Discover Southwest Washington

Klickitat river seen through the trees

"Our region ... works on fish and wildlife management challenges that affect residents throughout the state, and addressing these challenges has grown increasingly difficult as WDFW has continued to face budget shortfalls over the past decade."

~ Southwest Washington Regional Director Kessina Lee. Read Kessina's full budget message below, or learn more about our 2020 supplemental budget.

Counties served: Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat, Lewis, Skamania, Wahkiakum

Director: Kessina Lee

5525 S 11th Street
Ridgefield, WA 98642

Telephone: 360-696-6211

Fax: 360-906-6776

Fish Washington this January

Fisherman on a boat holding a large white sturgeon using both hands
AJ Porter

Sturgeon: Starting Jan. 1, retention fishing for white sturgeon opens seven days a week on the three pools of the Columbia River from Bonneville Dam upstream to McNary Dam, including adjacent tributaries. The daily limit is one white sturgeon per day until further notice and an annual limit of two legal-size fish.

  • Bonneville Pool: Anglers may retain white sturgeon measuring 38-54 inches (fork length) between Bonneville Dam and The Dalles Dam until the catch reaches the 500-fish guideline.
  • The Dalles Pool: Anglers may retain white sturgeon measuring 43-54 inches (fork length) between The Dalles Dam and John Day Dam until the catch reaches the 135-fish guideline.
  • John Day Pool: Anglers may retain white sturgeon measuring 43-54 inches (fork length) between John Day Dam and McNary Dam until further notice. The current guideline is 105 fish, but this guideline is scheduled to be re-evaluated early next year.

Anglers should check for emergency rules affecting these fisheries on the WDFW website. Sturgeon retention remains closed below Bonneville Dam, but catch-and-release fishing is open there and in areas above the dam that are open to retention fishing.

Salmon/steelhead: Many lower Columbia River salmon and steelhead fisheries reopen Jan. 1 under the rules described in the 2019-20 Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet. So, while the spring Chinook run doesn’t arrive in earnest until late March, anglers often start catching early-arriving fish later this month.

For salmon, the daily limit on the mainstem Columbia River is now two adult hatchery Chinook, two hatchery steelhead, or one of each per day downstream from the Interstate 5 Bridge. The same is true in the lower Cowlitz, Kalama and Deep rivers, although the daily limit on the Lewis River remains at one adult hatchery Chinook per day.

For steelhead, the daily limit on most tributaries below Bonneville Dam is three hatchery fish, plus the salmon limit listed in the pamphlet for individual rivers. Only hatchery steelhead with a clipped adipose fin may be retained. Be sure to check the pamphlet for specific rules for the river you’re fishing.

Unfortunately, preseason forecasts for spring Chinook salmon are signaling another potentially difficult year for area anglers.

The 2020 pre-season forecast for Columbia River spring Chinook is estimated to be 81,700 upriver adults (135,800 upriver and lower river combined), the lowest prediction since 1999. Forecasts for tributaries below Bonneville Dam – and in the Bonneville pool – show similar trends.

Low returns over the past few years are primarily contributed to poor ocean and other environmental conditions, and are expected to impact this year’s returns as well.

Trout: If trout fishing is on your agenda for the new year, you don’t have to wait until spring to get started. WDFW planted lakes in Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat, Lewis and Skamania counties in December, with more to come this month.

One highlight is Lake Sacajawea in Longview, which was planted with more than 3,500 good-size rainbow trout during its annual Christmas Break plants. Battle Ground Lake and Klineline Pond in Clark County were also each planted with thousands of trout in December. For more options, see the weekly catchable report.

Warmwater fish: Warmwater fishing has slowed way down but there are a few Crappie being caught in Silver Lake. Walleye fishing has been fair to good above and below John Day Dam.

Washington hunting news and tips

Group of hunters after successful duck hunt

Waterfowl: Most big-game hunts are closed for the year, but waterfowl seasons run through Jan. 26 in most areas. An exception is Goose Management Area 2, which is open for geese on select days through Jan. 12. The rules are outlined in WDFW’s Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet.

Hunters are reminded that a special permit is required to hunt in Goose Management Area 2 (Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties) and that Dusky Canada geese are off-limits to hunting. For more information, see Page 21 of the Migratory Waterfowl & Upland Game pamphlet. Hunters can also learn more at our goose identification testing webpage. Hunters are required to record harvest on a harvest card they get when buying their license. The reporting deadline is March 20, 2020.

Mandatory hunter reporting: Hunters are required to report their hunting activity by Jan. 31, 2020 for each special permit acquired and each deer, elk, bear, cougar, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and turkey tag they purchased last year. Those who do not meet the deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can buy another license. Those who report by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for a special incentive permit. See the Big Game Hunting Pamphlet for more information.

Hunt reports may be filed by phone at 877-945-3492 or on the WDFW licensing website. Hunters should be prepared to note the game management unit they hunted and their individual WILD identification number, which is printed on license documents. Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report. For more information, visit the harvest reporting webpage.

Spring bear permit applications: The application period for special spring bear hunting permits begins Jan. 2 and runs through Feb. 28. Details are on the Spring Black Bear Special Permit Hunts webpage

January wildlife viewing

A flock of snow geese come in for a landing in a farm field

Snow geese in Clark County; eagles on Klickitat River: There are several good opportunities this month to see birds gathering in southwest Washington; thousands of snow geese make their way to and from the Vancouver Lowlands each year as they journey from the Arctic along the Pacific flyway.

Meanwhile, salmon are now spawning near the mouth of the Klickitat River, which makes the area a natural destination for bald eagles migrating south for the winter. Now is the time to see the raptors congregating in the trees near the river, often more than a dozen at a time.

One popular spot to observe eagles is the Balfour-Klickitat Day Use Park, near the entrance to Lyle. Another is the 31-mile Klickitat Trail, which starts in Lyle and climbs to the Goldendale Plateau. You can also learn more from the Klickitat Trail Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the trail.

First Day Hikes: Washington State Parks invites the public to start the new year off with a First Day Hike on Jan. 1 at more than three dozen state parks, including Beacon Rock State Park, Lake Sylvia State Park, and Cape Disappointment State Park. Jan. 1 is also the first of 12 “free days” – Jan. 15 is another – when visitors will not need to display the Discover Pass to gain access to state parks.

Recreation and habitat projects

Mount St Helens Wildlife Area gets a 1,453-acre addition!

This summer, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) transferred 1,453 acres of land to create a new unit of the Mount St Helens Wildlife Area. This partnership exemplifies the missions of RMEF and WDFW to protect habitat for elk and other wildlife, while also securing public access for hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreationists.

The new Merrill Lake Unit features a combination of wildlife, unusual geology, spectacular waterfalls, and dense forest, making it an ideal destination for an outdoor adventurer. A stunning waterfall on the Kalama River is a popular site for hikers. The unit includes old-growth forest, located primarily on an ancient lava flow—tree casts can be found in the lava flow—and also has a large stand of lodgepole pine, which is a very unique feature. 

Waterfall with surrounding forest

A budget message from Regional Director Kessina Lee

Kessina Lee, Southwest Region Director
Kessina Lee, Southwest Region Director

Washington is world-famous for its outdoor opportunities -- a destination for scenic vistas, diverse fish, wildlife, and habitats, and unparalleled recreation.

Our Southwest Region (Region 5) is no exception. The six counties that make up this region encompass the diverse habitats of the Columbia River Gorge, some of the state’s only active sandhill crane nests and last western pond turtles, and part of the I-5 corridor and rapidly expanding urban hubs, all in the shadow of Mount St. Helens, the most active volcano in the state.

Our region also works on fish and wildlife management challenges that affect residents throughout the state, and addressing these challenges has grown increasingly difficult as WDFW has continued to face budget shortfalls over the past decade. To address these challenges, our agency is making a significant funding request in the upcoming 2020 legislative session.

The Columbia River is at a turning point, as poor returns continue and threats to migrating fish have escalated in recent years. In summer 2019, the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead license endorsement expired. This endorsement had raised more than $10 million over nine years, and its expiration puts a number of Columbia River fisheries – as well as important monitoring, research, and enforcement work – at risk.

This would represent a major blow to local economies that depend on Columbia River fisheries, and WDFW is asking the Legislature to ensure this funding doesn’t disappear.

In addition to ensuring continued services on the Columbia River, we’re also requesting funding to further explore ways of increasing the viability of fisheries on the river, including by studying alternative gear types for commercial fishers, and reducing the number of commercial licenses by way of a buyback program.

Anyone who fishes on the lower Columbia likely knows the increasing problem of sea lions on the river. These California and Steller sea lions are appearing in growing numbers as their populations have recovered since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 1972. And while this recovery has been a success story for the MMPA, it also brought new challenges, as sea lion predation on troubled salmon runs has increased drastically in the past decade.

To combat this, Congress last year passed an amendment to the MMPA that increases our wildlife managers’ discretion for when these animals should be lethally removed to preserve threatened and endangered salmon stocks. To help accomplish this, WDFW is requesting funding to increase our operations at key points on the Columbia River from two months to as many as 10 months each year.

While we’re on the topic of wildlife management, we’re also working hard to manage human-wildlife conflicts across Washington. The department fields calls from throughout the state as urban environments continue to spill further into wildlands, and we’re working hard to continue using non-lethal conflict management to address calls of property damage and potential public safety issues related to wildlife.

These are only a few of the many, many issues that our staff work hard every day to address across our region. We do this work to serve you, the public, and we hope that you’ll support us as we continue to work hard to conserve and perpetuate fish, wildlife, and habitats throughout this place we call home. 

Watch Kessina Lee and Kelly Susewind's digital open house.

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