Several lakes remain frozen for ice fishing opportunities but as temperatures and conditions vary, anglers are advised to be extremely cautious before heading out the door.
In Okanogan County, popular ice fishing lakes include Rat, Upper and Lower Green, Leader, Bonaparte, Patterson, and others. Anglers can target trout or warmwater species like yellow perch, crappie, and bluegill. Fish Lake in Chelan County, about 16 miles north of Leavenworth, offers excellent fishing for yellow perch along with the occasional kokanee, rainbow, and brown trout. There are lots of ice fishing options in Grant County, with some of the most popular being Banks Lake, Moses Lake, and Potholes Reservoir.
WDFW is not able to monitor ice depth so when fishing lakes with ice on them, please use extreme caution. Keep in mind that ice can be very hard to read and strong in some areas but weak in others. It is very hard to get out of a hole in the ice if someone falls in and once wet, the human body can shut down quickly from hypothermia. A reminder that lakes can be dangerous this time of year when they are freezing, thawing, and re-freezing. While ice safety can never be assured, do not go out onto a frozen lake unless the ice it at least four-inches thick. As much as nine inches may be needed to safely support snowmobiles or other vehicles. Other ice fishing safety tips and gear to consider include – use an auger or chainsaw to measure ice depth and make multiple holes to check as you work your way out to where you plan to fish; never fish alone; spread members of your party out to avoid too much weight on one area of ice; and bring a spare set of clothes just in case, and a game plan on how you will rescue someone if they do go in. To find out more on how to safely fish on an ice-covered lake, where to fish, and what equipment to use, go to the WDFW ice fishing website.
Trout and warmwater fish species
There are numerous lakes offering year-round trout fishing opportunities and Roses Lake in Chelan County was planted in late fall with nearly 14,000 rainbow trout. Lake Chelan should continue to produce kokanee, lake trout, cutthroat trout and a few landlocked Chinook salmon throughout the winter months.
Columbia River reservoirs Lake Roosevelt and Rufus Woods Lake are places to try for rainbow trout in February, with catches of kokanee, burbot, and walleye happening throughout the winter. Banks Lake, located in northern Grant County, provides fishing for lake whitefish, rainbow trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and walleye. Head to Rocky Ford Creek for large rainbow trout and a reminder only fly-fishing is allowed, and this catch-and-release fishery can provide excellent winter fishing.
Eastside river options
Fishing for whitefish in the Methow, Similkameen, and Entiat rivers will close at the end of February. Remember whitefish fisheries can close at any time due to impacts to Endangered Species Act-listed species.
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. 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! Click on the WDFW Medium for more information.
White sturgeon fishing
There are catch-and-release sturgeon fishing opportunities on the Columbia River from Priest Rapids Dam to Chief Joseph Dam. Start fishing in the deep holes below the dams, and sturgeon could be anywhere in these pools, but the tailraces are a good starting location.
Be sure to check on specific regulations and harvest limits for this fishery by clicking on the WDFW website.
Youth, Veterans and Active Military can take part in a statewide waterfowl hunt on Feb. 4. This can be a quality experience for those who qualify as there are few hunters and wetlands are often opening back up as the weather warms in eastern Washington bringing more birds back up from the south.
A snow goose late season hunt will occur this month during certain dates in a few Goose Management Areas. Hunters should check WDFW website for specific areas where hunting is allowed and other rules. Opportunities will mostly occur in the Tri-Cities and around Moses Lake and Potholes reservoir. Scouting and private lands access will be key to consistent success. The geese will be migrating northward and typically, can be found in groups throughout February and March. Click here for more information.
Wild turkey hunting
Looking further down the calendar the statewide spring wild turkey hunting season begins is April 15 to May 31 for the general season, and a special youth only hunt takes places April 1-7. For details, go to the WDFW regulation webpage.
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.
Mandatory hunter harvest reporting allows the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to better manage game species throughout the state and set permit levels for upcoming seasons. This in turn allows for more hunting opportunities. For detail, click on the WDFW hunting webpage.
Sign up for in-person hunter education
The minimum age to take the all-online hunter education course has increased to 18. In 2020, we implemented an all-online hunter education course for students at least nine years old.
Recognizing the importance and value of in-person and hands-on firearm safety instruction, WDFW’s goal has always been to move back to, or towards, in-person course delivery when it made sense to do so. WDFW is committed to offering as many in-person courses as we can. For more information, visit the Hunter Education webpage.
Make a difference by reporting your bird sightings from Feb. 17-20 when the world comes together for the love of birds during this global event, which creates a snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds. Participating is easy, fun to do alone or with others, and can be done anywhere you find birds. All you need to do is decide where to watch birds for 15 minutes or more, at least once over the four days of the event. To learn more about the event and how to submit counts visit the Great Backyard Bird Count website.
Winter birding is the primary watchable wildlife activity and opportunities abound throughout the region. Ice-free water along the major river courses is a good place to see both swan species and other waterfowl. You can spot snowy owls in February on the Waterville Plateau, and some winters see reports of gyrfalcons on the Waterville plateau or in northern Douglas County as well. More predictable winter residents of Douglas County are the flocks of snow buntings which begin to arrive in earnest by late November Gray-crowned rosy finches, which breed in high alpine environments but winter at lower elevations, are a popular to view birds in Okanogan County. Gray-crowned rosy-finches are also sighted sporadically in Chelan and Douglas counties each winter.
The Methow River is an ideal spot for viewing mergansers, rafts of goldeneyes and dippers. There’s a spot on the ski trail system that runs along the river just west of the Methow Town trailhead that is particularly scenic, although it will require a ski pass to access. The open shrub-steppe areas are good spots to see northern winter migrants such as rough-legged hawks and the occasional snowy owl. The Cameron Lake Road on the Colville Reservation is quite popular with birders.
Disturbance of wintering deer is becoming an issue and is of particular concern in the Methow region. That said, there are opportunities to view deer from the road on WDFW Wildlife Areas along Bear Creek Road in the Methow and along the county road in the Sinlahekin. Bighorn sheep are frequently seen near the town of Loomis or along Highway 97 near Mt Hull.
Regardless of the targeted species (birds or charismatic megafauna), wildlife viewers are urged to avoid disturbing wintering ungulates at this energetically critical time of year and do their viewing from open roads, parking areas or winter-maintained trails and avoid off-road/trail travel.
Birdwatchers are encouraged to use eBird Northwest website, the on-line tool for identifying birds, reporting their sightings, and contributing to conservation efforts throughout the region.
Avian influenza “Bird Flu”
WDFW is still receiving many reports of avian influenza, also known as bird flu, across the state. 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.
February is a difficult time for wintering deer and elk, and we recommend that serious shed hunters postpone until April. Collecting naturally shed deer and elk antlers is legal but there are some ethical considerations to keep in mind and a few places that are restricted or off-limits.
The easiest antler hunting is, of course, where deer or elk concentrate in the winter. But if many antler hunters descend on that area before wintering animals have left, the disturbance can threaten their survival at the harshest time of year. Public lands across the state may have rules, so antler hunters should do their homework before going afield. And secure permission from private landowners before entering their properties.
Don’t feed deer and other wildlife
Winter is the hardest time for wild animals to survive and this winter is already proving to be harder than many even though it only “officially” started in late December. Many places in eastern, north central and south central Washington started the season with deep snow on the ground in November. This can take a toll on wildlife trying to get through until spring. While we understand that people want to help, please do not feed wildlife. It harms more than helps animals. Deer in particular aren’t adapted to digest many foods. Accustomed to digesting woody browse, they are unable to tolerate a regular diet of corn, apples, and hay. WDFW in the past has conducted necropsies (autopsies on animals) on deer that have revealed a full stomach of those items but indicated the animal starved to death because it didn’t get the proper nutrition it needed.
Past experience has shown that even agency sponsored emergency feeding programs are generally ineffective at reducing overall winter mortality, can negatively affect deer biology and behavior, and often create other undesirable conflicts. A good synopsis of the issues surrounding winter feeding of mule deer is found here. 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. View this link to help us keep wildlife wild by following more tips.
The object of the contest is for students to engage with waterfowl and wetland conservation by drawing or painting a native North American duck, goose, or swan. All entries must be postmarked or in-hand at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), by Feb. 15, 2023. Mail to: Junior Duck Stamp Contest, Ridgefield Refuge Complex, 28908 N.W. Main Avenue, P.O. Box 457, Ridgefield, WA 98642.
Learn how to landscape for wildlife: Vegetation is key to attracting a variety of wildlife. Native plants provide the food, shelter, and nesting habitat for songbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other wildlife. You can use this extra time at home to map out how you’d like your property to look and figure out which plants would thrive where you live. Visit the Washington Native Plant Society’s website for resources.
Add a water source to your yard: Put in a birdbath, garden pond, or other source of water outside your home. A safe place to bathe and drink will act as a magnet to many animals. You can make a simple birdbath with things you probably already have. Visit the Audubon’s website for an easy do-it-yourself bird bath using an old cake pan or flower-pot tray.
Build a bird house or nest box: Add bird houses to your property, or better yet, try to leave snags (dead trees) if they don’t pose any risk. Cavity-nesting birds have been especially impacted by urban development. A bird house of the proper dimensions can substitute for snags where these birds used to nest. There are lots of easy instructions online to build your own bird house or nest box. Visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Backyard Birding webpage for resources.
Keep your cats and wild birds safe: Domestic cats can make great pets, but when they are allowed to roam outdoors, there can be serious consequences to local wildlife. Cats kill about 2.4 billion birds every year in the U.S. alone. Visit the American Bird Conservancy website for information on their Cats Indoors Program and learn how to keep pet cats and wild birds safe. You may even consider an outdoor enclosure for your cat.
Make a window cling to protect birds: Up to a billion birds die each year from flying into glass. You can help prevent that from happening at your house by making your own window clings using recycled plastic and puffy fabric paint. Check out this tutorial video from the Audubon Society.
Report bat observations: Have you seen a bat flying during the day or in freezing weather? These could be signs of a serious disease called white-nose syndrome. Please report your observations online or call 360-902-2515. White-nose syndrome does not pose a threat to humans, pets, or other wildlife.
As the weather gets colder, it is wise to #RecreateResponsibly for potential hazards and dangers.
Here are more tips on staying safe right now:
Tell someone where you're going and when you expect to be home. Travel with a buddy when possible.
Always carry survival gear with you. The 10 Essentials include clothing, shelter, and food in case you must spend the night outside.
Have a reliable map and compass skills to traverse snow-covered trails. These can be challenging to follow, particularly in backcountry areas.
While electronic locators and communication can be helpful, they cannot be always be relied upon while in the backcountry.
Grab your binoculars and cell phones and get ready for the Great Backyard Bird Count! Every February folks around the world come together to count their local birds, wherever they live or happen to be. This fun, free, program is accessible to everyone.
How it works: Pick a spot to for watch birds (at home, in your community, on your vacation; any place will work); watch or listen for birds for 15 minutes or more, at least once between Feb. 17-20; make note of the species you see or hear (if you don’t know, take notes and ID them later using the provided resources); and count ALL the birds you see or hear (make your best estimate of how many birds you saw of each species).
Pick a method that works for you and submit your count! If you are in the Seattle area, join WDFW and our partners at the Environmental Science Center’s Bird Fest at the Burien Community Center for some hands-on learning, bird walks, and more from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Feb. 18!
Share photos of your winter wildlife shelter project by tagging #HabitatAtHome or sharing photos with us on our website.
Brock Hoenes is the North Central Region (Region 2) Director. Brock started his career with WDFW in 2008 and has held positions with the department including ungulate section manager, assistant district wildlife biologist, district wildlife biologist, statewide WDFW elk specialist, and deer and elk section manager.
Prior to moving to Washington, Hoenes worked for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the New Mexico Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit on a variety of research projects focused on mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk, cougars, black bears, and pronghorn. Hoenes received his B.S. in Fish and Wildlife Management from the University of Missouri-Columbia and his M.S. in Wildlife Sciences from New Mexico State University.