Now that we’ve rounded the corner into the heat of winter, it’s time for river anglers to shift their attention from silver salmon to steelhead. While area watersheds are blown out this week from a mess of rain, prospects should begin to rise almost as soon as the high waters begin to recede.
In north Lewis County and out toward the coast, there are plenty of options for chasing the big salted trout. Anglers on the Quillayute River and the lower portions of the Bogachiel, Calawah and Hoh rivers are limited to three hatchery steely head per day while their counterparts on the Chehalis, Humptulips, Wynoochee and Satsop rivers have a daily limit of two hatchery steelhead. Anglers fishing the Willapa Bay tributaries like the Naselle and Nemah rivers are also limited to two hatchery steelhead per day.
If you’d prefer to catch your salmonids before they leave salted waters but don’t want to hit the wide open ocean (because you’re not a dummy!) then the old Salish Sea is the place to go. Marine Areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island), 12 (Hood Canal) and 13 (South Puget Sound) are all currently open with a limit of two salmon per day. Anglers are required to release wild Chinook in all areas, as well as wild coho in South Sound.
Likewise, numerous salmon and steelhead fisheries are open on the lower Columbia River and its tributaries. On the mainstem Columbia downstream of the I-5 Bridge in Vancouver, the daily limit is two adult hatchery Chinook, two hatchery steelhead or one of each. The Cowlitz, Kalama and Deep rivers are saddled with the same daily catch limits, but on the Lewis River anglers are only allowed to keep one adult hatchery Chinook per day. While springers aren’t likely to show up in any real numbers until March, that won’t stop the more optimistic types from trying their luck early. Meanwhile, the daily limit for hatchery steelhead is three fish on most lower Columbia tributaries.
The Elochoman River has seen the most pressure over the last few weeks as anglers chase steelhead. Last week, 22 bank anglers kept a dozen steelhead while four rods on three boats kept one steelhead and released one steely and a coho. The week before, 82 bank anglers kept 11 steelhead and released one coho, and the week before that, 23 bank anglers kept 10 steelhead while releasing one coho.
Effort and return has been muted on the Grays River recently and the news hasn’t been much better on the Cowlitz River. Last week, 20 bank rods between the Barrier Dam and the mouth had no catch to report at all and three boat rods were skunked as well. The week before that, the WDFW found just one bank angler on the Cowlitz to survey and they were empty handed.
Still, there have been fish in the river, it’s just that they seem dead set on finding their way to the hatchery as quickly as possible. Last week, at the Cowlitz salmon hatchery separator, crews recovered 435 coho adults, five coho jacks, two summer-run steelhead adults, one cutthroat trout and one winter-run steelhead. Fish handlers also released 60 coho adults and one coho jack at the Franklin Bridge in Packwood and deposited 178 coho adults and one cutthroat trout into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton. Another 171 coho adults, two coho jacks and one winter-run steelhead were put into Lake Scanewa in Randle. This week’s river report from Tacoma Power listed river flow below Mayfield Dam at 11,700 cubic feet per second with a water temperature of 48.4 degrees and visibility of just 5 feet.
While some anglers will be content to wait for prospects, and the weather, to turn, others will be antsy to try their luck elsewhere. Luckily, a set of catch-and-keep sturgeon fisheries opened up on Jan. 1 in the dam pools of the lower Columbia River. Anglers can now retain one white sturgeon per day in the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools. The yearly harvest limit is two sturgeon. In Bonneville, anglers can keep sturgeon measuring between 38 and 54 inches in fork length. Sturgeon in both The Dalles pool and the John Day pool must measure between 43 and 54 inches to be kept. Those fisheries will remain open until harvest limits have been met.
Trout and other warmer water fish may be more enticing for folks who’d prefer to stay closer to the comforts of home. In December, the WDFW planted hatchery trout in lakes and ponds in Lewis, Cowlitz and Clark counties, among others, and more fish are slated for deposit this month.
Lake Sacajawea in Longview received the most generous stocking last month with more than 3,500 rainbow trout planted around Christmas. Similarly, Battle Ground Lake and Klineline Pond in Clark County received shipments of trout and Mineral Lake in Lewis County also saw its prospects improve. Meanwhile, crappie are reportedly biting well in Silver Lake in between Castle Rock and Toutle.
Waterfowl are the target du jour for the next two weeks as hunters try to maximize their opportunity before those seasons come to a close.
Duck hunting will stay open through Jan. 26 in Southwest Washington as well as goose hunts in Goose Management Area 3, which includes all of Lewis and Thurston counties. In Goose Management Area 2 (Coastal), which includes Pacific County and the portion of Grays Harbor County west of 101, goose hunting is open on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays only through Jan. 19, but will then reopen on those same days from Feb. 8-22. A brant-only goose hunt is also happening sporadically in Pacific County and will continue on Jan. 14, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 25 and 26
In Thurston County, the best waterfowls prospects are typically found along the shores of Puget Sound, including Henderson, Budd and Eld inlets as well as the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. The old Centralia coal mine is always a popular destination for waterfowl hunters in Lewis County, as well as flooded farm fields where access can be obtained from private landowners. The big water surrounding the Chehalis and Willapa rivers are also prime destinations for water birds and their pursuers.
Coote and snipe season will remain open through Jan. 26, and small game hunts for bobcats, fox, raccoon, cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares will stay open through the Ides of March. Trapping season for beavers, badgers, weasels, martens, minks, muskrats and river otters will continue through the end of March, and of course, hunting season for coyotes never ends in the Evergreen State.
No matter how last year’s efforts panned out, hunters are required to report the results of their big game hunts to the WDFW by Jan. 31. Anyone who fails to report to the state on time will be subject to a $10 penalty the next time they purchase a license.
Looking ahead, the WDFW is accepting applications for spring bear permits. Applications may be submitted through February for one of the 250 special spring bear hunting permits that are being offered in the coastal area. Additional information can be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/special-hunts/bear.
Another round of razor clam digging is underway on the coast and is set to continue through Tuesday. Those digs were approved by the WDFW once marine toxin testing revealed that the succulent bivalves were safe for human consumption.
The remaining digging day is set for the following beaches, dates and low tides:
• Jan. 14, Tuesday, 9:20 p.m. -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
No digging is allowed before noon on any beach due to the evening tides.
“Our great razor clam digging is continuing right into the new year,” said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager, in a press release. “We saw some impressive harvest opportunities last year and expect more of the same to ring in 2020.”
Big wind and high surf has been hampering digging efforts so far this week and diggers need to be sure to take safety precautions when hitting the beach in the dark.
“Diggers want to be sure to come prepared with good lighting devices and always keep an eye on the surf, particularly at this time of year when low tides come at dusk and after dark,” noted Ayres. “Diggers can also start gathering clams an hour or two before the tide, which on some days allows folks to enjoy daylight for most of their time on the beach.”
The next round of proposed digs is tentatively set for the following beaches, dates, and tides:
• Jan. 21, Tuesday, 4:23 p.m. -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
• Jan. 22, Wednesday, 5:10 p.m. -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
• Jan. 23, Thursday, 5:53 p.m. -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
• Jan. 24, Friday, 6:32 p.m. -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
• Jan. 25, Saturday, 7:08 p.m. -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
• Jan. 26, Sunday, 7:42 p.m. -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
Those digs are pending final approval based on marine toxin testing by the Department of Health.
All diggers ages 15 and up are required to have a valid fishing license, and there is a 15-clam daily limit per person. Each digger must carry their own clams and no high grading is allowed.
The WDFW is patting itself on the back for a job well done in 2019 as it pertains to preventing the spread of invasive aquatic species.
Those efforts are focused on limiting the spread of species like zebra and quagga mussels, aquatic plants and various diseases for fish and amphibians that can be transported unwittingly by boat.
Last year, the WDFW inspected more than 32,000 watercraft, which represented a 31 percent increase over 2018. Of those vessels, 18 were found to be carrying invasive mussels and 1,200 were incompliant with the state’s requirements to clean, drain and dry a watercraft before hitting the road.
“We’re at an all-time high in our efforts to prevent the spread of invasive mussels and other aquatic invasive species that can hitch a ride on boats and trailers into our state,” said Capt. Eric Anderson, WDFW’s aquatic invasive species enforcement manager, in a press release. “We couldn’t do this prevention work without the help of incredible regional partners in our neighboring states — and of course, the public. This isn’t just a win for invasive species prevention, it’s beneficial to the entire Pacific Northwest.”
On top of those roadside inspections, the WDFW also gathered more than 3,500 samples from 118 bodies of water around the state in order to conduct early detection monitoring. Zebra and quagga mussels were the primary target of those inspections, but species such as New Zealand mudsnails and Northern pike were also looked for.
“Early detection monitoring is the next line of defense for identifying invasions early and preventing invasive species from establishing populations,” said Allen Pleus, aquatic invasive species unit manager for WDFW, in the release. “And the aquatic invasive species fight requires a broad range of management planning and actions to be successful.”
The penalty for transporting invasive aquatic species in Washington ranges from a $95 fine all the way to a Class C felony. Additional information on requirements for the transport of watercraft can be obtained by calling 1-888-WDFW-AIS (1-888-933-9247).
A drone is the latest tool to be employed by the WDFW in order to survey the lower Columbia River and its assorted habitat. Beginning with the new year, the agency has been conducting flights in off-channel areas in order to collect information intended to help with river restoration efforts.
“The drone will collect images and videos of the South Bachelor Island Reconnection Project in Clark County,” said George Fornes, WDFW biologist, in a press release. “We recently completed work to reconnect off-channel wetland habitat to restore access for juvenile salmon.”
Those efforts are set to continue intermittently over the next decade. The WDFW expects to undertake an average of two air excursions per year lasting an average of three days per effort.
The area of particular interest is part of an ongoing effort by the WDFW to create shallow water habitat from dredged material.
“With these drone flights, we’re hoping to better understand where we can place sand dredged from the Columbia River navigation channel to create the least impact to fish and other aquatic species,” explained Nicole Czarnomski, Lower Columbia habitat restoration program manager for WDFW, in the release. “When we’re able to collect images by drone, we can monitor river restoration projects safely and efficiently. This work might not be possible otherwise.”
Drone flights are expected to take place between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and last between 30 and 60 minutes each. The flights will be concentrated over 2,000 feet of South Bachelor Island upstream of the confluence of the Lake and Columbia Rivers.
Powderheads are singing Mother Nature’s praises this week thanks to an onslaught of snow that’s prompted a winter storm advisory for portions of East Lewis County. Luckily for skiers and snowboarders, those storms are expected to dump much of their contents on the slopes of the White Pass Ski Area.
“It’s looking like another powder day! All runs are open and regular grooming patterns are complete,” noted the White Pass powder report.
On Friday morning, snow was falling at White Pass with temperatures ranging between 20 and 24 degrees from the summit to the base. A total of 3 inches of fresh snow had fallen over the previous 12 hours with 5 inches of new snow over the previous 48 hours. Those accumulations brought the depth up to 70 inches at the summit and 40 inches closer to the lodge.
White Pass is currently open for daily operation between 8:45 a.m. and 4 p.m. with the Great White, Far East, Basin Quad, Couloir Express and surface lifts in operation. Snowshoe tours are also offered from the Nordic Center on Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m.
Up-to-date conditions can be obtained by calling 509-672-3100.