Steelhead have been biting in between rain storms but the windows to target them have been fleeting. Even when water levels are falling, the river remains turbid, so your best bet is to throw some big bait out there and hope a steely bonks into it nose first. The river was in fine condition on Friday morning after about a week of clear skies, but a round of precipitation is expected to wash things out again over the weekend.
None of that will matter at all come Monday when the Chehails and its tributaries are set to close to all fishing.
While hatchery steelhead have been biting intermittently on sections of the Chehalis, the overall return of unmarked steelhead is projected to come in at just 6,616 fish across the entire basin. For reference, the escapement goal was 8,600 winter steelhead. That means the return will fall below the escapement target for the fourth year in a row.
Rumors that the tribes would be closing their fisheries have been running rampant across the Chehalis Basin for weeks now, and a press release from the WDFW on Friday finally confirmed those rumblings. With the tribes set to pull their nets out, the WDFW made a reciprocating move that will end the sport fishery at midnight on Sunday.
“There are many factors affecting steelhead in the Chehalis,” said WDFW Biologist Mike Scharpf. “Given that steelhead populations are returning in low numbers statewide this year, poor ocean conditions are likely one of those factors.”
The impending fishery closures on the Chehalis system include the mainstem, as well as the Elk, Johns, Hoquiam, Newaukum, Satsop, Skookumchuck, Wishkah and Wynoochee rivers.
On Friday there was a one day smelt dipping fishery on the Cowlitz River. That rare opening for the tiny eulachon smelt was announced by the WDFW on Monday, so there was no way to put that information into this space in a way that would be useful.
Now that you’ve heard about it feel free to anxiously await the publishing of state-provided statistics regarding the success of that shot sport fishery for smelt. Hopefully we’ll have those numbers next week. It’s hard to say.
Luckily, anglers are currently allowed to target spring Chinook and winter steelhead on the mainstem Columbia and its tributaries. Whether there is anything there to catch, again, it’s hard to say. Last weekend, five anglers on the bank at Woodland had no catch to show WDFW creel samplers. Closer to Kalama, one bank angler was also skunked, and another bank angler near Longview also went home empty handed.
The tributaries have been fishing slightly better, but that’s because something is nearly always better than nothing. In previous weeks, the Elochoman had been the hottest river around but for some reason the WDFW’s fish counters didn’t make it out that way last week. However, numbers from the Cowlitz River appear to be on the uptick. That being said, a dozen bank anglers between the old Toledo landing and the mouth were skunked and 13 more bank anglers between I-5 and the Barrier Dam were similarly disappointed. However, 42 rods on nine boats below the Barrier Dam managed to keep six steelhead while releasing three others.
At the Cowlitz salmon hatchery last week, fish handlers retrieved 39 winter-run steelhead. Those crews also released one winter-run steelhead adult into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton and seven other winter-run steelhead adults into the Cispus River near Yellow Jacket Creek. This week’s river report from Tacoma Power listed flow at 20,900 cubic feet per second last Monday with visibility of just three feet and a temperature of 43.2 degrees.
If hauling in river monsters is more your style, there’s bad news on the waterfront. As of Friday, the WDFW closed down the catch-and-keep sturgeon fishery in Bonneville Dam pools, and beginning Feb. 18, anglers in The Dalles pool will also have to toss back any sturgeon they manage to bring in. A press release from the WDFW noted that harvest guidelines are projected to be met by those days based on current catch rates.
As per usual, area lakes and ponds are providing decent prospects for anglers who aren’t fixated on landing lunkers. Numerous waters have been planted with hatchery trout of the previous few months. Most recently, Battle Ground Lake and Klineline Pond received 1,500 fingerling rainbows on Feb 3.
Hunters will have one more week to target geese in Marine Area 2 (coastal). That section of hunting grounds will be open on Wednesday before closing on Feb. 22.
Cougar hunts will remain open through April 30 in all areas where harvest limits have not yet been reached.
Additionally, small game hunts for bobcats, foxes, raccoons, cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares will all remain open through March 15. 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 is like a sun that never sets.
The WDFW is continuing to take public comment on a full range of hunting seasons this month. Those comments regarding proposed changes will be accepted in writing through Feb. 26. A full list of recommended changes to hunting regulations can be viewed online at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations.
“We encourage everyone interested in the upcoming hunting seasons to check the proposed changes and send us your comments,” said Anis Aoude, WDFW game division manager, in a press release.
Written comments can be submitted online at wildth
email@example.com or by mail to WDFW Wildlife Program, PO Box 43200 Olympia. A final decision on the proposal is expected to come down at a commission meeting on April 10-11 in Olympia.
Anyone who wants to hunt bears this spring will need to hurry up and get to getting when it comes to submitting their application for a permit. Applications for special spring bear hunts will be accepted through the end of February with a total of 250 permits available for the coastal area alone.
Hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2020 hunting license that includes bear as a species option. Additional details can be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/special-hunts/bear.
The most recent coastal razor clam dig came to a close on last Wednesday, and diggers had a whale of a time whenever the ocean didn’t win the battle. The biggest obstacle to digger success was heavy rain (clams don’t like fresh water!) and big waves that both washed out the telltale signs of the succulent bivalves and threatened to swamp the boots of anyone foolhardy to stand at the water’s edge.
“Abundant razor clam populations on beaches are allowing for more digging opportunities this year,” said WDFW Coastal Shellfish Manager Dan Ayres. “But, it is important that razor clam diggers be sure to only dig where it is allowed.”
The WDFW has also released a list of tentative digging dates through April. Those digs will need to be approved pending toxin testing by the Department of Health, but mollusk enthusiasts should go ahead and put those dates on their calendar so as to not be caught off guard.
The next round of razor clam digs, if approved, would take place on the following dates, low tides and beaches:
(Digging is not allowed before noon for the March and early April digs where low tide occurs in the evening.)
March 6, Friday, 4:11 p.m., -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
March 7, Saturday, 4:59 p.m., -0.7 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
March 8, Sunday, 6:43 p.m., -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
March 9, Monday, 7:25 p.m., -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
March 10, Tuesday, 8:06 p.m., -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
March 11, Wednesday, 8:46 p.m., -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
Ayres pointed out a pair of upcoming weekends that clamhounds should be sure to hit the boardwalk.
“The Ocean Shores Razor Clam and Seafood Festival on March 21 and 22, and the Long Beach Razor Clam Festival on April 11 are long-running events that celebrate the unique contribution of razor clams to Washington’s culture and coastal communities,” noted Ayres in a release.
The daily harvest limit for razor clams is 15 and diggers are required to keep the first specimens they dig regardless of size or condition. All diggers age 15 and older must possess a valid fishing license. Additionally, diggers must keep their harvest in a personal container rather than commingling the haul of a group.
On Feb. 7-8, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved an action that will impact both outdoor enthusiasts, wildlife and wildlands in Southwest Washington.
The commission gave the go-ahead to the continued implementation of the Willapa Bay Salmon Management Policy, which applies to the 2019 brood year Chinook hatchery releases and 2020 fishery management objectives.
Additionally, the commission considered information and public comment on numerous other proposed actions. Those discussions included 14 possible land transactions, the Grays Harbor salmon management policy, the status of sturgeon in the lower Columbia River, and the latest revelations in hatchery science.
The WDFW currently manages 80 hatchery facilities and 159 hatchery programs across the state.
Powderheads are likely to flock to the mountains in force this weekend as serious amounts of snowfall are expected to cover area slopes.
On Friday morning the temperature at the top of White Pass Ski Area was reported at 21 degrees, with thermometers ticking up toward 26 degrees closer to the lower lodge. According to measurements by White Pass staff the area had accumulated three inches of pow-pow over the past 12 hours. That brought the total snow pack up to 125 inches at the summit with 80 inches piled up down below. Those totals should increase substantially over the weekend with heavy snow in the forecast.
While the predicted snow looks like good news for skiers and snowboarders it’s important to remember that avalanche risk can also increase with sudden accumulations of snow on early spring slopes.
White Pass Ski Area is currently open daily from 8:45 a.m. until 4 p.m.