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WDFW WEEKENDER REPORT
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091
http://wdfw.wa.gov

January 9 - 22, 2008
Contact: (Fish) 360-902-2700
(Wildlife) 360-902-2515

January brings prospect of steelhead fishing,
razor clam digging and winter wildlife viewing

For Washingtonians, the first few weeks of the new year are prime time to fish for winter steelhead, dig razor clams and view wildlife species ranging from bald eagles to elk.

Heavy rain has put a damper on steelhead fishing in some areas, but anglers continue to reel in bright hatchery fish from the Cowlitz River and a number of other rivers in the Columbia River Basin. Check the regional reports below for fishing prospects in other areas.

Hardy souls can also look forward to a razor clam dig starting Jan. 18, provided that marine toxin tests confirm the clams are safe to eat. Afternoon digs are tentatively scheduled Jan. 18-21 at Twin Harbors beach, and Jan. 19-20 at Long Beach and Copalis. No digging will be allowed at any beach before noon.

"Braving the elements is a big part of the experience for a lot of the people who turn out for winter digs," said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "The clams are just a bonus for getting outdoors."

For many people, viewing animals in the wild is its own reward. Bald eagles are now on display from the Skagit Valley to Lake Roosevelt, while snow geese and other migratory birds are gathering throughout the coastal lowlands. Wintering elk are also on view in a number of areas, including the feeding station at WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area northwest of Yakima off Highway 12. For information on the feeding schedule, see the southcentral regional report below.

Meanwhile, WDFW is reminding Puget Sound sport crabbers and big-game hunters statewide that deadlines for reporting their harvest from 2007 are coming right up. Sport crabbers have until Jan. 15 to report their catch during the winter season. Hunters have until midnight Jan. 31 to report their success in hunting deer, elk, bear and turkey during the past year.

For more information on reporting procedures - and the application process for spring 2008 black bear hunting permits - see the regional reports below. That information is included in those reports along with fishing, hunting and wildlife-watching opportunities available around the state in the weeks ahead.

North Puget Sound

Fishing: This time of year anglers have a decision to make: cast for steelhead in the local rivers or get out onto Puget Sound and fish for salmon .

"Weather conditions usually help anglers make that choice," said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist. "If the rivers are in shape, steelheading is a good bet. But if the rivers are blown out, blackmouth fishing in the marine areas is probably the best option."

Thiesfeld said he has heard reports of a few nice blackmouth - resident chinook - hooked in marine areas 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) and 10 (Seattle/Bremerton). Those areas, along with Marine Area 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), are currently open for hatchery blackmouth. Anglers fishing in each of those areas can keep two hatchery blackmouth as part of their two-salmon daily limit. They must, however, release wild chinook, which have an intact adipose fin, and are required to use single-point barbless hooks.

Marine Area 9 (Admiralty inlet) also will be an option for anglers beginning Jan. 16, when the area opens for salmon under the same regulations as 8-1, 8-2 and 10. "Before Marine Area 9 closed at the end of November, fishing was pretty good, especially at Possession Bar, Point No Point and Mid-Channel," Thiesfeld said. "That decent fishing could carry over into this upcoming opening."

Thiesfeld reminds anglers that the waters from Foulweather Bluff to Olele Point in Marine Area 9 remains closed to salmon fishing.

In the freshwater, hatchery steelhead fishing has been fair in a number of rivers, including the Green, Skykomish, upper Skagit and Cascade, said Brett Barkdull, another WDFW fish biologist.

Barkdull reminds anglers that a portion of the North Fork Nooksack River remains closed until the egg-take goal is met for hatchery steelhead at the Kendall Creek Hatchery. The North Fork Nooksack is closed from a yellow post at the upstream most corner of the Kendall Creek Hatchery, approximately 1,000 feet upstream of the mouth of Kendall Creek, downstream to the Mosquito Lake Road Bridge.

"Fish continue to move into the hatchery and we are getting closer to meeting our egg-take goal," Barkdull said. "Once the hatchery gets what it needs, we'll re-open the fishery. So anglers should keep checking our website for that announcement."

Other rules and regulations for all freshwater and saltwater fisheries can be found at WDFW's fishing regulation website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm .

With Puget Sound now closed to recreational crab fishing, all crabbers licensed to fish in those waters are required to report their winter catch to WDFW by Jan. 15. Reports are due for the season running Sept. 4 to Jan. 2, whether or not crabbers actually fished or caught Dungeness crab. Sport crabbers who file their catch reports by the Jan. 15 deadline will be entered in a drawing for one of 10 free 2008 combination fishing licenses, which allow the holder to fish for a variety of freshwater and saltwater species.

To submit their catch reports, crabbers may either send their catch record card to WDFW by mail, or file their report on a special webpage on the department's licensing website. Catch record cards may be mailed to WDFW CRC Unit, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. The online reporting system will be available Jan. 2-15 at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/wdfw/puget_ ... catch.html .

Hunting: Although weather has been good for waterfowl hunting, success has been low at the Whatcom Wildlife Area's Lake Terrell Unit. "Ducks have been skittish and sparse over water, and fewer birds than usual are feeding in the fields," said Lora Leschner, WDFW regional Wildlife Program manager.

Waterfowlers in the region have through Jan. 27 to hunt ducks and geese. Before going afield, hunters should check the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/water/water.htm ) for details.

Meanwhile, big-game hunters around the state are receiving reminders - by postcard and email - that midnight Jan. 31 is the deadline for reporting their success in hunting deer, elk, bear and turkey . By law, hunters are required to report on every license tag purchased in 2007, regardless of whether they took an animal on those tags.

To submit their reports, hunters may either complete a form online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or they can call the toll-free telephone number 1-877-945-3492. Those who have a special hunting permit for a season extending beyond Jan. 31 have 10 days from the season closure to submit their annual report.

Big game hunters should also be aware that WDFW is accepting applications for spring black bear hunting permits through March 13. To be eligible for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2008 hunting license that includes bear as a species option. A drawing will be held in mid-March for 295 permits in western Washington and 235 permits on the east side of the state. Successful applicants will be notified by March 31.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online (https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ ), by phone (866-246-9453) or at any license vendor in the state. Applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or by calling (877) 945-3492.

Wildlife viewing: Bald eagles are wintering along the Skagit River, and time is running out to watch the white-headed raptors. Each winter, hundreds of bald eagles spend part of December and January along the Skagit River, where the carcasses of spawned salmon provide a feast for the birds. After a few weeks of dining, the eagles head north - usually around mid- to late January - to their summer homes in Alaska and British Columbia. The best place to begin eagle-viewing activities is at the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretative Center. The center is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday through Monday through Feb. 18. For more information on the interpretive center and an upcoming Upper Skagit Bald Eagle Festival, which takes place Jan. 26-27, visit http://www.skagiteagle.org .

Flocks of snow geese also are wintering in the Skagit Valley, where one of the best places for birders to watch the white birds is at the Fir Island Farm/Hayton Reserve. About 80,000 snow geese winter in western Washington each year. Most of those snow geese congregate in the Skagit Valley, and can be found in the area from mid-October through early May.

In Renton, the sighting of a glaucous gull created a stir among birders. The gull was seen at dusk along some log booms near Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park, according to a report on Tweeters birding website (http://www.scn.org/earth/tweeters/ ). Glaucous gulls are rare winter visitors to the lowlands of western Washington. At 28 inches long, an adult glaucous gull has a white body, pearl-gray wings and a yellow bill. It is distinct from a glaucous-winged gull, which is more common in Washington.

South Sound/Olympic Peninsula

Fishing: January is typically the best month for catching hatchery steelhead , but high water, steady rain and even some snow put a damper on fishing the first week of the new year. Less weather-dependent, a four-day razor-clam dig is tentatively scheduled to get under way Jan. 18 if toxin tests show the clams are safe to eat.

Provided test results are favorable, Twin Harbors will open for late-afternoon digs Jan. 18-21, while Long Beach and Copalis are scheduled to open Jan. 19 and 20. Digging on those beaches will be restricted to the hours between noon and midnight. Low tides are at 2:56 p.m. Jan. 18, 3:58 p.m. Jan. 19, 4:53 p.m. Jan. 20 and 5:44 p.m. Jan. 21.

Mocrocks will remain closed to digging in January to make sure enough clams are available for harvest in April, when the tides allow for morning digs, said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager. Kalaloch will remain closed for the 2008 season.

"The clams are out there and hopefully, the weather and surf will cooperate," said Ayres. "The good news is that these digs are scheduled for mid-afternoon and people can start digging before dark."

A license is required for anyone age 15 or older. Any 2007 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 .

Ayres also reminds diggers who drive on the beach that state highway road rules apply to Washington's beaches. Under the law:

* Seatbelts must be worn at all times.
* The speed limit on the beach is 25 MPH.
* Pedestrians have the right of way and vehicles must yield at all times.

Visitors should not park on approaches to the beach in order to provide clear passage for vehicles that are entering or exiting.

High water hasn't been the only factor affecting steelhead fishing on the Olympic Peninsula in recent days. In the Quillayute system - which includes the Bogachiel, Calawah, Dickey and Sol Duc rivers - anglers are also finding fewer hatchery fish, said David Low, a WDFW fish biologist. "Last year was pretty decent, but so far we're seeing lower returns," Low said. "That, together with harsh weather, has made fishing tough for the average angler."

Anglers have had some success catching winter steelhead on the upper Wynoochee River and on the east fork of the Satsop River in Grays Harbor, said Scott Barbour, WDFW fish biologist. "Most rivers have been out of shape but - once they drop back in - there's usually a bunch of fresh fish waiting to move upriver."

Barbour cautioned anglers that wild steelhead are making up a growing percentage of the fish moving into area rivers. "So it's important to take a close look at them if you plan to keep them," he said. As most anglers know, wild steelhead can be distinguished from hatchery fish by their intact adipose and ventral fins. Retention rules for wild steelhead are outlined on page 33 of the Fishing in Washington rule pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm ).

Anglers should also be aware that several area rivers - including the Humptulips, Copalis, Nisqually, lower Wynoochee and lower Chehalis (below Porter Bridge) - will close to salmon fishing Jan. 31. Salmon fishing in Marine Areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) and 12 (Hood Canal) is now closed but will reopen Feb 16. Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound) remains open to salmon fishing.

With Puget Sound now closed to recreational crab fishing, all crabbers licensed to fish in those waters are required to report their winter catch to WDFW by Jan. 15. Reports are due for the season running Sept. 4 to Jan. 2, whether or not crabbers actually fished or caught Dungeness crab. Sport crabbers who file their catch reports by the Jan. 15 deadline will be entered in a drawing for one of 10 free 2008 combination fishing licenses, which allow the holder to fish for a variety of freshwater and saltwater species.

To submit their catch reports, crabbers may either send their catch record card to WDFW by mail, or file their report on a special webpage on the department's licensing website. Catch record cards may be mailed to WDFW CRC Unit, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. The online reporting system will be available Jan. 2-15 at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/wdfw/puget_ ... catch.html .

Hunting: The duck and geese season remains open seven days a week through Jan. 27 in all parts of the region except Pacific County (Goose Management Area 2B), which is open Wednesdays and Saturdays only through Jan. 12.

Meanwhile, big-game hunters around the state are receiving reminders - by postcard and email - that midnight Jan. 31 is the deadline for reporting their success in hunting deer, elk, bear and turkey . By law, hunters are required to report on every license tag purchased in 2007, regardless of whether they took an animal on those tags.

To submit their reports, hunters may either complete a form online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or they can call the toll-free telephone number 1-877-945-3492. Those who have a special hunting permit for a season extending beyond Jan. 31 have 10 days from the season closure to submit their annual report.

Big game hunters should also be aware that WDFW is accepting applications for spring black bear hunting permits through March 13. To be eligible for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2008 hunting license that includes bear as a species option. A drawing will be held in mid-March for 295 permits in western Washington and 235 permits on the east side of the state. Successful applicants will be notified by March 31.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online (https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ ), by phone (866-246-9453) or at any license vendor in the state. Applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or by calling (877) 945-3492.

Wildlife viewing: As birders venture out to see what winter has to offer, many are starting their yearly bird list. Keeping a list of birds seen throughout each year is a common practice among birders, veterans and novices alike.

"Birders keep daily checklists, yard lists, state and county lists and, dear to the heart of many birders, is their life list - the cumulative list of all those species they have encountered since they started birding," says well-known birder Pete Dunne. "Some people put a geographic boundary on their list. Others maintain a world-wide list."

There are a number of ways to keep a list, from writing in journals to commercial, ready-made lists to computer software programs. Some birders keep track in their field guides where and when they saw each species.

The Washington Ornithological Society (WOS) offers a wealth of information on birds and birding, including a checklist available at http://www.wos.org/ .

To learn what birds have been spotted throughout the state, people often visit Tweeters, the birding website http://birdingonthe.net/mailinglists/TWET.html , where many enthusiasts record their recent sightings.

For those wishing to start a list, or merely wanting to get outside with some binoculars, a one-day trip from Elma to Ocean Shores may offer numerous finds such as those recorded recently on Tweeters. One birder wrote that he started off the year by adding more than 50 species to his list.

Southwest Washington

Fishing: The early run of winter steelhead appears to have peaked, but anglers are still picking up some nice hatchery fish in rivers from the Grays to the Washougal in the lower Columbia River Basin. Anglers can also look forward to a return of late-run hatchery steelhead to the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers beginning in late January, not to mention the prospect of catching broodstock rainbows weighing up to 10 pounds in several area lakes.

"This is sort of a transition period between runs, but that doesn't mean there aren't fish to catch," said Joe Hymer, WDFW fish biologist. "If steelhead fishing slows down or the rivers are out of shape, I'd recommend that anglers go after one of those 6- to 10-pound rainbows."

Three lakes have been stocked with excess broodstock rainbows in recent weeks, and two more were planted with half-pound catchables :

* Lake Sacajawea in Longview received 125 broodstock rainbows Jan. 2 averaging 6¼ pounds each and 40 ten-pounders.
* Rowland Lake near Lyle received 83 broodstock rainbows Dec. 31 averaging 6¼ pounds each and 100 ten-pounders.
* Spearfish Lake in Dallesport received 77 broodstock rainbows Dec. 31 averaging 6¼ pounds each and 40 ten-pounders.
* Battle Ground Lake received 2,000 half-pound rainbows Jan. 7 and Klineline Pond 1,000 half-pounders the same day.

The hatchery tanker trucks and crews are scheduled to be busy in the weeks ahead, although release dates are dependent upon road conditions, Hymer said. For a weekly update, see the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/plants/weekly/ .

Rather catch steelhead ? At least through early February, Kress Lake near Kalama will be planted with 50 to 100 surplus hatchery steelhead per week from Kalama Falls Hatchery. Fish from hatcheries on the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers also may be released there, Hymer said. "This was a popular - and productive - fishery last year," he said. "Anglers were catching good-sized steelhead on flies, lures, plugs and bait."

Then again, fishing for hatchery steelhead was still good in a number of area rivers through the first week of January. On the Cowlitz River, anglers reportedly caught some fish topping 20 pounds, with the best fishing around Blue Creek and Barrier Dam. On the Kalama, where hatchery crews have recycled 600 hatchery fish downriver this year, the best fishing has been reported from the Beginners Hole at Hatchery Creek to the deadline up the canyon.

Anglers fishing the Cowlitz, Kalama, and Lewis rivers should be aware that the prohibition on retaining chinook salmon in those waters has been lifted. The rules now in effect are those shown in the Fishing in Washington regulation pamphlet. "There aren't a lot of spring chinook around just yet, but reeling in a keeper hatchery fish could definitely brighten up someone's day," Hymer said. Per permanent rules, all wild chinook with an intact adipose fin must be released.

Preseason forecasts for the 2008 Columbia River spring chinook return - along with other salmon and steelhead runs - are available on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/forecasts/salmo ... mbia08.htm .

Hoping for some smelt ? WDFW is scheduled to begin a test fishery this week to check for evidence that the run has arrived in the Cowlitz River. So far, no smelt have been detected in the Cowlitz, although commercial boats on the Columbia River pulled up a small number of them near Skamokawa in late December and early January.

The sport fishery for smelt on the Cowlitz River is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. each Saturday through March 29. Like last year, the daily catch limit will be 10 pounds per person. All other tributaries to the Columbia River will remain closed to smelt fishing until further notice. The sport fishery on the lower mainstem Columbia River runs seven days per week through March 31 though finding the small fish in the big river is difficult.

Fishing for sturgeon has also been slow, although anglers have caught some legal-size fish in Bonneville and The Dalles pools. A few legal-size sturgeon were reported taken below Bonneville Dam. "The water's still pretty cold for sturgeon," Hymer said. "Once the water starts to warm up or the smelt run builds, the fish activity will too."

Hunting: Time is running short for hunters hoping to bag a few more geese or ducks this season. The statewide duck-hunting season ends Jan. 27, as do goose seasons in management areas 2A (Wahkiakum, Cowlitz and Clark counties), 3 (Lewis and Skamania counties) and 5 (Klickitat county). In the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge - where hunting is limited to Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays - the season runs through Jan. 19.

Hunter success in the popular 2A hunt appears to be similar to previous years, based on the number of birds presented at check stations through December. At those check stations at Vancouver, Ridgefield Marina, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and Woodland, 612 hunters were counted with a total of 1,132 birds. That represents an average of 1.8 birds per hunter, similar to success rates in previous years.

Meanwhile, hunters around the state are receiving reminders - by postcard and email - that midnight Jan. 31 is the deadline for reporting their success in hunting deer, elk, bear and turkey . By law, hunters are required to report on every license tag purchased in 2007, regardless of whether they took an animal on those tags.

To submit their reports, hunters may either complete a form online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or they can call the toll-free telephone number 1-877-945-3492. Those who have a special hunting permit for a season extending beyond Jan. 31 have 10 days from the season closure to submit their annual report.

Big game hunters should also be aware that WDFW is accepting applications for spring black bear hunting permits through March 13. To be eligible for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2008 hunting license that includes bear as a species option. A drawing will be held in mid-March for 295 permits in western Washington and 235 permits on the east side of the state. Successful applicants will be notified by March 31.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online (https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ ), by phone (866-246-9453) or at any license vendor in the state. Applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or by calling (877) 945-3492.

Wildlife viewing: Now that the new year has dawned, area birders are comparing notes about their first sighting of 2008. One contributor to the Tweeters birding website (http://www.scn.org/earth/tweeters/ ) reported seeing several varied thrush around his home in Skamania County on New Year's Day. Another spotted a pileated woodpecker out his kitchen window, while a third saw an Anna's hummingbird at his feeder.

But the biggest attraction of the new year is an Arctic loon , first seen in mid-December dabbling in sloughs around Brownsmead, Oregon. Since then, scores of birders have traveled to the area - directly across the Columbia River from Brookfield - to see the rare bird. Found primarily in northern Eurasia, Arctic loons have been seen in the area only a few times in recent years, according to Seattle Audubon, which classified them as an "accidental visitor."

While similar in appearance to the Pacific loon, a common winter visitor to the Pacific Northwest, the Arctic loon is larger in size and has a thicker neck and larger bill. The most prominent field mark on the Arctic is a large, arching, white panel on the rear flanks. (This feather tract is dark on the Pacific loon.) The current visitor was seen Dec. 3 off Pentilla Road, but has also been observed near the Barendse Road bridge.

Other birds now present in the area include American wigeon, northern pintail, glaucous-winged gull, northern flicker, eared grebe and lots of cacklers .

Eastern Washington

Fishing: Fishing for rainbow trout continues to be good at Hog Canyon Lake in southwest Spokane County and Fourth of July Lake on the Lincoln-Adams county line. But anglers should be extremely cautious about venturing out on what could be unsafe ice on these two winter-only fishing lakes. Several inches of snow covers ice that has thawed and re-frozen several times over the last few weeks.

WDFW does not make regular checks of ice conditions nor make any guarantees about safety. While ice safety can never be assured, no one should venture onto the ice unless it is at least four inches thick, clear and solid, according to U.S. Coast Guard guidelines. As much as nine inches may be needed to safely support snowmobiles or other vehicles. Such ice depths can form after at least a week of below freezing temperatures, day and night. Look for more "Ice Fishing Safety" information at http://wdfw.wa.gov/reg/region1.htm

Lake Roosevelt rainbow trout are still available for boat anglers willing to brave winter conditions on the big water. Typically, trout fishing in January is good from Seven Bays up to near Grand Coulee Dam. Year-round Rock Lake in Whitman County, which usually remains open water with prevailing winds, has reportedly produced some good-size brown and rainbow trout.

Snake River steelheading also is an option for anglers. Check for postings of steelhead catch rates throughout the Snake system at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/creel/snake/index.htm .

Hunting: With lots of snow on the ground throughout the region, upland game birds should be holding tighter for hunters using dogs. Although it has not been the best year for pheasants, there are still roosters to be had in some of the best habitat, specifically Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields in agricultural areas in the central and south districts of the region. Quail numbers seem to have been fair to average through the season, especially in wooded riparian areas. The season runs through Jan. 21.

Goose hunters in Lincoln, Spokane and Walla Walla counties, where goose hunting is available only on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, will be able to hunt every day starting Jan. 21 until the season ends Jan. 27.

Hunters around the state are receiving reminders - by postcard and email - that midnight Jan. 31 is the deadline for reporting their success in hunting deer, elk, bear and turkey. By law, hunters are required to report on every license tag purchased in 2007, regardless of whether they took an animal on those tags.

To submit their reports, hunters may either complete a form online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or they can call the toll-free telephone number 1-877-945-3492. Those who have a special hunting permit for a season extending beyond Jan. 31 have 10 days from the season closure to submit their annual report.

Big game hunters should also be aware that WDFW is accepting applications for spring black bear hunting permits through March 13. To be eligible for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2008 hunting license that includes bear as a species option. A drawing will be held in mid-March for 295 permits in western Washington and 235 permits on the east side of the state. Successful applicants will be notified by March 31.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online (https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ ), by phone (866-246-9453) or at any license vendor in the state. Applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or by calling (877) 945-3492.

Wildlife viewing: Drivers may get closer-than-desired views of deer this time of year, said Woody Myers, a WDFW wildlife biologist. "With heavy snows in the mountains, deer are down in lower-lying areas, closer to roads," he said. "Drivers need to be alert to deer near roadsides to avoid collisions. When one crosses the road, others may follow."

Recent winter storms also have brought some other winter birds into the region. "Rough-legged hawks are here now," Myers said. "There might also be snowy owls and gyrfalcons in the area."

A northern goshawk was spotted during the recent Pend Oreille County Christmas Bird Count, according to coordinator John Stuart. The species is "rare" for that annual count, but even more rare was how it was seen. "The two-in-one prize goes to the two guys who watched that goshawk nail a ruffed grouse and fly off with it," he said. The Pend Oreille count had a total of 57 species, including tundra swan, Barrow's and common goldeneye, hooded and common merganser, Cooper's hawk, merlin, northern pygmy owl, belted kingfisher, pileated woodpecker, northern shrike, pygmy nutchatch, Clark's nutcracker, and varied thrush.

Bald eagles are using all major waterways in the region - from Lake Roosevelt to the Snake River - to feed on winter-weary waterfowl or fish.

Abundant snow throughout the region has made backyard bird feeding stations popular with a variety of winter resident species, from chickadees to woodpeckers . WDFW wildlife biologists remind bird enthusiasts to keep feeders clean and dry to avoid spreading disease, and to avoid putting feed out on the ground to minimize problems with deer and wild turkeys. Providing ice-free water is as much of a bird attractant as feed.

Snowy conditions make for great wildlife tracking adventures, especially on cross-country skis or snowshoes from which observers can move slowly and remain relatively quiet. The tracks of wild turkeys, rabbits, deer, coyotes and bobcats are common, especially in wooded streamside areas.

Northcentral Washington

Fishing: Efforts to catch steelhead on the upper Columbia River above Wells Dam have slowed in recent weeks due to colder temperatures and snow, said Bob Jateff, WDFW fish biologist from Omak. "A few fish are being caught just above the dam on jigs tipped with shrimp set to drift with the current," he said. "Also, the tributaries above Wells - the Okanogan, Similkameen and Methow rivers - have seen very little angler effort. But any slight warming trend could pick up the fishery considerably in those areas."

Jateff also said ice fishing in Okanogan County could be very productive at this time of the year. "Rainbow trout is the main species available and there are a number of lakes that are open to fishing," he said. "Rat Lake near Brewster, Davis Lake near Winthrop, Big and Little Green lakes near Omak, and Sidley Lake near Oroville all provide good wintertime trout fishing."

Patterson Lake west of Winthrop also opened Jan. 1 to give anglers a crack at its abundant yellow perch population. Jateff said perch could usually be caught on small panfish lures tipped with a worm and/or maggot.

In regard to ice fishing, WDFW does not regularly check ice conditions or make any guarantees about safety. While ice safety can never be assured, no one should venture onto the ice unless it is at least four inches thick and clear and solid, according to U.S. Coast Guard guidelines. As much as nine inches may be needed to safely support snowmobiles or other vehicles. At least a week of below-freezing temperatures, day and night, is required to form these ice depths. Additional "Ice Fishing Safety" information is located at http://wdfw.wa.gov/reg/region2.htm .

Rufus Woods Lake continues to produce triploid rainbows , Jateff reported. "Both boat and shore anglers are catching two- to four-pound triploids there," he said. "The daily catch limit on trout is two fish and when using bait, the first two trout caught constitute the daily limit, whether kept or released."

Jeff Korth, WDFW fish biologist from Moses Lake said that although most lakes in the Columbia Basin are iced over-including Moses Lake's 6,800 acres-he doesn't recommend ice-fishing. Thawing, refreezing and snow cover have created unsafe ice conditions.

Korth recommends Potholes Reservoir and Banks Lake, which are open and boat accessible. "Walleye fishing is good off and on at Potholes and trout fishing is fairly good at Banks," he said. "Perch fishing should be picking up on Banks at the Coulee City boat basin."

Hunting: Rich Finger, WDFW wildlife biologist, reported that a good number of ducks and geese returned to the north Columbia Basin (observed at Frenchman Reserve and around Potholes Reservoir) over the Jan. 5-6 weekend, apparently in response to warm temperatures and a strong south wind.

"Conditions have been very conducive to waterfowl hunting with much duck and goose traffic throughout the day," he said. "These birds probably came from somewhere in the south Columbia Basin, perhaps the Tri-Cities or Yakima areas, and may leave as quick as they came. New snow accumulations may send birds back south but could provide some good hunting opportunities for awhile."

Goose hunters throughout the region - where goose hunting is available only on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays - will be able to hunt every day starting Jan. 21 until the season ends Jan. 27.

Hunters around the state are receiving reminders-by postcard and email-that midnight Jan. 31 is the deadline for reporting their success in hunting deer, elk, bear and turkey. By law, hunters are required to report on every license tag purchased in 2007, regardless of whether they took an animal on those tags.

To submit their reports, hunters may either complete a form online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or they can call the toll-free telephone number 1-877-945-3492. Those who have a special hunting permit for a season extending beyond Jan. 31 have 10 days from the season closure to submit their annual report.

Big game hunters should also be aware that WDFW is accepting applications for spring black bear hunting permits through March 13. To be eligible for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2008 hunting license that includes bear as a species option. A drawing will be held in mid-March for 295 permits in western Washington and 235 permits on the east side of the state. Successful applicants will be notified by March 31.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online (https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ ), by phone (866-246-9453) or at any license vendor in the state. Applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or by calling (877) 945-3492.

Wildlife viewing: Rich Finger, WDFW fish biologist, reported that local birders have been very excited over a black-headed gull most recently sighted on the log boom at Coulee Playland in Grand Coulee. Another rare find for the Columbia Basin was a northern hawk owl , which was last sighted about a mile west of the intersection of state highway 155 and 174 near the Grand Coulee Dam substation.

Finger also reported numerous snow buntings on the Douglas County plateau, a gyrfalcon in Moses Lake, and a long-tailed duck on Soap Lake.

Good numbers of ducks and geese returned to the north Columbia Basin (observed at Frenchman Reserve and around Potholes Reservoir) over the Jan. 5-6 weekend, apparently in response to warm temperatures and a strong south wind, Finger said.

Bald eagles are beginning to congregate for winter feeding on waterfowl and fish near Banks Lake in the Northrup Canyon area off state highway 155, about seven miles south of the town of Grand Coulee.

Continuing each winter weekend are free, naturalist-guided, wildlife-watching ski or snowshoe tours in Okanogan County's Methow Valley, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service's Methow Valley Ranger District and the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA). Participants learn about wildlife, tracks, winter ecology, beaver ponds and more. Some tours provide free snowshoe use, while others require trekkers to rent or bring their own gear. All require a MVSTA ski or snowshoe trail pass, available at many Methow area businesses. The tours follow easy routes on groomed snowshoe trails near Sun Mountain Lodge and along the Methow River in Mazama. For more information call (509) 996-3287, or visit "The Nature of Winter" tours website at http://www.mvsta.com/winter/snowshoe2.html#wintertours .

Southcentral Washington

Fishing: WDFW fish biologist Paul Hoffarth of Pasco reminds anglers the sturgeon fishery reopened Jan. 1 in the Columbia River's John Day Pool (from John Day Dam to McNary Dam). "This is a quota fishery," Hoffarth said, "so it's open for retention until the quota is met. The fish are scattered throughout the pool in the winter with good fishing in the Boardman and Irrigon areas and in the usual locations below McNary Dam." Hoffarth notes sturgeon fishing remains open year around above McNary Dam up to the wooden powerline towers at the old Hanford town site. It will open above the power line towers to Priest Rapids Dam Feb. 1.

Hoffarth also says walleye fishing in the Columbia River can be very good both above and below McNary Dam during the winter months. "The state record walleye, 19.3 pounds, was taken in early February last year above McNary Dam," he said.

The Columbia River from John Day Dam up to the wooden powerline towers at the old Hanford town site is open for hatchery (adipose-fin-clipped) steelhead until March 31. Hoffarth says anglers continue to catch a few steelhead around the Ringold area, with boat anglers doing a bit better than bank anglers last month.

WDFW fish biologist Jim Cummins of Yakima recently reported seeing anglers out on marginal ice at the region's winter-only rainbow trout fishery, North Elton Pond off I-82 near Selah. "Ice on our local lakes and ponds is rarely safe for anglers or other recreationists," Cummins said. "With thawing and re-freezing lately, there are thin spots - even open water - on most of our lakes and ponds. I noticed one fishing party in a canoe sitting on top of the ice with a towrope tied off on the bank. That, and wearing personal flotation devices, might be a safer way to go."

According to fly fisher reports, whitefish and trout are being caught on the Yakima River above Roza Dam. Cummins reminds anglers there are special whitefish rules on the catch-and-release reach of the Yakima now: whitefish gear - one single-point hook, maximum hook size 3/16-inch point to shank (hook size 14) with bait - is allowed only for whitefish.

Hunting: Hunters around the state are receiving reminders - by postcard and email - that midnight Jan. 31 is the deadline for reporting their success in hunting deer, elk, bear and turkey. By law, hunters are required to report on every license tag purchased in 2007, regardless of whether they took an animal on those tags.

To submit their reports, hunters may either complete a form online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or they can call the toll-free telephone number 1-877-945-3492. Those who have a special hunting permit for a season extending beyond Jan. 31 have 10 days from the season closure to submit their annual report.

Big game hunters should also be aware that WDFW is accepting applications for spring black bear hunting permits through March 13. To be eligible for a permit, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2008 hunting license that includes bear as a species option. A drawing will be held in mid-March for 295 permits in western Washington and 235 permits on the east side of the state. Successful applicants will be notified by March 31.

Hunting licenses, bear transport tags and bear permit applications may be purchased online (https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ ), by phone (866-246-9453) or at any license vendor in the state. Applications, which require a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or by calling (877) 945-3492.

Wildlife viewing: WDFW biologist Jim Cummins recommends breaking out the snowshoes or cross-country skis to take a winter "hike" on snow-covered roads and trails for a chance to see wildlife, or at least their tracks. Deer, elk, coyotes, bobcats and other animals are leaving signs of their winter movements throughout the region, he said.

Winter feeding of elk and bighorn sheep at WDFW's Oak Creek Wildlife Area west of Yakima continues full-steam. Area manager John McGowan says elk are fed at 1:30 p.m. daily at the area headquarters site six miles west of Naches on Highway 12. Bighorn sheep are fed mid-morning at the Cleman Mountain unit of the wildlife area, just northeast of the Highway 410 and 12 junction, about half-a-mile up the Old Naches Road. "Anyone interested in group tours should call our Washington Environmental Corps volunteer staff Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 509-698-5106," McGowan said. "Reservations need to be made 48 hours before your tour date." Both bald and golden eagles are in the vicinity of the area headquarters elk feeding site and along the river canyons during the winter, McGowan said.

Oak Creek Wildlife area visitors are reminded that vehicle gates at Oak Creek and Bethel Ridge roads are now closed through April 30. Vehicle gates on the Sanford Pasture/Mud Lake road system also closed Jan. 1 through April 30 to limit recreational activity on critical big game winter range.

Other winter road closures are in effect on WDFW's Wenas and L.T. Murray wildlife areas in Kittitas County. Area manager Cindi Confer notes the Mellotte Road gate into the Wenas, and the Robinson Canyon and Joe Watt Canyon gates into the L.T. Murray, are closed to protect wintering big game. Supplemental winter feeding of limited numbers of elk at those sites is also under way.
 
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