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May 2017
Region 3: Southcentral Washington
(Benton, Franklin, Kittitas and Yakima counties)
Photo: Catch and fisherman holding trout in lake waters.
Photo Credit: Josh McLellan

Spring chinook on lower Yakima:  The lower Yakima River will be open through June 15 for hatchery spring chinook fishing from the Highway 240 bridge in Richland to the Grant Avenue bridge in Prosser and from the Wine County Road bridge in Prosser to State Route 241 bridge. The upper Yakima River below Roza Dam will probably not open until mid-to-late May due to the late arrival of springers in that section of the river.

Anglers can keep two adult hatchery chinook as part of their two-salmon daily limit, and must use barbless hooks while fishing. Anglers must stop fishing for the day when the hatchery adult limit has been retained. 

Meanwhile, Snake River spring chinook salmon fishing will be open on select days in May in three sections. See the rule change for full details on sections, dates, allowed days, limits, and other rules before you go.

Catch a fish; win a prize:  WDFW's lowland lake trout derby continues in May and runs through October 31. Anglers with an applicable 2017-18 freshwater or combination fishing license who catch one of more than 900 tagged fish can claim prizes provided by license dealers located across the state. A list of lakes with prize fish and details on how to claim prizes is available at the derby website.

WDFW has been stocking in the region for months. A complete trout-planting schedule for southcentral lakes and ponds is available on the region's catchable trout plant reporting page.

Bass, catfish and walleye heating up: Catch rates should continue to improve on area rivers for smallmouth bass, channel catfish and walleye right through spring. Some of the best fishing for channel catfish this year will be in May in the Yakima, Palouse, and Walla Walla Rivers. With the high spring runoff, the best bass fishing in the Yakima River will likely be postponed until later in the month when the river flow begins to drop and the water starts to clear.

Sturgeon:  The annual quotas for sturgeon harvest have been met for the Columbia River downstream of McNary Dam but Lake Wallula (McNary Reservoir) will remain open to the retention of sturgeon through July 31.

The daily limit is one sturgeon, two fish annually (statewide). To be retained, sturgeon must be between 43 inches and 54 inches in length as measured from the tip of the snout to the fork in the tail.

Sturgeon sanctuary areas go into effect on May 1. These areas, located immediately downstream of all the Columbia River Dams from Priest Rapids to Bonneville and including Ice Harbor, are closed to all fishing for sturgeon--even catch and release--from May 1 through July 31. Check the Washington Sport Fishing Rules for a detailed description of the closures.

Licenses: Anglers age 15 or older are reminded that they must purchase a 2017-18 license to fish state waters. Those who fish for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River and its tributaries are also required to purchase an endorsement that helps maintain and improve fishing opportunities throughout the Columbia River Basin.

Licenses and permits are available online, by phone (1-866-246-9453) and from sporting goods stores and other retail license dealers around the state.

Photo: Young hunter with the turkey he successfully hunted.
Photo credit: Pete Lopushinsky

Hunt turkeys through May: The spring wild turkey season runs through May 31 around the state. Hunters have a three-gobbler limit. The three turkey limit can include two birds from eastern Washington – only one of which may be taken in Chelan, Yakima, and Kittitas Counties–and one bird in western Washington. For more information, check out the Wild Turkey Spring Season pamphlet.

Apply for special hunting permits: Hunters have through May 24 to apply for special hunting permits for fall deer, elk, mountain goat, moose, bighorn sheep, and turkey seasons in Washington state. Special permits qualify hunters to hunt at times and places beyond those authorized by a general hunting license.

To apply for a special permit, hunters planning to hunt for deer or elk must purchase an application and hunting license for those species and submit the application with their preferred hunt choices. Permit winners will be selected through a random drawing conducted by WDFW in June.

Applications and licenses are available from license vendors statewide or on WDFW's website. Applications must be submitted on the website or by calling 1-877-945-3492 toll-free. To purchase or apply for a license online, hunters must first establish an online account by creating a username and password.

Instructions on applying for special permit hunts are described on pages 12-13 of Washington's 2017 Big Game pamphlet, available online and at WDFW offices and license vendors.

Most special hunt permit applications cost $7.10 for residents, $110.50 for non-residents, and $3.80 for youth under 16 years of age. The exception is the cost for residents purchasing applications for mountain goats, any bighorn sheep ram, any moose, and "quality" categories for deer and elk. Those applications cost $13.70.

Results of the special-permit drawing will be available online by the end of June. Winners will be notified by mail or email by mid-July.

Photo: Young fawn hidden in spring meadow.
Photo credit: Laura Rogers

Gates open for wildlife viewing: Starting May 1 at 6 a.m., WDFW will open the gates to thousands of acres of prime wildlife-viewing lands at WDFW Wildlife Areas in southcentral Washington. Areas closed in winter to protect elk and other species from human disturbances will again be open to those who want to spend some time in Washington's backcountry.

Visitors are required to display a current WDFW Vehicle Access Pass or Discover Pass for vehicle access to all WDFW lands and boat launches. Information about purchasing a state Discover Pass is available on the Discover Pass website.

Three gates open May 1 at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area, located seven miles west of Naches. One is at the U.S. Forest Service, 1400 Oak Creek Road and two provide access to the Bethel Ridge Road. The Oak Creek and Cowiche units will also open to the public at the same time.

The Tieton River Trail, which leads to two popular rock-climbing areas – Royal Columns and The Bend – has been open all winter, said Greg Mackey, manager at Oak Creek. "Hiking trails are open and teeming with wildlife and spring flowers this time of year," he said.

Located 18 miles west of Selah, the Mellotte gate at the Wenas Wildlife Area opened May 1 at 6 a.m. providing access to the north side of Cleman Mountain. "The area grades from riverine to shrub-steppe to forestlands, and provides plenty of bird-watching opportunities," said Cindi Confer Morris, Wenas Wildlife Area manager.

Some roads have suffered damage due to wet conditions and drivers should be aware of road hazards and lingering snow.

Confer Morris noted that wildlife areas throughout the region operate on a "green dot road management" system: If a road is posted with a green reflective dot, it is open to motor vehicles. Otherwise, it is closed to motor vehicles. "But it's important that visitors use good judgment," she said. "If a road is soft and wet, we ask people not to drive on it, regardless if it has a green dot."

At the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area, Joe Watt and Robinson gates open 6 a.m., May 1. The Whiskey Dick unit east of Ellensburg also opens at 6 a.m. May Day. Some roads on the L.T. Murray are still snow covered at high elevations. To protect roads and resources, Melissa Babik, L.T. Murray Wildlife Area manager, is also asking visitors not to drive on soft, wet roads.

At the Colockum Wildlife Area south of Wenatchee, the West Bar Road opens to vehicle traffic May 1. Although the road is only 2.5 miles long, it provides access to the Columbia River and is a popular area to look for shed antlers in spring.

There are no developed campgrounds in any of these areas, and campfires are prohibited through Oct. 15.

In addition to WDFW's Wildlife Areas page, the Washington Trails Association is a great resource for information on hikes in the southcentral region and across the state.

Leave wild babies in the wild: This month and next many wildlife species produce young. WDFW biologists remind wildlife enthusiasts to leave wild babies in the wild, even when they might appear to be orphaned or abandoned. 

Keep dogs and cats confined to avoid problems with baby birds fledging from nests and on the ground. Give a wide berth to deer fawns found alone; they almost never need your help. Parent animals are foraging nearby, but leave their young alone to avoid drawing predators with their own body scent.  Learn more about when not to rescue wildlife on WDFW's Living with Wildlife webpages.

Avoid wildlife conflicts:  Wild animals reproducing this month can become a nuisance if they take up residence under a porch, in a crawl space, or in a garage or attic. Skunks and raccoons are among the most common in this region, but squirrels and woodpeckers can become problems, too. Sealing up spaces where these animals try to nest or den is the first step to avoid nuisance situations.  Learn more about Preventing Conflicts with Wildlife on WDFW's website. 

Most wild animals want to avoid people, so hike in groups and make noise to alert wildlife in the area of your presence. Keep a clean picnic spot or campsite since food can attract hungry animals, especially bears. Learn more about bears, cougars, coyotes and moose on WDFW's Living with Wildlife webpages.

Birds:  "Helping Birds Along the Way" is the theme for the 24th annual International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) on Saturday, May 13, when birdwatchers celebrate the migration of nearly 350 bird species from their wintering grounds south of the U.S. border to nesting habitats in North America. The theme emphasizes the importance of migratory stopover sites where birds rest and refuel before continuing their journeys across oceans and continents.  Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge in the Southcentral region is one area celebrating the day.

One way that people can help birds along their way is to transform their backyards into safe stopover sites by planting native vegetation, providing fresh water, and keeping cats indoors. WDFW's Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary program provides detailed information and advice.

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