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

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March 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 March 18, 2014)

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, several eastside lakes open for trout fishing March 1, and razor-clam digs are scheduled this 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 5-6 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 2014-15 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 700 WDFW water 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 (1-866-246-9453) and from license dealers around the state.

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

Fishing:  Rivers are now closed to steelhead fishing throughout the region, but anglers are still reeling in blackmouth salmon from Puget Sound and trout from area lakes.

Ryan Lothrop, Puget Sound recreational salmon manager recommends trolling and mooching near the bottom, especially near tidal changes, to catch blackmouth.

Anglers fishing marine areas 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay) and 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) are limited to two salmon, and must release wild chinook.  Marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands) and 9 (Admiralty Inlet) have a one-salmon daily limit, and must release wild chinook salmon. Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) is closed to salmon fishing.

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.

Looking forward to summer salmon fishing? Several public meetings have been scheduled throughout March and April as fishery managers continue to develop the 2014 salmon seasons, which will be finalized in early April. For more information on the meetings, visit WDFW’s North of Falcon website.

Meanwhile, trout fishing is a great option for anyone who wants to catch some fish. Although the lowland lakes trout season doesn’t officially get under way until late-April,    there are plenty of options to fish for trout from a boat and from shore.

Lake stocking efforts are getting under way on year-round lakes in four counties in the North Sound.  Lakes currently planned for stocking in March include:

  • Island County:  Cranberry and Lone
  • King County:  Alice, Angle, Beaver (Sammamish), Green, Meridian, Rattlesnake, Sawyer, and Steel
  • Skagit: Grandy Lake
  • Snohomish County:  Ballinger, Blackmans, Cassidy, Chain, Flowing, Ketchum, Loma, Martha, Panther, Shoecraft, Silver, Tye, Gissberg Ponds/Twin Lakes, and Lost Lake (also known as Devil’s Lake)

For weekly stocking reports by region and county, visit the 2014 catchable trout plants webpage.

Cutthroat trout are also an option at this time of year, especially for those who don’t mind a hike, said Justin Spinelli, a WDFW fish biologist. 

“On those days when the sun is making an appearance, anglers should consider hike-in waters for cutthroat trout, said Spinelli.  “Fishing usually picks up later in the spring, but hike-in fishing is a perfect opportunity to avoid spring cleaning.  Check the weather and road conditions, and dress appropriately.”

Hike-in cutthroat opportunities can be found throughout the region. Spinelli suggests the following excursions:

  • Skagit County: Whistle Lake in Anacortes
  • King County: Christmas Lake near Rattlesnake Lake and Langendorfer upstream from Stossel Creek
  • Snohomish County: Temple Pond in Lord Hill Park, Lake Ida which is southeast of Lake Chaplain, and Lake Evan off the Mountain Loop Highway
  • Island County: Admiralty Bay Ponds near Fort Casey
  • Whatcom County: Squires Lake, also Pine and Cedar lakes on Chuckanut Mountain

For large fish, Spinelli recommends Lone Lake in Island County for rainbows, Rattlesnake in King County for rainbows, Pass Lake in Skagit County for rainbows and brown trout, and Squalicum in Whatcom County for tiger trout.

Fishing for kokanee is expected to pick up this month, particularly at Meridian (in Snohomish County), Angle (King County), Stevens (Snohomish County) Cavanaugh (Skagit County) and Samish (Whatcom County) 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.

Anglers fishing Lake Whatcom or Lake Samish are reminded that mandatory boat inspections are in effect to help prevent the spread or introduction of aquatic invasive species.

Fishing for bass (smallmouth and largemouth), panfish (yellow perch, pumpkinseed, rock bass, bluegill), and catfish (channel and brown bullhead) are increasingly productive options as spring approaches and lowland waters warm. 

“In March, these species can still be found around their winter haunts, near bottom structure (rocky outcroppings, points, and humps) in deep water,” said Danny Garrett, fisheries biologist for WDFW. “However, the warmest days in March will bring lethargic bass, catfish, and panfish out of the depths into warmer, shallower waters for brief periods.” 

By following the weather patterns and targeting the warmest days of the month, anglers will increase their chances of success this time of year, said Garrett. “Though catch rates are lower in March, some of the largest bass are caught this time of year.”

For more information on the when’s, where’s and how-to’s of fishing in western Washington, anglers can familiarize themselves with the new Fish Washington web feature available directly from the department's homepage.

And, for those planning fishing vacations in North Puget Sound and throughout the state, Great Washington Getaways is a WDFW website that showcases some of the state's best family travel and fishing opportunities.

Anglers using these web features should also consult WDFW’s sportfishing regulations for details on fishing seasons and limits.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2014 multiple-season permit, which can greatly increase their opportunities for success in the field. In mid-April, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (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 2014. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington. Winners also may choose any weapon type when applying for a special permit to hunt deer or elk.

“This is a great opportunity for hunters to extend their hunting season this fall,” said Dave Ware, game manager for WDFW. “Rather than having to choose one hunting method over another, hunters drawn for a multiple-season permit who purchase the tag can participate in multiple seasons.”

Ware noted that the tags can be used only during general seasons and in game management units that are open during a modern firearm, muzzleloader, or archery general season. Also, hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk.

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. See the FAQ for more information.

Wildlife viewing: Birdwatchers have an opportunity to take part in the "Wings Over Water" Northwest Birding Festival March 14, 15, and 16 in Blaine, Semiahmoo, and Birch Bay. The festival features wildlife viewing field trips, speakers and raptor presentations. For more information visit the festival website.

The annual gray whale migration is under way and whale watchers 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.

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

Fishing: Wet weather in late February could mean better fishing in March for both wild and hatchery steelhead, while anglers continue to fish for blackmouth salmon in coastal waters.

Three days of razor clam digs in early March have been approved on coastal beaches by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).  A second dig is tentatively scheduled for later in March.

The early season digs this month are scheduled the evenings of March 1 to 3. No digging is allowed before noon. The schedule, along with low tides and beaches:

  • March 1, Saturday, 6:32 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks, Copalis
  • March 2, Sunday, 7:13 p.m.; -0.3 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks
  • March 3, Monday, 7:53 p.m.; +0.3 feet; Twin Harbors

WDFW tentatively has planned late season digs in the evenings, March 26 to 29 and switching to morning tides March 30 and 31.These digs will be approved if marine toxin tests performed later this month show the clams are safe to eat. The proposed schedule includes:

  • March 26, Wednesday, 3:52 p.m.; 0.3 feet; Twin Harbors
  • March 27, Thursday, 4:48 p.m.; 0.1 feet; Twin Harbors
  • March 28, Friday, 5:38 p.m.; 0.0 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks
  • March 29, Saturday, 6:23 p.m.; 0.0 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks

Seasonal switch to morning tides

  • March 30, Sunday, 6:53 a.m.; -0.1 feet; Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks
  • March 31, Monday, 7:39 a.m.; -0.5 feet; Twin Harbors

Ocean Shores will host its annual razor clam festival March 21 to 23. The festival includes a chowder cookoff. More information is available here.

For more information on where and how to dig for razor clams, visit WDFW’s razor clam web page.

If you’d rather dig for clams along the Hood Canal, head to Dosewallips State Park, where digging for Manilla clams, butter clams and other intertidal clams will get started early this season, opening March 1.

Lingcod fishing begins March 15 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.

Wild steelhead fishing on the northern peninsula has been slow so far, but there have been good pockets of water for fishing, said Mike Gross, north coast district fish biologist for WDFW.

"The lack of rain and low flow conditions that delayed the fall coho and hatchery steelhead returns are switching to a more normal state,” Gross said. “Wild steelhead will continue to push upstream.” Gross advised anglers to keep an eye on river conditions.

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.

For hatchery steelhead, anglers should try fishing rivers in the Chehalis River Basin, said Mike Scharpf, another WDFW fish biologist. “The Satsop, Skookumchuck and Wynoochee rivers offer the best opportunities for hatchery steelhead in March, and we anticipate fishing will improve with the recent rainfall,” Scharpf said.

Meanwhile, several areas of Puget Sound are open to fishing for resident chinook.  Anglers fishing in the eastern straight (Marine Area 6), near Tacoma and Vashon Island (Marine Area 11) or along the Hood Canal (Marine Area 12) can keep two hatchery salmon each day but must release wild chinook.

There is a one-salmon daily limit near Sekiu (Marine Area 5) and in the South Puget Sound (Marine Area 13). “Area six has been really good for salmon fishing so far,” said Ryan Lothrop, Puget Sound recreation salmon fisheries manager. The Sekiu area, which opened mid-February, also has been a hotspot for blackmouth in previous years, he said.

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.

Looking ahead, planning for Washington’s summer salmon fishing season is in full swing. Several public meetings have been scheduled throughout March as fishery managers continue to develop the 2014 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 names in a drawing for a 2014 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 2014. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tags by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington. Winners also may choose any weapon type when applying for a special permit to hunt deer or elk.

“This is a great opportunity for hunters to extend their hunting season this fall,” said Dave Ware, game manager for WDFW. “Rather than having to choose one hunting method over another, hunters drawn for a multiple-season permit who purchase the tag can participate in multiple seasons.”

Ware noted that the tags can be used only during general seasons and in game management units that are open during a modern firearm, muzzleloader, or archery general season. Also, hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk.

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. See the FAQ for more information.

Wildlife viewing: Gray whales making their annual journey north from the coast of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, creating whalewatching opportunities in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. Although most of the gray whales simply pass through on their way to Alaska, others linger along the Strait of San Juan de Fuca and other areas of the Puget Sound in spring and summer months.  For recent whale sightings, visit Orca Network.

For the past few months, bird watchers have been reporting sightings of an emperor goose in the Discovery Bay area. This type of goose typically makes its home along the coasts of Alaska and Siberia. The emperor goose has been spotted traveling with a flock of Canadian geese. For recent sightings, visit the American Birding Association.

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

Fishing:  Steelhead fishing is heating up on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers, kokanee are biting at Merwin Reservoir, and five area lakes are set to receive thousands of rainbow trout this month. White sturgeon are also available for harvest through March 9 in the Bonneville Pool, and until further notice in The Dalles and John Day pools.

But the main attraction this month is the spring chinook fishery in the lower Columbia River, the first major salmon fishery of 2014. Anglers caught a few early arrivals in February, but the real action begins later this month.

Based on pre-season projections, 308,000 adult “springers” are expected to return to the big river this year, including 227,000 upriver fish bound for rivers and streams above Bonneville Dam. That compares favorably to last year’s total return of just 123,100 upriver fish.

“All signs point to a great season this year,” said Ron Roler, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “The run forecast is well above average, and the rivers are dropping back into shape after the heavy rain in late February.”

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

  • Below Bonneville Dam: Open 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 Tuesday, March 25 and Tuesday, April 1 to allow for potential commercial fisheries. The adult daily catch limit will be two adipose fin-clipped 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 power lines and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles above McNary Dam. 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.

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

Under this year’s initial catch guidelines, anglers fishing below the dam will be allowed to catch up to 12,400 spring chinook before an updated run forecast is released in late April or early May. Another 1,325 adult upriver chinook will be reserved for anglers fishing between Bonneville Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line.

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.

As for fishing in the tributaries, the Cowlitz River is currently open salmon fishing, with a daily catch limit of two adult hatchery chinook. In addition, the Wind River opens March 16 from the mouth upriver to the Burlington Northern Bridge with a daily limit of two chinook, or two hatchery steelhead, or one of each. (See regulations at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/erule.jsp?id=1412)

However, the following rules are in place on other tributaries to the lower Columbia River:

  • Until further notice, release all chinook on the Kalama River from the mouth upstream to the upper hatchery (Kalama Falls Hatchery).
  • Until further notice, release all chinook on the mainstem Lewis River upriver to the mouth of the East Fork.
  • Until further notice, release all chinook on the North Fork Lewis River from the mouth of the East Fork upstream to Merwin Dam.
  • The North Fork Lewis River is closed to all fishing from Johnson Creek – located downstream from the Lewis River Salmon Hatchery – upstream to Merwin Dam through May 31.

In addition, 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. Barbless hooks are required in all Washington Columbia River tributaries. 

Meanwhile, thousands of catchable trout will be planted this month in Clark County lakes, including Klineline Pond, Battleground Lake and Lacamas Lake. Two lakes in Cowlitz County – Sacajawea and Silver Lake – will also receive plants of rainbow trout.

For other options, check the stocking schedule for trout plants throughout the region. 
Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2014 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 2014. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington. Winners also may choose any weapon type when applying for a special permit to hunt deer or elk.

“This is a great opportunity for hunters to extend their hunting season this fall,” said Dave Ware, game manager for WDFW. “Rather than having to choose one hunting method over another, hunters drawn for a multiple-season permit who purchase the tag can participate in multiple seasons.”

Ware noted that the tags can be used only during general seasons and in game management units that are open during a modern firearm, muzzleloader, or archery general season. Also, hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk.

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. See the FAQ for more information.

Wildlife viewing:  Approximately 40 bald and golden eagles have been perching on tree limbs around the mouth of the Klickitat River, feeding on fish. Eagles are also present upstream in the Klickitat Canyon, although in fewer numbers. A new bald eagle nest has also been reported near the town of White Salmon adjacent to the Columbia River. Both golden and bald eagles are currently in the early stages of their breeding cycles prior to egg laying, which means spring is near.

Meanwhile, the number of waterfowl flocking to the Vancouver Lowland has increased dramatically in recent weeks due to rising water levels in the low lying fields.  While working in the area, WDFW staff have observed a variety of species including: dusky Canada geese, snow geese, Ross geese, pintails, mallards, wigeon, canvasback, gadwall, ring-necked ducks, scaup, shoveler, bufflehead and ruddy ducks. Several sandhill cranes and bald eagles are in the area along with one pair of eagles that appear to be building a nest in the South Unit. A few shorebirds have also also seen and heard on the area.

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 depending on weather, most should be ready for action.

Six Tucannon River  impoundments on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) Wooten Wildlife Area in Columbia County – Big Four, Blue, Deer, Rainbow, Spring and Watson lakes – have thawed and are being stocked with trout, said area manager Kari Dingman. The only lake that may not receive fish before the first of March is Big Four, due to fluctuating river levels that make hatchery truck access difficult.

Throughout the spring these popular fishing lakes are stocked with both “catchable” size rainbow trout (10- to 12-inches or one-third pounders) and “jumbo” size (measuring more than 14 inches and weighing one pound each).  From now through June, Big Four will receive a total of 2,000 catchables and 300 jumbos; Blue will get 16,000 catchables and 400 jumbos; Deer – 2,650 catchables, 50 jumbos; Rainbow – 13,000 catchables and 325 jumbos; Spring – 9,000 catchables and 325 jumbos; Watson – 14,500 catchables and 325 jumbos. 

WDFW Tucannon Hatchery staff are also stocking other year-round-open fisheries in southeast Washington, including:  Asotin County’s Golf Course and West Evans ponds; Columbia County’s Dam, Dayton Juvenile and Orchard ponds; Walla Walla County’s Bennington Lake and Hood Park, Jefferson Park, Lions Park and Quarry ponds; Franklin County’s Quarry and Dalton lakes and Marmes Pond; and Whitman County’s Pampa Pond.

Anglers can find the trout allotments for these and other fisheries, as well as weekly catchable trout plant reports, at Fish Stocking Reports.

Other March 1 opening fisheries in the region rely more on “put, grow and take” trout fry stocking, says WDFW Central District Fish Biologist Randy Osborne in Spokane. “These are about 8-inch trout stocked last fall or spring that have grown and are ready to harvest in this season,” he said.

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. Medical Lake, in southwest Spokane County, was stocked with 2,500 rainbows last May, and will be stocked with another 1,000, plus 2,000 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.

Liberty Lake, in eastern Spokane County, received 5,000 brown trout and 13,500 rainbow trout fry last fall and will get 700 “jumbo size” browns this spring.  Liberty is also being stocked this spring with 5,000 catchable and 150 jumbo rainbows.

Coffeepot Lake in Lincoln County received 5,000 rainbow fry 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.

Amber Lake, in southwest Spokane County, opens for catch-and-release only fishing March 1, and then shifts to a two-trout-per-day harvest season in late April. Amber was stocked with 7,500 rainbows and 1,000 cutthroat trout last May.

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, and this year Fourth of July has offered a little more action than Hog Canyon.

“Most ice fishing action is happening at a couple of year-round-open fisheries in the district,” Osborne said. “Eloika Lake in north Spokane County and Silver Lake in southwest Spokane County, have been pretty good for yellow perch through the ice this winter. Catches vary, but most anglers who put in their time are successful.  Both lakes have a ton of perch to catch, but the fish at Eloika are larger than those at Silver.” 

Osborne cautions that recent temperature swings have caused the ice on many lakes to partially thaw and refreeze, especially around the edges. Anglers need to test the ice depth and use good judgment prior to venturing out on the ice.   

Year-round Lake Roosevelt continues to fish really well for rainbows, walleye, and the occasional burbot and kokanee, Osborne said.

Glen Mendel, WDFW southeast district fish biologist, reminds anglers that the Tucannon River closes to fishing this year on March 1 instead of April 1, and will remain closed until the first Saturday in June.  Mendel said the fishery is closing early to protect wild steelhead.

WDFW Regional Fish Program Manager John Whalen notes that although the increase of the daily limit for walleye on the San Poil River in Ferry County from eight fish to 16 fish is effective this month, the walleye fishery there doesn’t open until April 1.  The change was recently made to address an overpopulation of walleye in this tributary to Lake Roosevelt.

Another kind of fishing is available at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s 54th annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, March 20-23, 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,” and there’s a “Virtual Reality Fishing Simulator,” 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. New this year will be sales of “Fish Washington” sweatshirts for $35.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their name in a drawing for a 2014 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 2014. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington. Winners also may choose any weapon type when applying for a special permit to hunt deer or elk.

“This is a great opportunity for hunters to extend their hunting season this fall,” said Dave Ware, game manager for WDFW. “Rather than having to choose one hunting method over another, hunters drawn for a multiple-season permit who purchase the tag can participate in multiple seasons.”

Ware noted that the tags can be used only during general seasons and in game management units that are open during a modern firearm, muzzleloader, or archery general season. Also, hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk.

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. See the FAQ for more information.

Another kind of hunting is available at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s 54th annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, March 20-23, 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:Although the spring equinox isn’t until March 20, and conditions in some parts of the region remain wintery all month, it’s the increasing daylight hours that are bringing many birds back into or through the area. “The birds want it to be spring and they’re singing when it isn’t raining, hailing or snowing,” said WDFW’s Wooten Wildlife Area Manager Kari Dingman in Pomeroy. Birdwatchers are enjoying influxes of everything from bluebirds to red-winged blackbirds.

Debby Flynn, a WDFW wildlife technician in Clarkston, reports seeing lots of bald eagles on Asotin Creek, probably foraging on fish or winter-weary waterfowl. She also said bighorn sheep are “sunning themselves” in the road at Heller Bar, up the Snake River. 

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 Wooten’s Cummings Creek drainage; motorized access is prohibited until April on the Asotin Creek Wildlife Area’s Lick Creek Road and South Fork Road.

Tundra swans are returning to the northeast district and March 22 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 Kalispel Tribe of Indians’ Camas Wellness Center at Usk. For more information and registration, see Tundra Swan Festival.

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

Fishing: Dozens of Columbia Basin lakes, which are stocked with rainbow trout, have melted out enough to be fished on March 1, opening day of the season, said Chad Jackson, a fish biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“Over the eight-month season, anglers usually have good luck fishing for 12-inch yearling rainbows in Upper Caliche, Martha, Burke, and Quincy lakes,” Jackson said. Upper Caliche and Quincy lakes are usually best for larger carryover fish.

Burke Lake, though 40 to 50 percent covered by ice, is fishable as of late February, Jackson said. Quincy Lake as well as Lower Spring and Cup lakes, which are part of the Quincy lake chain, had too much ice to be fished as of late February, he said. Anglers should check lake conditions before heading out.

Grant County’s Lenore Lake, where anglers fish for big Lahontan cutthroat trout, also was ice-covered in late February.

Check the Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet under Eastside Lakes (special rules) for all March 1 opening fisheries in the region. Anglers can find the total trout allotments for these and other fisheries, as well as weekly catchable trout plant reports, at Fish Stocking Reports.

March is the last month to keep fish caught in several Okanogan County lakes. 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. Patterson Lake near Winthrop, which is open year-round, also has been a good spot for ice-fishing for trout. Anglers should use caution as the weather warms this month and ice thickness diminishes.

Hatchery steelhead fishing, which opened in mid-February, continues on portions of the Columbia, Wenatchee, and Icicle rivers in the north end of the region. Open are the Columbia River from Rock Island Dam upstream to 400 feet below Wells Dam; the Wenatchee River from the mouth to 400 feet below Tumwater Dam; and the Icicle River from the mouth to 500 feet downstream of the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery Barrier Dam. Whitefish fishing also opened in mid-February on the Wenatchee River from the mouth to the Highway 2 Bridge at Leavenworth.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their names in a drawing for a 2014 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 2014. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington. Winners also may choose any weapon type when applying for a special permit to hunt deer or elk.

“This is a great opportunity for hunters to extend their hunting season this fall,” said Dave Ware, game manager for WDFW. “Rather than having to choose one hunting method over another, hunters drawn for a multiple-season permit who purchase the tag can participate in multiple seasons.”

Ware noted that the tags can be used only during general seasons and in game management units that are open during a modern firearm, muzzleloader, or archery general season. Also, hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk.

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. See the FAQ for more information.

Wildlife viewing:  March can be muddy in parts of the northcentral region as winter wanes and spring slowly arrives. So, it’s a good time to look up – at birds, that is.

Migrating waterfowl can be seen on thawing lakes in the Okanogan Valley, said Scott Fitkin, a wildlife biologist for WDFW. Early songbird migrants will start arriving in force, particularly in the shrub-steppe and riparian or streamside habitat areas.

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, Fitkin said. Grouse may be oblivious to viewers, but 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 March 28-30 this year.

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

Fishing:  This year’s run of spring chinook salmon will be moving up the Columbia River in the coming weeks, setting the stage for one of the region’s most popular fisheries. According to the pre-season forecast, the run will include 227,000 upriver spring chinook – well above last year’s return of just 123,100 upriver fish.

“All signs point to a great season this year,” said Ron Roler, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

But the big run of springers isn’t expected to arrive in this area for weeks, raising the question of what anglers can catch in the meantime.

Trout are an obvious choice, said Eric Anderson, a WDFW fish biologist based in Yakima. In March, WDFW will stock 20 lakes and ponds open year-round in Yakima, Kittitas, Franklin and Benton counties with thousands of “catchable size” rainbows, along with hundreds of jumbo trout weighing 1 to 1½ pounds.

“We start stocking trout in year-round lakes in early March and continue right through June,” Anderson said. “This fishery is really our bread and butter, and anglers look forward to it all year.” For more information, see the regional trout stocking report on the department’s website.

Then again, anglers can also do well targeting hatchery steelhead, which tend to go on the bite right before the season closes March 31. Some of the best catch rates of the season are often recorded in March near the Ringold Springs Hatchery, said Paul Hoffarth, another WDFW fish biologist.

“A lot of steelhead that have been hanging out all winter will make their final spawning runs,” he 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 will run through July 31 in Lake Wallula, the 64-mile reservoir behind McNary Dam. Lake Umatilla, which extends from John Day Dam upriver 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.

Still thinking about spring chinook? See the Jan. 22 joint staff report for more information on prospects for springers, summer chinook, sockeye and other runs coming soon.

Hunting:  Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their names in a drawing for a 2014 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 2014. Winners who purchase the multiple-season elk tag by Aug. 31 can participate in general elk-hunting season in both eastern and western Washington. Winners also may choose any weapon type when applying for a special permit to hunt deer or elk.

“This is a great opportunity for hunters to extend their hunting season this fall,” said Dave Ware, game manager for WDFW. “Rather than having to choose one hunting method over another, hunters drawn for a multiple-season permit who purchase the tag can participate in multiple seasons.”

Ware noted that the tags can be used only during general seasons and in game management units that are open during a modern firearm, muzzleloader, or archery general season. Also, hunters can apply only once for each species and are limited to harvesting one deer or elk.

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. See the FAQ for more information.

Wildlife viewing:  WDFW has ended its winter feeding program for the year, now that the snow is melting and the elk and bighorn sheep are moving to greener pastures in the Oak Creek Wildlife Area. Some animals are still visible from the parking lot, but the main show over for the year, said Ross Huffman, WDFW area manager. For updates, call the recorded message at 509-653-2390.

Meanwhile, 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 also making their annual migration stopovers in the Columbia Basin to feed and rest up before moving farther 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.