Ring in the New Year with new adventures
From eastside ice fishing to statewide waterfowl hunting and wildlife watching, there’s a flurry of fun winter outdoor activities
Mention the word “ice” and the first thing that comes to mind is hazardous driving conditions, scraping your windshield or ice cubes dispensed from a refrigerator. But when it makes an appearance on a lake in the winter, ice can be a best friend to an angler.
Ice fishing east of the Cascades is an exciting way to extend your time on the water and offers a decent chance to catch a variety of fish. Due to the early and extended cold temperatures, many lakes already have a sufficient layer of ice on them although there are safety parameters to follow before heading out the door.
“Fourth of July and Hog Canyon are two of the most popular ice fishing destinations around the Spokane area for trout,” reports WDFW central district fish biologist Randy Osborne. “Fourth of July has rainbow trout up to 22 inches. The fish at Hog Canyon are a bit smaller, ranging 13 to 16 inches, but still provide plenty of action.”
For yellow perch anglers, arguably the best fishery in Spokane Region 1 area is found at Curlew Lake in Ferry County. Jump Off Joe, Sacheen, and Waitts lakes are great winter options as well. Newman Lake in eastern Spokane County is a popular yellow perch fishing spot due to its’ proximity to the city, and it also has decent black crappie.
Lake Thomas and Lake Gillette in the Little Pend Oreille chain of lakes in northeast Washington offer very good numbers of yellow perch, rainbow trout and black crappie.
In Adams County, Sprague Lake is known for its’ great winter ice fishing, although if you follow the local fishing forums, you may be under the impression it is frozen all year-round. That’s just local lore, but the rumors about the fishing being good aren’t wrong. You can catch a good selection of trout, yellow perch, and crappie.
Fish Lake in Chelan County, about 16 miles north of Leavenworth, offers good fishing for yellow perch, kokanee, and rainbow trout through the ice in the winter than it does the rest of the year. There are lots of ice fishing options in Grant County, with some of the most popular being Banks Lake, Moses Lake, and Potholes Reservoir.
Dog Lake in Yakima County is a popular ice fishing option and Clear Lake, also on Highway 12, should produce some decent size brook trout as well and possibly some rainbow trout from this year’s stocking.
Safety the top priority
As always, use extreme caution, have a plan and be careful anytime you venture out onto an ice-covered lake. WDFW is not able to monitor ice depth, which can be unpredictable from day-to-day, so when fishing lakes with ice on them, there are some safety tips to keep in mind. You can find information by clicking on the WDFW’s ice fishing webpage.
- The number one rule is never fish alone – think of the buddy system – let folks at home know about your fishing trip plans and don’t be the first one to venture out on the ice. Spread your fishing group out on a lake to avoid too much weight on one area of ice.
- Ice needs to be a minimum of four inches thick to walk on. Use an auger or chainsaw to measure it and make multiple holes to check as you work your way out to where you plan to fish. As we indicated, four inches is the minimum safe thickness to be on the ice or to go ice fishing; five to six inches is needed to support ATVs or snowmobiles; eight to 12 inches is necessary before you can safely drive onto the ice with a car or small truck; and 12 to 15 inches of ice is the minimum if you have a medium-sized truck.
- Bring a spare set of warm clothes, just in case you get wet.
- Initiate safety plan on how to rescue someone if they fall through the ice-covered lake. Falling through the ice into the water can lead to hypothermia and drowning.
- Consider purchasing an ice pick and steel spikes connected by a cord and worn around the neck. If someone falls in, the spikes can be driven into the ice to offer a stable handhold for the person to pull themselves out. They are very inexpensive and just might be a lifesaver.
- Floating rope to throw to someone who has fallen into the water. Get a long length as ice near the edge of a hole can be fragile and continue to break off.
- Some people purchase spud bars, a long piece of steel with a tapered point that can be driven into the ice to determine how thick it is without having to drill multiple holes with an auger. Ice conditions on all types of waterbodies can be variable, and just because there is safe ice in one spot doesn't mean it will be safe elsewhere.
- Ice cleats are inexpensive and can save you from bumps and bruises from falling on slick ice.
- Pay close attention to lake access sites because a location that may be open in the summer could be closed or blocked by snow in the winter. Make sure the parking area or trail to the lake is an easy and safe place to walk. WDFW partners with other agencies to help provide access by maintaining winter parking lots. Also check to make sure overnight parking is allowed if you plan to extend your stay.
Gear to use
Ice fishing is easily accessible and affordable for just about everyone, and anglers should already have most of what they need. Ice fishing essentials include:
- Freshwater or combination fishing licenses. Visit the WDFW licensing webpage.
- When picking a fishing rod and reel most will use basic trout fishing gear and avoid a heavier salmon type set up. It’s not necessary but you can purchase short ice fishing rods that allow you to sit right over your hole at most sporting goods stores and departments for as little as ten dollars. While you don’t need anything fancy, you do want something with a sensitive tip to feel a subtle bite.
- Bucket to carry gear and sit on.
- As for bait or lures a lot of it depends on the fish species you’re targeting and be sure to bring a variety of gear. You can stick with nightcrawlers, maggots, salmon eggs or marshmallows or small jigs, spoons, or spinners. Also be sure to bring along a variety of moldable dough baits.
- A small old-fashioned hand style auger is lightweight and easy to use. New augers are powered by lithium batteries so make sure they’re fully charged before leaving the house. Store your lithium battery in a warm spot like your jacket or else it could run out of battery life. A gas-powered auger also gets the job done. Be sure to carry a scooper so you’re not using bare hands to get slush out around the hole.
- A map of the lake and lake depths is a good thing to have. Some will even take it to the next level by purchasing a portable electronic fish finder.
- Having a sled to store your gear when walking long distances to a spot can save yourself grief from lugging it around in a bucket. This enables you to be mobile and move around the lake when one spot isn’t as good as another. It can be as simple as the family snow sled, or one made specifically for ice fishing.
Ice fishing events
- The Northwest Ice Fishing Festival is Jan. 14 at Sidley Lake in Okanogan County, located seven miles northeast of Oroville on Molson Lake Road. The event is sponsored by the Oroville Chamber of Commerce. For details, click on the Okanogan Country website.
- The Bonaparte Lake Resort Ice Fishing Derby is Jan. 28. The lake is located north of Tonasket in Okanogan County. Cost is $10 for adults and $5 for kids. For details, call 509-486-2828 or click on the Bonaparte Lake Resort website.
Other popular outdoor opportunities this month include:
Statewide wildlife viewing
Winter is a time when elk and bighorn sheep converge on WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area, and visitors can watch them dine on alfalfa hay and pellets. For winter feeding at Oak Creek, there is a recorded message at 509-653-2390. Find the best places for bird watching by exploring routes along the Great Washington State Birding Trail. The annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) wraps up on Jan. 5 and early winter counts tally bird numbers by species and provide a valuable snapshot of where birds are concentrated at this time of year across North America. Follow this link for more information about Christmas Bird Counts happening near you. Check out the WDFW wildlife viewing webpage for more information.
First Day Hikes
Washington State Parks invites you to start the new year off with a First Day Hike on Jan. 1 at more than three-dozen state parks. These ranger-led events include snowshoe treks, fat-tire bike rides, and other wildlife viewing opportunities.
In the eastern region of the state head to Alta Lake State Park, Columbia Plateau Trail, Easton Reload Sno-Park, and Fields Spring State Park. In the northwest region head to Bridle Trails State Park, Cama Beach State Park, Camano Island State Park, Deception Pass State Park, Fort Casey Historical State Park, and Fort Ebey State Park. In the southwest region head to Battle Ground Lake State Park, Bottle Beach State Park, Cape Disappointment State Park, Fort Flagler State Park, and Fort Worden Historical State Park. Jan. 1 is also the first of 12 “free days” – Jan. 17 is another – when visitors will not need to display the Discover Pass to gain access to state parks.
WDFW Outdoor Experience photo contest
Share your best moments in our 2022 Outdoor Experiences photo contest! From birding to volunteering to at home insect explorations we'd love to see how you and your family engage with nature in your community. To be part of our 2022 Outdoor Experiences end of year wrap up, send us outdoor moments of yourself and others, or your epic outdoor selfie! To be considered, images must include people. Submit images between January 1-15 at WDFW Share Your Adventure webpage and select the “2022 Outdoor Experiences” category from the drop-down menu to enter! Winning images will be announced in late January!
Statewide waterfowl hunting
The hunting season continues through Jan. 29, and the stormy and colder weather patterns still have flocks of birds moving south from Canada and Alaska. The WDFW’s “Ducks at a Distance” guide is a great resource for identification, especially for younger hunters and birders. Feel Free to Hunt, Register to Hunt, and other private lands access programs can be found on our Private Lands Hunting Access webpage. For season information, visit the 2022-2023 Game Bird and Small Game Hunting Regulations. Anyone who experiences legitimate hunter harassment or intentional obstruction of lawful hunting, fishing or shellfish gathering should contact WDFW Police immediately on the enforcement webpage or call 360-902-2936 Option 1. Hunters planning their next trip may want to check the 2022 Hunting Prospects reports, which outline hunting opportunities in specific game management districts. Be sure to read on the WDFW Medium for our tips on hunting ethics to remember while in the field.
Salmon fishing in marine areas
Winter Chinook salmon fishing is open in southern Puget Sound (Marine Area 13). Improved success for Chinook salmon during the winter usually coincides with locating schools of baitfish.
Target fish off Gibson Point and Point Fosdick, Fox Point in Hale Passage, northwest corner at the Sand Spit, Toy Point, the Concrete Dock Fox Island Fishing Pier, Itsami Ledge, and Johnson Point.
Various piers around Puget Sound are open year-round. Central Puget Sound (Marine Area 10) opens on Feb. 1 and Sekiu in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca (Marine Area 5) on March 1.
Season opening and closure dates and rules could change so be sure to consult the regulation pamphlet or WDFW emergency rules webpage before going.
Trout fishing in year-round lakes
Several year-round lakes mainly west of the Cascades continue to be planted with trout. Click here to find out what lakes are currently open and here for weekly trout plants. In late November as part of WDFW’s Black Friday event, thousands of jumbo-sized trout averaging one to two pounds apiece were planted in lakes across 12 counties.
Check out the WDFW Medium blog for tips and videos on how to catch trout. Lake Roosevelt an impoundment of the Columbia River above Grand Coulee Dam is worth a try for large kokanee around the Keller area. Banks Lake should be good for lake whitefish fishing. You can find more information by visiting the WDFW lowland lakes fishing webpage.
Sturgeon fishing in Columbia River
Retention fishing for white sturgeon opens Sunday, Jan. 1 on the three pools of the Columbia River from Bonneville Dam upstream to McNary Dam, including adjacent tributaries.
This year, following the Sunday opener, The Dalles Pool and Bonneville Pool are open only on Saturdays, Mondays, and Wednesdays, instead of the normal seven days per week.
This will help extend the fisheries and ensure conservation goals are met. John Day Pool will open daily for sturgeon retention beginning Jan. 1. To find out information, go to the WDFW fishing webpage.
Puget Sound squid jigging
After a slow start, squid jiggers off the piers around Puget Sound are finding more action as migrating schools of squid move into shallower areas.
Boat anglers continue to find good success in Elliott Bay, off the Edmonds Marina and in the Des Moines and Redondo areas.
The most popular land-based places to catch squid are along the entire Seattle waterfront from Pier 70 to the Big Wheel; the Seattle Aquarium Pier; the Seacrest (Marination) Boathouse Pier in West Seattle; Edmonds Pier; Des Moines Pier; A-Dock and Shilshole Pier; Point Defiance Park Boathouse Pier; Les Davis Pier in Tacoma; Fauntleroy Ferry Dock; Illahee State Park Pier; and the Waterman and Indianola piers in Kitsap County. You can find tips and where to go squid jigging by reading the WDFW Medium and by visiting the WDFW squid webpage.
Coastal crab fishing
All of Puget Sound has closed until summer, but you can still crab along the coast. At Ilwaco, Westport/Grays Harbor, La Push and Neah Bay west of the Tatoosh-Bonilla line crab pots are allowed through Sept. 15, and all other crab gear other than pots is open year-round.
The Columbia River area is open year-round for all gear. At Tokeland/Willapa Bay crab pots are allowed through Sept. 15, and all other crab gear other than pots is open year-round and there’s been some nice crab caught lately, even off the docks. You can find more information on crab fishing by going to the WDFW webpage.
Statewide river and stream fishing
Temperatures might be frigid, but fishing for steelhead and trout is heating up if you know where to look. For hatchery steelhead, check the stocking webpage and focus on rivers in the lower Columbia, North Puget Sound, Southeast, Willapa Bay and North Coast regions.
Returns of early-winter hatchery steelhead are nearing their peak in the Bogachiel, Skykomish, North Forth Stillaguamish, Snoqualmie, and other rivers. Tokul Creek from Fish Hatchery Road Bridge to boundary marker downstream of diversion dam is open through Jan. 14 for trout, steelhead, and other gamefish fishing. Tokul Creek hatchery has achieved adequate early winter steelhead brood stock on hand to meet egg take goals. Columbia River tributaries such as the Elochoman, Grays, and Kalama should also fish well, and the Cowlitz will improve as winter progresses
Both hatchery and wild steelhead can also still be caught in the Snake River and its tributaries, especially on warmer days when these fish become more active. For winter trout, head to central Washington to target ice-free tailwaters below dams like the Yakima River and Frenchman Wasteway, or spring creeks such as Rocky Ford and Crab Creek. Be sure to double-check the regulations before hitting the water!
Charter/guide fishing tips
Booking a fishing trip of a lifetime can be a daunting task, from deciding what type of trip to finding the right captain and boat. One of the most popular and accessible ways to get started is booking a charter boat or guide. Charters and guides help thousands of Washingtonians and out-of-state visitors get on the water every year.
According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington has 426 licensed guides and 178 licensed charter boat operators in 2022.
There’s a lot to cover but we’ve got some helpful tips and advice to make your adventure in Washington a wonderful day on the water! Visit the WDFW Medium blog for tips on how to select a charter fishing guide.
Big game hunting reports due
Hunters who bought tags for black bear, deer, elk, or turkey must submit their reports on their hunting activities by Jan. 31, 2023, for each 2022 license, permit or tag. Hunters can file their reports by calling 877-945-3492, or online, starting with “ID and Birthdate” under Log-In.
Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report. Hunters who report their 2022 black bear, deer, elk, or turkey hunting results by Tuesday, Jan. 10, will have the opportunity to win incentive permits for fall 2023. Click here for more information on a chance to win incentive permits.
Big Game Hunting Pamphlet photo contest
This year’s Big Game Hunting Rules and Regulations photo contest theme is “Who hunts?”
We are looking for photos of you, your friends, and family enjoying hunting in Washington. Submit your photos using the form below any time before Feb. 15. Winners will be announced later this spring.
To submit your photo, go to the WDFW Big Game Hunting Pamphlet photo contest webpage.
Chronic wasting disease surveillance program
With hunting seasons closed, WDFW is no longer running stations to check harvested deer and elk for chronic wasting disease, but if you salvage a road-killed deer in WDFW’s Spokane Region 1 area, we ask that you get it tested.
While there is no scientific evidence of CWD being transmitted to humans from animals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends not consuming animals that test positive for CWD.
How to set up an appointment can be found by visiting the chronic wasting disease (CWD) surveillance program link for more information.
Keep an eye out for invasive European green crabs
WDFW and allies including Native American tribes and shellfish growers are finishing up an unprecedented year of trapping for European green crabs. These invasive crabs pose a threat to native shellfish, eelgrass, and estuary habitat critical for salmon and many other species.
You can help by photographing and reporting suspected European green crabs at the WDFW green crab webpage. A crab identification guide is also available on that webpage.
European green crab (EGC) are shore crabs and are found in shallow areas—typically less than 25 feet of water—including estuaries, mudflats, intertidal zones, and beaches. They are not likely to be caught by recreational shrimpers or crabbers operating in deeper water, but may be encountered by beachgoers, waders, clam, and oyster harvesters, or those crabbing off docks or piers in shallow areas. The most distinctive feature is not their color—which can vary from reddish to a dark mottled green—but the five spines or teeth on each side of the shell.
More than 250,000 EGC have been caught and removed from Washington waters so far in 2022. Of these, most were caught on Washington’s outer coast, particularly in Willapa Bay. In the Salish Sea area, the Lummi Nation’s Sea Pond continues to be a hot spot, and small numbers of green crabs continue to be removed from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, San Juan Islands, Drayton Harbor, and Bellingham and Padilla bays.
European green crabs have not been confirmed in the Salish Sea south of northern Hood Canal and Marrowstone Island in Admiralty Inlet. Early-detection monitoring continues across central and south Puget Sound.
At this time, we are not asking the public to kill suspected green crabs. This may sound counterintuitive but is intended to protect native crabs from cases of mistaken identity. As a Prohibited species, it is illegal to possess a live European green crab in Washington.
Sign up for in-person hunter education
In June of 2022, WDFW increased the minimum age to take that course from nine to 18. Students under age 18 can complete the online course, but they must attend a field skills evaluation before they can become certified.
We recognize that this change may take some time to get used to, and we are committed to offering as many in-person courses as we can. Sign up for in-person hunter education today.
WDFW is still receiving numerous reports of avian influenza, also known as bird flu, across the state, including in a raccoon that tested positive for the virus in Island County in December. Avian influenza occurs naturally among wild aquatic birds (ducks, geese, swans, gulls and terns, and shorebirds) and can infect poultry and other bird and animal species.
The virus spreads among birds through saliva, nasal secretions, feces, and contaminated surfaces. If you encounter a sick or dead bird, do NOT touch or move it and report it right away. Attempting to nurse a bird back to health or transport it to a wildlife rehabilitator can spread the virus to areas where it didn’t exist before.
Common questions and answers regarding avian influenza- including what it is, the risk to humans (minimal but precautions should be taken), how to protect wildlife by preventing its’ spread, how to protect your domestic animals, and where we stand with the avian influenza outbreak in Washington- can be found in this blog post. Additional information can be found in this presentation WDFW veterinarian Dr. Katie Haman, DVM, MSc, recently made to a chapter of the North American Falconers Association.
The outdoors fits into everyone’s life in unique and personal ways, and we here at WDFW want to foster connections with and appreciation of nature, the wide variety of Washington landscapes, and all forms of outdoor recreation through the Life Outdoors resources.
You can find informative blog posts, reports of monthly recreational opportunities in your area, links to state and federal lands to explore, and how to share photos of your adventures with us. We hope to see you in the field and on the water enjoying the Life Outdoors!
Wild Washington Youth Education Program
The Christmas Bird Count isn’t only for adults! In our middle school activity – “Counting Birds for Science” – students are introduced to Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, the nation’s first community science project. Community science is great way to get youth involved in scientific inquiry and hone observation skills. This activity uses technology like Merlin and eBird to help students identify common winter birds and submit data for science. It’s a great activity for winter break and a fun way to connect students to nature and wildlife. Click on the WDFW's Wild Washington Education Program webpage for more information.
Columbia River fishing survey
WDFW and ODFW ask for your input on recreational fall Chinook salmon seasons in the mainstem Columbia River. Please complete the survey no later than Jan. 15, 2023. Fall salmon seasons have closed earlier than anticipated in recent years due to impacts to ESA-listed stocks. Fishery managers are considering ways to reduce the likelihood of this outcome in the future. The survey lists possible management strategies for future Columbia River fisheries and asks anglers to identify which strategies they would most like to see. The survey should take approximately 10 minutes to complete.
Don’t feed wildlife
Winter is the hardest time for wild animals to survive. In places around Eastern Washington, we have had deep snow on the ground and very cold temperatures since November. This can take a toll on wildlife trying to get through until spring.
Please do not feed wildlife as it harms more than helps animals. If you really want to help wildlife, please give them a lot of space this winter. This avoids forcing them to move, and stressing them, which uses energy that is in short supply in winter months.
The best way to help wild animals survive a severe winter is to promote year-round quality habitat. If animals go into the winter in good condition, most are able to survive persistent deep snow, ice and cold temperatures. Even in well-functioning natural ecosystems, however, some animals succumb during winter months. The winter season helps keep wildlife populations more in balance with available habitat.
Another way to help wild animals in winter is to avoid disturbing them. Animals must conserve their energy to survive winter conditions, and human disturbance causes them to move about. Keep dogs confined, and slow down when traveling in motor vehicles through deer and elk habitat. You can find more information by going to the WDFW webpage.
Puget Sound salmon gear selection
Gear selection has become an important factor when it comes to recreational salmon fishing in Puget Sound especially during winter salmon fisheries when undersized fish are abundant. A key role in angler success is choosing the proper lure or bait, but gear also has an important role in fisheries management.
To ensure these salmon fisheries are successful long-term, it is vital that anglers learn how to reduce catching sublegal (undersized) Chinook. Click our YouTube video on salmon gear selection and click here to read about selecting the proper salmon gear.
Anglers’ guide to releasing salmon properly
Selective fisheries for hatchery-produced salmon and catch-and-release fisheries are increasingly important to providing recreational fishing opportunities around Washington.
To ensure these salmon fisheries are successful long-term, it is vital that anglers do their part to comply with all regulations, especially how to properly release unmarked, sublegal (undersized) and out-of-season fish to improve their survival.
Read how to properly release salmon. Watch the salmon release video below.
Habitat at Home
Looking for winter projects? You can use our woodworking plans to help you create shelters for many of Washington’s wildlife species. We have plans for songbirds, raptors, bats, squirrels, ducks, and more on our website. Learn more about bat house placement by visiting the Adventures with Pacific Northwest Bat Houses blog post. Choosing the right bird house to build depends on where you are, what birds are in most need, and the habitat where you live. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's NestWatch caters to those specifics and provides building plans. For pollinator shelter ideas check out Woodland Park Zoo’s guide to bee shelters. Share photos of your winter wildlife shelter project by tagging #HabitatAtHome or sharing photos with us on our website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/share. Visit our Habitat at Home webpage to see how you can provide habitat for wildlife, anywhere you live, work, and play.
Boating in statewide waters
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission Boating Program would like to remind you to take a boater safety education course, if you haven’t already, to be prepared when venturing on the water.
In Washington, boaters who operate a vessel with a 15-horsepower engine or greater must carry a Boater Education Card to prove they passed an accredited boating safety education course.
Lastly, keep in mind wearing a life jacket in, on, or around water saves lives as drowning is one of the leading causes of fatalities especially among young children. For more information on the boater safety education course, go to the Washington State Parks boating webpage.
Join the WDFW team
If you’d enjoy preserving, protecting, and perpetuating the state’s fish, wildlife, and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities, then check out some of our current job openings or sign up for job alerts. From budget manager to community outreach and education specialist, environmental planners to electricians, fiscal technicians to wildlife biologists, a career with WDFW makes a difference.