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Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

March 5-18, 2008

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

Outdoor activities heat up with the arrival of spring

With spring fast approaching, improving weather and new recreational opportunities have given anglers and wildlife watchers reasons to venture outdoors.

In western Washington, fishing has been good - often under sunny skies - for blackmouth salmon on portions of Puget Sound and steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula. Other options this month include a razor clam dig on two ocean beaches, the start of the spring chinook fishery on the Columbia River and lingcod fishing in three coastal areas.

East of the Cascades, anglers have been taking advantage of warmer temperatures to fish newly opened trout lakes, many covered by ice only a few weeks ago.

"Some waters are still iced up but several others are open," said Jeff Korth, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "I expect participation and catch rates to pick up as we move into spring and temperatures continue to climb."

Anglers aren't the only ones enjoying the change of season. Thousands of geese, ducks and other birds are descending on waterways throughout the state in their annual northward migration, drawing increasing numbers of birders into the field.

Among the avian visitors are hundreds of sandhill cranes, headliners of the 11th annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival scheduled March 28-30. The festival features birding tours and lectures. Meanwhile, birders in southwest Washington are flocking to the Vancouver lowlands where bald eagles, great blue herons and other birds can be seen building their nests.

"It's a good time to see the herons, because the cottonwoods haven't really leafed out yet," said Brian Calkins, who manages WDFW's Shillapoo and Mount St. Helens wildlife areas. "The lowlands are also a prime spot to observe eagles right now, because they tend to start nesting here earlier than in the rest of the state."

Dates for outdoor events worth noting this month are:

* March 7-12 - A variety of razor clam digs have been scheduled at Twin Harbors and Long Beach. Twin Harbors will be open for digging all six days, while Long Beach will open the March 8-9 weekend only.
* March 15 - The lingcod fishery gets under way in marine areas 1-3, south of Cape Alava.
* March 16 - Spring chinook fisheries open on the mainstem Columbia River from the west power lines on Hayden Island to McNary Dam.

For more information on these and other upcoming outdoor opportunities, see the regional reports below.

North Puget Sound

Fishing: Steelhead are still hard to find on the Skagit and Sauk rivers, but warmer weather and spring-like conditions have made for decent blackmouth fishing in several areas of Puget Sound.

"It looks like the best action for blackmouth in northern Puget Sound has moved to the Whidbey and Camano areas," said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist. "The San Juan Islands had been hot the last couple of weeks, but the bite seems to have slowed in that area."

Recent creel samples show anglers have been hooking some blackmouth - resident chinook - throughout the region, but the best harvest numbers were seen at checks on Camano and Whidbey islands. For example, 46 anglers were checked with 20 chinook March 1 at the Camano Island ramp. The following day, 59 anglers were checked with 24 chinook at the Camano ramp, while four anglers were checked with four chinook at Whidbey’s Oak Harbor Marina.

Selective fisheries for hatchery blackmouth continue into April in marine areas 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay) and 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner), as well as Marine Area 9 (Admiralty inlet). Anglers fishing in those areas can keep two hatchery blackmouth as part of their two-salmon daily limit. They must, however, use single-point hooks and release wild chinook, which have an intact adipose fin.

Thiesfeld reminds anglers that regulations are different for Marine Area 7 (San Juan Islands), where anglers have a daily limit of one chinook salmon.

Later this month, anglers will have a chance to participate in the Anacortes Salmon Derby . Tickets for the event, which is scheduled March 29-30 out of the Cap Sante Marina, are $50 per person and proceeds will go toward scholarships to benefit young adults interested in pursuing an education in fisheries and a related natural science. Top prize for the derby, which is hosted by the Fidalgo Chapter of Puget Sound Anglers, is $10,000. For more information visit .

Meanwhile, casting for steelhead is still an option, although a number of rivers closed to steelhead fishing at the end of February. The Skagit and portions of the Sauk remain open, but Brett Barkdull, another WDFW fish biologist, reminds anglers that regulations for those two rivers changed last month. The changes were made to protect wild steelhead because low returns are expected back this year to the Skagit River basin, he said.

Anglers fishing the Sauk and Skagit rivers, as well as Fisher Slough, must now follow selective gear rules. The rules require anglers to use unscented artificial flies or lures with single-point barbless hooks and knotless nets. Those and other selective gear rules are listed on page 26 of WDFW's Fishing in Washington regulation pamphlet, which is available at . There are some exceptions, however, for the use of motorized vessels on the Skagit River.

On the two rivers and the slough, anglers have a daily limit of two hatchery steelhead. "I’ve heard reports of anglers on the Skagit catching and releasing a few wild fish, and some anglers have even hooked a few hatchery steelhead as well," Barkdull said.

While the Sauk, from the mouth to the Darrington Bridge, remains open through March 31, portions of the Skagit close March 15. Before heading out, anglers should check WDFW's website ( ) for details on the Skagit River basin rule changes.

Wildlife viewing: Reports of whales have picked up in the region. Crews aboard the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry recently spotted a gray whale cruising the waters of Possession Sound. Farther north, a pod of orcas was seen traveling east in the waters between Victoria, B.C., and San Juan Island. Reports on the Orca Network ( ) indicate the killer whales were members of the resident population J-Pod.

Bird sightings also have increased in the region. One birder in the Butler Flats area of Skagit Valley spotted a yellow-headed blackbird among a large flock of other blackbirds , cowbirds and starlings . The birder also found a leucistic - lacking pigmentation - cowbird in the area. The light-colored bird was identical in structure to the other brown-headed cowbirds in the area, according to the report on the Tweeters website ( ).

Elsewhere, a birder vacationing on Whidbey Island spotted a number of different species, including a great horned owl , a Bewick’s wren , a great blue heron and a red-tailed hawk . The highlight for the birder was a bald eagle so weighed down with nest-building material it struggled to make it back to the nest site.

South Sound/Olympic Peninsula

Fishing: From bays to beaches, rivers to ocean waters, the region offers a variety of options for anglers, clam diggers and wildlife enthusiasts this month.

Clam diggers who were stymied by poor weather in February will get another chance to catch their limit of razor clams during a six-day dig set for March 7-12. Twin Harbors will be open for digging all six days, while Long Beach will be open the weekend of March 8-9 only. No other beaches will be open for digging, including Kalaloch, which is closed for the 2007-2008 season.

The dig will open on evening tides March 7 and 8, then switch to morning tides March 9-12, said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager.

Clam digs on evening tides are allowed only during the hours between noon and midnight, while each morning dig must be completed by noon, Ayres said.

Ayres also reminds diggers to note the switch from standard to daylight time, which begins March 9.

Opening dates and tides are:

* March 7, Friday, 6:21 p.m., +0.3: Twin Harbors only
* March 8, Saturday, 6:58 p.m., +0.5: Twin Harbors and Long Beach only
* March 9, Sunday, 8:28 a.m., +0.3: Twin Harbors and Long Beach only (switch to morning tides; daylight savings time starts)
* March 10, Monday, 9:12 a.m., 0.0: Twin Harbors only
* March 11, Tuesday, 9:59 a.m., -0.1: Twin Harbors only
* March 12, Wednesday, 10:51 a.m., 0.0: Twin Harbors only

Meanwhile, steelhead fishing is holding steady on the Olympic Peninsula, where the Sol Duc is providing anglers with the highest catch rates. A WDFW survey from the first weekend in March showed 75 anglers caught 72 wild steelhead (65 released) and three hatchery fish on the river. On the Bogachiel, 47 anglers caught 15 wild fish, 12 of which were released, while farther south on the Hoh River, 69 anglers on the upper portion caught 25 fish (22 wild, all released). Results tallied on the lower Hoh showed an average of one fish for every five rods.

Retention of wild steelhead is limited to one fish per year on the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Goodman, Hoh, Hoko, Pysht, Quillayute, Quinault or Sol Duc rivers. Elsewhere, they must be released. Retention rules for wild steelhead are outlined on page 33 of the Fishing in Washington rule pamphlet ( ).

Success in catching blackmouth , which has been sporadic since the Feb. 16 opener, depends on where the baitfish are, said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist. "Fish are biting in Hood Canal and anglers are having some success along the Strait near Sekiu and Port Angeles," he said. "Those are the places that likely have the food they need." That may explain the struggles farther south, where anglers fishing near Point Defiance are coming up empty. A creel check over the March 1-2 weekend showed 52 anglers caught just two blackmouth.

On the coast, anglers can look forward to the opening of the lingcod fishery, which gets under way March 15 in marine areas 1-3, south of Cape Alava. Anglers should note the minimum size for lingcod in these three areas is 22 inches. In Marine Area 2 (Westport/Ocean Shores), recreational fishing for rockfish or lingcod is not allowed in waters deeper than 30 fathoms from March 15 through June 15. Additional information about the lingcod fishery and other bottom fish is available on the WDFW Fishing Hotline (360) 902-2500 and the department's website ( ).

Anglers looking ahead to halibut season might want to check out opening dates and other information on the WDFW website ( ). Seasons will open April 10 in most areas of Puget Sound, followed by additional openings in May on the coast and the western Strait of Juan de Fuca. This year, fishing off the coast of Westport (Marine Area 2) will be limited to two days a week (Sundays and Tuesdays) after the initial opening day on Thursday, May 1.

Wildlife viewing: Spring is on the way and the rites of the season are visible everywhere. Wildlife watchers need go no farther than their own backyards to note the changing plumage of the area’s common birds. As the mating season starts, the junco’s coloring becomes crisper and house finches turn bright red. Atop pilings around Puget Sound, adult cormorants also take on vibrant plumage as they prepare to breed.

Throughout the region, birders have reported sightings of bald eagles and great horned owls in the process of building their nests, while rufous hummingbirds and tree and violet-green swallows are returning to feeders and fields from their winter habitats. Many enthusiasts also look forward to the return of the neo-tropical migrating birds, such as warblers, thrushes, tanagers and vireos who make their way north from Mexico and Central and South America to breed and raise their young. To learn more about recent bird sightings in the area, visit the Tweeters website at .

In the whale world, a pod of about 6 to 9 orcas , including two juveniles, were observed during the March 1-2 weekend near the Sekiu River on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The whales were identified as members of L pod, which includes more than 40 orcas that spend most of the winter off the west coast, sometimes traveling as far south as Monterey Bay in California. Like many humans, their fish of choice is chinook salmon.

Southwest Washington

Fishing: Sturgeon are slow to bite and late-run hatchery steelhead are, well, running late, but the future is looks bright for Columbia River anglers. Starting Sunday, March 16, the spring chinook fishery will get under way upriver from the west power lines on Hayden Island buoyed by a pre-season forecast that calls for a strong return of upriver fish.

The Wind River and Drano Lake also open for spring chinook fishing March 16, and the Cowlitz, Kalama, and Lewis rivers have been open for chinook since Jan. 1. Anglers have already pulled a few "springers" from those rivers, although the fish usually don’t start arriving en masse until early April.

When they do, fishery managers are expecting 269,300 chinook salmon to return to the Columbia River and its tributaries above Bonneville Dam, the third-largest run since 1977. That compares to just 86,230 fish last year.

"If the forecasts are on target, this should be a terrific year for spring chinook fishing," said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist. "We expect to see a lot of chinook salmon moving upriver this year."

Fishing seasons on the mainstem Columbia River, announced by WDFW last month, are as follows:

* Buoy 10 to the west power lines on Hayden Island: Salmon fishing will be open seven days per week from March 24 to April 4 with a daily limit of one hatchery adult chinook salmon.
* West power lines on Hayden Island to Bonneville Dam: Salmon fishing will be open from March 16 through April 30, with a daily limit of one hatchery adult chinook salmon. Beginning March 24, the sport fishery will be closed for all species from one hour after official sunset Mondays to one hour before official sunrise Wednesdays.
* Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam: Salmon fishing will be open seven days per week from March 16 through May 10 with a daily limit of two hatchery adult chinook salmon. Bank fishing only from Bonneville Dam upstream to the Tower Island power lines located about six miles below The Dalles Dam.

As in previous seasons, anglers must release any chinook salmon with an intact adipose fish to conserve wild fish.

Below Bonneville Dam, this year’s fishery will focus on waters upriver from Hayden Island, a strategy designed to protect a weak run to the Willamette River. Catch limits will be restricted to one chinook salmon a day on that part of the river to meet escapement goals and to help extend the length of the season.

"The fishing really gets good in early April, so we wanted to give anglers as many days on the water that month as we could," Hymer said. "This could be a great spring in southwest Washington for people who like to fish for salmon."

That is especially true above Bonneville Dam, where anglers fishing the mainstem Columbia River will be able to keep two chinook salmon and two steelhead from March 16 through May 10.

Drano Lake, at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River, is expected to be a major contributor to that fishery, with an expected run of 36,800 spring chinook this year. That would be a record, topping the return of 20,600 fish in 2002, Hymer said.

Anglers should be aware that the shoreline outside the mouth of Drano Lake will be open for bank fishing for the first time in 30 years. In all, this year’s fishing regulations will open up 40 additional miles of bank fishing on the mainstem Columbia River from Bonneville Dam to the Tower Island power lines six miles below The Dalles Dam.

"I think the best bet will be at the mouth of Drano Lake," Hymer said. "Casting a plug or lure from shore is sure to produce fish." Anglers fishing the newly opened bank are asked to follow three rules: Don’t cross the highway, don’t trespass over the railroad tracks and don’t interfere with tribal fisheries.

The Wind River, with an expected run of 10,000 fish, should also contribute to fisheries above Bonneville Dam this year. Less than half that many fish returned to the Wind last year, prompting WDFW to curtail fishing seasons.

That is unlikely to happen again this year, Hymer said. "The pre-season forecast indicates that we should have plenty of fish to meet escapement goals and still provide a full fishery," he said.

One exception is the Klickitat River, which opens in April with a one-fish daily limit. Like last year, only about 1,100 spring chinook are expected to return to the Klickitat this season and fishing will again be limited to only Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Anglers planning for fish for spring chinook can get a daily count of fish passing Bonneville Dam at .

It is still possible that the late steelhead run to the Cowlitz, and Kalama rivers will arrive in time to keep anglers busy until the spring chinook arrives en force, Hymer said. "The early hatchery steelhead run did fairly well, so I still have to think that anglers are going to start picking up some late run fish in those tributaries," he said.

The smelt season, on the other hand, is probably over for the year. Since Feb. 16, when some dippers took some limits on the Cowlitz River, very few fish have been detected throughout the river. "Those who were there on the right Saturday got some, but that appears to be it for the year," Hymer said.

Trout anglers should know that WDFW recently planted 1,500 catchable-size rainbows in Sacajawea Lake in Longview, 300 rainbows in Maryhill Pond in Klickitat County and 1,000 half-pound rainbows in Klineline Pond. At Klineline, 45 bank anglers kept 60 rainbows and released 75, according to a recent creel count. Anglers did best when fishing with lures, flies and shrimp. Otherwise, fishing with bait was slow.

In addition to upcoming salmon opportunities from Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam, walleye fishing can be quite good there this time of year. Some sturgeon are also being caught in that region.

Like to dig razor clams ? See the South Sound/Olympic Peninsula report for information on a dig scheduled March 7-12.

Wildlife viewing: With spring fast approaching, nesting areas throughout the region are attracting birds ranging from violet-green swallows and belted kingfishers to great egrets and sandhill cranes . In a report to the Tweeters birding website ( ), one birder expressed excitement over seeing an entire field filled with egrets and cranes at the Shillapoo Wildlife Area. Another noted that the first band-tailed pigeon of the year returned to his feeder in western Skamania County.

Meanwhile, many seabirds are beginning to acquire their breeding plumage as they pair up and move toward their nesting areas. "This is the time of the year when red-necked grebes really do have a red neck," said Bill Tweit, a WDFW fish manager and veteran birder. "Breeding plumage makes it easier to identify a lot of different seabirds at this time of year."

Of course, some birds make identification easier than other. During a trip to Julia Butler Hanson National Wildlife Refuge, a birder watched two white-tailed kites "passing directly overhead, giving us superb views of its black-and-white plumage patterns, its eyes and of a mouse clutched tightly underneath."

Eastern Washington

Fishing: The March 1 fishing season opener in the southeast part of the region, where most lakes are ice-free and well stocked with hatchery rainbow trout , was a satisfying experience for many winter-weary anglers.

"The fishing here on the Tucannon Lakes is outstanding," reported WDFW Tucannon Fish Hatchery specialist Dave Clark. "Lots of limits were caught over the first weekend. Power bait or salmon eggs fished on the bottom seemed to work the best."

Clark said that only one of the seven Tucannon River impoundments - Big Four Lake - was still too iced up to stock with trout by the first of the month. But with warming temperatures it won’t be long before it, too, will be open and full of fish. Meanwhile, the other six lakes - Beaver, Blue, Deer, Rainbow, Spring and Watson - continue to provide catches of one-third to one-half pound rainbows.

Fishhook Pond in Walla Walla County and Pampa Pond in Whitman County are also open and well-stocked with rainbows from WDFW’s Lyons Ferry Hatchery.

Most waters that opened March 1 in the central part of the region continue to be too icy for fishing. "Maybe a few politicians could help us out with some hot air and wind," said WDFW district fish biologist Chris Donley.

When thawing occurs - in whatever form - fishing should be good for large brown, rainbow , and tiger trout under selective gear rules at Medical Lake near the town of the same name in Spokane County. Prospects are also good for yellow perch, largemouth bass, crappie , and rainbow trout at Downs Lake in the southwest corner of Spokane County; largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, crappie , and brown and rainbow trout at Liberty Lake, east of Spokane near the Idaho border.

Anglers should find some nice lake and rainbow trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie and yellow perch at Deer Lake in southern Stevens County; rainbow and cutthroat trout for catch-and-release only at Amber Lake in southwest Spokane County; rainbow trout, yellow perch and black crappie under selective gear rules at Coffeepot Lake in Lincoln County; and rainbow trout at North Silver Lake in southwest Spokane County. Selective gear rules are in effect at North Silver Lake, where anglers must release adipose-fin-clipped fish.

Donley also noted that anglers planning to fish the Spokane River should consider attending a March 11 program about protecting the river’s native redband rainbow trout , hosted by Spokane Falls Trout Unlimited. The program, which starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Community Building at 35 W. Main Ave. in downtown Spokane, will feature WDFW fish biologist Jason McLellan on redband research and how river flows and water quality affect the fish. WDFW Enforcement Officer Lenny Hahn will also discuss fishing regulations and poaching problems on the river. For more information, contact Spokane Falls Trout Unlimited Conservation Chair Jerry White at [email protected] .

Wildlife viewing: WDFW district wildlife biologist Steve Zender of Chewelah says this is the best time for novice bird watchers to start learning new birds. "The migrants are starting to drift in now," he said. "Later on, it’s just overwhelming, but right now you get a few new birds each week. For example, I just saw the first spotted towhee the other day. Last week it was the first American robin ."

Zender noted that veteran birders are enjoying breaking out of their "cabin fever" of winter birding and sharing information about early Spring migrant finds. The latest tip came from a Pend Oreille County birder who spotted over 25 Violet-green swallows huddling on a power line near water.

Great blue herons are returning to communal nesting sites or "rookeries" throughout the region. WDFW habitat biologist Jeff Lawlor recently reported several of the big birds perched on the pilings near the Usk bridge over the Pend Oreille River. "Looks like they will again be using the nearby rookery this year," Lawlor said.

Lawlor also reported seeing about three-dozen tundra swans on the Pend Oreille River. "Red-winged blackbirds are also taking up residence at many of the small cattail-filled wetlands throughout the county," he said.

The arrival of killdeer in the area is one of the surest signs of spring for WDFW wildlife biologist Woody Myers. "The first waterfowl migrations are under way now, too," he said, "with pintails and mallards always being the first on the scene. A few mourning doves have also arrived."

WDFW district wildlife biologist Howard Ferguson of Spokane agrees this is a good time for birdwatching. His recent observations in the Deadman Creek area of northeast Spokane County’s Peone Prairie included over 600 Canada geese, about 200 pintails, 150 mallards, and 38 tundra swans. "I even heard an American bittern while glassing a wetland in the area," Ferguson said. "The geese are really easy for anyone to see, right from the road without binoculars, because they’re stacking up throughout the Peone Prairie grainfields."

Ferguson also saw a Say's phoebe, western bluebirds, killdeer , and robins everywhere. He noted that bald eagles are just beginning to incubate on their nests and great horned owls and red-tailed hawks are courting.

Wild turkeys in large winter groups continue to forage wherever they find easy pickings. Lingering snow cover, especially in the north end of the region, has them and both white-tailed and mule deer concentrated at low elevations.

"This year, more than most due to the deep snow cover, the deer are especially hungry and very visible foraging on the south-facing slopes that are starting to open up now," said Zender.

Myers reminded wildlife watchers to keep their distance from deer, elk , and moose to avoid disturbing them during late winter, which is their most vulnerable season. "Don’t try to feed these animals," Myers said. "Most of them will find what they need naturally to get through to spring green-up. Feeding only causes more problems, for both the animals and people."

Moose , in particular, continue to wander suburban parts of Spokane County, Myers noted, and are potentially dangerous by their sheer size and bold nature. When moose are around, keep dogs and children under control to avoid problems. To discourage moose from hanging around, keep livestock feed and hay protected, avoid feeding birds, or cover landscaping plants.

Northcentral Washington

Fishing: Considering the conditions, fishing is generally good at several Columbia Basin rainbow trout lakes that opened March 1, reported Jeff Korth, WDFW district fish biologist from Moses Lake. "Icy conditions minimized participation over opening weekend at some lakes, but they will just have good fishing longer when they open up," he said. "While windy conditions also hampered success at other lakes, many of these fisheries are in good shape and catch rates should pick up when weather stabilizes."

Under sunny skies and temperatures up to 50 degrees, Korth and other WDFW staff checked anglers on the opener at several lakes. Some of the best fishing occurred at Upper Caliche Lake, which was completely ice-free. Many anglers caught their five-fish limit of 12-inch rainbows in an hour or less and the average was 4.1 fish per angler. Martha Lake was mostly ice-free and also produced lots of limits in an hour or less of fishing. Martha Lake anglers averaged 3.9 fish each, with about two percent of the catch in 18-26-inch rainbow broodstock. Burke Lake was mostly ice-covered on the opener, but anglers still managed to average 3.9 fish each, catching mostly 13-inch yearling rainbows with 14 percent in 15-19-inch carryovers. Quincy Lake was almost totally ice-covered. Of the few anglers checked, the average was four, 12-inch rainbows per angler.

Several lakes with selective gear rules and one-fish retention limits that opened March 1 were also checked. Dusty Lake was completely ice-free but very windy. The few anglers who were out, averaged two 14-20-inch rainbows each. Lenice and Nunnally lakes were also completely ice-free but windy and fishing trips were short. The average catch at Lenice was less than one fish each, but they were mostly 17-21-inch rainbow and brown trout . The average catch at Nunnally was 4.5 fish, mostly 17-21-inch rainbows. Lenore Lake, which offers Lahontan cutthroat trout and is catch-and-release at this time, was 80 percent ice-covered on the opener so no checks were made there.

Bob Jateff, WDFW district fish biologist from Omak, reminds anglers that steelhead fishing in the Methow, Wenatchee, and mainstem Columbia rivers is now closed. "Wild fish impacts from the fishery were reached on February 24, which necessitated an early closure of the fishery," he explained.

"The Okanogan and Similkameen rivers remain open to fishing for steelhead, but anglers should be aware of closed sections on these two rivers," Jateff said. On the Okanogan, the area from 500 feet below the Highway 155 Bridge in Omak to 500 feet above Omak Creek and the area from the Highway 97 Bridge in Oroville to Zosel Dam are both closed. On the Similkameen River, the area from the Railroad Trestle Bridge - one mile upstream of Highway 7 Bridge -- to Enloe Dam is closed.

Jateff also noted selective gear rules are in effect for both the Similkameen and Okanogan rivers. Daily catch limit is two adipose-fin-clipped steelhead and 20-inch minimum size. Adipose fin-clipped steelhead containing an anchor (floy) tag may not be harvested. Any steelhead caught with an intact adipose fin must be released immediately and may not be totally removed from the water.

Whitefish angling is open on the Methow, Jateff says, but with some restrictions. The Methow is closed to all fishing, including whitefish, from the mouth to Gold Creek. Gear rules are one, single point hook, maximum hook size 3/16-inch measured point to shank (size 14), and bait is allowed. Jateff also reminds anglers that steelhead fishing is closed on the entire Methow River and close monitoring will take place during the duration of the whitefish season.

Rainbow trout ice fishing opportunities in Okanogan County are still available through March at Rat Lake near Brewster, Patterson Lake near Winthrop, Sidley Lake near Oroville, and Green Lake near Omak. Jateff warns that anglers should test ice very carefully because early spring’s warmer temperatures, coupled with wind, can reduce ice thickness very quickly.

Wildlife viewing: Thousands of geese, ducks and other water fowl are descending on the waterways, both big and small, of the Columbia Basin in their annual northward migration feeding and resting stopover. Among the bird visitors are hundreds of sandhill cranes in the potholes country and farm fields of Adams, Grant and Franklin counties. These big birds are the stars of the 11th annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival , March 28-30.

Now is the time to make reservations for festival wildlife viewing tours, which have limited capacity and fill up very quickly each year. To accommodate those who cannot make the festival, and to take advantage of early-arriving and late-staying birds, reservations are also being taken for pre-festival tours on March 15 and 22 and post-festival tours on April 5. Besides crane-viewing tours, the festival offers tours that cover the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge and Potholes Reservoir area, Missoula Floods and the Channeled Scablands geology, Lower Grand Coulee birding, and Wahluke Slope/Shrub Steppe birding. Pre-registration for March 28-30 festival tours should be made by March 21 at

Free lectures throughout the festival cover a variety of topics, from spring bird migrations in general to grouse or owls specifically, including some by WDFW biologists. For more information call (509) 488-2802 or view the schedule at . The festival is sponsored by the Greater Othello Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and supported by the City of Othello, Othello School District and Othello Community Schools, and the Adams County Conservation District.

Southcentral Washington

Fishing: As spring-like weather pushes winter aside, fishing enthusiasts are plying the waters of the region’s year-round lake fisheries. Jim Cummins, WDFW fish biologist from Yakima, reports "plenty of folks" fishing the Fio Rito lakes southeast of Ellensburg in Kittitas County, as well as many others.

Catchable-size (about one-third pound) rainbow trout have been planted in most of the region’s year-round lowland lakes in the Yakima and Ellensburg areas, and all are ice-free. Details on fish stocking are available on WDFW’s Southcentral Region webpage ( ).

"As the ice and snow melts and roads open up, we’ll be stocking the mid- elevation lakes," Cummins said.

Cummins reminds anglers that although many lakes are open for fishing, most rivers are closed until June 1. "We need to protect downstream migrating salmon and steelhead smolts, and spring spawning fish such as steelhead and rainbow trout until then," he explained. There are exceptions, such as the Yakima River and streams that have winter whitefish seasons, such as the Naches River, close March 31 to all fishing, and remain closed until June 1. "Anglers need to read the regulations pamphlet carefully," he said.

North Elton Pond, near Selah alongside Interstate 82 in north Yakima County, closes March 31. Cummins noted this fishery is the region’s only winter season water, having opened Dec. 1. "It was well stocked with half-pound rainbows and continues to see considerable fishing effort," he said.

Cummins also reminds anglers that current fishing licenses are valid through March 31. New fishing licenses must be purchased and in possession starting April 1. Licenses can be purchased at vendors throughout the region, listed at , or on-line through the WDFW website at .

Wildlife viewing: Spring bird migrations, courtship rituals and nest-building have begun throughout the region. Jim Cummins, WDFW fish biologist, reports great blue herons are back on the rookery or communal nesting site along the Yakima River near Selah. Others report spotting returning songbirds, like red-winged blackbirds and western meadowlarks .

The return of western bluebirds has some bird enthusiasts cleaning out bird nest boxes. Other cavity nesters that will readily use nest boxes if properly made, located and maintained, include chickadees , swallows and wrens . For more information on nestboxes and backyard wildlife in general, see .

Waterfowl are concentrated in spring migrating groups at waterways throughout the region, from the Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge southeast of Yakima, to WDFW’s Sunnyside Wildlife Area near Mabton, to McNary National Wildlife Refuge near the Tri-Cities. Thousands of Canada geese , mallards , northern pintails , and tundra swans are in the area now.

Winter-feeding of elk and bighorn sheep at Oak Creek Wildlife Area northwest of Yakima is ending, although some animals are still very visible. Ted Clausing, WDFW regional wildlife program manager, reminds visitors to this area and others in the region that road closures remain in effect through April 30 to limit disturbance to animals during the critical time of late winter and early spring.

"We know this is a popular time for some to get out collecting shed antlers," Clausing said, "but the wildlife comes first."

Vehicle gates are closed to all entry on Oak Creek and Bethel Ridge roads and the Sanford Pasture/ Mud Lake road system on the Oak Creek Wildlife Area; the Mellotte Road into the Wenas Wildlife Area; and the Robinson Canyon and Joe Watt Canyon roads into the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area.

Clausing also notes a new motorized vehicle access closure on the Whiskey Dick and a portion of the Quilomene wildlife areas in Kittitas County that will remain in effect through April 30 to protect elk. The area is north of the Vantage Highway, south of Quilomene Ridge Road, east of the Wild Horse Wind Farm, and west of the Columbia River.

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Just in case you didn't read above you may want to read this. Tup:

Anglers should be aware that the shoreline outside the mouth of Drano Lake will be open for bank fishing for the first time in 30 years. In all, this year’s fishing regulations will open up 40 additional miles of bank fishing on the mainstem Columbia River from Bonneville Dam to the Tower Island power lines six miles below The Dalles Dam.

"I think the best bet will be at the mouth of Drano Lake," Hymer said. "Casting a plug or lure from shore is sure to produce fish." Anglers fishing the newly opened bank are asked to follow three rules: Don’t cross the highway, don’t trespass over the railroad tracks and don’t interfere with tribal fisheries

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Thanks red Tup: There was to much for me to read for my liking but guess i should read everything huh. Dont know if I'll actually go though because you know it will be insane.
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