tour 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 email events@mvsta.com for more information.

Big waterways in the region, such as Moses Lake and Potholes Reservoir, usually have enough open water this month to begin enticing some of the earliest waterfowl migrants – mostly Canada geese and pintail ducks. Bald eagles can also be readily observed in the same areas where they’re taking advantage of the influx of waterfowl.

Some of the best wildlife viewing might be through your own window, watching finches, juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers taking advantage of seed and suet at backyard feeders.

February is the month of the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science project sponsored by Audubon and the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. It only takes a minimum of 15 minutes to contribute to this annual survey of birds sighted over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.14-17, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the bird count website. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose.

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

Fishing: Winter has cast a chill on most area fisheries, but the action always picks up with the approach of spring. Steelhead fishing usually starts to come alive in late February or early March and walleye fishing should improve as water temperatures start to rise.

Trout fishing options will also improve in February as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) starts stocking Dalton Lake, Quarry Pond and the Columbia Park juvenile-fishing pond.

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

“February is a perfect time to catch whitefish,” said Eric Anderson, a WDFW fish biologist stationed in Yakima. “This is when they start to congregate and the catch levels rise.”

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

Whitefish anglers should check the regulations for special rules and river sections, but generally whitefish seasons are open through Feb. 28 on the Yakima River and through March 31 on the Naches, Tieton, Bumping and Cle Elum Rivers.

Trout are another option in the Yakima area. I-82 Pond 4, Myron Lake and Rotary Lake were all recently planted with rainbow trout broodstock weighing up to 10 pounds apiece. Details are posted on the WDFW website at http: //wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/.

But if you want to catch a big fish, it’s hard to go wrong with sturgeon. Starting Feb. 1, the McNary Pool (also known as Lake Wallula) will be open for retention of one legal-size fish a day. Drawing anglers from throughout the region, the fishery extends from McNary Dam upstream to Priest Rapids Dam on the Columbia River and upstream to Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River.

Only sturgeon measuring 43-54 inches from their snout to the fork in their tail may be retained.

The same daily catch and size limits apply to the sturgeon fishery currently under way in the John Day Pool, also known as Lake Umatilla. Paul Hoffarth, a WDFW district fish biologist stationed in Pasco, said anglers fishing the lake have been busily chiseling away at the 500-fish annual quota. “That quota has been reached very early in recent years, so anglers should go soon – and keep an eye out for updates,” he said.

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

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

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

Anglers and hunters who want to get prepped for the seasons ahead might want to drop by the Central Washington Sportsmen Show, running Feb. 14-16 at the Yakima Sundome. WDFW will have a booth at the show, which will also feature plenty of outdoor gear, a fly-casting pool and experts on topics ranging from fly fishing to elk bugling.

Hunting:  Hunters have until midnight Feb. 28 to purchase and submit an application to WDFW for a 2014 spring black bear hunting permit, applicable to specific areas of western and eastern Washington. To apply for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2014 hunting license that includes bear as a species option.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, by calling (866) 246-9453, or at any license vendor in the state. Special permit applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, or by calling (877) 945-3492.

A drawing will be held in mid-March for 383 permits in western Washington and 314 permits for hunts east of the Cascades. Permit winners will receive notification in the mail no later than March 31. Applicants may also check the results of the drawing at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting on the WDFW website.

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 visitors center is open, but it’s always a good idea to check the recorded message on the headquarters phone (509-653-2390) for updates on feeding and elk-viewing tours. Driving instructions and other information about the wildlife area are available on WDFW’s website.

Visitors should be aware that a state Discover Pass or WDFW 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.

Have 15 minutes to spare for bird science? That’s virtually all it takes to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual survey of birds sighted over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.14-17, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the bird count website. Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose.