Winter-only / Ice-fishing:December’s mild weather means anglers will need to be extremely cautious in January. Lake fishing on, and through, ice is only safe after extended periods of below freezing temperatures, which hasn’t happened in our area yet this winter. If an extended cold snap does happen, be sure to follow this ice fishing safety information.
Starting this year, Diamond, Jump Off Joe, and Waitts lakes are all now year-round lakes, due to rule changes that went into effect in July. According to Donley, these lakes are good perch fisheries – including rainbow, brown, and yellow perch – and should provide good ice fishing opportunity when safe ice forms.
Waitts Lake is also good for rainbow and brown trout in the winter. Rock Lake, open year-round in Whitman County, is known as one of the best winter fisheries in the region for both brown and rainbow trout.
At Hatch Lake, southeast of Colville in Stevens County, anglers were catching 12- to 14- inch rainbow trout through the ice at this time last year. Hatch Lake has a five-trout daily catch limit with no size restrictions.
At Fourth of July Lake in Adams County, anglers are catching fish that range from 8 to 22 inches. There is a five trout limit with no size restrictions.
Hog Canyon Lake in Spokane County and Williams Lake in Stevens County are open to winter fishing this year after being closed for the winter of 2007-08. Both lakes were treated with rotenone to remove non-trout species, then re-stocked with trout this past spring.
Lake Roosevelt: January is a good time to fish year-round-open Lake Roosevelt, the Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam. Both bank and boat fishing at Roosevelt is good for rainbow trout. See the Lake Roosevelt winter shoreline fishing video for tips on catching fish without a boat or the winter trolling tactics video if you have a boat.
Lake whitefish can also be found in Roosevelt this time of year, spawning in groups about 40 to 50 feet below the surface. Watch this Fishing for Whitefish in Washington video for not only tips on catching them, but also information on whitefish biology, management, gear, and habitat.
Burbot fishing is also good on the reservoir, especially near the mouth of the Colville and Spokane rivers. Bead and Sullivan lakes in Pend Oreille County can also be good for winter burbot fishing. Depending on conditions, they can be caught through the ice or by casting jigs or plunking bait from shore. This burbot fishing video has tips on how to catch them.
Other lakes:Newman Lake in eastern Spokane County is also open year-round and has decent winter fishing for black crappie. Sprague Lake on the Lincoln-Adams county line usually has decent trout fishing in January.
Spring and Blue lakes in southeast Columbia County (Tucannon River impoundments on the W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area), are stocked with rainbow trout but don’t develop enough ice for safe ice fishing, so access is limited once the shoreline ices over.
Steelhead: There are still some steelhead in the mainstem Snake River and tributaries to the Snake and Columbia River, as well as the Grande Ronde, according to Fish Program Manager Donley. Barbless hooks are required for steelhead in the Snake.
Upland game birds: Hunting for pheasant, quail, chukar and gray or Hungarian partridge wraps up for the season in mid-January, but pheasants are still being seen and heard on the Sherman Creek Wildlife Area after being released there in September, according to Daro Palmer, Wildlife Area Assistant Manager.
A reminder that non-toxic shot is required for upland bird, dove and band-tailed pigeon on all pheasant release sites statewide.
Waterfowl:Duck and goose hunting continues through Jan. 28. WDFW Assistant District Biologist Ben Turnoch says open areas of water currently include the Pend Oreille River, Lake Roosevelt, and the Colville River.
Big game reports due: A reminder that reports on hunting activities are due by Jan. 31, 2019 from hunters who purchased tags for black bear, cougar, deer, elk or turkey for each 2018 license, permit or tag purchased. Reports can be filed by calling (877) 945-3492, or by going online. Start with “ID and Birthdate” under Log-In. Whether reporting online or over the phone, follow the prompts until given a confirmation number for each report. Those who miss the Jan. 31 deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can purchase a 2019 hunting license.
First Day Hikes: Need to clear your head after your New Year’s Eve celebration? Washington State Parks invites you to start the new year off with a First Day Hike at area state parks, including Columbia Plateau Trail,Field Springs, Mount Spokane, Palouse Falls, and Riverside. These ranger-led events include snowshoe treks in some areas and wildlife viewing opportunities. Jan. 1 is also a “free day,” along with Jan. 21, when you do not need to display a Discover Pass to use state parks.
Birds: January is a great bird-watching month due to being more visible against white winter landscapes and because of seasonal behavior. Bald eagles are concentrated along the Snake River, according to WDFW Biologist David Woodall of the Blue Mountain Wildlife Area, along with other large waterways, feeding on fish or waterfowl. Daro Palmer, Wildlife Area Assistant Manager for the Sherman Creek, LeClerc Creek and Rustlers Gulch wildlife areas, says eagles can also be regularly seen along Lake Roosevelt.
WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area Manager Juli Anderson says eagles haven’t been active in that area for several weeks, but rough legged and red tailed hawks can be seen all over the wildlife area, especially perched on power poles. She said no snowy owls have been spotted yet but a couple northern flickers have been seen and heard around the office. Coyotes are starting to show their nice winter coats.
Folks with backyard winter feeding stations or in rural areas of the region will see black-capped and mountain chickadees; red-breasted, white-breasted and pygmy nuthatches; Cassin’s and house finches; red crossbill; pine siskin; American goldfinch; common redpoll; evening grosbeak; northern pygmy owl; Clark's nutcracker; and gray and Steller’s jays.
Birdwatchers are encouraged to use eBird Northwest, an on-line tool for identifying birds, reporting sightings, and contributing to conservation efforts throughout the region.
Deer, elk, sheep, moose: Depending on winter weather conditions, elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and moose usually move to lower elevations and become more visible throughout the region, from the Selkirk Mountains in the northeast district to the Blue Mountains in the southeast.
Deer and elk throughout the region tend to forage more often during the short winter days, mostly on south facing slopes and areas where food is more abundant. Keep a respectable distance from animals to avoid stressing them.
Antler sheds can be found this time of year and Daro Palmer, WDFW Wildlife Area Assistant Manager, says hunters are currently looking for moose paddles in the Rustlers Gulch Wildlife Area. It’s best, however, to wait until late spring to go shed hunting to avoid inadvertently harassing animals on winter range. Collecting naturally shed antlers is legal, but keep in mind that if too many people descend on an area before wintering animals have left, the animals could be disturbed, which threatens their survival at the harshest time of year.
Wildlife tracking: Finding and identifying animal tracks in the snow can be fun while out cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or hiking and can help you learn about local species that are rarely seen at any time of year, like cougars.
Other common animals now leaving prints in the snow include porcupines, river otters, and bobcats. Most commonly seen tracks include deer, elk, moose, coyotes, squirrels, rabbits, turkeys, grouse, and quail. Tracking sometimes leads to glimpses of wildlife, too. Several WDFW species fact sheets include animal tracks to help identify what’s seen in the snow.
If you get out to play in the outdoors this month, be aware that the winter gates are closed to the Sherman Creek Wildlife Area, limiting motor vehicle access. Daro Palmer, Wildlife Area Assistant Manager, says access by foot is welcome though.
Regional wildlife areas are also open for other outdoor activities. In the Rustlers Gulch Wildlife Area, Palmer says old roads provide trails for cross country skiing or snowshoeing, and the Beaver Creek parking area is maintained for parking through the winter to support a variety of activities.