The trout season shifts into high gear April 24, when several hundred lowland lakes throughout the state open for fishing. The annual trout derby kicks off the same day, with thousands of dollars in prizes available to anglers in the form of tagged fish stocked in lakes across Washington. The derby is open to anyone with a valid 2021 fishing license; no entrance fee or registration required. Just catch a tagged trout anytime between April 24 and Oct. 31 and you win!
2020-21 license required
Anglers age 15 and older are required to have a valid fishing license to fish in Washington state waters after March 31, when 2019-20 licenses expire. Licenses are available online, by phone (1-866-246-9453), and from license dealers around the state.
Trout, kokanee at a lake near you
Trout fishing takes center stage in April as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife continues planting thousands of rainbows, kokanee and cutthroat in lakes and ponds throughout the region. The 2021 Statewide Trout and Kokanee Stocking Plan is posted on the WDFW website and provides the 2021 stocking information to anglers by county and lake. Looking for a lake that has been recently stocked? The Catchable Trout Plant Reports also posted on the WDFW website list all waters that have been stocked to date.
Northeast of McNary -- North of Falcon
The North of Falcon process is in full swing (schedule). Each year state, federal and tribal fishery managers gather to plan the Northwest's recreational and commercial salmon fisheries. WDFW will not be holding public meetings in Clarkston, Kennewick, and Wenatchee this year but WDFW Regional Managers have posted a video that provides an overview of Columbia/Snake River forecasts and planned sport fisheries.
Effective April 1, fishing for steelhead is closed in the Columbia River upstream of the Washington/Oregon border. Emergency rules are in place for steelhead fisheries in several tributaries of the Snake River and the lower/middle Columbia River. Tributary fisheries in the Touchet, Walla Walla, and Tucannon Rivers remain open through April 15 with a daily limit of one hatchery adult. The Grande Ronde River also is open through April 15 with a daily limit of two hatchery steelhead. Anglers must follow gear restriction listed in the fishing pamphlet based on the river section you are fishing including barbless hooks or selective gear rules when fishing for steelhead in the Snake River and tributaries as well as in the Columbia River downstream of the Washington/Oregon border at Hwy. 730.
The upriver run of spring chinook should start arriving in area waters in mid-April. The Columbia River is open for spring chinook and steelhead fishing from the Tower Island power lines (below The Dalles Dam) upriver to the Washington/Oregon border near Umatilla from March 16 through May 5. Daily limit 6, including no more than 2 adults of which no more than 1 may be an adult Chinook. Anglers fishing the Columbia River will be required to use barbless hooks and must release any salmon or steelhead not visibly marked as hatchery fish by a clipped adipose fin. One section of the lower Snake River is slated to open for spring chinook fishing later this spring. The Yakima River is not scheduled to open to fishing for spring chinook due to low expected returns.
Spring river and lake fishing!
Smallmouth bass, channel catfish and walleye will begin to pick up as April progresses. April is a great time to start fishing the Yakima, Palouse, and Walla Walla Rivers for smallmouth bass and channel catfish. Thousands of fish migrate into these rivers in the spring. Start fishing near the river mouths and move upstream as the fish push upriver. Walleye fishing is usually a little slow in Lake Wallula and Lake Umatilla in early April but will pick up as the water temperature warms.
The sturgeon quota has been met in Lake Umatilla (John Day Pool) but April is an excellent time to fish catch & release. Flows are still relatively stable and warming water temperatures are putting fish on the bite. In addition the summer sanctuary areas are still open to fishing through the end of April. As a reminder, the Columbia River upstream of McNary Dam as well as the Snake River reservoirs are limited to catch & release fishing only for sturgeon.
With the spring turkey season set to begin April 15, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) urges new, prospective hunters to complete hunter education now to participate in 2021 hunting opportunities. A hunter education course is required for first-time Washington hunters born after Jan. 1, 1972. To find a course and learn about hunter education requirements, new hunters should visit the WDFW hunter education webpage. Those who do not find a course that meets their needs should continue to check the website as classes are added regularly.
If you are unable to make it to a hunter education course before the spring turkey season ends on May 31, new hunters may qualify to participate in the hunter education deferral.
Hunter education programs teach safety, conservation ethics and principles of sportsmanship. This is critical information for a positive hunting experience.
The Sandhill Crane Festival in Othello is over for another year, but the guests of honor don’t just fly off once the festival ends. Thousands of cranes will be on view throughout April in the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Frenchman Hills and all the way down the Columbia River Gorge. It’s also a great time to see snow geese, trumpeter swans and even the occasional American pelican in these areas.
Check McNary NWR for wildlife viewing
The McNary National Wildlife Refuge just southeast of the Tri-Cities is a good place to look for waterfowl and shorebirds of all kinds right now. Many species are nesting there, including mallards and redhead ducks, black-crown night herons, great blue herons, pied-billed grebes, long-billed curlews, burrowing owls, long-billed marsh wrens, and yellow-headed, red-winged, and Brewer's blackbirds.
Ring-billed gulls, California gulls, Forester's terns and spotted sandpipers also nest in colonies on the river islands in the Hanford Islands Division of the refuge. See the McNary National Wildlife Refuge's website for more information about birding.
Large flocks of lesser snow geese fly through Eastern Washington from April to May during their northern spring migration. In the year 1900, the population of snow geese was only 2,000 to 3,000 birds. However, the population of snow geese has since rebounded, with a world population of 6 to 7 million. Washington’s population of lesser snow geese migrates to and from Wrangel Island in Russia, which is northwest of the Bering Strait. Several locations for bird watching close to the Potholes Reservoir include Potholes State Park and the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. In addition to lesser snow geese, tens of thousands of other waterfowl return to the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge after winter, such as Canada geese, cinnamon teals, mallards, and more. Learn more about recreation and wildlife viewing opportunities in the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge webpage.
Black bears emerge
Black bears are emerging from their torpor to seek new-growth vegetation and occasionally an easy meal from an irresponsibly-placed backpack.
While viewing a black bear from a safe distance in the wild can be an adventure, it’s best to avoid close encounters and follow some basic safety rules and recommendations. Learn bear signs, habits and how to prepare for spring camps and hikes in bear country by visiting our blog.
Shed Antler Hunting
Read about how to protect wildlife and their habitats when exploring public lands for shed antlers at our new blog.
Habitat at Home, formerly known as the Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Program, is the department's effort to encourage Washingtonians to connect with nature where they live. We hope these resources will help you discover fun and effective ways you can help support wildlife, regardless of your expertise, how much space you have, or where you live.
By creating habitat for wildlife at home, you are helping to offset the acres of habitat that are lost to housing and urban development each year in Washington. Every little bit can help decrease habitat fragmentation, especially in highly urbanized areas.
Our new Habitat at Home Starter Kit provides an introduction to the basics of gardening for pollinators, selecting native plants, and how to identify common backyard birds. Contact us to request a starter kit.
Habitat at Home yard sign
If you already provide wildlife habitat at home (food, water, shelter, and space to raise young), you can apply for a Habitat at Home yard sign. We want to learn about your habitat and recognize your efforts to help Washington wildlife.
Planning your garden
Are you thinking about what to plant in your garden this year? Whether you garden for the beauty of being surrounded by plants or to produce fruits and vegetables, you can help wildlife at the same time!
Co-planting is a great way to benefit both your garden and pollinators. Consider including an herb garden close to your produce garden to attract pollinators. Include plants that pollinators love, such as thyme, lavender, rosemary, sage, and oregano. Produce such as squash, eggplant, peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, and other flowering plants may increase in yield because of pollination.
If you’re looking to specifically help pollinators, look for plants that provide nectar at different times of the year to increase food availability year-round. Plants that flower around April or August and September are especially helpful for pollinators.
During cold months like March, birds need more energy to survive. Ordinarily, this is a great time to put out bird feeders, especially if you don’t have the space for plants. However, we are still seeing reports of salmonellosis in birds and are asking residents to keep bird feeders down.
Feeders can pose health risks to birds if not maintained correctly and many people don’t realize that like humans, birds are susceptible to diseases, including salmonellosis, mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, avian pox, and more. Proper feeder hygiene is something you’ll need to uphold if you plan on keeping up your feeder up or have bird feeders in the future.
Use proper feeder food
Preventing disease at your feeders starts with the type of food you are providing. One way to help keep your feeder clean is to avoid using seed mixes, as it can encourage overcrowding and food waste. Mixes are good at attracting birds that enjoy both large and smaller seeds, but unless both types of birds visit your feeder on a regular basis, the leftover seeds - that often are pushed to the ground - can be a recipe for mold and attracting rats, mice, coyotes, bears, skunks, racoons, and other wildlife. This can lead to wildlife that become habituated to being fed and can pose future problems. For this reason, it is also best to only put out one day’s worth of food in your feeder so that it won’t spoil before it’s eaten.
Using seeds that have already been hulled can also prevent waste, as hulls will be dropped to the ground anyways when birds are feeding. Start with smaller quantities and add more as needed. If you’d still like to offer a variety of seeds, opt for several bird feeders that are well-spaced from one another that each hold their own type of seed. If using a platform feeder, be sure to clean it daily with new seed put out. These feeders get particularly messy and can pose a greater risk to keeping birds healthy.
Keep it clean
Cleaning your feeders is critical to keeping your birds happy and healthy. With the current salmonellosis outbreak, we recommend cleaning feeders daily by first rinsing well with warm, soapy water. Then, soak in a solution of nine parts water to one part bleach for 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can spray the surfaces with this solution if that’s easier and leave on for 10 minutes. Rinse well with cool water and let dry for at least 10 minutes to air out any fumes.
If you also provide a birdbath, this cleaning regimen works for that, too. It’s equally important for birds to have access to clean drinking water! Just be sure to either remove or cover the birdbath while it is soaking in bleach to avoid pets, children, or animals from encountering the bleach.
It’s also important that the areas below and around your feeder be kept free of seed and feces that can create unsanitary conditions. Placing feeders above surfaces that are easy to clean like decks or concrete will make the cleanup much quicker and easier. You can also opt to place a mesh screen or mat beneath feeders. Additionally, you can opt to attract birds that are less messy eaters, like chickadees and nuthatches.
Mike Livingston, the South Central Regional Director (Region 3) grew up fishing, hunting and playing in the forests of southeast Michigan. He received a bachelor’s degree in Conservation from Northern Michigan University, a bachelor’s degree in Fish and Wildlife Management from Michigan State University and a master’s in Wildlife Science from New Mexico State University.
Since 1996 Mike has worked in eastern Washington and held wildlife biologist positions with the Army’s Yakima Training Center, the Yakama Nation, and WDFW as District Wildlife Biologist in the Tri-Cities. In 2012, he was promoted to his current position as WDFW’s Region 3 Director. As Regional Director, he oversees operations in the region and gets to work on big collaborative conservation projects such as the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. When not working, you can often find him outside with his: family, friends, dog, shotgun, fishing rod, and/or backpack.