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11-28-2007, 10:59 PM
WINTER STEELHEAD, CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT SIGNAL APPROACHING CHANGE OF SEASON

11/29/07

Winter-run steelhead are now moving into rivers throughout western Washington, a clear sign of the coming season. By the time winter officially arrives December 22, the fishery for hatchery steelhead should be well under way, said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

"Depending on weather conditions, the winter steelhead fishery should start revving up sometime in mid-December," Hymer said. "Heavy rain could bring them in sooner, but we should definitely start seeing some action by the middle of the month."

Meanwhile, anglers continue to reel in blackmouth, coho and chum salmon around western Washington, and several winter-only lakes are scheduled to open Dec. 1 for rainbow-trout fishing on the east side of the state.

Crab fishing remains open in most areas of Puget Sound, and a razor-clam dig is tentatively scheduled to start Dec. 21 at four ocean beaches. (See the South Sound/Olympic Peninsula report below for details.)

For hunters, the arrival of wintry weather offers a higher chance of success in the field. Cold, northerly winds are moving more ducks and geese into the state, while advancing snow levels are driving deer and elk to lower elevations, where they are more accessible to hunters. Late seasons for bowhunters and muzzleloaders are now in progress around the state until various dates in December.

For bird-watchers, the coming of winter offers a different kind of opportunity. Starting Dec. 14, birders throughout the Americas will join in the Audubon Society's 108th annual Christmas Bird Count to compile data on bird populations from Alaska to Argentina. Here and elsewhere, spotting teams are now forming to count every bird they see in a 24-hour period on staggered dates through Jan. 5.

"The Christmas Bird Count is a great way to contribute to an important database on bird populations, and get to know other birders in your area," said Bill Tweit, a WDFW fish manager and avid bird-watcher. "Birders can also participate by simply phoning in reports of birds they count in their own backyards."

For more information about the Christmas Bird Count, see Audubon's website at http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/index.html. For contact information about spotting teams in Washington, see http://www.wos.org/WACBCs.htm.

For more information about fishing, hunting and wildlife-viewing opportunities now available throughout the state, see the regional reports below:

North Puget Sound

Fishing: Fishing for chum salmon at many of the region's rivers and streams has been slow, but some steelhead are starting to show up in the catch. On Puget Sound, crabbing is still an option and blackmouth fishing has been good in some areas.

"The blackmouth fishery slowed a bit in early November, but anglers have done pretty well recently," said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist. "That could be a good sign as we move into December." Creel checks in the region show decent fishing for blackmouth - resident chinook - in Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton). At Shilshole Ramp, 30 anglers were checked with seven chinook Nov. 24, while 37 anglers brought home 12 chinook the following day.

Those fishing Marine Area 10 are currently allowed to keep one chinook as part of a two-salmon daily limit. Daily bag limits for that area change beginning Dec. 1, when anglers will be allowed to keep two hatchery chinook as part of their two-salmon daily limit. They must, however, release wild chinook, which have an intact adipose fin, and are required to use single-point barbless hooks beginning Dec. 1.

Thiesfeld said anglers have been averaging about one blackmouth for every five rods in marine areas 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay) and 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner), where selective fisheries for hatchery chinook run through April. Anglers in those two marine areas have a two-salmon daily limit, and can keep up to two hatchery chinook per day.

Time is running out for anglers to hook blackmouth in Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet), said Thiesfeld. The salmon fishery in that area closes Dec. 1. Until then, anglers can keep one chinook as part of a two-salmon daily limit.

While out on the Sound, why not drop a pot? Marine areas 4 (Neah Bay), 5 (Sekiu), 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 9, 10, 11 (Tacoma/Vashon), 12 (Hood Canal) and 13 (south Puget Sound) are open to sport crabbing seven days a week through Jan. 2. However, crabbing is closed in marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 and 8-2.

The daily catch limit in Puget Sound is five Dungeness crab, males only, in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6¼ inches. In addition, fishers may catch six red rock crab of either sex per day, provided those crab measure at least 5 inches across. Additional information is available on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/shelfish/crab/index.htm.

In the rivers, chum fishing has been slow throughout the region, but anglers are beginning to reel in some hatchery steelhead. "They've caught a few on the Cascade River and a few on the Skagit River," said Brett Barkdull, another WDFW biologist. "I expect fishing will pick up once we get some more rain." Anglers on the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers have also hooked some nice steelhead, according to recent reports.

Rainbow trout are also an option for anglers. About 3,000 hatchery rainbow trout - averaging approximately 3 to 5 pounds each - were released into Beaver Lake near Issaquah in mid-November. Beaver Lake, one of several westside lowland lakes open to fishing year-round, is best fished by small boat, although anglers can also be successful fishing from shore. The daily bag limit is five fish, and bait anglers must keep the first five trout they catch.

Before heading out, anglers should check the rules and regulations for all freshwater and saltwater fisheries in WDFW's Fishing in Washington pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm).

Hunting: Waterfowl hunting continues to improve as more ducks and geese move into the region along with cooler, wet weather. Waterfowlers in the region have through Jan. 27 to hunt those birds.

Archer and muzzleloader hunts are also under way for black-tail deer in select game management units (GMU). Archers have through Dec. 8 to harvest a deer in GMU 437, through Dec. 15 in GMUs 466 and 460, and through Dec. 31 in 407, 410 and 454. The region's musket hunts for deer wrap up Dec. 15. Most muzzleloader and archery hunts for elk also continue in the region through Dec. 15. An exception is the musket hunt in Elk Area 4941, where hunters have through Jan. 30 to bag an elk.

Meanwhile, only a couple days remain for hunters to bag pheasant, California quail and bobwhite. Those general seasons close Dec. 1. Before going afield, hunters should check the Big Game Hunting pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/hunter/hunter.htm) and the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/water/water.htm) for details.

Wildlife viewing: In the Carnation area, a couple of birders came across a rare sight, at least for this time of year. The birders spotted a swamp sparrow at the Carnation marsh near the Snoqualmie River. Swamp sparrows are reddish-brown birds with dark stripes down their backs. The sparrows winter in marshy and brushy swamps near open water, and are mostly solitary birds except when migrating. The birds are often sighted at Spencer Island and at the Crescent Lake Wildlife Area in Snohomish County, and at the Skagit Wildlife Area in Skagit County, but are an uncommon from mid-October through March.

Elsewhere, a birder at the Samish Flats in Skagit County saw a flock of six horned larks recently. The larks were spotted at the "West 90," along the Samish Island Road near a WDFW parking lot. "They landed out in the grass, where I lost them," the birder reported on Tweeters birding website (http://www.scn.org/earth/tweeters/). Horned larks are small songbirds with a dark mask on their face. The larks' "horns" are two little tufts of black feathers on their heads. Larks often join flocks of Lapland longspurs, which the birder said he believes were also in the Samish Flats area that day.

South Sound/Olympic Peninsula

Fishing: Weather permitting, anglers will have some good opportunities to catch winter steelhead, coho, chum and blackmouth in the days ahead. Meanwhile, a razor clam dig is scheduled to open later in December.

Winter steelhead are making their return to Olympic Peninsula rivers where anglers are catching early hatchery arrivals in the Humptulips River in western Grays Harbor County and the Bogachiel River in the Quillayute system. "With the recent rains bringing in the fish and the rivers dropping down, people have been catching some nice steelhead," said David Low, WDFW fish biologist.

The Bogachiel typically gets early returning hatchery fish the first few weeks in December, followed by the Hoh and Sol Duc, Low said. "Then the wild steelhead start to show up January."

Although it's still early, WDFW biologists are foreseeing an average season in terms of returning fish, said Low. "It's looking like a typical return for most rivers and if last year's any indication it should be decent fishing." Then again, success depends on the weather. "This is especially true on the Olympic Peninsula where rivers can easily go out of shape when storms come through," he said.

Low recommends anglers review the steelhead-fishing rules outlined in the Fishing in Washington pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm).

While several area rivers will close to salmon fishing Nov. 30, others will remain open to anglers looking for some late-run coho. Anglers may continue to retain wild coho on the Satsop, Wishkah and Wynoochee rivers as well as a portion of the Chehalis River (from the Hwy 101 Bridge in Aberdeen to the Porter Bridge). Before heading out, anglers should check the Errata sheet, which contains corrections to the Fishing in Washington pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm). The Elk, Hoquiam, Johns and Skookumchuck rivers will close Nov. 30.


Meanwhile, anglers trolling the waters around Point Defiance in recent days have been catching a fair number of blackmouth, said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist. "Although the effort's been low, the fish are there," he said. "If folks get out, they should be able to take home a fish." Over the Nov. 24 weekend, anglers were averaging about one fish per rod. The daily limit is two salmon; one chinook may be retained.

Although salmon fishing closes at many popular chum sites such as Kennedy Creek and McClane Creek on Nov. 30, the Nisqually River offers a late-run season for wild chum, said Thiesfeld. "For those who want to catch some fish throughout December, it's the only game in town."

The next razor-clam dig is tentatively scheduled Dec. 21-22 on evening tides at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks. One more evening dig is planned Dec. 23 at Twin Harbors only. Kalaloch Beach will remain closed throughout the 2007-08 season. Evening low tides during the dig are 4:12 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21 (-0.4 ft.), 5:06 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22 (-0.9 ft.), 5:58 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23 (-1.2 ft.).

Harvesters are allowed to take no more than 15 razor clams and must keep the first 15 they dig, regardless of size or condition. Each digger's clams must be kept in a separate container. A license is required for anyone age 15 or older. Any 2007 annual shellfish/seaweed license or combination license is still valid.

Hunting: While the general modern-firearm season is now over for the year, hunters stalking deer and elk with muzzleloaders and bows can remain in the field through mid-to late December, according to area rules outlined in WDFW's Big Game Hunting Rules (http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/hunter/hunter.htm).

"Most late-season hunting can be pretty good," said Jack Smith, regional WDFW wildlife manager. "There's still lots of opportunity and the cooler weather should help as the animals start to congregate."

For waterfowl hunters, the potholes and lakes in the Chehalis Valley should offer some good opportunities as ducks begin to move inland, said Smith. "This time of year they're moving away from the saltwater, although there's still quite a few ducks in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay." Hunters should head out on windy, blustery days when animals tend to move around more, said Smith.

Hunting seasons for ducks and geese run seven days a week through Jan. 27 in all parts of the region except Pacific County (Goose Management Area 2B), which is open Wednesdays and Saturdays only through Jan. 12. Hunters must pass a goose-identification test and receive written authorization from WDFW to hunt in Area 2B. For more information, see WDFW's Upland Game and Waterfowl pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/water/water.htm).

While pheasant hunting season has ended in most of western Washington, an extended season will be open from Dec. 1-15 at the Skookumchuck, Fort Lewis, Kosmos, Scatter Creek, Belfair, Whidbey Island (except Bayview) and Lincoln Creek release sites. Hunting for blue, ruffed and spruce grouse continues through Dec. 31.

Wildlife viewing: Recent whale sightings in area waters have people from Sekiu to southern Puget Sound on the outlook. Over the Nov. 24 weekend, several gray whales were seen swimming west of Sekiu in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, while farther south, a pod of orcas were feeding at the mouth of Quartermaster Harbor near Vashon Island. Those who see whales in the area are encouraged to report findings at the Orca Network website: http://www.orcanetwork.org/

Birders traveling through Grays Harbor recently have reported seeing about 40 migrating trumpeter swans in the fields along the Brady Loop Road near Montesano. While more commonly found in Whatcom and Skagit counties, these swans have expanded their range to Grays Harbor and other areas of western Washington. The largest North American waterfowl, the majestic trumpeter swan is white with a black bill.

Southwest Washington

Fishing: Anglers fishing several tributaries to the lower Columbia River are still catching good numbers of late-stock hatchery coho salmon while waiting for winter steelhead to arrive. Some of the best fishing has been on the Cowlitz River near the barrier dam, where 32 bank anglers caught 12 coho during Thanksgiving weekend.

Hatchery steelhead should start showing up in the catch on the Cowlitz and other area rivers shortly, said Joe Hymer, WDFW fish biologist.

"Depending on weather conditions, the winter steelhead fishery should start revving up sometime in mid-December," Hymer said. "Heavy rain could bring them in sooner, but we should definitely start seeing some action by the middle of the month."

All or part of several Columbia River tributaries - including the Cowlitz, Lewis, Kalama, Elochoman, Grays, Coweeman, and Washougal rivers and Salmon Creek (Clark Co.) - are currently open to retention of two hatchery steelhead per day. Blue and Mill creeks in Lewis County will open to hatchery steelhead fishing Dec. 1. Blue Creek also opens for retention of hatchery sea-run cutthroat that day.

As in past years, all wild steelhead with an intact adipose fin must be released unharmed. For additional regulations applicable to specific rivers, anglers are advised to check the Fishing in Washington rule pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm).

Since hatchery steelhead planted last spring will make up most of this year's catch, Hymer suggests reviewing WDFW's 2006 smolt stocking report to gauge fishing prospects for various rivers. That report, posted at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/harvest/harvest.htm on the department's website, "isn't a surefire guide to successful fishing but does provide an indication of how many smolts were planted in each river," Hymer said.

Until winter steelhead make their move in mid-December, the late-run hatchery coho fishery may be the best bet in the lower Columbia River Basin, Hymer said. In addition to the Cowlitz River, the North Fork Lewis River has also been yielding decent catches of hatchery coho.

Hymer reminds anglers that they must continue to release fall chinook on the Lewis River, where spawning ground surveys indicate the escapement goal will not likely be met this year. He also notes that the adult hatchery coho catch limit on the Cowlitz River - and portions of the Cispus and Tilton rivers - is six fish per day. "We want people to catch those fish, because that's why we raised them," he said.

During the week ending Nov. 24, Tacoma Power recovered 1,754 coho salmon adults, 60 coho jacks, 14 fall chinook adults, 70 summer-run steelhead and 29 winter-run steelhead salmon at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator during six days of operations. Tacoma Power employees then released 218 adult coho into Lake Scanewa at the Day Use Site; 132 adult coho into the Cispus River above the mouth of Yellow Jacket Creek; 269 adult coho into the upper Cowlitz River in Packwood; and 162 adult coho and 81 fall chinook adults into the Tilton River in Morton.

Meanwhile, sturgeon fishing has continued to slow on the lower Columbia River, where water temperatures have dropped to around 50 degrees. During the week ending Nov. 27, no catch was observed among boat anglers fishing from the Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam, where the retention fishery is scheduled to remain open daily through Dec. 31. In the gorge, 157 bank anglers landed seven legal-sized white sturgeon the last half of November.

Hunting: Cold weather and snow at lower levels bode well for archers and muzzleloaders hunting deer and elk in southwest Washington, said Eric Holman, WDFW wildlife biologist. "These conditions tend to concentrate the animals more, and that's good news for hunters," he said. Archers and blackpowder hunters reclaimed the field after a soggy, but productive, late buck season for hunters using modern firearms in mid-November. Late seasons for archers and muzzleloaders end in various game management units at different times in December, so hunters should be sure to check the Big Game Hunting pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/hunter/hunter.htm for specifics.

Waterfowl hunters should also benefit from colder weather farther north when Management Area 2A in Cowlitz and Clark counties reopens for goose hunting Dec. 5. Hunters averaged 2.2 birds a piece at three check stations during the opening weekend in early November, and should do even better when the season resumes in December, Holman said. "Storms up north keep moving more birds into the area, so hunting should improve throughout the season," he said.

Starting Dec. 5, goose hunting in most sections of Area 2A will be open Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays through Dec. 25 to hunters who have successfully completed a goose-identification test administered by WDFW. The exception is the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, where goose hunting reopens Dec. 6 through Jan. 19 Saturdays, Tuesday and Thursdays but will be closed Christmas Day. For weekly hunt reporting from Ridgefield see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website (http://www.fws.gov/ridgefieldrefuges/HuntReportHome.htm).

Meanwhile, goose hunting remains open seven days per week in management areas 3 (Skamania and Lewis counties, plus part of Clark County) and 5 (Klickitat County). For more information on waterfowl seasons throughout the region, see WDFW's Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/water/water.htm).

Most pheasant release sites closed Nov. 30, but several - including the Cosmos site east of Morton - remain open for pheasant hunting through Dec. 15. For more information on the site, see the Pheasant Release Pamphlet on WDFW's website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/water/wwapheas.htm).

Wildlife viewing: Migrating waterfowl are now reaching peak levels in southwest Washington, providing prime viewing opportunities for birders throughout the region. Swans, geese, ducks and other waterfowl of all descriptions are on display throughout the Vancouver Lowlands, including seven subspecies of Canada geese ranging from cackling geese to less-common Aleutian geese.

In a recent posting on the Tweeters website (http://www.scn.org/earth/tweeters/), one birder reported searching through thousands of cacklers at Vancouver Lake for a brant sighted there earlier. He didn't find it, but he did spot an American tree sparrow he needed for his Clark County birding list. At the time, the bird was perched in a small patch of roses and elderberries at the end of the Lower River Road.

Wilson Cady, another Tweeters correspondent, reported learning two valuable lessons while birding nearby at the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge. The first was "use your ears as well as your eyes" when looking for certain birds. While looking for a barred owl near the railroad tracks, he heard some scrub jays putting up a squawk. "The closer I listened I noticed more jays, both scrub and Stellers," he wrote. "I followed the ruckus directly to the barred owl" in a Douglas fir about 30 feet about the road.

The second lesson? "Do not dismiss gulls at a distance." Cady was birding with friends, when one pointed out a white-tailed kite. "I had seen it flying off in the distance and said to myself, `Gull, too far off to ID,'" Cady wrote. The bird eventually perched atop a small tree about 150 yards away, providing excellent scope views "and a good lesson to boot."

Eastern Washington

Fishing: Four winter-only rainbow trout fishing lakes open Dec. 1 in the region and at least two of them will provide good opportunities this season. Fourth of July Lake, on the Lincoln-Adams county line, has lots of rainbows over 14 inches. WDFW District Fish Biologist Chris Donley said that as many as 70 percent of the fish there are over 14 inches, which means a fishing trip to Fourth of July may be short. The lake has a five trout daily catch limit, but only two of the five can be over 14 inches.

Hog Canyon Lake, in southwest Spokane County, is under the same catch regulations, but there should be lots of five-fish limits caught there, Donley said. Hog Canyon has more fish overall, and many more under 14 inches. "Whether these two lakes will be completely iced up on the opener is the big question," Donley said. "We don't monitor or measure that, so anglers need to just be prepared for all kinds of winter conditions."

Also opening Dec. 1 is a four-month-long whitefish season on the Little Spokane River from the state highway 291 bridge near Nine Mile Falls to the west branch tributary north of Chattaroy. Up to 15 whitefish of any size can be taken daily, but fishing gear is restricted to one single-point hook no bigger than size 14 (no more than 3/16-inch from point to shank). The gear rule is designed to minimize the chances of catching other gamefish, which are not legal to harvest at this time.

Fishing for rainbow and brown trout at year-round Rock Lake in Whitman County has been good. Lake Roosevelt rainbows are also biting well now, especially from Seven Bays up to near Grand Coulee Dam.

Snake River steelheading has slowed somewhat, said Joe Bumgarner, WDFW fish biologist. "Some steelheaders are wondering where the fish are, and some seem to think they've moved upstream earlier this year, perhaps because of our relatively warmer fall," he said. Throughout the Snake system, anglers are averaging about 16 hours of fishing per steelhead. The best catch rates were about nine hours per fish in the mid-Snake section above the interstate bridge and 13.6 hours per steelhead in the section between Lower Monumental and Little Goose dams. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's (ODFW) recent creel checks on the Lower Grand Ronde River, on either side of the state line, show 15-20 hours of effort per steelhead. Bumgarner said the lower Grand Ronde near the mouth is catch-and-release fishing only, so catch rates can't be measured easily. For the full creel survey, see
http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/creel/snake/index.htm.

Hunting: With snow on the ground, upland game bird hunting should improve as quail and pheasants hold tighter and scenting conditions for bird dogs get better. The last game farm rooster pheasants of the season will be released by Dec. 8 at all of the sites listed in the Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement Program booklet, available at the Spokane Valley regional office (2315 N. Discovery Place, 509-892-1001), or on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/water/ewapheas.htm.

Recent snow cover should also improve success rates during late archery and muzzleloader deer and elk hunting seasons that continue through Nov. 30, Dec. 8 or Dec. 15, depending on the game management unit. Hunters should pay attention to the regulation details for these hunts, as many have limitations on legal deer or elk.

Wildlife viewing: Elk and other wildlife viewing highlight the winter festival on Dec. 8 at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, south of Cheney off the Cheney-Plaza Road. The Friends of Turnbull nonprofit organization hosts the annual event from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This year there will be two elk viewing trips, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. These popular tours fill up fast so call 509-235-4723 to pre-register. As usual, there will be plenty of self-guided hiking and bird watching, plus music and an all-day lunch of chili and cornbread, cookies, and hot beverages at the headquarters. Donations are requested to benefit the refuge's environmental education programs. Call 509-235-2760 for more information.

"Winter Birds of Spokane" is the topic of the Spokane Audubon Society's Dec. 12 meeting, which is open to the general public. Chapter president and presenter Gary Blevins says it's a good way to brush up on identification skills in preparation for the annual Christmas Bird Count. Blevins, a Spokane Falls Community College biology professor, will give an overview of both common and uncommon birds found in the area this time of year, focusing on identifying field marks and habitat types. The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium at Riverview Retirement Center, 1801 East Upriver Dr. in Spokane.

With the arrival of winter storms, backyard bird-feeding enthusiasts throughout the region have been experiencing an influx of redpolls, crossbills, grosbeaks and finches. Birdwatchers in Walla Walla County recently reported a rare winter visitor - a great gray owl just south of Lowden off Hwy.12 along Gardena Rd. in a grove of silver maples.

Northcentral Washington

Fishing: Although steelhead anglers are still having some success on the Methow, Okanogan, Similkameen, and mainstem Columbia rivers, recent colder water temperatures have resulted in reduced catch rates, reported Bob Jateff, WDFW district fish biologist.

"Fishers on the Okanogan and Similkameen rivers are using mostly spoons," Jateff said. "Methow River anglers are using flies and jigs, with black and purple the most popular color choices, and on the mainstem Columbia from Wells Dam to Chief Joseph Dam, success has been good at times with jigs rigged with a whole shrimp." Jateff reminds anglers that the mainstem Columbia allows the use of standard gear and bait, but the Okanogan, Similkameen, and Methow rivers are under selective gear rules.

Whitefish season opens Dec. 1 on the Methow and Similkameen rivers, and the same sections that are closed to steelhead fishing are also closed to whitefish fishing. On the Methow River, all fishing is closed from the second powerline crossing upstream to the first Hwy 153 Bridge. On the Similkameen River, all fishing is closed from the Railroad Trestle Bridge upstream to Enloe Dam. Anglers can see the complete steelhead emergency rule change at
http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm

Jateff reminds whitefish anglers fishing in areas also open to steelhead that selective gear rules must be followed and bait is not allowed.

The four-month season for whitefish also opens Dec. 1 on portions of the Chewuch, Entiat and Wenatchee rivers and Sinlahekin Creek. The daily catch limit is 15 fish using the standard whitefish gear rule — one single-point hook, size 14 or smaller (no more than 3/16-inch from point to shank). The gear rule is designed to minimize the chances of catching other gamefish, which are not legal to harvest at this time.

Dec. 1 also marks the shift to a catch-and-keep season with standard fishing gear on four Okanogan County lakes - Little Twin near Winthrop, Big and Little Green near Omak, and Rat near Brewster. Jateff said all four lakes should provide good fishing through the winter for rainbow trout. The daily catch limit is five fish and bait is allowed.

Fishing at Rufus Woods Lake, the Columbia River reservoir on the Okanogan-Douglas County line east of Bridgeport, continues to be good and anglers are catching limits of two- to four-pound triploid rainbow trout. Jateff reminds anglers that the daily catch limit at Rufus Woods is two fish, and when using bait the first two fish caught are part of the daily limit whether kept or released.
Jim Brown, WDFW enforcement sergeant, noted that officers are finding several catch-limit violations and bait-caught fish "sorting" at Rufus Woods.

Hunting: Rich Finger, WDFW wildlife biologist from Moses Lake, said waterfowl hunters in the Columbia Basin will be more successful on the remaining open water in the area. "Most small ponds are now frozen in the Basin and there is no warm weather in the forecast," he said. "Deeper lakes, springs, and moving water have not yet frozen so hunters may find ducks and geese concentrating on those bigger waters."

Recent storms have also likely pushed more ducks and geese from the north into the Columbia Basin. Mikal Moore¸ WDFW waterfowl specialist from Ephrata, said the latest WDFW and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aerial waterfowl survey in the North Basin found mallards and other dabblers concentrated on North Potholes Reserve, Lower Crab Creek, Eagle Lakes, Wanapum Reserve, and Winchester Reserve.

"Divers appear to be moving down the Columbia River system from the north, piling up in the Wells Pool, Wanapum Pool, and Priest Rapids Pool," she said. "Of particular note are larger populations of canvasback on Wells Pool than typically seen, probably due to excellent production in Canadian prairies. Migratory waterfowl populations have not yet peaked in the North Basin, but there are healthy numbers of birds throughout the system." See the complete North Basin waterfowl surveys on the WDFW website at
http://wdfw.wa.gov/reg/eventopp/events2.htm.

The last game farm rooster pheasants of the season will be released in early December at all of the sites listed in the Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement Program booklet, available at the Ephrata regional office (1550 Alder St. N.W., 509-754-4624) or at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/water/ewapheas.htm.

Wildlife viewing: Scott Fitkin, WDFW district wildlife biologist from Winthrop, reported that bald and golden eagles are beginning to congregate in the valleys of Okanogan County, particularly the Methow.

"There's good eagle viewing in the cottonwoods along the Methow River," Fitkin said. "There are also lots of mule deer on winter range now, including some nice bucks. Open south-facing slopes on the Methow Wildlife Area are a good place to start looking. Viewers need to be mindful to not disturb deer as they enter the season of stress on their energy reserves. Viewing from a distance with optics is best or from your vehicle along roads."

Rich Finger, WDFW wildlife biologist from Moses Lake, reported a couple of uncommon bird sightings in the Columbia Basin. "Two long-tailed ducks and a black scoter were observed near Vantage recently," he said.

Southcentral Washington

Fishing: The region's only designated winter-season rainbow trout fishing lake — North Elton Pond, a 15-acre lake near Selah in Yakima County — will open Dec. 1. The pond will be stocked with 2,000 half-pound rainbow trout jus t before the opener, said Eric Anderson, WDFW district fish biologist. He reminds anglers the daily catch limit is two trout and internal combustion motors on boats are prohibited. The pond is open to fishing through March 31.

Anderson also said there may not be any excess rainbow trout broodstock from WDFW's Goldendale Hatchery to stock the many year-round fishing lakes in Yakima and Kittitas County this year. "At this point all the fish we have are needed in the hatchery and we may not know until January if we have excess brood fish," he said. "Transporting those fish over Satus Pass into the Yakima Valley may not be practical due to weather or iced-over lakes. In the past we've stocked 600-700 five- to ten-pound rainbow broodstock in this area in early December, so I'm sure we'll get lots of phone calls from anglers wondering where the big fish are this year."

Whitefish season opens on the Bumping, Naches and Tieton rivers on Dec. 1. The Yakima River above Roza Dam also opens for whitefish on Dec.1, but remains catch-and-release with selective gear rules for trout. The Yakima River is open year-round below Roza Dam, with the exception of a short reach below the dam, which opens Dec. 1.

On the Columbia River, which is open year-round, the Vernita Bridge to Priest Rapids Dam reach should also provide some good whitefish fishing, but that reach is closed for salmon and steelhead, said Jim Cummins, WDFW fish biologist. The daily whitefish catch limit is 15 fish using the standard whitefish gear rule — one single-point hook, size 14 or smaller (no more than 3/16-inch from point to shank). The gear rule is designed to minimize the chances of catching other gamefish, which are not legal to harvest at this time. Anglers should check the fishing rules pamphlet for all details.

Hunting: Recent storms have likely pushed more ducks and geese into the south end of the Columbia Basin, improving chances for successful waterfowl hunting, said Mikal Moore, WDFW waterfowl specialist. The latest WDFW and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aerial waterfowl survey in the South Basin shows Badger Island and Umatilla hosting large concentrations of mallards.

"Small Canada geese are still lingering in the North Basin but are beginning to show up in scattered groups throughout the South Basin including Burbank Slough, Hanford Reach, and Cold Springs," she said. "Diver populations are fairly negligible in the South Basin currently. These birds are still concentrated on the upper pools of the Columbia River." See complete South Basin waterfowl surveys at http://wdfw.wa.gov/reg/eventopp/events3.htm on the WDFW website.

The last game farm rooster pheasants of the season will be released in early December at all of the sites listed in the Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement Program booklet, available at the Yakima regional office (1701 S. 24th Ave., 509-575-2740) or at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/water/ewapheas.htm

Wildlife viewing: Bighorn sheep are definitely visible in at least a couple of places in the region now. Perry Harvester, WDFW regional habitat program manager, reported seeing mature bighorn rams with herds of ewes when he recently drove through the Yakima River Canyon between Ellensburg and Yakima. Jim Cummins, WDFW fish biologist, reported seeing a band of about 60 bighorn sheep when he recently hiked north of the White Pass Highway across the road from a footbridge that crosses the Tieton River.

Harvester also noted that deer are quite visible on the snowy hillsides of the Yakima River Canyon. "There are also a few bald eagles showing up already," he said.

Although winter feeding of elk and bighorn sheep has not started at WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area, including the Clemans Mountain unit, some of the animals are already gathering near the traditional feeding sites and can be viewed with binoculars and scopes in early morning or late afternoon. The start of feeding depends on winter conditions, but usually gets under way sometime in December. Check the recorded message on the wildlife area headquarters phone at 509-653-2390 for updates. When feeding is under way, volunteers will again conduct group elk-viewing tours. For reservations, call 509-698-5106. Vehicle access to the wildlife area's Bethel Ridge and Oak Creek roads will close when feeding starts and remain closed through April 30. Rock-climbing areas on the wildlife area are open through January.

Media Contact
(Fish) 360-902-2700 or (Wildlife) 360-902-2515