What’s Fishin’ In Washington (12-28-10)

The good news: It looks like the precip is going to come to an end soon around Washington.

No more rain or snow for awhile.

The bad news: It’s gonna get colder over New Year’s.

In the near term, it’ll be easier to get afield when you head out for steelhead from the coast to Asotin, trout around Vancouver and greater Spokane, razor clams at Long Beach, or fish iced-over lakes in the Columbia Basin and Okanogan Highlands — but our official advice is, better bring an extra pair of mittens.

For more fishing prospects around the Evergreen State, take a look at the following report, completely courtesy of WDFW’s Weekender:

NORTH PUGET SOUND

In January, weather conditions often dictate where an angler chooses to fish.

“If the rivers are in shape, steelheading is a good bet,” said Steve Thiesfeld, salmon manager for WDFW. “But if the rivers are blown out, blackmouth salmon fishing in the marine areas of Puget Sound is probably a better option.”

Areas currently open for salmon fishing include marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) and 10 (Seattle/Bremerton). Anglers fishing those marine areas have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook salmon.

Thiesfeld said anglers should focus on the San Juan Islands, where fishing for blackmouth traditionally has been decent this time of year. Later in the month, anglers also might want to consider fishing Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet), which opens for salmon Jan. 16.

“It’s been slow in other areas of central Puget Sound – marine areas 10 and 11 – during the last weeks of December,” he said. “But hopefully the fish will be there mid-January and the fishery will start strong.”

Meanwhile, the Puget Sound crab fishery is winding down. The fishery closes at sunset on Jan. 2, and crabbers are reminded that they are required to report their winter catch to WDFW by Feb. 1. Reports are due for the season running Sept. 7 to Jan. 2, whether or not crabbers actually fished or caught crab. To submit catch reports, crabbers may send their catch record card to WDFW by mail or file their report on the department’s licensing website. The mailing address is WDFW CRC Unit, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. The online reporting system is available Jan. 3-Feb. 1 at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/wdfw/puget_sound_crab_catch.html .

Winter is prime time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. Good spots include the Elliott Bay Pier in Seattle and the Edmonds Pier. More information on squid fishing is available on the department’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/squid/ . Information on fishing piers is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/piers/ .

In freshwater, several rivers are open for hatchery steelhead fishing, including the Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish, Skykomish and Snoqualmie.

“As long as the weather cooperates and the rivers stay fishable, anglers should have some good opportunities to hook a hatchery steelhead,” said Bob Leland, WDFW’s steelhead program manager.

TRISTAN BUETTNER SHOWS OFF A HEFTY WINTER-RUN STEELHEAD FROM TOKUL CREEK, CAUGHT IN MID-DECEMBER. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

Freshwater anglers also might want to try fishing for perch, cutthroat and smallmouth bass at Lake Washington or Lake Sammamish. Anglers targeting perch should fish near deep ledges between 60 and 100 feet, said WDFW fisheries biologist Danny Garrett, who recommends using nightcrawlers.

“Perch are generally caught within a couple feet of the bottom,” he said. For cutthroat or smallmouth bass, try trolling the same depth with hard baits near the bottom or around schools of smelt. “Anglers will likely have to put in some time to hook a smallmouth this time of year, but the bass that are caught are often trophy-sized fish,” Garrett said.

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

SOUTH SOUND/OLYMPIC PENINSULA

Winter has arrived, but area anglers can still catch hatchery steelhead on several coastal streams, salmon in Puget Sound and razor clams on five ocean beaches.

A razor clam dig has been approved at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks and Kalaloch. Opening dates and evening low tides are:

* Dec. 31, Fri. – 3:40 p.m., (0 ft.), Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
* Jan. 1, Sat. – 4:31 p.m., (-0.4 ft.), Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
* Jan. 2, Sun. – 5:18 p.m., (-0.7 ft.), 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.

DIGGERS HUNT FOR RAZOR CLAM SHOWS ON A COASTAL BEACH DURING A PREVIOUS SEASON. (DAN AYRES, WDFW)

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.

Meanwhile, winter hatchery steelhead fisheries are in full swing at a number of the region’s streams. “If the weather cooperates, steelhead fishing should be good throughout January,” said Kirt Hughes, regional fishery manager for WDFW.

Anglers fishing the Quillayute and portions of the Bogachiel, Calawah, Hoh, and Sol Duc rivers have a daily limit of three hatchery steelhead. In the Grays Harbor area, anglers fishing the Chehalis, Humptulips, Satsop and Wynoochee have a daily limit of two hatchery steelhead.

TERRY WIEST OF STEELHEADUNIVERSITY.COM SHOWS OFF A STEELIE FROM THE BOGACHIEL. (TERRY WIEST)

Hughes reminds anglers that they will not be allowed to catch and keep wild steelhead on eight Olympic Peninsula rivers until mid-February. In early 2010, the annual opening date for wild steelhead retention was changed from Dec. 1 to Feb. 16 on the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Hoh, Quillayute, Quinault and Sol Duc rivers. Those eight rivers are the only waters in Washington where wild steelhead retention is allowed.

The change, adopted by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission last February, was made to protect the early portion of the run, said Hughes. He noted, however, that anglers will still have an opportunity to catch and keep a wild fish during the peak of the return.

Freshwater anglers looking to hook salmon also have opportunities in January. Anglers can find late-run coho salmon in some of the region’s rivers, including the Humptulips, Naselle, Satsop and Willapa, said Hughes. “The Skookumchuck also is a good bet for anglers fishing for late-run coho, as well as steelhead,” he said.

For winter chum salmon, anglers should try fishing the Nisqually.

On Puget Sound, Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound) remains open for salmon . However, regulations for Marine Area 13 change Jan. 1, when anglers will have a daily limit of one salmon. Anglers should be aware that salmon fisheries in marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) and 12 (Hood Canal) close Jan. 1. Before heading out on the Sound, anglers should check the regulations on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ .

Opportunities to dig clams at Hood Canal increase Jan. 1, when Belfair State Park in Mason County opens for littleneck, butter, manila and other clams. Recent surveys indicate that the clam population will support a fishery at the park. For more information on clam-digging opportunities in Hood Canal and elsewhere, visit WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/beaches/ .

SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON

Winter steelhead are still the name of the game in the Columbia River Basin, although several other fisheries are beginning to compete for anglers’ attention. Sturgeon fishing reopens Jan. 1 from the mouth of the Columbia to McNary Dam, and state hatchery workers have begun planting dozens of regional lakes with thousands of rainbow trout .

Meanwhile, anglers continue to reel in adult hatchery-reared winter steelhead – along with some late-run coho salmon – from a number of Columbia River tributaries. The Cowlitz River is still the best bet for steelhead, although the Lewis, Kalama, Grays, Washougal, Elochoman and White Salmon rivers, and Salmon Creek in Clark County are also producing fish, said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist.

“As usual, river conditions basically determine success at this time of year,” Hymer said. “Most anglers do best when water levels are rising or dropping. It’s a lot harder to catch steelhead in the peaks and troughs.”

As with all steelhead fisheries in southwest Washington, only hatchery fish with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar may be retained. All wild steelhead must be released. The daily limit on all area rivers is two hatchery steelhead.

Starting Jan. 1, anglers may also retain up to two adult hatchery chinook salmon per day on the mainstem Columbia from the I-5 Bridge downstream and in the Cowlitz and Deep rivers. The daily limit is one chinook per day in the Lewis and Kalama rivers. While the bulk of the spring chinook run isn’t expect to arrive until March, Hymer said some lucky anglers will likely start catching early-arriving fish by late January or early February.

“It’s a good to keep the chinook regulations in mind, even if you’re fishing for steelhead,” he said. “Somebody has to catch the first springer of the year, and it could be you.”

WDFW recently released preliminary forecasts of Columbia River salmon and steelhead returns for 2011, predicting an upriver run of 198,400 adult spring chinook compared to an actual return of 315,300 last spring. However, the upper Columbia summer chinook run is expected to be significantly higher than in 2010.

Ready to catch some sturgeon ? All fishing areas will open to anglers Jan. 1 from the mouth of the Columbia River to McNary Dam, except for a small area in Sand Island slough upstream from Beacon Rock as outlined in the current regulation pamphlet. Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon are scheduled to meet Feb. 8 to consider changes to current catch quotas, but Hymer said that won’t affect the fishery until later in the season.

“The main concern right now is the cold weather,” Hymer said. “A warming trend would likely improve the bite when the season gets under way.”

But there will be no fishing of any kind for eulachon smelt this year, he said. Once abundant in the Columbia River Basin, eulachon were listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act last May. Since then, Washington and Oregon have closed all sport and commercial dipping in the Columbia River system. In addition, Washington has closed all marine and freshwater areas statewide for eulachon smelt.

Anglers can, however, still use any frozen smelt they have in their freezer as bait, said Capt. Murray Schlenker, WDFW enforcement chief for southwest Washington.

“There’s no law about possession,’’ he said. “You just can’t fish for them.’’

As an alternative, anglers might consider spending a winter’s day fishing for trout on a local lake. Throughout January, WDFW plans to stock more than two-dozen lakes in southwest Washington with thousands of rainbow trout ranging from 8-12 inch “catchables” to 5-8 pound broodstock.

“There’s a lot of interest in trout fishing in winter,” said John Weinheimer, another WDFW fish biologist. “During breaks in the weather, people come out to fish for them like crazy.”

The timing of the fish plants will vary according to the weather and the availability of tanker trucks, but Weinheimer said last year’s stocking plan is a good indication of which lakes will fish. That stocking plan is posted at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/region5/ on WDFW’s website.

“All of these lakes are ice-free in winter,” he said. “Given weather conditions, we don’t encourage anyone to fish through the ice in southwest Washington. It just isn’t safe.”

FAR EASTERN WASHINGTON

Lake Roosevelt is the region’s hot spot for January fishing, says WDFW eastern regional fish program manager John Whalen. The huge Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam provides winter fishing opportunities for big net-pen-reared rainbow trout. Boat and shore anglers can take up to five trout a day, although only two over 20 inches can be retained. Roosevelt also has kokanee, walleye, smallmouth bass, burbot, lake whitefish and yellow perch , but the rainbows star at this time of year.

Four winter-only rainbow trout lakes – Stevens County’s Williams and Hatch and Spokane County’s Fourth-of-July and Hog Canyon – have been producing well since opening Dec. 1. Access and style of fishing, through the ice or open water by boat or from shore, vary with winter conditions.

No agency or organization is responsible for measuring ice thickness on area lakes, so there are no guarantees that fishing through the ice is safe, said WDFW central district fish biologist Chris Donley. According to U.S. Coast Guard guidelines, no one should venture onto lake ice unless it is at least four inches thick, clear and solid. As much as nine inches may be needed to safely support snowmobiles or other vehicles.

Drilling a hole in the ice from a safe, near-shore location can give anglers an idea of ice depth. However, drilling only provides an estimate of the ice depth because shallow water near shore freezes quicker than deeper water in the middle of a lake where springs may slow the freezing process. Ice depths vary throughout a waterway due to underwater structures, springs, geothermal activity and water movement.

Donley suggests following these winter fishing tips:

* Don’t fish alone. Let others know where you and your fishing partners are going and when you plan to return.
* Keep fishing holes small and few. When drilling fishing holes with an ice auger, keep the diameter under eight inches. Bigger holes are not necessary to land fish and can create a safety hazard for others.
* Watch your step. Avoid ice fishing near feeder streams or known springs; brush, logs, plants or docks; multiple ice cracks or ice that is popping or otherwise audible. Also, avoid dark-colored ice; it may be weak.
* Spread out. Too many people congregated in one area may be too much for the ice to support. Disperse weight and fishing holes.
* Be prepared for weather conditions. Dress in layers and wear thermal underwear, fleece or wool, and wind and waterproof outerwear, especially for feet, hands and head. Take extra clothes, food, water, sand for on-ice traction, and a sled for easy on-ice transport of all equipment.
* Be prepared for emergencies. Carry equipment such as ice picks or awls, rope, and personal flotation devices. Also pack a first-aid kit and matches for starting a fire.

Donley says there’s also good trout fishing opportunity through the winter at several large year-round waters, including Rock in Whitman County, Sprague Lake on the Lincoln-Adams county line, and Waitts Lake in Stevens County.

BILL STANLEY SHOWS OFF A ROCK LAKE BROWN. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

In Lincoln County, WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area manager Juli Anderson reports shoreside openings in Z Lake, thanks to an aeration system. “I don’t know how many folks are trekking in to Z Lake to fish those rainbow trout, but they’re available,” she said.

The Snake River steelhead catch season continues, but according to WDFW fish biologist Joe Bumgarner, it’s been one of the slowest in the past decade. He guessed that those who brave the elements on the river will likely average no better than 25 hours of fishing per steelhead caught.

“Lately angler effort has been so low, and checked fish so few and far between, that it’s really hard to say what an average catch rate is,” Bumgarner said.

NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON

WDFW district fish biologist Bob Jateff of Twisp says steelhead fishing in the upper Columbia River is usually slow at this time of the year, but there are exceptions.

“There have been reports of fish being caught within the mainstem Columbia, as well as the Okanogan and Methow rivers,” Jateff said. Anglers should keep a close eye on air temperatures, because anything over 32 degrees keeps the rivers fishable and free of ice.”

JAMES WHITE WITH AN OKANOGAN RIVER STEELHEAD, CAUGHT IN MID-DECEMBER. (ERNIE BUCHANAN)

Jateff reminds anglers of the mandatory retention of adipose-clipped hatchery steelhead from Priest Rapids Dam upstream including the Wenatchee, Entiat, Methow, Okanogan, and Similkameen rivers.

As a change of pace from steelheading, Jateff suggests that anglers try fishing the Methow River for its sizeable population of mountain whitefish.

“These fish can be caught readily on flies,” he said. The daily limit is 15 whitefish, no minimum size, with selective gear rules in effect for whitefish in all areas that are currently open for steelhead.

Winter rainbow trout lakes in the Okanogan are usually in good shape for ice fishing in January. Jateff recommends Davis Lake in the Winthrop area, Big and Little Green lakes in the Omak area, and Rat Lake near Brewster. For anglers seeking yellow perch , Patterson Lake near Winthrop has a good population of six to 10-inch perch, as well as a few kokanee and rainbow trout .

Other popular ice fishing lakes in Okanogan County are Sidley, located east of Oroville, and Bonaparte, located east of Tonasket. Sidley has rainbow trout and Bonaparte has eastern brook trout and kokanee.

WDFW FORGOT TO MENTION THIS ONE, BUT THERE'S ALWAYS THAT LITTLE RESERVOIR THAT SERVES UP TRIPLOID TROUT -- LIKE BAILEY FLETCHER'S DEC. 21 10-POUNDER. SHE CAUGHT IT PLUNKING A MARSHMALLOW AT RUFUS WOODS. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

SOUTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON

Anglers continue to reel in hatchery steelhead from portions of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, although the lure of bigger fish will undoubtedly prompt some to switch gears. Starting Jan. 1, Lake Umatilla – also known as the John Day Pool – will reopen for retention of white sturgeon that measure 43 to 54 inches from their snout to the fork in their tail.

Anglers planning on taking part in the fishery should be aware that the annual sturgeon quota for Lake Umatilla is 165 fish, said Paul Hoffarth, a regional fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “In recent years, the quota has been reached in a couple of months, so I’d advise anglers to get out early if they want to take a sturgeon home for dinner,” he said.

Another option is Lake Wallula (McNary Pool), including the Snake River below Ice Harbor Dam, which will reopen for sturgeon retention Feb. 1.

Meanwhile, steelhead fishing has been up and down, typical of the winter fishery, said Hoffarth, who noted that some of the best catches on the Columbia River have been reported in the Ringold area. In the Tri-Cities area, the fishery is open for retention of hatchery steelhead from John Day Dam upstream to the wooden power line towers at the old Hanford town site through March 31, 2011.

Another section of the Hanford Reach is open to fishing for hatchery steelhead from the Highway 24 bridge (Vernita Bridge) upstream to Priest Rapids Dam. Fishing in that area, which opened Dec. 8, is one of a number of angling opportunities funded by the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement Fee.

The lower Snake River is also open for the retention of hatchery steelhead through March 31. The daily limit in the Snake River is three hatchery steelhead and barbless hooks are required.

Walleye fishing can get slow in winter, but there’s always a chance of catching a lunker. Hoffarth said some of the largest walleye of the year are boated during the winter months near the Tri-Cities – including the 19.3-pound state record taken in Lake Wallula in 2007.

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