View Full Version : Spring fishing, hunting seasons good reason to renew licenses

03-25-2009, 02:00 AM
Spring fishing, hunting seasons good reason to renew licenses


Anglers are landing increasing numbers of spring chinook salmon on the lower Columbia River, the lingcod season is under way on a large portion of the Washington coast and hundreds of lakes throughout the state open for trout fishing April 25.

Those are just a few of the reasons why anglers might want to purchase a 2009-10 fishing license before current licenses expire at midnight March 31.

Hunters also have good reason to plan ahead. A spring wild turkey season for hunters under age 16 is scheduled April 4-5 prior to the general spring turkey hunt, which gets under way April 15. Hunter should also be aware that the application period for special hunt permits will begin April 20 and close May 20.

"We encourage people to renew their fishing and hunting licenses early, so they can take advantage of all the great outdoor recreation opportunities available in the coming weeks," said Bill Joplin, licensing manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Not counting dealer fees, the resident adult freshwater fishing license is $21.90; saltwater is $20.26; shellfish/seaweed is $10.95; and a combination license is $42.16. Resident hunting licenses vary with package options, ranging from a small-game license at $32.85 to a deer/elk/cougar/bear combination license for $72.27.

Most annual licenses include a WDFW vehicle-use permit, which allows access to more than 600 WDFW recreational access sites throughout the state. Sold separately, the annual permit costs $10.95.

Licenses may be purchased online ( https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ ), via a toll-free phone line (1-866-246-9453) or from one of 600 authorized license sales locations around the state.

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

North Puget Sound

Fishing: The catch-and-release fishery for steelhead is under way on the Skagit River, but most anglers in the region are focused on the marine areas of Puget Sound, where blackmouth fisheries remain open.

Fishing continues to be decent for blackmouth - resident chinook - in Marine Area 7 (San Juan Islands), said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist. "From what I'm hearing, fishing is still solid around the San Juan Islands, especially for those anglers working the western and northern portions of the marine area," he said.

Recent creel samples show some of the best harvest numbers were seen at checks at ramps in those portions of Marine Area 7. For example, 34 anglers were checked with eight chinook March 6 at the Bellingham Ramp. Two days later, 14 anglers were checked with three chinook at the Bellingham Ramp while eight anglers were checked with three chinook at Friday Harbor Marina.

Anglers fishing in Marine Area 7 (San Juan Islands) can keep two hatchery chinook as part of their two-salmon daily limit. They must, however, release wild chinook, which have an intact adipose fin.

Thiesfeld said there have been recent reports of anglers hooking some nice-size blackmouth in Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet), but, overall, fisheries there and in marine areas 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay) and 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) continue to be slow. Anglers in those three areas also can keep two hatchery chinook as part of their two-salmon daily limit.

Meanwhile, anglers can still cast for steelhead . Most rivers in the region closed to steelhead fishing at the end of February, but portions of the Skagit River remain open for catch-and-release, said Brett Barkdull, WDFW fish biologist. Anglers fishing the Skagit River from the Dalles Bridge at Concrete to the Cascade River can catch-and-release steelhead through April 30.

Barkdull reminds steelheaders on the Skagit fishing from boats, sleds or any other floating device equipped with a gas or electric motor that it's illegal to fish while under power during the catch-and-release season.

The Sauk River also is open from the mouth of the river to the Darrington Bridge. Anglers can still keep two hatchery steelhead through April 30, but all wild steelhead must be released.

Looking forward to the summer salmon fishing season? There's still time to provide input on proposals for this year's fisheries. Four public meetings have been scheduled as fishery managers continue to develop the 2009 salmon seasons. Those meetings are scheduled for:

* March 19 - The final opportunity for anglers and others to provide input on Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor salmon seasons. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia.
* March 19 - Public discussion of potential recreational and commercial salmon fisheries statewide. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at the Benton PUD, 2721 W. 10th Ave. Kennewick.
* March 30 - An opportunity for the public to comment on proposed ocean salmon fishing options adopted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the Chateau Westport, 710 W. Hancock St., Westport.
* March 31 - The public will have an opportunity to discuss salmon fisheries that take place in coastal areas, Puget Sound and the Columbia River. That meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites Hotel, 20610 44th Ave. W., Lynnwood.

The final fishing package for Washington's waters will be finalized in early April. More information about the salmon season-setting process can be found on WDFW's North of Falcon website ( WDFW - Setting 2009 salmon fishing seasons - North of Falcon (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/northfalcon/) ).

Hunting: The spring wild turkey season runs April 15 through May 31 throughout the state. The general season follows a special hunt April 4-5 for people age 15 and younger. For more information, a Wild Turkey Spring Season brochure is available at WDFW regional offices and on the department's website ( Wild Turkey Seasons and Regulations - Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/water/turkey/index.htm) ).

Wildlife viewing: The annual gray whale migration is under way and several sightings of the large marine mammals in Puget Sound have been reported. The Whidbey and Camano Island areas, particularly Saratoga Passage, seem to be the hot spots for catching a glimpse of the massive animals. The whales are part of a larger population making its annual journey north from the coast of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, where the animals spend the summer feeding before heading south again. While most continue on to Alaska, some gray whales linger in the waters of the Pacific Northwest during the summer months.

With the change of season, bird sightings are on the rise. A couple of birders recently set out looking for owls in the Skagit area. The pair was successful, spotting some short-eared owls at the end of Rawlins Road. The owls were hunting and interacting with female northern harriers in the area, according to the report on Tweeters website ( Tweeters Birding Email (http://www.scn.org/earth/tweeters/) ). They also sighted a great-horned owl in a tree at the Wylie Road parking area.

Elsewhere, a group of birders at Marymoor Park spotted a number of interesting species including a green heron , a pair of Cooper's hawks , a red-tailed hawk , a peregrine falcon , a couple of hairy woodpeckers and a barn owl in a nest box.

South Sound/Olympic Peninsula

Fishing: With lingcod and blackmouth fishing under way, spring chinook on the horizon and several proposed razor clam digs coming up, Washingtonians have plenty of good reasons to buy their 2009-10 fishing licenses before April 1.

On the ocean, recreational lingcod fishing is now under way in marine areas 1-3, while Marine Area 4 (Neah Bay) will open April 16. All four marine areas will be open seven days a week.

In Marine Area 2 (Westport/Ocean Shores), recreational fishing for bottomfish or lingcod is not allowed in waters deeper than 30 fathoms from March 14 through June 15. However, anglers may retain sablefish and Pacific cod in these waters from May 1 through June 15. Retention of canary and yelloweye rockfish is prohibited in all areas.

The minimum size for lingcod in marine areas 1-3 is 22 inches, while the minimum size in Marine Area 4 is 24 inches. Additional information about the lingcod fishery and other bottomfish is available on the WDFW Fishing Hotline (360) 902-2500 or online at WDFW -- Washington State Sportfishing Rules and Regulations (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm) .

Meanwhile, angler turnout and success were low for blackmouth fishing over the March 14 weekend in Hood Canal and south Puget Sound, where blustery weather likely kept anglers off the water, said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist. A better choice was the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where a creel check showed 84 anglers caught 29 salmon off Ediz Hook near Port Angeles. "So far this season, the strait has been the best area to find blackmouth and it could pay to make the trip," Thiesfeld said.

Blackmouth fishing wraps up April 10 in marine areas 5 (Sekiu), 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 11 (Tacoma-Vashon) and 12 (Hood Canal). April 30 is the last day for blackmouth fishing in Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound). The daily limit is one fish per angler.

On the freshwater, anglers should note that the Chehalis River and its tributaries are now closed to all fishing, with the exception of fishing for white sturgeon on the mainstem downstream of Porter Bridge. The fishery was scheduled to remain open into April, but early data indicate returns of hatchery and wild steelhead are below pre-season projections and may not meet escapement goals, said Kirt Hughes, WDFW regional fish program manager.

"The Chehalis River system has been under-escaped for two years. We had to close the basin to reduce the impact on these fish," Hughes said. Rivers affected include the Newaukum, Cloquallum Creek, Satsop, Skookumchuck, Wishkah and Wynoochee, and their tributaries. Additional information is available at WDFW -- Washington State Sportfishing Rules and Regulations (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm) .

As an alternative, anglers can try their luck on several north coast rivers, where the steelhead fishery is "cooking along," said Mike Gross, WDFW fish biologist. With wild steelhead making up most of the catch, anglers checked on the Bogachiel and Sol Duc rivers over the March 14 weekend averaged one fish for every two rods, while the average on the upper and lower Hoh River was one fish for every three rods. Five anglers on the Calawah River caught three wild steelhead (one released).

The retention fishery for steelhead closes at the end of the day April 15 on the Hoh River, but will remain open on the Quillayute River system through April 30.

For more information on rules and regulations, anglers should check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet at WDFW -- Washington State Sportfishing Rules and Regulations (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm) .

Meanwhile in Thurston County, a catch-and-release trout fishery is underway on Munn Lake, where 1,000 one-pound rainbows were planted March 1. Anglers must use single, barbless hooks and release all fish. Fish retention will be allowed when the lowland lake trout season starts on April 25.

Anglers may want to put their rods aside and grab a shovel for a three-day razor clam dig tentatively scheduled March 27-29, provided marine toxin tests show the clams are safe to eat. Two digs are also tentatively scheduled April 10-12 and April 25-27. All digs will be held on morning tides.

Tentative opening dates and morning low tides in March are:

* Friday, March 27 (7:49 a.m. 0.0 ft.) Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
* Saturday, March 28 (8:29 a.m. -0.4 ft.) Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks
* Sunday, March 29 (9:12 a.m. -0.6 ft.) Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks

April 1 marks the beginning of a new license year, so diggers must purchase an applicable 2009-10 fishing license. Anyone age 15 or older must have a license to dig razor clams. Licenses can be purchased at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov , by telephone (866) 246-9453, or in person at more than 600 license vendors throughout the state. A list of vendors is available at Authorized License Sales Locations (http://wdfw.wa.gov/lic/vendors/vendors.htm) . Updates on the razor clam season are available at WDFW - Washington Razor Clam Season Updates (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/shelfish/razorclm/season.htm) .

For those interested in the upcoming summer salmon fishing season, three public meetings will take place the end of March as fishery managers continue to develop the 2009 salmon season. Those meetings are scheduled for:

* March 19 - The final opportunity to provide input on the Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay salmon seasons. The meeting is scheduled from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia.
* March 30 - A hearing of proposed ocean salmon fishing options adopted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at Chateau Westport, 710 Hancock Street, Westport.
* March 31 - An opportunity to discuss salmon fisheries developed for Puget Sound and Columbia River area sport and commercial fisheries. The meeting is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Embassy Suites Hotel, 20610 44th Ave. West, Lynnwood.

Hunting: The spring wild turkey season will run April 15 through May 31 throughout the state. The general season follows a special hunt April 4-5 for youths under 16 years of age. For more information, a Wild Turkey Spring Season brochure is available at WDFW regional offices and on the department's website: Wild Turkey Seasons and Regulations - Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/water/turkey/index.htm) .

WDFW will notify hunters who won a permit drawing for this year's spring black bear hunt by March 31. The drawing applies to specific hunts in western or eastern Washington. In western Washington, three pilot black bear damage hunts are scheduled between April 15 and June 15. The hunts will occur on portions of the Capitol Forest, Kapowsin Tree Farm and Copalis game management units (GMUs). A total of 295 permits will be issued in western Washington. More information on hunts scheduled on both sides of the state is available on page 58 in the 2008 Big Game Hunting Rules pamphlet at WDFW -- Big Game Hunting Seasons and Regulations (http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/hunter/hunter.htm) .

Wildlife viewing: Enjoy a bird-watching weekend along the bays, estuaries and beaches near the Strait of Juan de Fuca at the 2009 Olympic Peninsula Birdfest in Sequim April 3-5 . The sixth annual festival, sponsored by the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society, Dungeness River Audubon Center and Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, offers a full slate for beginning birders, experts and those who enjoy the outdoors. Events include guided birding trips, boat tours, silent auction, salmon banquet and presentations. For more information, call (360) 681-4076 or visit the website at http://www.olympicbirdfest.org (http://www.olympicbirdfest.org/) .

Curious about those birds you're seeing and hearing? With many species flying through or breeding, spring is a great time to learn about these birds. A good place to get started is with a local Audubon society, which offers classes and field trips throughout the year for all levels of enthusiasts. Audubon Washington lists at least eight chapters in the region: Black Hills, Grays Harbor, Kitsap, Olympic Peninsula, Tahoma, Vashon, Willapa Hills -and the newest chapter - Discovery Coast in Long Beach. More information is available at Audubon Washington: Chapters (http://wa.audubon.org/chapters.html) .

For people with backyard birdfeeders, wildlife health experts suggest regular cleaning to avoid deadly bacteria and viruses like salmonellosis, E. coli and avian pox. Unoccupied nesting boxes should also be cleaned now, as nesting season begins this month. Experts advise replacing food in birdfeeders at least weekly and water in birdbaths every three days. Clean bird feeders every two weeks. For maximum protection, soak feeders, baths and nest boxes in a 10-parts water to one-part household bleach solution for several minutes (this contact time with disinfectant is import). Rinse and allow to dry before adding new food or water.

The most common birds to use feeders are juncos, finches, sparrows, nuthatches, pine siskins, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, jays and flickers . Birds tend to use feeders most heavily during the winter but as spring approaches, artificial feeding should be slowly reduced. Birds will readily feed on natural sources like seeds and insects when they are available in the spring and through fall.

Southwest Washington

Fishing: The spring chinook fishery has been growing in fits and starts on the lower Columbia River, drawing an increasing number of anglers hoping they picked the right day and area to try their luck. On some days, one in two boats has been catching fish on various parts of the river, then the bite suddenly drops off, said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist.

"It's time to get serious," Hymer said. "The catch should start smoothing out pretty soon, and increase day by day. Now is when the fishing starts getting good."

An aerial survey conducted March 12 found 340 boats on the lower river - more than double the count two weeks earlier. Most of those boats, along with 258 bank anglers, were concentrated around Vancouver, although the fishery has begun to stretch downriver to Cathlamet, Hymer said.

Nearly 300,000 upriver spring chinook are expected to return to the Columbia River this year, which would make the annual run the largest since 2001. An additional 37,000 springers also are expected to return to the Willamette River, up from 27,000 last year.

Through April 18, salmon fishing is open three days a week (Thursday through Saturday) downstream from the west power lines on Hayden Island to Buoy 10. From the power lines upstream to Bonneville Dam, the fishery is open seven days per week through March 22, before switching to a Wednesday-through-Saturday schedule through April 22.

Below Bonneville Dam the daily salmonid bag limit is six fin-clipped fish, no more than two adult salmon or steelhead or one of each. No more than one may be an adult chinook. Wild chinook and wild steelhead must be released.

A daily limit of one hatchery adult chinook is also in effect on the Kalama and Lewis rivers, where hatchery returns are expected to be relatively low. One hatchery adult chinook will also be the daily limit on Deep River whenever the section of the Columbia River downstream from Hayden Island is open for salmon fishing.

Since March 16, salmon fishing has also been open seven days a week from Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam, where anglers may retain two marked, hatchery-reared adult salmon or steelhead (or one of each) per day. The same daily limit is in effect for the bank-only fishery from Bonneville Dam upstream to the Tower Island power lines and on the Wind River and Drano Lake, which also opened March 16.

Hymer said it will be awhile before the bite picks up above Bonneville Dam, where fish counters had tallied only 26 springers as of March 16.

Hymer recommends that anglers fishing for spring chinook sink a flatfish or cut plug herring fairly deep - 20 to 30 feet - and resist the urge to set the hook too quickly. "The fish are fairly lethargic in the current cold-water conditions," he said. "My advice is fish deep, and give the fish time to grab your lure or bait."

Hymer reminds mainstem Columbia anglers that shad and fin-clipped steelhead may be retained only on days open to fishing for adipose fin-clipped chinook.

While spring chinook are the main attraction in the Columbia River Basin right now, anglers do have other options, Hymer said. Walleye fishing is picking up from Bonneville to McNary Dam, and anglers are still catching some late-run hatchery steelhead on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers.

On the other hand, the smelt fishery has wrapped up on the Cowlitz, and sturgeon fishing has been slow below Bonneville Dam.

Trout anglers should know that Battle Ground Lake was recently stocked with 2,000 half-pound rainbows March 9. Klineline Pond got 1,000 half-pounders the same day.

Hunting: The spring wild turkey season will run April 15 through May 31 throughout the state. The general season follows a special hunt April 4-5 for youths under 16 years of age. For more information, a Wild Turkey Spring Season brochure is available at WDFW regional offices and on the department's website: Wild Turkey Seasons and Regulations - Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/water/turkey/index.htm) .

Wildlife viewing: Visit the fish-viewing window at Bonneville Dam right now and you might see a late-run steelhead or chinook salmon moving up the fish ladder. In recent weeks, a few dozen steelhead - and an occasional spring chinook - have passed by the underwater window each day. But things should start getting a lot more interesting in April, when hundreds - then thousands - of spring chinook weighing up to 40 pounds apiece start moving past the dam on a daily basis.

To monitor daily fish counts from home, check the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website at https://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/op/fishdata/home.asp . Or stop by the Washington Shore Visitor Complex and see the annual parade of fish for yourself. To get there, take Washington State Highway 14 east to Milepost 40 (about 5 miles from Stevenson) and turn into the Bonneville Dam visitor center. The visitor center is the glass building at the end of the powerhouse.

Meanwhile, the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge is seeking public comments on a draft comprehensive management plan for the area that present four possible future management scenarios. A public meeting on the issue will be held March 26 from 6-8 p.m. at the Ridgefield Community Center, 210 N. Main Ave. Comments on the draft plan are due by April 10 and can be sent via email to FW1PlanningComments@fws.gov (with "Ridgefield NWR CCP Alternatives" in the subject line.) For more information on the planning process, see http://www.fws.gov/ridgefieldrefuges/ridgefield/pdf/rnwrplnupdate3.pdf .

Eastern Washington

Fishing: Snake River steelhead fishing is in its final weeks, with the hatchery fish retention season closing March 31. Later next month a fishery for hatchery spring chinook salmon will open near Little Goose Dam.

The forecasted run of chinook looks like that fishery might be expanded this year below Ice Harbor and Lower Granite dams, said WDFW southeast district fish biologist Glen Mendel of Dayton. Anglers should watch for rule change announcements in early April.

Meanwhile, more year-round, winter-only and March-opening lakes in the region's central district are free of ice or opening up with increasing temperatures and winds. WDFW central district fish biologist Chris Donley of Spokane reminds anglers these are the last weeks to fish the two winter season trout waters just west of Spokane. Hog Canyon Lake, northeast of Sprague off the I-90 Fishtrap exit, has open water and is still providing catches of 12-13-inch and 9-11-inch rainbow trout . Fourth of July Lake, on the Lincoln-Adams county line, still had some ice at last report and has bigger but far fewer rainbows. Both waters close March 31.

Donley also reports that March-opening Liberty Lake, near the Washington-Idaho border, is providing open water catches of yellow perch and one to two big brown trout per angler. Downs Lake, in southwest Spokane County, also has open water with lots of winter-carryover rainbow trout in the 15-to-16-inch range and a few perch. Downs will be receiving 2,500 eight to ten-inch tiger trout in the next week or so. Coffeepot Lake in Lincoln County and Amber Lake in southwest Spokane County were still somewhat icy at least report, but Donley says those fisheries should turn on soon with continued warmer, windy weather.

Year-round Sprague Lake is virtually ice-free and anglers have been launching boats at the WDFW's southwest side access. Donley had no current report on catches at Sprague, but expects the rainbows are continuing to hit. Rock Lake in Whitman County, also open year-round and ice-free now, is providing catches of brown and rainbow trout, especially for boat anglers casting plugs towards the shoreline. Donley notes if windy conditions make Rock Lake too turbid, catch rates could drop.

Kokanee and rainbow trout fishing at Lake Roosevelt is picking up as spring advances.

Anglers and others will enjoy the "outdoors indoors" at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council's 49th annual Bighorn Outdoor Adventure Show, March 19-22, at the Spokane Fair and Expo Center. Hundreds of exhibitors provide information, gear, guiding services, and more for fish and wildlife recreation of all kinds. Children's activities include a fishing pond, shooting gallery, and archery range. For more information on hours and admission fees, see Welcome to the official Bighorn Outdoor Adventure Show Website! (http://www.wildlifecouncil.com/bighornsubsite/default.htm) .

Wildlife viewing: As warming temperatures open long snow-covered south and west slopes, deer are now easily seen foraging in large numbers throughout the region. WDFW enforcement officer Dan Anderson of Colville recently reported seeing more than 75 deer just off the road from Hunters to the National Park Service campground on Lake Roosevelt in Stevens County. Anderson also saw at least 150 wild turkeys in the same area.

WDFW northeast district wildlife biologist Dana Base of Colville recently completed winter turkey surveys and reports overall numbers are down from two years ago, most likely due to harsh winter conditions in 2007-08 and 2008-09.

Winter is finally losing its grip on WDFW's Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County. Area manager Juli Anderson reports travel on maintained county roads is not too bad now with snow cover only patchy. Canada geese and tundra swans are being seen, but mostly overhead.

"We have some open water but not a lot," Anderson said. "Our shallow alkaline ponds are mostly thawed out now. Red-winged blackbirds are audible at the small marsh and pond just west of the office and great horned owls are hooting in the same area."

Waterfowl migrations throughout the region are at or near a peak. Waterways near grain fields are optimal for spotting geese, swans, and a variety of ducks, from mallards to pintails.

Both western and mountain bluebirds are working on nests in natural cavities and nest boxes near open meadow areas from the northeast to the southeast districts of the region. Backyard birders also report white-crowned sparrows, spotted towhees , and mourning doves using feeders.

One late winter/early spring activity that is also picking up is hunting for the shed antlers of deer and elk . WDFW wildlife biologist Paul Wik says such activity can be detrimental to winter-weary animals that need all their energy focused on foraging, not running from people.

"We are getting pounded by elk-antler hunters in the Blue Mountains," Wik said. "Too many are trespassing, traveling in winter closures, traveling behind locked gates and bumping animals accidently," he said. "Some are even chasing animals trying to get antlers to fall off. Individuals may not think this is a big deal, but overall it adds up to harassment of wildlife at the worst possible time of year."

Wik noted there is currently a closure to motorized traffic in the Lick Creek Game Management Unit (GMU 175) in Garfield and Asotin counties and closures to all human entry in the Cummings Creek area of WDFW's Wooten Wildlife Area . These winter closures continue through April.

North Central Washington

Fishing: Steelhead fishing is starting to pick up in the Okanogan, Methow, and Similkameen rivers, according to Bob Jateff, WDFW Okanogan district fish biologist from Twisp.

"Anglers fishing these waters can expect catch rates of one steelhead for every eight hours of fishing time," Jateff said. "The smaller fish are 3-5 pounds, with a good number of larger ones up to 10 pounds"
Jateff reminds steelheaders that two sections of the Okanogan River closed March 15 - from 100 feet below the Highway 155 Bridge to the mouth of Omak Creek, and the 100 feet below the mouth of Bonaparte Creek.

The rest of the upper Columbia River area steelhead fishery is scheduled to close March 31, but some waters, like the Methow River, could close early if wild fish impacts are reached before then. Anglers should check the WDFW website at WDFW -- Washington State Sportfishing Rules and Regulations (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm) , or call the fishing hotline at (360) 902-2500 for the latest rule changes.

"Steelhead in the mainstem Methow are also starting to spawn now, so I advise anglers to be careful when wading around active redds," Jateff said. "And remember that selective gear rules, with no bait allowed, are in effect for the duration of the steelhead fishery in this area."

Jeff Korth, WDFW north central regional fish program manager, reports the ice is gone at all Columbia Basin fisheries that opened March 1 or are open year-round.

"Quincy Lake was not even fishable until recently and it's full of nice fat rainbow trout," Korth said. "Burke Lake is slated for another stocking of 4,500 half pounders from Trout Lodge this week. The Seep Lakes south of Potholes Reservoir are ice-free and ready for anglers, like Corral, Blythe, Canal, Windmill, Heart and other smaller waters. Some of these are year-round waters, but some like Herman, Lyle and Teal open April 1. Be sure to check the rules pamphlet for which ones are open now."

Korth also reported excellent fishing at some of the Basin's "quality fisheries" that are under selective gear rules and one-fish daily catch limits. Year-round Beda Lake, just south of the Winchester Wasteway, is "fantastic," with anglers catching and releasing more than 10 rainbows per trip on the average. Lenice and Nunnally lakes, on WDFW's Lower Crab Creek Wildlife Area just east of Beverly, are "good to very good, depending on the weather," Korth said, with anglers catching five to eight fish per trip. Lake Lenore, near the town of Soap Lake, opened to catch-and-release fishing March 1 and is "still slow but warming up."

Wildlife viewing: Visitors to WDFW's Sinlahekin Wildlife Area in northern Okanogan County can expect to see many migrating and resident waterfowl on the area's lakes over the next month, including Canada geese, trumpeter and tundra swans, mallards, ring-necked ducks , Barrow's and common goldeneyes , and buffleheads .

Waterfowl are currently taking advantage of the open water at recently re-filled Conner Lake, which was drained last year for dam repairs, said Dale Swedberg, manager. The wildlife area's other lakes, like Forde, Reflection, Blue and Fish, are all still pretty much ice-covered, Swedberg said.

"Migrating common loons will also use the lakes when they open up in the next month. A pair nests on Blue Lake every year, but out of the last 12 years they have only produced one chick. We also see migrating Sandhill cranes flying over the Sinlahekin by April. Sometimes several land to rest and carb-up," Swedberg said.

Mountain and western bluebirds have been arriving in the area, although none in the Sinlahekin Valley just yet. A Say's phoebe was spotted and about 15 violet green swallows were foraging over the Similkameen River on the northwest side of Driscoll Island.

Other birds seen on the SInlahekin throughout the winter and still viewable are bald and golden eagles, rough-legged hawk, pygmy owl, northern shrike, hooded merganser, redpolls, water dipper, pygmy and red-breasted nuthatches , and pine grosbeaks .

Swedberg also noted white-tailed deer and mule deer are very visible now, foraging in the valley bottom and on the south-facing slopes, respectively.

In the Methow Valley of Okanogan County, Scott Fitkin, WDFW district wildlife biologist, reports a fair number of bald and golden eagles are commonly sighted along the river corridors and soaring over open hillsides at lower elevations.

"Residents of both species are also beginning nesting activity," Fitkin said. "Now until leaf-out is a good time to see eagles repairing nests and beginning to incubate eggs. There are several active bald eagle nests along the Okanogan and Upper Similkameen rivers and several can be seen from roadways."

Fitkin also noted mule deer are beginning to congregate on south facing hillsides with early green-up in the Methow Valley. "They are at their weakest coming out of winter and are vulnerable to stress as they make the transition to green forage, so wildlife viewers should enjoy them from a distance that does not disturb the animals," he said.

Waterfowl are also visible along major waterways in the Methow as they migrate through the district or return for the breeding season, Fitkin noted. "Canada geese, loons , and common mergansers are now frequently seen. Harlequins and other duck species will be on the increase as well."

Rich Finger, WDFW Columbia Basin district wildlife biologist, reports snow is gone, Moses Lake and Potholes Reservoir have opened up, and some of the small ponds are thawing. "Waterfowl and other water birds have been and should continue to migrate through in large numbers," Finger said. "Long-billed curlews have arrived. White-winged crossbills have been observed in the Othello area. Long-tailed ducks may be seen around Wanapum Dam."

Finger also noted Washington ground squirrels are becoming very active and should be tending to young now. In another couple weeks, young squirrels will start emerging to explore life above ground.

The 12th annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival is March 20-22, when the local migration stopover of thousands of the big birds is usually at its peak. Although many of the festival's popular wildlife viewing tours are booked, there are plenty of other festival activities open to all. For more information see Othello Sandhill Crane Festival (http://www.othellosandhillcranefestival.org/) .

South Central Washington

Fishing: Eric Anderson, WDFW district fish biologist from Yakima, reports many of the region's year-round waters are being stocked again this week and next with rainbow trout from department fish hatcheries.

The popular Interstate-82 Ponds #1, 2 and 3 in Yakima County are the latest to receive more fish. Anderson said trout stocking occurs just about every two weeks somewhere in the region. "As the weather continues to warm we will extend fish stocking to the higher elevation lakes, but right now we are still stocking the lower elevation waters," Anderson said.

Anglers can check the fish stocking schedules on the WDFW website at WDFW - Fishing Reports, Plants & Counts - Fishing & Shellfishing - Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/reports_plants.html) .

Wildlife viewing: Migrations of waterfowl into and through the region are peaking now. All major waterways are excellent places to view Canada geese, tundra swans, mallards , and many other ducks. The McNary National Wildlife Refuge on the confluence of the Columbia, Yakima and Snake rivers near the Tri-Cities is one of the best bets. So too, are WDFW's Sunnyside Wildlife Area near Mabton and the Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge southeast of Yakima, both off the Yakima River.

Golden eagles are nesting again off the Tieton River on WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area southwest of Yakima. Portions of the river trail are temporarily closed to reduce disturbance to the birds.

John McGowan, WDFW Oak Creek Wildlife Area manager, reminds visitors that area and road closures remain in effect until 6 a.m. on May 1 to limit disturbance to elk and other wildlife during the critical time of late winter and early spring. "We know this is a popular time for some to get out collecting shed elk antlers, but the elk come first," McGowan.

Vehicle gates are closed to all entry on other wildlife areas in the region, too. The Mellotte Road into the Wenas Wildlife Area , the Robinson Canyon and Joe Watt Canyon roads into the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area , and roads on the Whiskey Dick and a portion of the Quilomene wildlife areas in Kittitas County are closed through April 30 to protect elk.

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