Tag Archives: eastern washington

Hanford Reach Fishing Report (9-24-19)


Over 1,400 anglers fished for fall chinook in the Hanford Reach this past week. Fishing, both in terms of numbers of anglers and harvest, picked up last week. Boats averaged over a fish per boat, 14 hours per fish. Bank anglers at the Ringold Springs access harvested 22 adult chinook and 17 jacks, 23 hours per chinook.

From September 16 through September 22, WDFW staff interviewed anglers from 494 boats (1,293 anglers) and 108 bank anglers with 563 adult chinook and 41 jacks. An estimated 1,627 adult chinook and 106 chinook jacks were harvested for the week (expanded). For the season there have been 9,790 angler trips with 2,381 adult chinook, 264 chinook jacks, and 8 coho harvested. Harvest is trailing only slightly behind last year at this time. (2018 =2,477 adult chinook).

Adult counts of fall chinook over Bonneville are running 44% above last year’s numbers and McNary counts finally picked up and are running 12% above last year at this time.


In addition to the US v Oregon Agreement, the Hanford Reach URB population is managed under the Hanford Reach Fall Chinook Fishery Management Plan. The population is managed to meet the Hanford Reach URB escapement goal of 31,100 – 42,000 adults (naturally spawning population). Harvest allocated to the fishery is based on in-season return estimates. An in-season estimate is generated weekly beginning September 15 for the Hanford Reach wild component of the return. The estimate is generated based on current passage through the fish ladders at McNary, Ice Harbor, and Priest Rapids Dams and projected migration timing. Based on numbers through September 23, an estimated 47,062 adult, wild (natural origin) fall chinook are expected to return to the Hanford Reach. At 47,000, 10,900 adult chinook are allocated to the Hanford Reach sport fishery. This allocation plus the current one adult daily limit should be sufficient to continue the fishery for the foreseeable future and potentially through the end of the scheduled season. The next in-season update will be posted October 1.

Tough Winter For Elk, Deer, Even New Pronghorns In Southeast Washington

Editor’s note: Updated April 11, 2019 with comments from WDFW biologist Michael Atamian

The six-by-seven bull rose with the rest of the herd of 150-plus elk that bitterly cold March morning outside Walla Walla and began trudging south through the snow.

But then as Scott Rasley, a longtime WDFW staffer and wildlife conflict specialist for the Blue Mountains, watched the animals make their way towards the Oregon state line, “like they do every morning,” he witnessed something extraordinary.


The big bull turned to its left, then “laid down, put his head back, and died in 30 seconds.”

Didn’t take any final breaths, didn’t let out any death moans. Just. Died. On the spot.

“I have never seen anything like that in 38 years,” Rasley said.

He said the bull otherwise looked like it was in OK shape and was suffering no apparent external injuries.

“The bull had the normal amount of lack of fat that we would find this time of year. And after a late and very cold snowy winter, basically none,” Rasley said.

It was a hard thing for him to see, given how he much he’s enjoyed working with elk — “a magnificent animal” — for WDFW in some of the state’s best wapiti country over the past 35 years.

“I always hate to see a magnificent bull like this die for no reason,” Rasley said.


But it’s also symbolic of the harsh conditions Eastern Washington deer, elk and antelope suffered through in February as below-zero temperatures and record or near-record snows hit the region and lingered well into March, burying forage and pushing the animals below their normal winter range habitats.

The bull’s death and those of other critters are briefly described in recent biweekly WDFW Wildlife Program reports from February and last month.

“Veterinarian Mansfield and Wildlife Health Technician Cole have been receiving an increase in reports of dead mule deer in eastern Washington,” reads one section of the March 1-15 report. “To date, necropsies and laboratory testing indicate that the deer are in a state of chronic negative energy balance, likely a result of prolonged winter weather and deep snow pack.”

It states that one deer had a “severe” ulcer, probably because it had been suddenly forced to forage on things its stomach couldn’t deal with.

“When eaten, they ferment in the stomach, producing large amounts of acid, which cause ulcers and enter the bloodstream, usually resulting in death,” the report states in reminding us that it’s not as easy as just putting out piles of corn or whatnot for starving critters.

That report and others from February show photos of carcasses of deer found on the Grande Ronde and recently translocated pronghorns near Tri-Cities, as well as a cow elk in the snow on the 4-O Wildlife Area that was still alive but too weak to stand with the end near.

“We lost a lot of deer along the Snake River, as well,” Rasley added. “Most were last year’s fawns. I can’t remember the last time we had 40 mile an hour north winds with below zero temps and heavy snow at the same time. Pretty sad.”

Most impacts occurred east of the Cascades, but hungry trumpeter swans in the Sequim area “decimated” an organic farm’s broccoli and cauliflower crops when everything else was under a heavy blanket of snow, according to one report.

With winter-weary deer and elk expected to struggle through more bad weather, in early March WDFW closed several wildlife area units on the eastern side of the Blue Mountains to public access to reduce disturbance on wintering game. On the south side of the range, ODFW urged shed antler hunters to postpone their searches.

But the Wildlife Program reports also share images or stories of wildlife powering through late winter — a herd of 23 bulls hunkered behind a tree line to get out of a cold wind on a 3-degree day; the snow burrows of sage grouse in the northern Columbia Basin; large numbers of elk gathered at Yakima and Kittitas Counties’ feedlots; turkeys in hay barns; a cougar taking shelter under a barn.


It’s the nature of nature, the strong — and the lucky and the accidents of birth — survive the cold season to reproduce, strengthening the herds and flocks.

I  emailed a number of wildlife biologists across the Eastside’s southern tier to find out how this winter compared to the last harsh one that hit this country, 2016-17, which began a lot earlier.

Paul Wik, the district bio for the Blues, feels that 2018-19 was “likely less severe” of a winter than two years ago because the worst weather occurred during a seven- to eight-week window.

But he also thinks the animals may have gone into it with less fuel in the tank, per se.

“I think that the animals were likely in poorer condition than normal going into this winter due to the lack of fall green-up that normally occurs,” Wik said. “With the fall rains occurring too late in the year for grass to germinate in the fall, the deer and elk were not able to access higher nutritional forage in the fall, predisposing them to the severe late-winter conditions.”

As for the impact hunters might see, he says some parts of his district could see reduced deer harvest, the impact may be larger in 2021 when last year’s fawns would be legal bucks.

“Our deer surveys in December documented normal fawn recruitment, but that was prior to the winter weather which may have impacted them,” Wik said.

In the district to the north of him, Michael Atamian said it was “hard” on deer and elk.

“In general I would say it was not as hard as the 2016-17 winter in Spokane and Lincoln Counties. However, in southwest Whitman County this year was likely a bit harder than 2016-17 on mule deer,” he reported.

“We might see a bit of an impact in harvest success a couple years down the line in the Whitman County area,” Atamian noted, adding, “However, the ability of a hunter to secure private land access will have greater impact on their success overall.”

Game Pole Starting To Sag With Nice Eastern Washington Muley Harvest

Eastern Washington mule deer hunters appear to be having a decent October, if images sent to Northwest Sportsman this month are any indication.

It’s hardly the final word and it’s impossible to compare it with previous falls, but my photo files hold more than a few critters from the 509 taken by muzzleloaders and riflemen.

And with this morning’s arrival of an especially tall-tined buck in my inbox, I thought I’d share some success pics from our readers

(NOTE: If you’d like to contribute to the game pole as well as appear in our annual Big Game Yearbook in the February 2018 issue, shoot me an email with pics and details at awalgamott@media-inc.com!)

Here’s more from 2017’s harvest so far:

Never give up! On his last morning afield, Andrew Noreen spotted this beefy Okanogan County buck. He says it green scores in the 180 to 190 range before deductions, and weighed a hefty 210 pounds after gutting. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

A 320-yard shot led to a notched tag for Craig Westlin on the Oct. 14 opener. He was hunting in Southeast Washington with Deadman Creek Outfitters. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

A long drive from Grays Harbor to the Okanogan paid off for Brian Blake with this nice buck. Blake is a state representative who chairs the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees WDFW-related issues. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Two for two! Grace Smith is off to a heckuva start with her hunting career, tagging this Ritzville doe on the opener after last year bagging a good four-point. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Here’s another look at Dave Anderson’s stout Okanogan buck, taken well away from the madding crowds outside Winthrop. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Let’s not forget the muzzie guys, especially not this kid! That’s Lane Leondard, 20, with his seventh buck in seven years, four taken with a rifle and three, including this Douglas County bruiser, with a smokepole. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Hunting eastern Grant County, Michael Cook bumped into this late afternoon muley. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

The Benson family is going to be eating well this winter after father Jeff tipped over this wide-racked Walla Walla County buck … (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

… And son Jack followed up with this good muley still sporting a bit of velvet. The 11-year-old was toting a .243 and had just completed hunter ed last summer. He thanked landowners for allowing youths on to hunt their property. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Nic Belisle got it done in the Okanogan on opening weekend while hunting with friend Chuck Hartman … (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

… Who in turn notched his own tag with this three-pointer the next day. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

There’s luck, and then there’s luck, and it’s never a bad thing either way. Let’s just say, John Calvert didn’t have far to cart this three-point after downing it over opening weekend. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Jeremy Jones put in a lot of effort on the opener hunting north-central Okanogan County, but it wasn’t until he was headed back to camp that he spotted this nice buck off the road and put the sneak on it to make the shot. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

No, we didn’t get ’em all this month — this big Prescott GMU buck decided against taking the usual backwards glance at Chad Zoller and his son, who was lined up for a shot if it had. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Expect A Mixed Bag For Washington’s 2017 Rifle Elk Seasons

Washington riflemen will find fewer spikes in some herds, but more bulls in others as seasons open later this month and next.

Editor’s note: This is an expanded version of an article that appears in the October 2017 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine.

By Andy Walgamott

There are high notes and lows in this season’s Washington elk forecast for fall’s modern firearms seasons.

On the plus side, the North Willapa Herd is cranking out lots of bulls and the Mt. Rainier herd is increasing.

On the negative, the Yakima, Colockum and Blues Herds have fewer spikes due to drought and winter conditions in recent years.

Here’s what state wildlife biologists have to say about this fall’s hunting:

Kalee Brown, then 19, bagged her first elk and game critter on 2015’s Eastern Washington elk opener, this spike. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)


Washington’s whitetail heartland also holds a fair-sized elk herd – just don’t come here armed with tactics from elsewhere in the 509 or think it’s a slam dunk.

Official word from state biologists Dana Base and Annemarie Prince is that hunting this thickly wooded corner of the state is “no small challenge,” words they actually bolded in their annual game prospects. Backing that assertion is a table they created showed that rifle hunters harvested between .02 and .05 elk per square mile in most units in recent years, and as few as .002 in the westernmost unit of their district, Sherman.

Thomas Jimeno of Spokane gave up on elk hunting about 10 years ago after six unsuccessful seasons, but last year a friend wouldn’t take no for an answer, so they hit Pend Oreille County’s woods where but he managed to hit this six-by-seven on the move, dropping the bull within 50 yards. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

If there’s good news, it’s that the small, scattered herds weathered last winter, so hunters should see similar numbers of elk and kill around 200 or so this year, half during the general rifle hunt.

By harvest stat, Selkirk, 49 Degrees North and Huckleberry account for three-quarters of the modern firearms take and all three units offer good amounts of actively managed timber and locked gates, which create refuges from pressure for elk but don’t bar walk-in access.

Douglas might be worth a sniff too, as the unit between Colville and Northport featured the fewest days per kill (45.6) of all the district’s units last year and highest hunter success of the past three (8.8 percent).

Wherever you hunt, beating the thicker, heavier, marshier cover may pay off better than watching clearcuts in hopes of catching a bull out in the open at this stage of the season.

2016 general season harvest: 240 (rifle: 115, archery: 81; muzzleloader: 32; multiple weapons: 12); Top rifle: Huckleberry, 29; top success percentage: Douglas, 8.8; lowest days per kill: Douglas, 45.6

More info: District 1 Hunting Prospects


It’s easy to dismiss the Palouse and Spokane area for elk – at least until you look at the harvest stats and realize that District 2 gave up more wapiti than all but one other Eastern Washington zone, Yakima and Kittitas Counties.

No, it’s not your average week at Elk Camp, but last year, 171 general season modern firearms hunters tagged out on bulls and cows, a 13.2 percent success rate. Granted, there’s very little public land overall, but in Mt. Spokane and Mica Peak there’s some access through state and Inland Empire Paper lands.

A small herd of elk roams across a marsh portion of the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. (TURNBULL NWR)

Elsewhere, it boils down to farmers and ranchers signed up through the state’s various private lands programs. Elk numbers are said to be expanding in Almota and Steptoe, in south Mica Peak and northwest Mt. Spokane, so establishing a rapport with landowners experiencing crop damage might pay off. Also consider looking into the Columbia Plateau Wildlife Management Association’s hunting program.

2016 general season harvest: 287 (rifle: 171; muzzleloader: 77; archery: 35; multiple weapons: 4); Top rifle: Mica Peak, 59; top success percentage: Mica Peak, 19.6; lowest days per kill: Steptoe, 19.1.

More info: District 2 Hunting Prospects


The Blues are the traditional elk hunting grounds for many Southcentral and Southeast Washington residents, especially those from Tri-Cities, and undoubtedly many will return this fall. Unfortunately, the prognosis is not all that good for wapiti season, no thanks to the same long, snowy winter those same citizens suffered through.

According to biologist Paul Wik, it caused a “significant decline” in elk numbers, especially among calves. Surveys this spring turned up just half the five-year average of young elk, an estimated 466 versus 998, meaning there will likely be half the number of spikes roaming between Walla Walla, Pomeroy and Asotin for general season hunters. Branch bulls were down too, and that could affect coming years’ permit levels, Wik adds.

A snowfall covers the wall tent at the Blue Mountains elk camp known as Scoggin Hole in late October 2009. The extended Scoggin family has set up on the east side of the range since, you guessed it, 1937. (LARRY SCOGGIN)

Though elk do roam out into the wheatfields all the way to the Snake River Breaks, the public lands units are where state managers want to keep the herd. Dayton and Tucannon on the northwest and northern sides of the Blues are the primary producers, followed by Mountain View and Lick Creek. They’re yielding between .11 and .22 spikes a square mile for rifle hunters in recent years, and Mountain View had the quartet’s highest success percentage in 2016, 6.6, as well as 2015’s, 10.2. How well that holds up this year remains to be seen.

Tucked on the south side of the famed fall steelhead river, the eponymous Grande Ronde Unit offers an even higher success percentage and good amounts of public land but very tough access. It’s pretty much all straight up, whether you try and tackle it from the Snake, Ronde or Joseph Creek Road.

Whichever unit in the heart of the Blues you hit, Wik has three key pieces of advice: Bulls typically will move to “north aspect, mid-slope timbered hillsides” right after the opener; scour topo maps and glass the breaks for benches elk will lay up on during the day; and don’t overlook walking gated roads on open lands.

And tuck this away for future years: Where 2015’s Grizzly Bear fire in the wilderness Wenaha Unit burned more lightly may have helped clear out rank forage, improving the quality of elk feed.

2016 general season harvest: 112 (rifle: 56, archery: 39; multiple weapons: 9; muzzleloader: 8); Top rifle: Mountain View, 14; top success percentage: Grande Ronde, 16 (small sample); lowest days per kill: Grande Ronde, 22

More info: District 3 Hunting Prospects


There aren’t many elk in the northern half of the east side of the Cascades or the Okanogan Highlands, but those that do reside here can mostly be found at either end of the region, where the Selkirk and Colockum Herds bleed over.

The Mission Unit of southern Chelan County produces a harvest on par with the best of the Blues units, 26 last year for riflemen, for a 7 percent success rate. Biologist Dave Volsen says the animals roam throughout Mission, but you’ll probably have better success in the rugged wooded uplands around Blewett Pass and southeast of Mission Peak in the headwaters of Stemilt and Colockum Creeks.

This fall a large herd has been causing issues near Havillah, but unfortunately this is mostly private land and the elk were primarily cows in this any-bull country.

2016 general season harvest: 58 (rifle: 35; muzzleloader: 12; archery: 11); Top rifle: Mission, 26; top success percentage: Wannacut, 15.8 (small sample); lowest days per kill: Wannacut, 14

More info: District 6 Hunting Prospects
More info: District 7 Hunting Prospects

Michelle Schreiber at Verle’s in Shelton tagged out in 2012 with this special permit bull near White Pass. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)


There’s trouble in the Eastside’s top elk district, a double whammy from two successive years of bad weather for wapiti. The drought of 2015 left elk in poor condition going into that winter, resulting in higher mortality, and last winter of course was rough in not only the Blues but the South Cascades too.

Two years ago also saw a harvest of nearly 2,000 cows, highest of the past 10 years, undoubtedly depressing fecundity. Year over year surveys saw the Yakima herd decline from 10,856 to 8,326 in early 2017, the Colockum from 5,087 to 4,672.

As you can imagine, the calves took the brunt of the weather beating, leading to the “the lowest numbers ever seen in the district,” reports biologist Jeff Bernatowicz in his game prospects. “This does not bode well for general season spike hunters, as fewer calves seen on February/March surveys means fewer legal elk in the fall.”

Antlerless tags have been dramatically reduced for this year in western Yakima County, where Kylie Core, 15, of St. Maries, Idaho, toppled this cow last November with a single shot from her .30-06-caliber Ruger bolt action. Her family has been hunting the area for four generations. (DAVE WORKMAN)

Still, there will be spikes running around out there, and, no, the Yakima herd doesn’t all skip across the Cascades to get away from hunters with Eastside tags. Bernie reports that most elk stay on the 509 side and his hunting prospects this year includes the peregrinations of several radio-collared cows, which the spikes tend to run with, during fall’s seasons. The data does show many locations up where the Pacific Crest Trail treads, including the Norse Peak Wilderness, which saw a big fire this summer, and the William O. Douglas Wilderness to the south.

A WDFW map shows the locations of Yakima Herd collared cow elk in early to midfall. (WDFW)

But there’s also plenty of activity on either side of the border between the Bumping and Nile and Bumping and Bethel Units, southeast side of Rimrock, southwestern corner of Cowiche and the central portion of the border between Little Naches and Manastash.

Locations in the Colockum strongly cluster on the northern edge of Naneum, its central core in the canyon, and along its edge with Quilomene and throughout the upper two thirds of that unit.

A photo collage from Matt Paxton shows he and friends enjoyed a good hunt in the Little Naches Unit during 2013’s season. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

As ever, the key to elk hunting this country is the weather. No matter what happens, higher units’ harvests are typically stable, the biologist reports, but get some heavy weather and that can push the herds in a hurry to the feeding grounds, opening up opportunities. The timing of the rifle season and recent autumns haven’t been too conducive for that, however.

2016 general season harvest: 1,226 (rifle: 571; archery: 522; muzzleloader: 98; multiple weapons: 35); Top rifle: Quilomene, 122; top success percentage: Quilomene, 9.4; lowest days per kill: Quilomene, 46.7

More info: District 8 Hunting Prospects


Just like elsewhere across the southern belt of Washington, elk here suffered through a long, cold winter, and biologists estimate that the Mt. St. Helens Herd declined 30 to 35 percent. That’s not a small drop – bios say the elk here don’t typically have the fat reserves to get them through harsher winters like we just saw. The Willapa Herd wasn’t surveyed in 2017, but it isn’t affected by winter like mountain elk are, and recent years have shown stable to slightly increasing numbers, which should probably contribute to a season not unlike last year.

Hunting since she was 8, Amber Kolb tagged out in 2015 with this big Southwest Washington bull, taken on a special permit and while hunting with her dad, grandfather and a family friend. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Between Districts 9 (Clark, Skamania and Klickitat Counties) and 10 (Lewis, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties), rifle hunters bagged 765 elk last November. Ten’s overall, all-harvest tally was just shy of 1,500, just about the same as the previous three seasons but less than half of 2012’s concerted effort to decrease the size of the Mt. St. Helens herd through special permits.

The South Cascades’ top rifle units by kill last year were Lewis River (139 bulls), Winston (112), Ryderwood (86) and Coweeman (78). The opening of the Margaret in 2015 produced an immediate windfall, but last year’s harvest tailed off to 40, though most were four-point or better animals and the 11.8 percent success rate was second only to Mossyrock (16.2 percent). That said, Margaret is entirely owned by Weyerhaueser and most of Mossyrock is as well, so you’ll need a permit (wyrecreation.com/permits; some were available at press time early last month).

2016 general season harvest: 1,790  (rifle: 765; archery: 585; muzzleloader: 347; multiple weapons: 93); Top rifle: Lewis River, 139; top success percentage: Mossyrock, 16.2; lowest days per kill: Mossyrock, 28.7

More info: District 9 Hunting Prospects


Good numbers of bulls – not so good numbers of big ones. That might be the summary for elk in the hills above Grays Harbor and Willapa Bays.

“Both calf-to-cow and bull-to-cow ratios for the North Willapa Hills herd area are exceptionally robust, indicating a highly productive herd with great harvest opportunities,” notes biologist Anthony Novack in his game prospects.

Bobby Wilson out of Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands harvested this nice bull near Naselle early in 2014’s season. Friend Kevin Klein sent the pic. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Spring surveys found bull ratios in Fall River, Lincoln Minot Peak and North River at 20:100 cows, well above the goal of 12:100, but again trophy critters were scarce – “Only one mature bull was seen during the entire survey,” Novack reported.

Williams Creek produces one of the Westside’s best harvests – 111 mostly four-points and .436 killed per square mile last year – and does have some state lands at its northeast and southwest sides.

2016 general season harvest: 642 (rifle: 281; archery: 236; muzzleloader: 86; multiple weapons: 39); Top rifle: Williams Creek, 111; top success percentage: Long Beach, 20 (small sample); lowest days per kill: Copalis, Long Beach, 26.5 (small samples)

More info: District 17 Hunting Prospects


Expect harvest on the lower flanks of Washington’s highest mountain to continue its upwards trajectory as elk herds here increase. Since 2008, the all-weapons kill has doubled to more than 400, according to biologist Michelle Tirhi’s preseason prospects. Note that the Muckleshoot Tribe did undertake feeding in the White River Unit this past winter.

Hunting on an antlerless tag in the Mashel Unit west of Mt. Rainier late last season, Brennon Hart bagged his first elk with a 120-yard shot from his Knight Ultralight and a 300-grain Smackdown Bullet. He was hunting with his dad, Randy. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

Tirhi points to public lands surrounding Mt. Rainier National Park as prime spots to patrol for elk heading for winter range, including high-elevation roads on its north and east sides, as well as walk-, ride- and bike-in state forestlands on its southwest corner. Lower still, Hancock-managed timber in White River (permit only) and Mashel are called out as good bets. There are also increasing elk issues in the lowlands, but access is pretty tough and there may be firearms restrictions to contend with. Indeed, muzzleloaders have been doing particularly well in Thurston and central Pierce Counties.

2016 general season harvest: 404 (muzzleloader: 136; rifle: 121; archery: 120; multiple weapons: 27); Top rifle: Mashel, 35; top success percentage: Deschutes, 23.2; lowest days per kill: Deschutes, 13.8

More info: District 11 Hunting Prospects


Elk are increasing not only in the Skagit Valley but the Snoqualmie, with more showing up down near Duvall. The caveat is that this all farmland of one sort or another, there are firearms restrictions and the archery boys have been sniffing around the herd. Keep an eye out next year for the possibility that the Cascade Unit will open for elk – not that there are many here. On the Olympic Peninsula, bull harvest in the Clearwater and Pysht Units have been increasing, but in most others it’s been flat or declining this millennium.

Ryley Absher, then 16, bagged this bull in eastern King County during 2012’s season with a Remington 700 in .30-06. His dad reported that after four days of watching the elk, it finally gave him a shot opportunity. (BROWNING PHOTO CONTEST)

One final note on Westside elk: With confirmation of treponeme-associated hoof disease in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King and Mason County elk, the ban on transporting hooves from a kill site is now in effect in North Sound, Nooksack, Sauk, Issaquah, Mason and Skokomish, Units 407, 418, 437, 454, 633 and 636. That’s in addition to all units in Clark, Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, Lewis, Pacific, Thurston and Pierce, most of Grays Harbor and northern Skamania Counties. The idea is to try and slow or halt the spread of the disease. NS

2016 general season harvest: 347 (archery: 128; rifle: 104; muzzleloader: 99; multiple weapons: 16); Top rifle: Clearwater, Satsop, 17; top success percentage: Coyle, 20 (very low sample); lowest days per kill: Coyle, 12

More info: District 12 Hunting Prospects — King County
More info: District 13 Hunting Prospects — Snohomish County
More info: District 14 Hunting Prospects
— Whatcom, Skagit Counties
More info: District 15 Hunting Prospects — Mason, Kitsap, east Jefferson Counties
More info: District 16 Hunting Prospects — western Clallam, Jefferson Counties

Man holding large steelhead

Plan B For B-runs

Tucked back in the hills and featuring great access, the Clearwater’s South Fork produces good fishing for nice steelies.

By Mike Wright

For a number of years my high school had a tradition of starting out the softball and baseball season with a two-day tournament in Orofino. The tournament was always scheduled for mid-March, when snow covered the fields of North Idaho and far Eastern Washington. It also coincided with the latter part of the steelhead run on the Clearwater River and its tributaries. Since I helped with the coaching duties I would always make the trip, but unfortunately I never had the opportunity to do any steelheading.

Man holding large steelhead

The lure of large steelhead in small water attracts gear and fly anglers to Idaho’s South Fork Clearwater River. (MIKE WRIGHT)

Then one year I decided to take a fly rod along and try my luck between games. The schedule would give me enough time for a couple hours of fishing between contests. Someone suggested the nearby North Fork of the Clearwater, which had a lot of fish in the river at the time. So between games I made my way down to the North Fork, walked to the water’s edge and started to cast into a very clear, slow-moving section of the stream. To my delight, very quickly a nice 24- or 25-inch fish followed my fly – until he got close enough to inspect the offering and abruptly turned and swam away. As I continued to work this section the same thing happened three more times. Even though I changed flies, tried different retrieves and speeds, the results were the same: no takes. I even switched to a sink-tip line, but all that did for me was a couple hook-ups on rocks and the loss of two flies.
That evening I went into a grocery store to buy some snacks and drinks for the next day. While in the store I ran into one of my former students, who was working for the U.S. Forest Service out of Orofino. I told him my tale of woe and he said I was really fishing in the wrong spot. He went on to tell me that the Clearwater’s South Fork was the preferred destination for most fly fishermen. He stated that it was a smaller river with well-defined holes and generally much easier to wade.
The next morning I left just after dawn to make the relatively long drive to Kooskia and the South Fork. Although we had a game at 11, I felt there was enough time for a couple hours of fishing. Unfortunately, just after I arrived at the river the heavens opened up. After only a few casts it was very apparent these were not the ideal conditions for steelhead fishing. Nor was it ideal for softball or baseball either. The rest of the tournament was cancelled and I went home with nothing to show for my efforts.

SINCE THAT ILL-FATED journey to the South Fork I have fished it several times, learning a great deal more about it and gaining much more respect for this outstanding fishery. The river forms at around 4,000 feet, just outside the old mining town of Elk City. Its upper reaches flow through a narrow, heavily timbered canyon on Forest Service land. Steep and full of rapids and pocket water, you might catch cutthroat, rainbow, brook trout, mountain whitefish and possibly bull trout here.

Clearwater river

The South Fork features great access, thanks to Highways 13 and 14, which parallel it all the way from Kooskia to Elk City. (MIKE WRIGHT)

The water in this section is cold and very clear, even though a number of mining operations have worked the area in the past. The swift current, higher elevation and shade trees help keep water temperatures cooler through the warmer summer months. Further downstream, the gradient becomes more level and the river bed widens. Water temps rise in this section with a consequent negative impact on the fish, particularly cutthroat and bull trout. There is considerably less streamside vegetation and shade in this lower section. The river flows through more private land the closer it gets to where it empties into the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River.
The main attraction in this part of the river is steelhead, which start showing up en masse this month and in April. For the most part, these are B-run fish, meaning they have spent an additional year in ocean and thus are older and bigger than their A-run counterparts.
“Big fish in small water is the major allure for the South Fork,” says Mike Beard of Northwest Outfitters (nwoutfitters.com). in Coeur d’Alene, these steelies often run in the 12- to 20-pound range, with the As coming in at 6 to 10 pounds. Shallower, wadeable water punctuated with deeper help make this stream a destination fishery for flyrodders from all over the Northwest. But even though it can provide excellent steelhead fishing, the South Fork can also be rather fickle, requiring knowledge of the river and fish habits. Often the steelhead remain downstream in the Middle Fork until conditions are just right. The best time to fish is after a rain or melt-off has created a push of colder water, then stabilizing at around 350 to 500 cubic feet per second.
In addition, nymphing is a more effective method than the usual swing fishing approach. An egg pattern or beads are probably the most productive approach during March and April. One of the most popular set-ups is to tie a pinkish color bead on the line an inch or two up from the eye of the hook and another on the hook itself. Since larger hook sizes are required (size 10 or perhaps larger), heating the bead may be required to slip it past the bend of the hook. Although other egg and nymph patterns are effective, this particular set up has been effective for me. Beard uses this same bead arrangement, but ties on a Kilowatt fly with the beads as a dropper. He feels the Kilowatt can be an attractor for the beads, but sometimes the steelhead will be more active and take the lead fly.
The South Fork is excellent fly water, but other methods are effective on the river too. Bait is very popular and productive, and probably the most effective technique is a jig baited with a shrimp below a bobber. While bait fishing with a treble is popular in many spots, it should be pointed out that only single-point barbless hooks are allowed when fishing for steelhead or salmon in the South Fork.
This time of year it may be advisable to linger longer in a particular hole, as the fish are often rather lethargic. Considering the popularity of the South Fork in March and April, if you fortunate enough to be fishing a suitable hole and move, chances are someone will take your spot and you may not be able to find an empty hole.

STATE STEELHEAD MANAGERS recently instituted a new program to help improve the number of fish returning to the South Fork for spawning. Enlisting the river’s anglers, each are given a long plastic tube of sufficient size to safely hold very sizable steelhead. Starting in February, a tanker truck cruises the highway along the river, collecting the tubes and steelhead. The fish are then transported to the national fish hatchery in Orofino, where the eggs are fertilized and the hatchlings can be reared for release. Releases back into the South Fork are staggered in order the better equalize the run.
According to Joe Dupont, Idaho Fish & Game fisheries biologist for the Clearwater Region, four years of work and study have gone into the program and at this time it seems to be working fairly well. Last year, all 225 needed pairs had been collected by March 7. It is probably too soon to tell what affect this will have on the overall number of steelhead in the drainage, but indications are encouraging.

Man holding a fish just out of the water

In addition to steelhead, the river also holds cutthroat, rainbow, brookies and mountain whitefish, as well as bull trout. (MIKE WRIGHT)

Another program that has many anglers excited involves Chinook. In 1927, the former Lewiston Dam was constructed, effectively ending the migration of king salmon into the Clearwater River and its tributaries. The dam was removed in the 1970s, but the recovery of the fish has been exceeding slow. To help out, IDFG has expanded its stocking program and are planting during the summer as well as the spring and fall. The number of Chinook has been increasing throughout the drainage, including the South Fork. If this trend continues it would be a great addition to the fishery.
Although the South Fork is best known for steelhead fishing, and justifiably so, the river provides excellent fishing for a number of species. It might be considered a river for all seasons.
To reach the South Fork, simply follow the Clearwater River out of Lewiston and turn onto Highway 13 south out of Kooskia. The highway follows the river all the way to Hapston Grade. There, stay to the left on Highway 14, which goes all the way to Elk City. Daily limit is three fin-clipped steelhead, and the season runs through April 30.