Anglers age 15 and older are required to have a valid 2021-22 fishing license to fish in Washington state waters after March 31, when 2020-21 licenses expire. Licenses are avaiIable online, by phone (866-246-9453), and from license dealers around the state. The current Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet remains valid through June 30.
Columbia River salmon
The spring Chinook season continues on the Columbia River this month, though the river closes below Bonneville Dam in early April. Fishing is scheduled to continue through May 5 further upstream.
Through April 4: From Buoy 10 line upstream to Beacon Rock (boat and bank), plus bank angling by hand-cast only from Beacon Rock upstream to the Bonneville Dam deadline. Salmonid angling from a boat is prohibited in an area adjacent to the Cowlitz River mouth, including all of Carrolls Channel. To see full details of the boat-fishing closure area, view the emergency rule.
Daily limit 6, including no more than 2 adults, of which no more than 1 may be an adult Chinook. Release all wild steelhead and all salmon other than hatchery Chinook. Salmon minimum size 12 inches. Shad retention is also permitted, no minimum size or daily limit.
Through May 5: From the Tower Island power lines (approximately 6 miles below The Dalles Dam) upstream to the Oregon/Washington border, plus bank angling by hand-cast only between Bonneville Dam and the Tower Island power lines.
Daily limit 6, including no more than 2 adults of which no more than 1 may be an adult Chinook. Release all wild steelhead and all salmon other than hatchery Chinook. Salmon minimum size 12 inches.
There have been some steelhead stocked into Fort Borst Park Pond, and catching has been going great. Another 50 went into the lake in late March.
For trout, Swofford Pond recently received a “massive” rainbow plant (about 10,000 fish) and fishing has been strong there. Kress received about 2,000 brown trout in mid-March, and they have been very active.
Fishing for both coho and rainbows is good in Riffe Lake, along with smallmouth bass. Crappie are growing more active in Silver Lake, along with yellow perch in Lacamas and Silver lakes, and bluegill in Kress Lake, South Lewis County Park Pond, and Swofford Pond.
Some tiger muskie in Mayfield Lake are also showing interest.
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!
While most lakes in the region are open year-round, “opening day” marks the debut (or reopening) of such perennial favorites as Mineral Lake and Carlisle Lake in Lewis County, and Rowland, Spearfish, and Horsethief lakes in Klickitat County. Rowland and Spearfish lakes close March 31, and will reopen on April 24.
WDFW will also continue to plant thousands of catchable trout in Clark County year-round lakes, including Klineline Pond, Battleground Lake and Lacamas Lake. Sacajawea, Kress, and Horseshoe lakes in Cowlitz County are also slated to receive plants of rainbow trout, as are South Lewis County Park Pond and Swofford Pond in Lewis County, and three lakes in Skamania County – Icehouse, Little Ash, and Tunnel lakes.
Low returns to the Columbia River have already affected seasons on a number of lower river tributaries, with some rivers seeing reduced limits and others closing altogether. You can read more details about these changes at our blog.
These changes include closures on the Wind River, as well as the Cowlitz River, Cispus River, and Lake Scanewa due to low returns and a need to meet hatchery broodstock goals. The Cowlitz River remains open for steelhead, and the late-returning winter steelhead catch there has been good, according to district fish biologist Josua Holowatz, who said there have been reports of some "really nice fish" being reeled in recently.
The Klickitat and Kalama rivers have reduced salmon limits in effect in April.
Drano Lake is now open with a salmon and steelhead daily limit of two hatchery fish, but only one can be an adult Chinook. Drano Lake will also close early this year, on May 6.
Meanwhile, the hatchery steelhead season on Salmon Creek has been extended through May 28, as a recent biological opinion there has led to stocks that exhibit a slightly later run timing.
Be sure to keep an eye on all emergency fishing rule changes at our webpage.
Retention fishing for white sturgeon closed earlier this year in the pools above Bonneville Dam, but catch-and-relese fishing is open seven days a week on much of the Columbia River and adjacent tributaries.
Starting May 10, anglers will be allowed to catch and retain legal-size white sturgeon Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays below Wauna in the lower Columbia River under rules approved by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon. See the news release for details.
The spring wild turkey season runs April 15 through May 31 statewide. A youth hunt for ages 15 and younger is April 3-4. For more information on Washington’s turkey season, check out the Wild Turkey Spring Season pamphlet.
Take hunter education
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, WDFW is offering an online course for students at least nine years old. As with in-person hunter education classes, successful completion of the course is only the beginning of a hunter’s learning journey. Hunters can find hunter education course information, as well as valuable short video resources to reinforce safety practices for new hunters, on WDFW's website. Experienced hunters who have never taken a hunter education class may also find them valuable.
Prior to purchasing their first Washington state hunting license, all individuals born after Jan. 1, 1972 must show proof that they have completed a hunter education class. Certifications from other states are valid in Washington; just show your hunter education card to the license dealer.
With spring in swing, sandhill cranes continue arriving in the Vancouver Lowlands to begin their annual mating dance. Thousands of the large birds – with wingspans of up to 7 feet – will visit prime feeding areas such as the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge before leaving for the long trip north.
The cranes have plenty of company while they’re in the area. Great egrets, tundra swans, belted kingfishers and a wide variety of other birds are also arriving for spring.
Bears are becoming active, drawn out of their dens by the looming spring-like weather. As always, their first thought will be to find food. Females with new cubs will be particularly hungry and may be attracted to human-provided sources of food such as compost, bird feeders, garbage cans, and fruit trees.
To avoid attracting bears, secure garbage cans in a shed or fenced area, and keep meat scraps in the freezer until shortly before garbage cans are picked up or hauled away.
Leave wild babies wild
April is a busy month for the birth of baby animals. A reminder that if you run into fawns, baby birds, or other young animals, please leave them be, even if they appear to be orphaned or abandoned. Most animals have a parent foraging or hunting nearby. Read our blog to learn about when not to rescue wildlife.
#RecreateResponsibly to protect yourself, others, and the outdoors. Review the guidelines below before heading out on your outdoor adventure!
Know before you go. Some areas can become dangerous with winter conditions. Research your destination, as roads and facilities may be closed in winter.
Explore locally. Consider exploring locally, as driving and parking may be more challenging in winter. If you travel, be mindful of your impact on native and local communities.
Plan ahead. Check local conditions and prepare for the elements, packing extra layers, waterproof clothing, and avalanche safety gear for the backcountry.
Leave no trace. Did you know that snow is our water supply? Keep our winter playgrounds clean. Pack out any human or pet waste and be respectful of the land.
Practice physical distancing. Be prepared to cover your nose and mouth. When possible, opt to eat and rest outside. If you feel sick, stay home.
Play it safe. Know your limits and your gear. Slow down and choose lower-risk activities to reduce your risk of injury.
Build an inclusive outdoors. Everyone deserve to experience a winter wonderland. Be an active part of making the outdoors safe, accessible, and welcoming for all identities and abilities.
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.
Kessina Lee, the Southwest Regional Director (Region 5), joined WDFW in 2018. In her role as the Director’s representative in the region, Kessina works in close coordination with each program, as well as in collaboration with federal, Tribal, and local partners on implementing the WDFW mission of protecting native fish and wildlife, and providing sustainable fishing, hunting, and wildlife viewing opportunities for Washingtonians.
Prior to coming to WDFW, Kessina worked as the statewide aquaculture specialist for the Washington Department of Ecology. Before arriving at Ecology, Kessina was a Sea Grant policy fellow working on ocean and coastal issues with the Oregon Legislature’s Coastal Caucus and for the office of Oregon Governor Kate Brown. She also spent nearly a decade studying marine mammal strandings in the Pacific Northwest, as well as interactions between fish and sea lions on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. Kessina holds bachelor's and master’s degrees in biology from Portland State University and has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 1989. In her free time, Kessina enjoys gardening, traveling, kayaking, and hiking with her German shorthaired pointer.