As rivers continue to drop back into shape with more settled weather, steelhead should be around on the Westside while out at sea, err, Puget Sound, there’s blackmouth to chase.
In Eastern Washington, ice fishing’s become iffy, but there’s great trout fishing at Lake Roosevelt and whitefish are an option.
Trout are also game in Western Washington, and if you’re willing to bet some time on a long shot, you, sir, could be Mr. First Springer Of 2010.
NORTH PUGET SOUND
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 Area 7 (San Juan Islands), where fishing has picked up recently. Anglers fishing Marine Area 7 have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook.
Elsewhere, Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) recently reopened to salmon fishing. However, the fishery got off to a slow start, said Thiesfeld. “Overall, fishing was spotty on the opener,” he said. “It certainly did not start off the way it ended in November, when fishing was pretty good.”
Anglers fishing Marine Area 9 – as well as marine areas 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) and 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) – have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook.
Thiesfeld reminds anglers that Marine Area 10 is only open through Jan. 31.
In the freshwater, fishing for steelhead continues to be slow. Thiesfeld said anglers should be aware that the lower portion of the Green River closed to fishing Jan. 16, while the upper stretch is scheduled to close Feb. 1. The Skagit and Sauk rivers also will close to fishing Feb. 16. With low steelhead returns expected back to those rivers, the emergency closures are necessary to protect wild steelhead.
Meanwhile, both the North Fork Stillaguamish and the Cascade rivers recently re-opened for fishing. Details on those emergency rules can be found on WDFW’s fishing regulation website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm .
SOUTH SOUND/OLYMPIC PENINSULA
Heavy rain and high water have put a damper on steelhead fishing in the new year, but anglers have some other options to consider while waiting for the rivers to drop back into shape.
Razor clams , for example. Five ocean beaches are scheduled to open for razor-clam digging later this month if marine toxin tests show the clams are safe to eat. Under the current plan, Long Beach and Twin Harbors will be open Jan. 27-31, Copalis and Mockrocks will open Jan. 29-31 and Kalaloch beach Jan. 30-31.
Digging at all five beaches will be restricted to the hours between noon and midnight. Under WDFW rules, harvesters may take no more than 15 razor clams and must keep the first 15 taken, regardless of size or condition.
“With the rough weather we had during the last opener, digging dropped off significantly as people played it safe,” said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager. “On the plus side, there are likely enough clams remaining in the quota to offer more digs later.”
Blackmouth fishing on Puget Sound is another option. Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) recently opened to resident chinook fishing, and two additional areas – 11 (Tacoma-Vashon) and 12 (Hood Canal) – are scheduled to open Feb. 1. Marine Area 10 is also open for blackmouth through Jan. 31.
Anglers are required to release wild salmon in all four areas. Regulations are described in the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet ( http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm ).
“Blackmouth fishing in Puget Sound has generally been slow, but that can turn around fairly quickly,” said Steve Thiefeld, a WDFW fish biologist. “You can’t catch them unless you go out there and find them.”
But high-water conditions have made it tough – even dangerous – for anglers to find steelhead during the first two weeks of the new year. After some good fishing in December, most anglers are taking cover until the rain subsides and the rivers drop back into shape.
Scott Barbour, a WDFW fish biologist, said the Chehalis River has been awash in high water and debris. “Right now it’s a safety issue,” he said. “Fishing aside, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone take a boat out there with all those logs and tree limbs floating down the river.”
Fishing conditions have also been tough on the north coast rivers, said Randy Cooper, another WDFW fish biologist. “The rivers have started dropping, but that could change with another heavy rain.”
On the bright side, Cooper said the high water has brought some good-sized wild steelhead into the rivers. “We’re approaching the time when the focus shifts from hatchery steelhead to wild fish, and what I’m seeing bodes well for the weeks ahead,” he said.
Wild steelhead-retention rules are now in effect on the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Hoh, Hoko, Pysht, Quillayute, Quinault and Sol Duc rivers. Anglers may retain one wild steelhead per license year on those rivers. On all other rivers, anglers may retain only hatchery-reared steelhead marked with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar.
“It’s a waiting game,” said Ron Warren, WDFW regional fish manager for south Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula. “Lots of hatchery steelhead are moving into the rivers, but they’re tough to catch under these conditions.”
Late-run winter steelhead are moving into area tributaries, thousands of trout have recently been planted in area lakes, sturgeon are beginning to stir, and openings have been scheduled for both smelt and razor clams. Fishing opportunities abound in the days ahead, but prospects for success vary, said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist.
“Weather is always a factor at this time of year, but there are also other things to consider in deciding what and where to fish,” Hymer said. Here’s his assessment of fisheries coming up in the next few weeks:
* Winter steelhead: The early run is winding down, but late-run winter steelhead are beginning to move toward the hatcheries on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers where they were raised. The fishery for late-run fish tends to peak in late February and early March, although some late-run steelhead are already beginning to show up in the catch. As with the early run, high water can always push those rivers out of shape for fishing.
* Smelt: Projecting another poor return, WDFW is limiting the Cowlitz River sport fishery for smelt to four days this winter. That river will be open for smelt dipping Feb. 6, 13, 20 and 27, between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. with a 10-pound daily limit. “This fishery is primarily intended to provide information on the size of this year’s run,” said Hymer, noting that NOAA Fisheries is currently considering listing West Coast smelt under the federal Endangered Species Act. Sport fishing for smelt on the mainstem Columbia River opened seven days per week, 24-hours day, starting Jan. 1, although anglers catch very few fish there.
* White sturgeon: Catch rates of legal-size sturgeon have picked up considerably in the Bonneville Pool in recent days, likely triggered by warming water temperatures. Sturgeon fishing in the lower river remains slow, but that could change if smelt return to the Cowlitz River in greater numbers than expected, Hymer said. Sturgeon regulations for all areas of the lower Columbia River listed in the Fishing in Washington rule pamphlet will remain in effect through February. New seasons will be set by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon at a public meeting scheduled Feb. 18 in Oregon City, Ore.
* Razor clams: Five ocean beaches are tentatively scheduled to open for razor-clam digging in late January. If marine toxin tests show the clams are safe to eat, Long Beach and Twin Harbors will be open Jan. 27-31, Copalis and Mockrocks will open Jan. 29-31 and Kalaloch beach Jan. 30-31. “Once WDFW gives final approval for the dig, the main concern is the surf,” Hymer said. “People can dig a limit of razor clams in foul weather, but a big surf can make digging difficult and potentially dangerous.” He strongly recommends that diggers check surf conditions before hitting the beach.
* Trout: While nothing is certain, anglers have a pretty good chance of catching trout – some averaging eight pounds – in lakes planted by WDFW during the winter months. During the second full week of January, hatchery crews planted 3,000 catchable-size fish in Kress Lake near Kalama, 1,500 in Battleground Lake and 1,500 in Klineline Pond. Several hundreds broodstock rainbows, ranging from four to eight pounds apiece, were also planted in Lake Sacajawea in Longview, Spearfish Lake near Dallesport, and Rowland Lake near Lyle.
As of mid-January, Hymer said he had not received any reports of spring chinook landed in the lower Columbia River, so they didn’t make his list of fishing options. “But the season is currently open, and we expect to start hearing catch reports soon,” he said.
Until mid-February, when fishery managers will meet to set the new season, anglers may retain hatchery-reared spring chinook under the rules printed in the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet. “At this time of year, we consider spring chinook ‘bonus fish’ in the winter steelhead fishery,” Hymer said.
Fishing for rainbow trout and kokanee continues to be excellent at Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir on the Columbia River off Grand Coulee Dam. “During the winter, the rainbows usually move down into the lower reservoir,” said WDFW District Fish Biologist Chris Donley. “They’re following the movement of zooplankton downstream, so the Keller and Spring Canyon areas become the target, rather than Seven Bays and above.”
Donley said kokanee or “silver trout” can be found near the surface of Lake Roosevelt in late January and into February. “Roosevelt is really the place to be for trout fishing now with these warm conditions,” Donley said. “That’s because ice on smaller trout waters is probably pretty rotten.”
Marc Divens, WDFW warmwater fish biologist, said that without freezing nighttime temperatures, and daytime temperatures exceeding 40 degrees, many year-round open fishing waters that appear iced-over are probably unsafe to fish.
“Usually this is a good time to fish Eloika or Newman lakes for their bass, perch, crappie , and other fish,” Divens said. “But I wouldn’t recommend anyone venture out on the ice on those lakes, at least not until we return to more normal temperatures with freezing days and nights.” For more on ice-fishing safety, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/factshts/ice_fishing.htm .
Snake River steelhead action has slowed, but tenacious anglers who find the fish pooled up near the mouths of tributaries may be successful.
Bob Jateff, WDFW district fish biologist, said upper Columbia River steelheading is best in the tributaries above Wells Dam. Anglers who are drifting the slower moving, deeper runs, where the fish tend to hold at this time of year, are probably doing best. Steelheaders must retain all adipose-fin-clipped hatchery steelhead, up to the limit of four per day. They must also immediately release all steelhead with an intact adipose fin without removing the fish entirely from the water.
The Methow River is open to whitefish from Gold Creek upstream to the falls above Brush Creek and the Chewuch River from the mouth to the Pasayten wilderness boundary. The Similkameen River is open from the mouth to the Canadian border. Jateff said those fishing for whitefish in areas that are currently open for steelhead must use selective gear (single barbless lures and flies, no bait allowed).
The safety of ice fishing throughout the region is questionable with recent warm weather and rain, and anglers are advised to be very cautious. Rainbow trout are available at Rat Lake near Brewster, Sidley/Molson Lake near Oroville, Big and Little Green lakes near Omak, and Davis Lake near Winthrop. Yellow perch are available at Patterson Lake near Winthrop. For more on ice-fishing safety, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/factshts/ice_fishing.htm .
Winchester Wasteway (the portion within the Winchester Game Reserve) and Stratford/Brook Lake in Grant County opens Feb. 1 for fishing under standard statewide rules.
WDFW District Fish Biologist Paul Hoffarth said steelhead fishing in the Ringold area on the Columbia River near Tri-Cities should be slightly above normal through the rest of the season, which runs into mid-April.
“I think the pattern we saw in December will hold,” Hoffarth said. “December’s catch and harvest was higher than any of the past six years. Boat anglers averaged 5.8 hours per fish in December and bank anglers averaged roughly 10 hours of angling per steelhead.”
Whitefish action on the Yakima River and other local streams continues to be good. “Some of the best whitefish areas besides the mainstem Yakima are the Naches, Tieton, Cle Elum, and Bumping rivers,” said WDFW District Fish Biologist Eric Anderson in Yakima.
Check the fishing rules pamphlet for specific river stretch descriptions. Whitefish gear is restricted to one single-point hook with a maximum hook size of 3/16-inch from point to shank, hook size 14. Fish are usually caught with a small fly tipped with a maggot. Up to 15 whitefish can be retained daily. Most fish are 10 to 15 inches. Concentrate fishing efforts in deep pools below riffles, Anderson said.