“Excellent” steelheading in the Ronde, good blackmouth fishing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, springers and sturgeon in the Columbia, trout in Yakima lakes — some of the fishing highlights from today’s Weekender.
NORTH PUGET SOUND
Fishing for blackmouth continues to be slow throughout the marine waters of northern Puget Sound, but some anglers have been reeling in some nice fish recently in the San Juan Islands. Meanwhile, five major river systems in the Puget Sound area will close Feb. 18 to protect wild steelhead.
The early closure for steelhead will affect the Puyallup, Nooksack, Stillaguamish, Samish and Snohomish rivers and their tributaries. Pre-season estimates developed by the department indicate that returns of wild steelhead will fall far short of target levels in all five river systems, said Bob Leland, WDFW steelhead manager.
“This is the fourth straight year that we’ve seen a downward trend in wild steelhead returns,” Leland said. “These closures are necessary to meet the conservation objectives of our statewide steelhead management plan and comply with provisions of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).”
Wild steelhead in the Puget Sound region have been listed as “threatened” under the ESA since 2007. Although anglers are required to release any wild fish they catch in those rivers, some of those fish inevitably die from the experience, Leland said.
For more information on the fishing closures, see the recent news release at http://wdfw.wa.gov/do/newreal/release.php?id=feb1210a or visit WDFW’s emergency rule update website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm .
On Puget Sound, most marine areas are open for salmon, but blackmouth fishing continues to be slow. The Strait of Juan de Fuca, including the western portion of the San Juan Islands, is likely the best bet for anglers, said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist.
Anglers fishing Marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) and 9 (Admiralty Inlet) have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook.
Thiesfeld reminds anglers that Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) is closed to salmon fishing.
Before heading out, anglers should check the regulations for all saltwater and freshwater fisheries in WDFW’s Fishing in Washington pamphlet ( http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm ).
SOUTH SOUND/OLYMPIC PENINSULA
The blackmouth season is off to a good start near Port Angeles and final word is expected late today (Feb. 17) on a razor-clam dig on five ocean beaches. Prospects are also improving for steelhead fishing on the Olympic Peninsula, although a number of rivers on the east side of Puget Sound – including the Puyallup, Carbon and White rivers – will close to steelheading Feb. 18.
Anglers having trouble finding blackmouth elsewhere in Puget Sound might want to give the Strait of Juan de Fuca a try. Creel checks conducted at Ediz Hook during opening day of the blackmouth season in marine areas 5 and 6 tallied 72 anglers with 30 fish. At Olson’s Resort in Sekiu, 26 anglers brought in 14 resident chinook.
“That’s pretty good fishing,” said John Long, WDFW statewide salmon manager. “I don’t think we’ve seen a stronger opening for blackmouth anywhere else this year.” The daily limit for blackmouth in marine areas 5 and 6 is one fish, measuring at least 22 inches.
Anglers have also been docking blackmouth, albeit in lesser numbers, at boat ramps from Point Defiance in Tacoma to Misery Point in Seabeck. In the South Sound area, the fishery is open in marine areas 9 (Admiralty Inlet), 11 (Tacoma-Vashon) and 12 (Hood Canal), and opens March 1 in Marine Area 13 (south of the Narrows Bridge).
For regulations specific to those waters, check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet ( http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm ).
Then again, conditions are shaping up for some good steelhead fishing on northern Olympic Peninsula rivers. High water rendered the Calawah and Hoh rivers unfishable during the second weekend of the month, but 63 bank anglers checked on the Bogachiel kept 19 wild fish and released 10 others.
“High water has brought a lot of wild steelhead into area rivers, and the forecast is calling for a period of dry weather,” said Randy Cooper, a WDFW fish biologist. “Once those rivers drop into shape, the fishery should really pick up.”
Anglers may retain one wild steelhead per license year on the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Hoh, Hoko, Pysht, Quillayute, Quinault and Sol Duc rivers. On all other rivers, anglers may retain only hatchery-reared steelhead marked with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar. Specific rules for each river are described in the 2009-10 Fishing in Washington pamphlet at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm .
Meanwhile, the Puyallup, Carbon and White rivers will close to steelhead fishing Feb. 18, along with more than a dozen other rivers on the east side of Puget Sound.
Pre-season estimates indicate that returns of wild steelhead will fall far short of target levels in all five river systems, said Bob Leland, WDFW steelhead manager. “This is the fourth straight year that we’ve seen a downward trend in wild steelhead returns,” Leland said. “These closures are necessary to meet the conservation objectives of our statewide steelhead management plan and comply with provisions of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).”
Razor-clam digging may be an option. WDFW has tentatively scheduled a dig from Feb. 26 through March 1 at various ocean beaches and expects to receive the results of toxin tests later today (Feb. 17).
If the tests show the clams are safe to eat, five ocean beaches will open for digging on the following schedule. Evening low tides are shown in parentheses.
* Friday, Feb. 26, (4:49 p.m., -0.7) Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks
* Saturday, Feb. 27, (5:34 p.m., -0.9) Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
* Sunday, Feb. 28, (6:16 p.m., -0.8) Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
* Monday, Mar. 1, (6:57 p.m., -0.1) Long Beach and Twin Harbors only
Digging will be restricted to the hours between noon and midnight each day at all beaches. The best time to start is an hour or two before low tide. A lantern is strongly recommended for evening digs.
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. Clam diggers are no longer required to display their licenses on outer clothing.
A license is required for anyone age 15 or older. Any 2009-10 annual shellfish/seaweed license or combination license is still valid. Another option is a razor-clam only license available in annual or three-day only versions. Descriptions of the various licensing options are available on the WDFW website at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov .
The Bonneville Pool has been the “hotspot” for sturgeon fishing in recent days, but time is running short. Sturgeon retention from Bonneville Dam to The Dalles Dam and its tributaries ends for the year one hour after official sunset on Feb. 20. Meanwhile, anglers have been working hard to find late-run winter steelhead in lower Columbia River tributaries, and spring chinook are just beginning to show up in the catch on a daily basis.
But new fishing opportunities are coming up soon. At a meeting scheduled Thursday, Feb. 18, fishery managers from Washington and Oregon are scheduled to set 2010 fishing seasons for spring chinook salmon and white sturgeon. News releases outlining those seasons will be posted on WDFW’s website ( http://wdfw.wa.gov/ ) the following day.
“This will give anglers a chance to make their plans for the months ahead,” said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist. “Fishing in the Columbia River Basin always slows down a bit in February, but things really start heating up in March, when the spring chinook begin to return in large numbers.”
Harvest levels for white sturgeon are expected to be down this year due to declining stock estimates, but the spring chinook run is forecast to be the highest since at least 1938.
Clam diggers are also awaiting news on the next razor-clam dig , tentatively set to begin Friday, Feb. 26, and run through Monday, March 1, at various beaches – including Long Beach. That announcement, based on the results of marine toxin tests, will also be posted on WDFW’s website by Friday, Feb. 19.
Here’s a rundown on fisheries now open on the lower Columbia River and its tributaries:
* Steelhead: Anglers are catching late-run winter steelhead returning to hatcheries on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers where they were raised. Most are working hard to find fish, but fishing could improve as the run nears its peak in late February or early March. Fishing for leftover summer-run steelhead remains good in The Dalles and John Day pools, although anglers are encountering significant number of wild and dark fish.
* White sturgeon: A creel check found that 60 boat anglers caught or released 41 legal-size fish in the Bonneville Pool during the second week in February. Bank anglers also caught or released five legal-size fish. Clearly the hotspot for sturgeon, the Bonneville Pool will be closed to retention fishing beginning Feb. 21. Below Bonneville Dam, where fishing has been slow, anglers can retain legal-size white sturgeon seven day a week from Buoy 10 upriver to the Wauna powerlines, and Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from the powerlines upstream to the dam.
* Smelt: The Cowlitz River will be open for smelt dipping two more Saturdays – Feb. 20 and 27 – between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. this year. A few dippers took 10-pound limits during the Feb. 13 opener, but the run still appears to be weak as predicted. Sport fishing for smelt on the mainstem Columbia River remains open seven days per week, although anglers catch very few fish there.
* Trout: WDFW plants trout and some excess hatchery steelhead in a number of area lakes throughout the winter months. On Feb. 8, Klineline Lake and Battle Ground Lake in Clark County were each stocked with 1,500 catchable-size rainbows, while Kress Lake in Cowlitz County received 20 excess steelhead from the Kalama Falls Hatchery.
* Walleye and bass: Boat anglers averaged nearly two walleye kept per rod from The Dalles Pool and 0.4 per rod from John Day Pool during the week of Feb. 8-14. Bass are also beginning to stir in the John Day Pool.
For fishing regulations on waters throughout the state, see the 2009-10 Fishing in Washington pamphlet at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm .
For the first time in several years, the March 1 fishing opener in the region is likely to promise all open-water fishing opportunities, thanks to a mild winter.
In the south end of the region, most of the seven impoundments off the Tucannon River on WDFW’s Wooten Wildlife Area in Columbia County that open to fishing March 1 are being stocked now with hatchery rainbow trout . Beaver, Big Four, Blue, Deer, Rainbow, Spring and Watson lakes are receiving “catchable-size” (about one-third pound) and “jumbo” (about one-and-a-half pound) trout from the Tucannon and Lyons Ferry fish hatcheries.
Here’s what’s going in this month: Beaver, 500 catchables; Big Four, 2,000 catchables and 300 jumbos; Blue, 4,500 catchables and 150 jumbos; Deer, 700 catchables; Rainbow, 3,000 catchables and 100 jumbos; Spring, 2,000 catchables and 100 jumbos; Watson, 3,000 catchables and 100 jumbos.
Also opening March 1 to fishing for stocked rainbows are Fishhook Pond in Walla Walla County, which is receiving 3,000 catchables this month, and Pampa Pond in Whitman County, which is receiving 2,000 catchables and 25 jumbos.
Two year-round-open small impoundments off the Snake River near the bottom of Alpowa Grade west of Clarkston in Asotin County are also being stocked at this time. Golf Course Pond gets 3,500 catchables and 100 jumbos, and West Evans Ponds gets 4,500 catchables and 100 jumbos.
Orchard Pond, a year-round impoundment off the Snake River in Columbia County, gets 1,000 catchables and 25 jumbos.
In Walla Walla County, two year-round fisheries are scheduled to receive trout this month – Quarry Pond, 8,000 catchables and 100 jumbos, and Bennington Lake, 2,500 catchables and 50 jumbos.
When WDFW hatchery crews complete trout stocking, the results are posted at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/plants/weekly/ .
Other waters opening March 1 in the region should provide some open-water action on a variety of fish. Downs Lake in southwest Spokane County might be best early in the season for yellow perch , but it also has bass, crappie , and rainbow trout . Liberty Lake east of Spokane has rainbow and brown trout, bass , and perch . Medical Lake near the town of the same name in southwest Spokane County has brown and rainbow trout.
Amber Lake in southwest Spokane County opens for catch-and-release of rainbow and cutthroat trout on March 1. Coffeepot Lake in Lincoln County opens on March 1, under selective gear rules, for rainbows, perch and crappie. Both of these special rule fisheries should provide excellent fly-fishing opportunities.
Deer Lake in southern Stevens County also opens March 1 and offers bass, crappie, perch, rainbow and lake trout , and kokanee .
Three year-round fisheries in the region that continue to provide good fishing, are Lake Roosevelt for rainbows and kokanee, Sprague Lake for rainbows, and Rock Lake for rainbow and brown trout.
Steelhead fishing on the Grande Ronde River in the southeast has been excellent, said WDFW Blue Mountains Wildlife Area Complex Manager Bob Dice. Steelheaders in the Boggan’s Oasis area, near the mouth at the Snake River, have been doing quite well, and fishing has also been good from WDFW lands in the Shumaker area, he said.
Anglers can gear up and learn about fishing opportunities at the third annual Great Western Sportfishing Show, March 5-7, at the Spokane Convention Center. For more information see http://www.greatwesternsportfishingshow.com/Home.html .
All of the Columbia Basin rainbow trout lakes that open to fishing March 1 are ice-free and ready for good open-water fishing, reports WDFW District Fish Biologist Chad Jackson.
Martha Lake, along I-90 just east of George in Grant County, should be among the best on the opener, likely providing lots of five-fish daily catch limits. Martha is scheduled to be well stocked with thousands of half-pound or better hatchery rainbows.
Other Columbia Basin lakes opening March 1 on WDFW’s Quincy Wildlife Area include Burke and Quincy lakes, southwest of the town of Quincy; Upper, Lower and West Caliche lakes, southwest of George; Dusty Lake, a selective gear rule fishery south of Quincy; and the small “walk-in” lakes – Cascade, Cliff, Crystal, Cup, Dot, George and Spring.
Lenice, Nunnally and Merry lakes, on WDFW’s Crab Creek Wildlife Area just east of Beverly in southwest Grant County, open under selective gear rules March 1. Lake Lenore, north of the town of Soap Lake in Grant County, opens for catch-and-release trout fishing March 1.
Trout fishing further north in the region in Okanogan County had been mostly through the ice on stocked year-round lakes, but safe ice is marginal now with warming temperatures. However, WDFW Okanogan District Fish Biologist Bob Jateff reports that Patterson Lake near Winthrop and Sidley Lake near Oroville still have sufficient ice cover to provide some angling opportunities. Yellow perch are being caught at Patterson, while rainbow trout are the predominant species at Sidley.
Jateff also reports steelhead fishing is starting to pick up on the Methow and Okanogan rivers. “Warmer water temperatures are contributing to catch rates of one steelhead for every five to six hours of fishing for both lure and fly anglers,” he said.
Jateff reminds anglers that they must retain all adipose-fin-clipped steelhead up to the daily limit of four fish. He also notes two sections of the Okanogan River will close March 15 – from the first powerline crossing downstream of the Highway 155 Bridge in Omak (Coulee Dam Credit Union Building) upstream to the mouth of Omak Creek; and from the Tonasket Bridge (4th Street) downstream to the Tonasket Lagoons Park boat launch. Those section closures are to protect natural origin steelhead staging prior to spawning in those tributaries.
The rest of the steelhead areas upstream of Wells Dam will remain open until March 31, but Jateff advises anglers to periodically check for changes on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm .
Further west in the region, the Wenatchee River, from the mouth to 800 feet below Tumwater Dam, including the Icicle River from the mouth to 500 feet downstream of the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery Barrier Dam, closes to steelhead fishing Feb. 28. The allowable impacts to natural origin steelhead due to angling on the Wenatchee River will be met by the end of February.
Whitefish remains open on portions of the Methow and Similkameen rivers until March 31. The daily catch limit is 15 whitefish and gear restrictions are in effect. Check the rules pamphlet for all details.
Fishing has been slow recently at year-round Rufus Woods Lake, the Columbia River reservoir on the Douglas-Okanogan county line.
WDFW district fish biologist Eric Anderson reports that major rainbow trout stocking efforts have started this month in many of the region’s year-round open lakes. Yakima County’s Sarg Hubbard Park Pond and Rotary Lake, both near the Greenway Trail in Yakima, usually receive some of the first catchable-size hatchery rainbows.
Kittitas County’s North and South Fio Rito lakes east of Ellensburg, along with McCabe Pond southeast of Ellensburg and Mattoon Lake in town, should also be receiving trout this month.
Franklin County’s Dalton Pond, east of the Tri-Cities and about five miles northeast of Ice Harbor Dam on the north side of the Snake River, is scheduled to receive 8,000 one-third pounders and 100 “jumbos” or one-and-one-half-pounders, from WDFW’s Lyons Ferry Hatchery.
When WDFW hatchery crews actually complete trout stocking, the results are posted at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/plants/weekly/ .
Although steelhead fishing in the district has been spotty this winter, it usually picks up in late February and early March, said WDFW fish biologist Paul Hoffarth of Pasco. He reminds anglers that the Columbia River is open for the retention of legal size sturgeon in the John Day Pool (Lake Umatilla) of the Columbia River.
“Sturgeon must be between 43 and 54 inches in fork length,” Hoffarth said. “New regulations went into effect last year changing how sturgeon are measured from total length to fork length. Fork length is defined as the distance from the tip of the nose to the middle of the fork in the tail, and that’s the length you record on your catch record card, even if the card has the old ‘total length’ column.”
Hoffarth notes the sturgeon fishery in this area will remain open until the quota is reached and closure announced.