What’s Fishin’ In Washington (2-23-11)

Whether your part of Washington is getting snowed upon or not today (currently not at NWS World HQ in Seattle), you’re probably already thinking ahead to this weekend and where to go fishin’.

May we be of some assistance.

Well, actually not us, Northwest Sportsman, per se. Rather, the good folks at the Department of Fish & Wildlife & Conservation & Recreation & Woofs & Parks & Slumping Morale, or whatever the hell the agency is being called these days.

They’ve just posted their latest Weekender, and after a bit of quick edits  — ahem, guys, your new Areas 1-3 lingcod opener is March 12, not 19, as version 1 of the doc states — I’m blatantly ripping it off for our Web site. To wit:

NORTH PUGET SOUND

With the region’s rivers closed to steelhead fishing, anglers’ attention has turned to blackmouth salmon in the marine areas of Puget Sound.

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 salmon. Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) is closed to salmon fishing.

While there have been a few reports of anglers hauling in some nice blackmouth, salmon fishing in Puget Sound has been slow the last couple of weeks of February. “Anglers that have put in their time on the water have been most successful,” said Steve Thiesfeld, fish biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “It looks like that will continue to be the case as we head into March. But hopefully fishing will improve as spring approaches.”

Anglers looking for some competition might want to participate in the Everett Blackmouth Derby on March 19. Prizes include $3,000 for the largest fish, $1,500 for second place and $500 for third place. For details, visit the derby’s website.

Meanwhile, numerous rivers are closed to fishing for steelhead and other game fish, including the Skagit, Sauk and Samish. The three rivers, usually open in March, closed early to protect wild steelhead that are returning in low numbers this year.

Freshwater anglers, however, can wet a line at some local lakes. Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish are good spots to fish for perch, cutthroat and smallmouth bass, said WDFW fisheries biologist Danny Garrett.

“Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish continue to produce 14-18 inch cutthroat trout with the occasional lunker over 20 inches,” he said. “Fishing for bass, perch, and crappie in all lakes should improve in March as water temperatures increase and fish move shallower.”

Looking forward to the summer salmon fishing season? There’s still time to provide input on proposals for this year’s fisheries. Several public meetings have been scheduled throughout March as fishery managers continue to develop the 2011 salmon seasons, which will be finalized in mid-April. For more information on the meetings, visit WDFW’s North of Falcon website.

SOUTH SOUND/OLYMPIC PENINSULA

More wild steelhead are moving into rivers on the Olympic Peninsula, blackmouth salmon fisheries are under way in Puget Sound and the lingcod season opens March 12 in ocean areas south of Cape Alava.

Wild Steelhead fishing on the northern peninsula is a good bet right now, said Kirt Hughes, regional fishery manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“This is peak season for wild steelhead,” he said.  “Anglers need to keep an eye on river conditions, but fishing is good right now.”

As in years past, anglers may retain only one wild steelhead per license year on the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Hoh, 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.

Anglers looking to hook a hatchery steelhead should try fishing rivers in the Chehalis River Basin. “During the last weeks of February, fishing slowed in the basin,” Hughes said. “But the Satsop, Skookumchuck and Wynoochee rivers still offer the best opportunities for hatchery steelhead in March.”

For more information on steelhead fishing regulations, check the Fishing in Washington pamphlet.

As water temperatures begin to warm, freshwater anglers also might want to try fishing at one of the region’s lakes. Popular lakes open year-round include Thurston County’s Saint Clair Lake for rainbow and brown trout, American Lake in Pierce County for kokanee and Kitsap Lake in Kitsap County for rainbow trout.

Rather catch a blackmouth salmon?  Several areas of Puget Sound are open to fishing for resident Chinook. Anglers fishing marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon) and 12 (Hood Canal) have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild Chinook.

Those fishing the Strait of Juan de Fuca – marine areas 5 (Sekiu) and 6 (eastern Strait) – have a daily limit of one salmon. “During the last weekend of February, anglers fishing for blackmouth at Coyote and Partridge banks in the eastern Strait had success,” said Steve Thiesfeld, Puget Sound salmon manager for WDFW.

Anglers fishing for salmon in Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound) continue to have success hooking resident coho, said Larry Phillips, regional fish biologist for WDFW. Best bets include the Tacoma Narrows, the Squaxin Island area and in Eld Inlet off Evergreen Beach. Anglers fishing Marine Area 13 have daily limit of one salmon.

Another option is lingcod fishing, which gets under way March 12 in marine areas 1-3, south of Cape Alava. The minimum size for lingcod in these areas is 22 inches, with a daily limit of two fish per angler. In Marine Area 2 (Westport/Ocean Shores), recreational fishing for lingcod is not allowed in waters deeper than 30 fathoms. Additional information about the lingcod fishery and other bottom fish is available in the Fishing in Washington pamphlet.

WDFW also expects to schedule a razor clam dig in mid-March. Check the department’s website for an announcement.

SOUTHWEST

Spring Chinook fever is beginning to take hold on the Columbia River. More than 50 boats were counted on the lower river one day in mid February when only a few fish had been counted at Bonneville Dam. By late March – when the bulk of the run is expected to arrive – that number is expected to grow to nearly 2,000 per day.

KIRBY CANNON CURBED THE ENTHUSIASM OF THIS BIG SPRINGER WITH A LITTLE WOODEN SHAMPOO EARLIER THIS WEEK. (WRIGHT & MCGILL/EAGLE CLAW PHOTO CONTEST)

“At first, the fish usually arrive in fits and starts, then eventually start moving upriver in a steady flow,” said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “Through March, we expect to see the number of boat and bank anglers on the river to increase week by week.”

According to the pre-season forecast, 198,400 upriver spring Chinook will return to the Columbia River this year, close to the 10-year average. While that prediction is well below last year’s banner run of 315,345 fish, the number of large five-year-old Chinook is expected to be up significantly over last year.

The forecast anticipates the return of more than 100,000 five-year-old fish to the upper Columbia and Willamette River this year, Hymer said. By comparison, only about 26,000 of the fish that returned last year were in that age class.

“We’re already seeing a high number of large fish in the early catch,” Hymer said. “Those five-year-olds generally run 18 to 30 pounds apiece.”

FOR MORE ON SPRINGER FISHING, SEE NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN'S MARCH ISSUE AND ...

... OUR BRAND-SPRINGER-SPANKIN'-NEW SPRING CHINOOK "MAPAZINE," BOTH ON THE WAY TO NEWSSTANDS NOW!

Through Feb. 28, spring Chinook fishing is open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to the Interstate 5 Bridge under rules described in the 2010-11 Fishing in Washington pamphlet.

From March 1 through April 4, the fishery will be expanded 22 miles upriver to Rooster Rock, under new rules approved by fishery managers in Washington and Oregon. Bank anglers will also be allowed to fish from Rooster Rock up to the fishing boundary below Bonneville Dam during that time.

Above Bonneville Dam, the fishery will be open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from March 16 through April 24 between the Tower Island powerlines six miles below The Dalles Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the powerlines during that time.

As in years past, anglers may retain only hatchery-reared fish, marked with a clipped adipose fin. All unmarked wild spring Chinook must be released unharmed.

Anglers fishing downriver from Bonneville Dam may retain one hatchery-reared adult Chinook per day as part of their catch limit. Above the dam, anglers can keep two marked hatchery Chinook per day.

To guard against overestimating the run, the states will manage the fishery with a 30 percent buffer until the forecast is updated in late April or early May, said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for WDFW. “If the fish return at or above expectations, we will look toward providing additional days of fishing on the river later in spring,” she said.

Initial seasons announced today allocate 7,750 upper river spring Chinook to the sport fishery below Bonneville Dam, 1,650 to anglers fishing above Bonneville and 2,100 to the commercial fleet. Those guidelines do not include the catch of spring Chinook returning to tributaries flowing into the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam or into the Bonneville Pool.

The Cowlitz River is currently open to fishing for spring Chinook, with a daily limit of two adult Chinook salmon. On the Kalama and Lewis rivers, the limit is one adult Chinook salmon per day. Above Bonneville, the Wind River and Drano Lake are scheduled to open for spring Chinook March 16 with a limit of two Chinook per day.

All of those rivers are also open to fishing for hatchery steelhead under rules outlined in the 2010-11 Fishing in Washington pamphlet. Hymer said fishing for late-run hatchery steelhead is still going strong, particularly on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers, noting that summer-run steelhead will start coming in right behind them later in the month. Although spring Chinook start arriving on the Cowlitz in early March, hatchery steelhead usually make up the bulk of the catch until later in the month, he said.

In other waters, anglers should be aware that March 15 is the last day to fish for steelhead on Abernathy, Cedar (Clark Co.), Germany, Mill (Cowlitz Co.), Rock (Skamania Co.), Salmon (Clark Co.) creeks and on the Coweeman, Elochoman, Grays, East Fork Lewis and Washougal rivers.

Sturgeon anglers should also be aware of new joint fishing seasons and catch guidelines established for 2011. Concerned about the decline of legal-size sturgeon in the lower Columbia River, fishery managers from Washington and Oregon agreed to reduce this year’s total catch by 30 percent. As in years past, 80 percent of the allowable catch will be allocated to the sport fishery and 20 percent to the commercial fishery.

“In practical terms, this year’s action is expected to reduce the amount of time sturgeon fisheries in the lower Columbia River will be open at the end of the season,” said Brad James, another WDFW fish biologist.

Fishing seasons approved for 2011 in the lower Columbia River are as follows:

* Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines:  Retention of white sturgeon is allowed daily from Jan. 1 to April 30; May 14 through June 26; and July 1-4. From Jan. 1 to April 30, sturgeon must measure between 38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. From May 14 through the end of the season they must measure 41 inches to 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited.

* Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam: Retention of white sturgeon is allowed three days per week (Thursday through Saturday) from Jan. 1 through July 31 and from Oct. 8 until Dec. 31. Sturgeon must measure between 38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited. All fishing for sturgeon will be closed from May 1 through Aug. 31 in the sturgeon sanctuary downriver from Bonneville Dam described in the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet.

At a previous joint state hearing, the two states took action to close the Sand Island Slough near Rooster Rock to fishing at least through April 30.

Bucking the trend in the lower river, monitoring and fishery data show that sturgeon populations are growing above Bonneville Dam, James said. In response, catch guidelines were increased from 1,400 fish to 2,000 fish in the Bonneville Pool and from 165 fish to 500 fish in the John Day Pool. The 300-fish guideline in The Dalles Pool remains unchanged.

Despite the higher quota, the Bonneville Pool was closed to sturgeon retention at the end of the day Feb. 18. Anglers are advised to watch the WDFW website for updates on The Dalles Pool and the John Day Pool.

While sturgeon fishing has been slow in the lower river, the walleye fishery has been picking up above Bonneville Dam. By mid February, boat anglers fishing The Dalles Pool were averaging a walleye per rod.

Rather catch trout? WDFW plans to plant a total of 10,000 half-pound  rainbows in Klineline Pond, Battle Ground Lake and Lacamas Lake – all in Clark County – in March. In addition, Lacamas Lake is expected to receive 5,000 browns of similar size.  Anglers fishing Klineline Pond averaged nearly two fish apiece in mid February after a previous trout plant. See the trout-stocking schedule on the WDFW website for more information on winter trout stocking.

EASTERN

March may start off a bit slow for fishing in the region with the recent return of wintery weather and iced-over waters that will keep anglers home, limit their access, or slow fish stocking.

RUFUS SCHMUFUS, LAKE ROOSEVELT'S TOP DOG FOR TROUT IN EASTERN WASHINGTON, AS LOGAN BRAATEN PROVED EARLIER THIS WEEK. (WRIGHT & MCGILL/EAGLE CLAW PHOTO CONTEST)

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Lyons Ferry and Tucannon fish hatchery crews have been working to get “catchable” size (about one-third pound) and “jumbo” size (one-plus pound) rainbow trout  stocked in several lakes and ponds in the southeast end of the region that open to fishing March 1 or are open year-round.

Six of the seven March 1-opening impoundments off the Tucannon River on WDFW’s Wooten Wildlife Area in Columbia County are getting some of their annual allotment of hatchery rainbows, with others stocked later in the season. Big Four Lake is scheduled to receive a total of 2,000 catchables and 300 jumbos; Blue Lake will receive 23,000 catchables and 400 jumbos; Deer Lake gets 3,400 catchables and 50 jumbos; Rainbow Lake gets 15,000 catchables and 325 jumbos; Spring Lake gets 11,000 catchables and 325 jumbos; and Watson Lake gets 21,300 catchables and 325 jumbos. Beaver Lake has water depth and quality issues that preclude it from viable fish stocking this year.

Also opening March 1 for stocked rainbow fishing is Fishhook Pond in Walla Walla County, which is scheduled to receive a total of 5,000 catchables and 150 jumbos this season, and Pampa Pond in Whitman County, which will receive a total of 6,000 catchables and 200 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 will get a total of 22,000 catchables and 475 jumbos, and West Evans Ponds will get a total of 22,000 catchables and 475 jumbos.

Orchard Pond, a year-round impoundment off the Snake River in Columbia County, will receive a total of 2,000 catchables and 50 jumbos.

In Walla Walla County, two year-round fisheries are scheduled to receive some of their annual allotment of trout – Quarry Pond will get a total of 25,000 catchables and 400 jumbos, and Bennington Lake will get a total of 20,500 catchables and 625 jumbos.

Anglers can check Catchable Trout Plant Reports to see when WDFW hatchery crews will complete trout stocking.

Other waters opening March 1 in the region will likely provide action on a variety of fish later in the month when ice melts and access is easier. Most of these waters are not dependent on catchable fish stocking, but have fish populations that carry over through the winter.

Chris Donley, WDFW central district fish biologist, said that Liberty Lake, in eastern Spokane County, will be “fantastic” for carryover brown trout that run 16 to 25 inches. Liberty will also yield some of the earliest yellow perch and crappie, he says, “but not on the first of March this year.”

When warmer weather returns, Downs Lake in southwest Spokane County might be the best place in the region for the first smallmouth bass. Downs also has yellow perch, crappie, and carryover rainbow trout.  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 the first, under selective gear rules, for rainbows, perch and crappie. When conditions improve, both of these special rule fisheries should provide excellent fly-fishing opportunities.

Bill Baker, WDFW northeast district fish biologist, reports Deer Lake in southern Stevens County is still iced over. “If anglers attempt to fish it on the March 1 opener they need to be very cautious about safe ice depth,” he said. Deer Lake has bass, crappie, perch, rainbow and lake trout, and kokanee.

Baker also notes that northern Stevens County’s two winter-season rainbow trout lakes – Williams and Hatch – are still producing catches of fish measuring 13 to 14 inches.  “The bite seems to be best in the early morning,” he said. Both lakes remain open through the month of March, but Baker warns anglers to be cautious about quickly changing ice conditions this late in the season.

WDFW police Sgt. Dan Rahn said fishing action has slowed at the central district’s two winter-season (December through March) lakes – Hog Canyon in Spokane County and Fourth of July in Lincoln County.  In February, many anglers checked were taking limits of rainbows, he notes, but changing conditions may be keeping anglers at home.  “There’s still plenty of nice fish to be caught at these lakes,” he said. “But anglers do need to be careful about marginally safe ice.”

Baker also said Lake Roosevelt kokanee and rainbow trout fishing has been good and should continue through March.  In the Spring Canyon area of the big Columbia River reservoir, both species are being caught near the surface.

Other year-round fisheries in the region that continue to provide good fishing include Sprague Lake for rainbows, and Rock Lake for rainbow and brown trout.

Another kind of fishing is available at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s 51st annual Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show, March 17-20, at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. Some 5,000 trout are stocked in three huge indoor lakes for kids to catch at “Fishing World,” and there’s a “Virtual Reality Fishing Simulator,” fishing demonstration tank, lots of fishing seminars by experts, and hundreds of fishing equipment and charter service vendors. The show also offers a rifle range, archery range, laser shot shooting simulators, and of course the origins of the event – “Trophy Territory,” where hundreds of hunter-harvested antlered and horned animals are displayed and judged by Boone and Crocket scorers.

NORTHCENTRAL

At least 18 rainbow trout-stocked waters in the northcentral region open to fishing on March 1, but only a few will likely be fishable early in the season. Only two lakes in Grant County – Martha Lake just east of the town of George and Upper Caliche Lake just west of George – were at least half-open from ice, reports Chad Jackson, a district fishing biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“Fishing at Martha Lake should be good for 11 to 13-inch trout that were stocked late last fall,” Jackson said. “There is also a good number of catchables at least 14 inches to be caught in Martha.”

“Upper Caliche Lake will fish well, too, but the trout will be smaller, running eight to ten inches,” he said. “We were unable to plant fish late last fall when the lake was iced over with that early winter weather in November.”

Two other popular March 1-opening waters – Quincy and Burke lakes on WDFW’s Quincy Wildlife Area southwest of the town of Quincy – were mostly iced over and unfishable at last check.

“When they do open up, I expect them to fish well since they received pretty hefty catchable plants last spring and fall,” Jackson said. Burke Lake was stocked with 18,000 rainbows weigh a third of a pound and Quincy received 16,000.

Other Columbia Basin lakes opening March 1 on the Quincy Wildlife Area include Upper, Lower and West Caliche lakes, southwest of George; Dusty Lake, a selective gear rule fishery south of Quincy; and several small “walk-in” lakes, including Cascade, Cliff, Crystal, Cup, Dot, George and Spring.

Three other lakes – Lenice, Nunnally and Merry on WDFW’s Crab Creek Wildlife Area in southwest Grant County just east of Beverly – 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. The fishery there for two to four-pound Lahontan cutthroat trout usually catches fire there by April.

UMMM, RUFUS SCHMUFUS WHAT? MARK SUYAMA SHOWS OFF WHAT'S IN STORE FOR YOU AT THE BIG RESERVOIR BELOW THAT OTHER IMPOUNDMENT OF THE UPPER COLUMBIA. (WRIGHT & MCGILL/EAGLE CLAW PHOTO CONTEST)

In Okanogan County, lake fishing is an option on several stocked year-round waters, including Patterson Lake near Winthrop and Sidley Lake near Oroville. Yellow perch are usually caught at Patterson and rainbow trout are the predominant species at Sidley.

WDFW Okanogan district fish biologist Bob Jateff reminds steelhead anglers fishing the upper Columbia River and its tributaries that they are required to retain any hatchery-origin adipose-fin-clipped steelhead they catch up to the limit of four fish per day. The Wenatchee and Icicle rivers remain open to steelhead fishing until further notice. Anglers may retain hatchery steelhead with a clipped adipose fin and a circular (hole) punch in their caudal (tail) fin on the Wenatchee and Icicle rivers, along with other waterways in the upper Columbia.

SOUTHCENTRAL

Spring Chinook salmon are moving up the Columbia River and steelhead fishing should pick up soon, but trout fishing in area lakes is probably best bet for catching fish over the next few weeks.

“We start stocking year-round lakes in late February and continue right through June,” said Eric Anderson, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “This fishery is really our bread and butter, and anglers look forward to it all year.”

By mid-March, about a dozen lakes and ponds in Yakima, Kittitas, Franklin and Benton counties are scheduled to receive thousands of “catchable size” rainbow trout, along with hundreds of jumbos and triploids. For a complete list, see the stocking schedule for southcentral Washington on the WDFW website.

But anglers should also be aware that steelhead fishing usually picks up in March on the Columbia River and its tributaries. Paul Hoffarth, another WDFW fish biologist, notes that some of the highest catches of the season occur in March near the Ringold Springs Hatchery.

“A lot of steelhead that have been hanging out all winter will make their final spawning runs,” Hoffarth said. “That’s when catch rates start rising again.”

The daily limit is four hatchery steelhead per day from the Columbia River from Priest Rapids to Chief Joseph Dam and all tributaries in between. Under rules now in effect, anglers are required to retain the first four adipose-fin-clipped steelhead they catch. See the WDFW fishing rule issued Feb. 9 for details on that rule and other new regulations.

Meanwhile, the spring Chinook fishery opens March 1 above Bonneville Dam with a two-Chinook daily limit. The area open for spring Chinook fishing has been extended upstream of McNary Dam to the Washington-Oregon border, 17 miles upstream from the dam.

Spring Chinook probably won’t start showing up in the catch that far upriver until mid April, while walleye are already starting to make a good showing, Hoffarth said. “We’re are starting to see a few walleye in the creel, including some good-size fish running over 10 pounds. Walleye fishing should continue to improve for the next few weeks as these fish get ready for their early spring spawn.”

White sturgeon are also still an option. The sturgeon fishery above McNary Dam (Lake Wallula) is scheduled to run through July 31, and the catch guideline for the John Day Pool (Lake Umatilla) was recently increased from 165 to 500 fish. “That increase should allow us to keep the fishery open for retention on into March,” Hoffarth said.

COTTONWOOD'S STARTING TO BLOOM FOR STEELHEADERS. JEFF MAIN AND PAL (PICTURED HERE) HAVE BEEN DOING WELL AT THE RELEASE SITE ON THE GRANDE RONDE ABOVE BOGGAN'S. (WRIGHT & MCGILL/EAGLE CLAW PHOTO CONTEST)

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