What’s Fishin’ In Washington

While I bombed back and forth to deer camp — blowing up and down the Methow River in a mad race to get a muley and get back to work to approve magazine pages for press — John Brace was doing something eminently smarter.

He was stopping along the North-central Washington river and fishing it — catching steelies too.

JOHN BRACE WITH A METHOW STEELIE FROM LAST WEEK. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

Indeed, as craptacular of a steelheader as I am, with this year’s big run (18,000-plus), I think my best bet for a Methow buck was actually on the river, not in the hills.

And while deer hunting is more or less wrapped up along the river, the Met remains open through November and beyond for hatchery steelhead retention. While the majority of guys I saw appeared to be fly fishermen, others, like Brace, use a mix of jigs, spoons and spinners to catch the sea-run rainbows on the selective-gear river.

But if that part of Washington is a weeeeeee bit far to travel — especially with the North Cascades Pass becoming dicier as winter sets in in the heights — there are plenty of other opportunities to be had around the Evergreen State.

Here’s what WDFW’s freshly minted Weekender suggests:

NORTH PUGET SOUND

Anglers will continue to find some coho in the region’s rivers and streams, but by mid-November chum salmon will take center stage. On Puget Sound, more areas are scheduled to open for chinook fishing, as well as late-season crab opportunities.

At 8 a.m. on Nov. 15, marine areas 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 9 (Admiralty Inlet), 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) and 12 (Hood Canal) will reopen for sport crabbing seven days a week through Jan. 2, 2011.

Crab fishing will also remain open seven days a week through Jan. 2 in marine areas 4 (Neah Bay), 5 (Sekiu), and 13 (south Puget Sound), where the fishery has continued uninterrupted since June 18.

Sport crabbing will not reopen this year in marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) and 11 (Tacoma/Vashon Island), where the summer catch reached the annual quota, said Rich Childers, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) shellfish policy coordinator.

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/fishing/shellfish/crab/ .

While on the Sound, why not fish for blackmouth ? Beginning Nov. 1, opportunities for blackmouth will increase, as marine areas 8-1, 8-2 and 9 open for chinook. Anglers fishing those marine areas, as well as Marine Area 10, have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook salmon. Anglers are reminded that Marine Area 7 closes to salmon retention Nov. 1.

Saltwater anglers fishing for chum salmon may want to try waters around Point No Point (north end of the Kitsap Peninsula) and Possession Bar (southern portion of Whidbey Island). Those two areas of Marine Area 9 are often hotspots for chum salmon in early November.

Meanwhile, several rivers are open for salmon fishing, including the Snohomish, Skykomish, Stillaguamish, Snoqualmie and Wallace. Anglers fishing those rivers have a daily limit of two coho. The Skagit, Cascade, Green (Duwamish) and Nooksack also are open for salmon but regulations vary for each river. For details, check WDFW’s sportfishing regulations pamphlet at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ .

For trout anglers, Beaver Lake near Issaquah could be the best place to cast for rainbows in November. About 2,300 hatchery rainbows – averaging 2 to 3 pounds each – are scheduled to be released into the lake Nov. 8. Beaver Lake, which is one of several westside lowland lakes open to fishing year-round, is best fished by small boat, although anglers also can be successful fishing from shore.

SOUTH SOUND AND PENINSULA

Anglers fishing for salmon often turn their attention to chum in November, when the run usually peaks around the middle of the month. But shellfish really take center stage as more areas of Puget Sound re-open for sport crabbing in November and two razor clam digs are tentatively scheduled on coastal beaches.

If tests are favorable, WDFW will proceed with an evening razor clam dig early in the month at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks and Kalaloch. Tentative opening dates and evening low tides are:

* Nov. 5, Fri. – 6:41 p.m., (-1.4 ft.), Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
* Nov. 6, Sat. – 7:26 p.m., (-1.6 ft.), Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
* Nov. 7, Sun. – 7:11 p.m., (-1.5 ft.), Twin Harbors
* Nov. 8, Mon. – 7:55 p.m., (-1.2 ft.), Twin Harbors

Later in the November, razor clammers will have another opportunity at Long Beach and Twin Harbors. Tentative opening dates and evening low tides for that dig are:

* Nov. 20, Sat. – 5:39 p.m., (-0.4 ft.), Long Beach, Twin Harbors
* Nov. 21, Sun. – 6:17 p.m., (-0.7 ft.), Long Beach, Twin Harbors

Clam diggers are reminded that they should take lights or lanterns for the nighttime digs and to check weather and surf forecasts before heading out. No digging will be allowed before noon on any of the five razor-clam beaches. 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.

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2010-11 fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, are available on WDFW’s website at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov  and from license vendors around the state. More razor clam digs are tentatively scheduled Dec. 3-6 and Dec. 31-Jan. 2.

Rather catch crab ? At 8 a.m. on Nov. 15, marine areas 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 9 (Admiralty Inlet), 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) and 12 (Hood Canal) will reopen for sport crabbing seven days a week through Jan. 2, 2011.

Crab fishing will also remain open seven days a week through Jan. 2 in marine areas 4 (Neah Bay), 5 (Sekiu), and 13 (south Puget Sound), where the fishery has continued uninterrupted since June 18.

Sport crabbing will not reopen this year in marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) and 11 (Tacoma/Vashon Island), where the summer catch reached the annual quota, said Rich Childers, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) shellfish policy coordinator.

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/fishing/shellfish/crab/ .

Recreationists on the Sound can also pursue blackmouth – resident chinook. Beginning Nov. 1, anglers fishing marine areas 5 (Sekiu), 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) and 13 (South Puget Sound) can keep one chinook as part of a two-salmon daily limit. However, salmon fishing in Marine Area 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) is only open through Oct. 31.

Elsewhere, anglers fishing Hood Canal (Marine Area 12) have a daily limit of four salmon, but only one of those fish can be a chinook.

November is when the action heats up in the region for chum salmon . Popular fishing spots include the Hoodsport Hatchery area of Hood Canal and the mouth of Kennedy Creek in Totten Inlet. Other areas where anglers can find chum salmon include the Dosewallips and Duckabush rivers in Jefferson County and Minter Creek in Pierce/Kitsap Counties. Those three rivers open for salmon fishing Nov. 1.

Meanwhile, salmon fisheries remain open through Nov. 30 on the Bogachiel, Sol Duc, Calawah, Dickey, Clearwater and Hoh rivers. Also open for salmon fishing through November, are the Elk, Hoquiam and Johns rivers and Joe Creek in Grays Harbor County; and the Bear and Niawiakum rivers in Pacific County. In Mason County, the Skokomish River is open for salmon fishing through Dec. 15.

Winter steelhead fisheries get under way in November on several rivers, including the Bogachiel, Calawah, Sol Duc, Quillayute and Hoh. Beginning Nov. 1, anglers fishing those rivers have a daily limit of three hatchery steelhead. “Traditionally, the winter steelhead fishery doesn’t really get going until later in November,” said Bob Leland, WDFW’s steelhead program manager. “Anglers can certainly find some steelhead early in the month, but around Thanksgiving is when fishing usually starts to improve.”

Grays Harbor-area rivers, such as the Satsop, Wynoochee and Humptulips, also are good bets for anglers once steelhead start to arrive, said Leland.

Before heading out, anglers should check the rules and regulations for all fisheries on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ .

SOUTHWEST

Thanksgiving Day traditionally marks the start of the popular winter steelhead fishery, although some anglers started working their favorite rivers well ahead of time. A number of area rivers have been open to fishing for hatchery steelhead for months, and catch totals have been rising since mid-October.

That tally will likely increase even faster now that the first big storm of the season has soaked the region with heavy rains, said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“Steelhead move upriver on pulses of water, and the storm really helped to prime the pump,” Hymer said. “Now that the ground is good and wet, we can expect to see more and more fish move upstream every time the sky opens up and the rivers start to swell.”

Major destinations for hatchery-reared steelhead moving up the Columbia River are the Cowlitz, Kalama, Lewis (east and north forks), Washougal, Elochoman and Grays rivers, along with Salmon Creek in Clark County, he said. Other waters opening for steelhead fishing Nov. 1 are Abernathy, Coal and Germany creeks, the Coweeman River and Cedar Creek in Clark County and Mill Creek in Cowlitz County.

Only hatchery-reared steelhead, which have a clipped adipose fin, may be retained in regional waters.  All wild, unmarked fish must be released unharmed.

But until Thanksgiving – or whenever steelhead begin to arrive en masse – late-run coho salmon may be the best target for anglers who want to catch fish. While the coho run has peaked, those fish should generate some action on the mainstem Columbia and many of its tributaries right through November, Hymer said.

“These are fairly large fish, some weighing up to 20 pounds apiece,” he said. “The trick is getting them to bite. The best time is when they are moving upriver, drawn by high water. Otherwise, it can be hard to get their attention.”

State regulations allow anglers to catch and keep up to six adult coho salmon per day on the Elochoman, Cowlitz, Klickitat, Kalama, Lewis and Washougal rivers, as well as the lower portion of the Grays River.  Several rivers also remain open for chinook salmon , although some close Oct. 31.

Effective that day, the No. 5 fishway on the Klickitat River closes upstream to chinook fishing, the Wind River closes to all salmon fishing, and the stretch of the Columbia River from Beacon Rock to Bonneville Dam closes to all fishing for both salmon and steelhead. For additional information on fishing seasons, see the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet ( http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/  ).

Other fishing options in the days before – and possibly after – Thanksgiving include:

* Sturgeon:   Anglers reeled in nearly 1,500 legal-size sturgeon from the lower Columbia River above the Wauna powerlines during the first three weeks of October.  As of Oct. 17, there were 841 fish available for harvest for the remainder of the year. The fishery is open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays until the quota is met. Before heading out, anglers are advised to check the WDFW website ( http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ ) to make sure the fishery is still open for retention of white sturgeon.
* Cowlitz cutthroats:   October is prime time to catch sea-run cutthroat trout on the Cowlitz River, but the fish usually keep biting through November, Hymer said. The best fishing is from Blue Creek near the trout hatchery on downriver, he said. “Sea-run cutthroat are aggressive, hard-fighting fish,” he said. “They’ll take flies, bait, lures – practically anything you throw at them.” Anglers may retain up to five hatchery-reared cutthroats per day as part of the daily trout limit on the lower Cowlitz River, where the fish generally range from 12 to 20 inches.
* Swift Reservoir:    Anglers fishing the reservoir have continued to reel in some nice rainbows averaging 12-13 inches. The fishery is open through Nov. 30.

In addition, WDFW has announced a razor-clam dig tentatively set to begin Nov. 5 at Long Beach and four other coastal beaches. The results of marine-toxin tests, which will determine whether the dig will proceed, are expected by Nov. 1.

See the South Sound/Olympic Peninsula regional report above for tentative beach openings. Check the WDFW website ( http://wdfw.wa.gov/  ) or the toll-free Shellfish Hotline (866-880-5431) for final word on the scheduled dig.

FAR EASTERN

Snake River steelheading was slow in October, but could pick up in the weeks ahead, said Joe Bumgarner, a WDFW fish biologist. Anglers have been averaging 30 to 50 hours per steelhead – a far cry from last year when steelheaders were catching fish in a fraction of that time.

Even the mouth of the Grand Ronde River, which traditionally provides some of the best fishing, has been slow. Catch rates for the fall chinook fishery, which tends to be incidental to steelhead fishing, have also been slow on the Snake River system.

Warmer temperatures through late October may be part of the problem, Bumgarner said.

“The good news is that there are lots of steelhead here and the weather is changing,” he said. “At last count there were more than 190,000 steelhead over Lower Granite Dam, with 800 to 1,200 a day still coming up. With the rain and colder temperatures we’re just starting to get now, November could be the month of steelheading here.”

Although many of the region’s top trout-fishing lakes are closed by November, there are a couple of exceptions and several year-round-open waters worth trying. Southwest Spokane County’s Amber Lake remains open through the end of November for catch-and-release, selective gear fishing for rainbow and cutthroat trout . Waitts Lake in Stevens County is open through February and provides rainbow and brown trout, largemouth bass , and yellow perch .

Big net-pen-reared rainbow trout and some kokanee are available in Lake Roosevelt, the Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam, which is open year-round. Large rainbows continue to provide action at Sprague Lake, the big year-round waterway that sprawls across the Lincoln-Adams county line just south of Interstate 90.

Fly fishers have reported that rainbow trout are biting at year-round-open Z-Lake off Telford Road on the WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County.

Rock Lake in Whitman County, open year-round, is still producing catches of rainbow and brown trout , along with some largemouth bass .

Trout, bass, crappie, perch , and other species are available at Spokane County’s year-round-open Eloika, Newman and Silver lakes.

NORTH-CENTRAL

The steelhead fishery on the upper Columbia River and its tributaries slowed a bit in late October, but anglers will have another river to try in the weeks ahead.  Starting Nov. 1, the Similkameen River will open to fishing for hatchery-reared steelhead from the mouth to 400 feet below Enloe Dam. Selective gear and night closure rules are in effect for the Similkameen River.

Above Wells Dam, anglers have been averaging one steelhead for every ten hours of fishing on the mainstem Columbia River and its tributaries, reports WDFW district fish biologist Bob Jateff of Twisp. “Remember there’s mandatory retention of adipose-fin-clipped hatchery steelhead and a four-fish daily limit,” he said. “All fish with adipose fins intact must be released and cannot be completely removed from the water prior to release.”

Jateff also reported that a few lowland lakes are still open for catch-and-release trout fishing through the month of November – Big and Little Green lakes near Omak, and Rat Lake near Brewster. Selective gear rules are in effect for all three lakes.

Anglers interested in catching yellow perch could try Patterson Lake near Winthrop, said Jateff, noting that the fish average seven to eight inches. “There’s no daily limit and no minimum size,” he said. “We encouraged anglers to retain all perch caught regardless of size.”

Several year-round waters in the region can provide decent fishing opportunity during the month of November. Banks Lake has a little bit of everything – smallmouth and largemouth bass, crappie, yellow perch, walleye, kokanee , even lake whitefish . Moses Lake and Potholes Reservoir have most of the same, plus net-pen-reared rainbow trout .

SOUTH-CENTRAL

Fresh from a record catch of fall chinook , anglers fishing the Hanford Reach in late October were having a tough time hooking up with hatchery steelhead . That doesn’t bode well for fishing opportunities in November, when steelhead are the main attraction for anglers in that section of the Columbia River, said Paul Hoffarth, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“Steelhead fishing has been unusually slow at a time when it should be ramping up,” Hoffarth said.  “We’ve been seeing 20 anglers come in with one fish among them.”

While the forecast is below the 10-year average, it does not fully account for low number of hatchery steelhead in angler’s creels in the Reach, Hoffarth said. Both creel surveys and counts at the Ringold Fish Hatchery indicate a dearth of one-salt fish returning from the ocean for the first time.

Although counts of two-salt fish are generally on track, one-salt fish generally make up about three-quarters of the catch, Hoffarth said. “I hope I’m wrong, but it looks like we could be in for another tough month of steelhead fishing in this area.”

Starting Nov. 1, the daily catch limit is two hatchery steelhead, which can be identified by their clipped adipose fins. All unmarked steelhead must be released unharmed.

The slow start for steelhead in the Hanford Reach stands in stark contrast to the record catch of fall chinook from McNary Dam to Priest Rapids Dam this year. Through Oct. 22, when that fishery closed, anglers caught an estimated 10,000 adult chinook, along with 1,360 jacks and four coho, Hoffarth said. He estimates that approximately 90,000 fall chinook returned to the Reach this year.

Anglers fishing the Yakima River also caught an estimated 230 adult chinook, 25 jacks and 23 coho before that fishery closed Oct. 22.

Fisheries remain open for both salmon and hatchery steelhead in most areas of the Columbia River downstream from McNary Dam. For daily limits and other regulations, see WDFW’s Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet ( http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ ).

Hoffarth said walleye fishing should also be productive through the end of November, before the cold sets in. He recommends trolling upstream at night.

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