Photo credit: Brook Alongi
Columbia River salmon/steelhead: As this year’s fall chinook season winds down, area anglers are turning their attention to winter steelhead fishing. Thanksgiving Day traditionally marks the start of the popular fishery, but some anglers start working their favorite rivers well ahead of time.
“Steelhead move upriver on pulses of water,” said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist. “Once the sky opens up, we’ll see more fish start to move.”
Anglers can now retain up to two adult salmonids per day through Dec. 31 from Buoy 10 to John Day Dam, but only one may be a hatchery steelhead. Any wild steelhead with an intact adipose fin must be released.
Anglers may retain any chinook salmon – with or without an adipose fin – but all wild coho must be released from the Hood River Bridge downstream.
Fishing the tributaries: The first winter steelhead of the year arrived at the Cowlitz Hatchery in late October and more are sure to follow in the weeks ahead. Other major destinations for hatchery-reared steelhead include the Kalama, Lewis (including the North Fork), Washougal, Elochoman and Grays rivers, along with Salmon Creek in Clark County and Rock Creek in Skamania County.
Starting Nov. 1, several other rivers and creeks open for steelhead fishing, including Abernathy, Coal, Germany, Mill, and Skamokawa creeks and the Coweeman River in Cowlitz County, and Cedar Creek in Clark County.
WDFW’s Hatchery Escapement Reports and 2016 Hatchery Steelhead Smolt Stocking report can provide a good indication of the number of fish returning to each river.
The daily limit on most tributaries below Bonneville Dam is three hatchery steelhead – plus the salmon limit listed for individual rivers in the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet. Only hatchery-reared steelhead with a clipped adipose fin may be retained, and anglers are required to keep the first three hatchery steelhead they catch.
An exception is the Cowlitz River from the Lexington Drive/Sparks Road bridges upstream to the markers below the barrier dam. In those waters, the limit is two hatchery steelhead per day, and the mandatory retention rule has been lifted.
Anglers fishing the Cowlitz River should also be aware that all chinook salmon must be released downstream from the barrier dam due to low returns to the hatchery.
The daily limit at Drano Lake is three adult salmonids, of which only one two may be coho. At Drano Lake, the daily limit is also three adult salmonids, but only two may be hatchery steelhead. Wind River remains closed to all fishing from Shipherd Falls to Moore Bridge to protect the low number of summer steelhead arriving to spawn.
Anglers are strongly advised to check for new emergency rules before heading out.
Sturgeon: Catch-and-release fisheries are open in all areas of the Columbia River below Priest Rapids Dam, but retention fishing for white sturgeon is closed in those waters.
Warmwater fish: Walleye fishing is still going strong in the Columbia from The Dalles to McNary dams. Channel catfish has also been good above John Day Dam.
Night fishing is now allowed from Buoy 10 upstream to the wooden powerline towers near old Hanford for warmwater fish, including bass, walleye, burbot, catfish, crappie, perch, peamouth, suckers and sunfish.
Trout: State fish managers are stocking lakes throughout the state with thousands of large trout averaging 15 to 16 inches for WDFW’s Black Friday event, starting the day after Thanksgiving. Approximately 2,000 of those lunkers are headed for:
- Clark County: Battleground Lake and Klineline Pond in Clark County.
- Cowlitz County: Kress Lake.
- Lewis County: Ft. Borst Park Pond, and South Lewis County Park Pond.
Each of these waters will be closed the Monday before Thanksgiving and opening on the day after the holiday.
Anglers should be aware that Swift Reservoir closes Nov. 30.
Photo credit: Gary Babcock
Choose your hunt: November is prime time for hunting in southwest Washington, whether for elk, deer, or waterfowl. Hunters gearing up for any of this month’s hunts may want to check WDFW’s 2017 Hunting Prospects, Game Harvest Reports, and Go Hunt online mapping tool to determine which areas to hunt.
Elk and deer: Hunters with modern firearms will take the field for elk Nov. 4-15, then stalk deer during the late buck hunt Nov.16-19. Records show that approximately one-third of the region’s annual buck harvest occurs during this four-day hunt, when the rut is on and bucks are on the move.
Archers and muzzleloaders also have late-season hunting opportunities in select game management units (GMUs) in southwest Washington. Archery hunts for deer and elk begin Nov. 22, when muzzleloaders also return to the field to hunt deer.
The harsh winter of 2016-17 appears to have taken a toll on deer throughout the region, particularly in Klickitat County. Hunters may see somewhat lower success rates for antlerless and spike deer, but black-tailed deer populations remain stable.
District 10 (Lewis, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties) historically offers some of the best elk hunting in the state, and state wildlife managers don’t expect this year to be any different. Like last year, some of the region’s best hunting will be in GMUs 506 (Willapa Hills), 520 (Winston), 530 (Ryderwood) and 550 (Coweeman).
GMU 560 (Lewis River), most of which is located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, also offers some fine prospects. Hunters heading out to GMUs 388 (Grayback) and 382 (East Klickitat) should be aware that hunts in those areas require an eastern Washington elk tag.
As most hunters know, hoof disease has been spreading among elk in the St. Helens and Willapa herds in recent years. To help contain the disease, hunters are now required to remove the hooves of any elk they harvest in southwest Washington and leave them on-site.
Wildlife managers also ask that hunters report any elk showing signs of the disease. To report diseased elk or learn more about hoof disease, see WDFW’s hoof-disease webpage.
Bear and cougar: The black bear season ends Nov. 15, but cougar hunting is scheduled to run through next April or until harvest guidelines are met. Bear hunters are urged not to shoot sows with cubs (30-50 pounds), which tend to trail their mothers in fall. For more information on all these hunts, see the Big Game Pamphlet, available on WDFW’s website.
Waterfowl: Local-grown mallards are providing early-season hunting opportunities for waterfowl hunters, but more birds are on the way. Reinforcements are expected this month, as northern ducks start pushing down from British Columbia and Alaska in large numbers.
Northern geese are also expected to arrive in strong numbers, since population levels – particularly of white-fronted geese – are well above the 10-year average. For that reason, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved new daily bag limits for geese this year, as outlined on Page 8 of the 2017 Migratory Waterfowl & Upland Bird pamphlet.
Under the new rules, bird hunters can take up to four Canada geese, six white geese and 10 white-fronted geese a day.
Goose hunting resumes Nov. 4 after an eight-day hiatus in Goose Management Area 3 (Lewis and Skamania counties) and resumes Nov. 25 in Goose Management Area 2 (Cowlitz, Clark and Wahkiakum counties). Hunters must possess a special hunting authorization to hunt in Area 2 at this time of year, and should be aware that Dusky Canada geese are off-limits to hunting.
See Page 12 of the Migratory Waterfowl & Upland Game pamphlet for more information about goose hunting in Area 2.
Upland game: Seasons remain open as listed in the pamphlet for forest grouse, pheasant, quail, northern bobwhite, cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares. Information about pheasant-release sites in southwest Washington is available in the Western Washington Pheasant Release Program brochure.
Birds on the wing: Migrating waterfowl are building toward peak levels in southwest Washington, providing prime viewing opportunities for people throughout the region. Swans, geese, ducks and other birds are on display throughout the Vancouver Lowlands and other areas of southwest Washington.
Birding in hunter orange: With hunting seasons under way in many parts of the region, some birders have called WDFW to ask whether they should wear hunter-orange clothing while in the field. “It's not a legal requirement for bird watchers,” said Bill Tweit, a WDFW policy analyst and avid birder. “But it only makes sense to make every effort to let hunters know where you are when you’re sharing the same area.”
Christmas Bird Count: Birders throughout the nation are making preparations for the 118th Christmas Bird Count scheduled Dec. 14, 2017, through Jan. 5, 2018. Sponsored by Audubon, the annual event enlists tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas to count and categorize the birds they see for science.
Free admission: Washington State Parks is offering free admission to the parks on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, when day-use visitors will not need a Discover Pass. Entrance fees also will be waived on that day for visitors to Mount Rainier National Park, where people can also visit for free on Nov. 12.