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Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife - Weekender Report

Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife
December 2017
Region 1: Eastern Washington
(Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens,  Walla Walla and Whitman counties)

Steelhead: Steelhead fishing on the lower Snake River in the southeast part of the region continues to provide catches of hatchery-marked fish less than 28 inches.

Jeremy Trump, WDFW southeast district fish biologist, explains that the size limit, along with a daily catch limit of two steelhead, from the mouth of the Snake River upstream to the Washington/Idaho state line at Clarkston, gives anglers the opportunity to harvest excess hatchery A-run steelhead, while still providing protection to the remaining B-run steelhead within the reach. All steelhead retention in that part of the mainstem river had been closed because of lagging fish returns, but when A-run fish numbers were adequate, a rule change on Nov. 18 opened some fishing.

“We’re monitoring the steelhead run over the coming months,” Trump said. “If we can provide more harvest opportunity, we will. But we also might have to curtail retention, if needed. Steelheaders should continue to check emergency rules for any updates.”

Trump reminded anglers that barbless hooks are required when fishing for steelhead in the Snake River. Anglers cannot remove any steelhead from the water unless it is retained as part of their daily bag limit. Anglers should be sure to identify their catch because unmarked chinook salmon, coho salmon and steelhead are also in the Snake River during this fishery.

Winter-only trout lakes: The winter-only trout fishing season has been underway since Nov. 24 and runs through March 31 at two lakes in the region, Fourth of July Lake on the Lincoln/Adams county line, and Hatch Lake in Stevens County.

Randy Osborne, WDFW central district fish biologist in Spokane, reports that opening day fishing on Fourth of July Lake was moderately slow, perhaps because of windy conditions. But he expects catch rates are picking up on the thousands of catchable-size rainbow trout the lake supports from generous stocking over the past year.

“Anglers need to remember that although gas motors are prohibited on Fourth of July Lake, water levels are high enough now to allow small craft to launch at the end of the road,” Osborne said.“The shoreline vegetation has grown considerably in that area, but there is a pathway through it to open water. Be sure to clean up your fishing area before leaving as this is a ‘pack-it-in, pack-it-out’ area. And remember no more than two of your daily five trout can be over 14 inches.”

Brian Walker, WDFW northeast district assistant fish biologist, reports opening day fishing at Hatch Lake was good, but now catches are taking a little more effort. “Hatch is producing fat rainbows running around 11 to 14 inches in length,” Walker said. “But anglers have to work a little more for them now.”

Both lakes opened without ice, but more wintery weather this month or next could create problems with launching boats and casting from shore.

Anglers are reminded that both Hog Canyon Lake in Spokane County and Williams Lake in Stevens County, which normally open the Friday after Thanksgiving, are not open to fishing this season because they were treated with rotenone earlier this fall to remove non-trout species. Both will be re-stocked with trout next spring and provide fishing in the fall and winter of 2018-19.

Year round trout: Rainbow trout fishing has been fairly productive at Lake Spokane (Long Lake), the Spokane River reservoir on the Spokane-Stevens county line. Rainbows up to 19 inches have been reported. Popular shore fishing spots include the Washington Department of Natural Resources-managed properties and turnouts downstream of Tum Tum, where anglers need a Discover Pass.

Lake Roosevelt, the Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam, is also open year-round, but the latest reports suggest fishing has been slow for most species. Some rainbow trout are being landed by regulars who know how and where to fish this big water, but it’s been poor for kokanee. Burbot fishing should pick up any time now.

In the region’s southeast district, two Tucannon River impoundments on the Wooten Wildlife Area – Blue and Spring lakes – remain open and have been providing catches of rainbows stocked from the Tucannon Fish Hatchery.

Mixed species: Anglers may find good fishing for yellow perch in Ferry County’s Curlew Lake during December. “Perch are willing biters and Curlew is loaded with them,” said Walker. “Bait will likely be your best bet, due to cold temperatures and sluggish fish.A chunk of worm fished near the bottom, cast from shore, is a good option.”

Once ice conditions materialize and become safe, some year-round lakes in the region should also produce decent yellow perch fishing through the ice. Silver Lake in southwest Spokane County has a good perch population, as does Eloika Lake in northern Spokane County where the fish will likely be slightly larger. Newman Lake in eastern Spokane County, should have some decent fishing for black crappie if anglers can locate them.

Safety is especially critical during this transitional time of year when fishing waters are freezing, thawing and re-freezing. 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. 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. Learn more at WDFW’s Ice Fishing Safety webpage.

Whitefish: The first of December marks the opening of whitefish season on that part of the Little Spokane River between State Highway 291 upstream to West Branch. Daily catch limit is 15 fish of any size, but whitefish gear rules apply (one single-point hook, maximum size 3/16-inch point to shank – hook size 14). Whitefish fishing under the same rules has been underway on the Kettle River in Ferry/Stevens counties since the first of November.

Region 2: Northcentral Washington
(Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties)

Trout/mixed species:Roses Lake in Chelan County recently received about 15,000 catchable-size rainbow trout that WDFW District Fish Biologist Travis Maitland says should provide a consistent winter trout fishery.  Fish Lake, also in Chelan County, is popular for both rainbow trout and yellow perch. Neither of these year-round-open waters had ice as of the first of December, but both will provide good ice fishing when freezing temperatures are consistent enough to provide safe ice.

“Anglers are currently catching nice fat kokanee up to 14 inches on Lake Chelan,” Maitland said, “but I’m not sure if this will continue through December. Perhaps the weather will dictate if many anglers are still willing to pursue these silver delicacies.”

Three lakes in Okanogan County open for “catch-and-keep” trout fishing Dec. 1 – Rat Lake near Brewster and Upper and Lower Green lakes near Omak switch from a catch-and-release regulation to a five-trout daily catch limit.  These fisheries provide good angling throughout the winter months, either on open water – as they mostly are now –  or iced-over later in the season. Usually catches of rainbow trout in the 10- to 12-inch range are made on a variety of bait, lures, and flies. 

Maitland reminds anglers who fish through the ice on any waterway open to fishing this season to check out WDFW’s ice fishing safety information. 

Year-round-open Moses Lake in Grant County is usually a good choice in December for yellow perch. Potholes Reservoir , also open year-round, usually produces nice rainbow trout this month.  

Columbia River reservoirs Lake Roosevelt and Rufus Woods Lake are good choices for rainbow trout in December, with catches of kokanee, burbot, and walleye through the winter.

Banks Lake is a great choice for anglers in search of lake whitefish. There’s no size limit, and up to 15 whitefish can be taken daily.  

Region 3: Southcentral Washington
(Benton, Franklin, Kittitas and Yakima counties)

Steelhead: Fishing for steelhead is once again open on the mainstem Columbia River from Buoy 10 at the mouth of the river upstream to the Hwy 395 Bridge near Pasco. The limit is one hatchery steelhead. 

The Columbia River from the Hwy. 395 Bridge in Kennewick/Pasco upstream to the old Hanford townsite wooden powerline towers is also open for the harvest of steelhead. Anglers have a one fish limit and can only keep steelhead that have both adipose and ventral fins clipped.

Likewise, Lake Umatilla; (John Day Dam upstream to McNary Dam) is open for the harvest of hatchery steelhead with a one steelhead daily limit. 

Finally, the Snake River from the mouth of the river to the Washington/Idaho state line is open to hatchery steelhead, with a limit of two steelhead, and a requirement to release all steelhead 28 inches or greater in length. For more details, see this rule change.

Walleye: Anglers don’t typically catch as many walleye in winter as during the summer months, but the fish they do catch are often much larger. In fact, some record-holders have caught their fish in the dead of winter. Hot spots for winter walleyes in the Tri-Cities area include from the Snake River downstream to Badger Island and from McNary Dam downstream to Boardman. Some of the best spots are within a half-mile of the boat launches.

Sturgeon:  Retention fishing for sturgeon is currently closed on Lake Umatilla (John Day Reservoir) and Lake Wallula (McNary Reservoir), but catch-and-release fishing is allowed. Lake Umatilla will reopen for sturgeon retention Jan. 1, and Lake Wallula will open for retention Feb. 1. Check the Washington Sport Fishing Rules for more details.

White fish: The Yakima River Basin is closed to steelhead fishing, but the two-month winter whitefish season opens Dec. 1 on the Yakima between Sunnyside Dam and 3,500 feet below Roza Dam. The lower Cle Elum and the lower Naches rivers also open Dec. 1. As in years past, the catch limit is 15 fish per day, but anglers are required to use one, single-point hook (barbed allowed with bait) measuring no more than 3/16 inch from point to shank (hook size 14). The winter whitefish season closes Jan. 31 in all open areas.

North Elton Pond recently stocked: WDFW stocked piles of jumbo rainbows in North Elton Pond, which opened to fishing Nov. 24 with a two-fish daily limit. Watch for further word on weekly fish plants on WDFW’s website.

Region 4: North Puget Sound
(Island, King, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties)

Jig for squid: Winter is a great time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. Squid fishing is a fun group activity that is easy to learn and doesn’t require a boat. Good spots include the Elliott Bay Pier in Seattle and the Edmonds Pier. Visit WDFW’s squid fishing webpage for tips on how to fish for squid and tasty recipes.

Crab: Several marine areas remain open seven days a week through Dec. 31 for recreational crab fishing including: marine areas 4 (Neah Bay, east of the Tatoosh-Bonilla line), 5 (Sekiu), 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island, and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner), and 9 (Admiralty Inlet), except for waters south of a line from Olele Point to Foulweather Bluff.

The daily catch limit in Puget Sound is five Dungeness crab, males only, in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6 ¼ inches. Crabbers may also catch six red rock crab of either sex per day with a minimum carapace width of 5 inches.

Sport crabbing will not reopen in marine areas 10 (Seattle/Bremerton), 11 (Vashon Island), 12 (Hood Canal), and 13 (South Puget Sound). Additional information is available on WDFW’s recreational crab fishing webpage.

Blackmouth salmon: Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) is open for blackmouth (chinook) salmon fishing throughout December. However, marine areas 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay) and 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gamble) are closed to salmon fishing until further notice. These two marine areas will re-open when there are fewer juvenile salmon and more legal-sized salmon available for harvest. Salmon fishing is also closed in Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) in December, except from the Edmonds Public Fishing Pier. 

Always make sure to check the sportfishing rules pamphlet and emergency fishing rules webpage before heading out.

Trout: The department stocked lakes around the state with catchable-size trout for anglers this fall and winter. A list of lakes stocked and the department’s stocking plan is available at WDFW’s Fall into Fishing and Black Friday webpages. Videos on basic and cold-weather techniques for trout fishing are available on WDFW’s YouTube page.  

Region 5: Southwest Washington
(Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat, Lewis, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties)

Winter steelhead: The winter steelhead fishery is up and running after drawing a gathering of hardy anglers for the traditional Thanksgiving opening. River conditions have been up and down since then, so it’s always a good idea to check the Northwest River Forecast or other sources before heading out.

“Most anglers do best when water levels are rising or dropping,” said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist. “It's a lot harder to catch steelhead in the peaks and troughs.”

Best bets for steelhead in the month ahead include the Cowlitz, Lewis (including the north fork), Kalama, Grays, Washougal and Elochoman rivers, along with Salmon Creek in Clark County, Hymer said. Above Bonneville Dam, Rock Creek in Skamania County is also a good place to catch steelhead.   

The daily limit on most tributaries below Bonneville Dam is three hatchery steelhead – plus the salmon limit listed for individual rivers in the Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet. Only hatchery steelhead with a clipped adipose fin may be retained, and anglers are required to keep the first three hatchery steelhead they catch.

Anglers fishing the mainstem Columbia River can retain up to two adult salmonids a day through Dec. 31 from Buoy 10 to the Hwy. 395 Bridge at Pasco, but only one may be a hatchery steelhead. Anglers may retain any chinook salmon – with or without an adipose fin – but all wild coho must be released from the Hood River Bridge downstream.

WDFW’s Hatchery Escapement Reports and 2016 Hatchery Steelhead Smolt Stocking report can provide a good indication of the number of fish returning to each river.

Salmon: Anglers can find late-stock coho through the end of December, although this year’s return is only so-so. Hymer recommends the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers for those set on catching coho. For fall chinook, the North Fork Lewis should continue to produce catchable fish through December. Any chinook, with or without an adipose fin, may be retained on the Lewis.

Anglers can also retain hatchery chinook and hatchery coho on several smaller streams in southwest Washington through December. Check the Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet for details.

Fishing rule changes: New fishing opportunities will open up for steelhead and/or salmon on the following rivers this month.

  • Grays River – Fishing opens Dec. 1 for hatchery steelhead, hatchery coho, and hatchery chinook (with a clipped adipose and/or ventral fin) from the Hwy. 4 Bridge to the South Fork, and from the mouth of the West Fork Grays River to 300 yards below Hatchery Road Bridge.
  • Mill Creek (tributary to Cowlitz River) Starting Dec.1, the creek opens to fishing for hatchery steelhead, hatchery cutthroats, and hatchery salmon from the mouth to the salmon hatchery road-crossing culvert. Selective gear rules, night closures and anti-snagging rules will be in effect for the one-month fishery.
  • North Fork Lewis River Starting Dec. 1, night closure and anti-snagging rules are lifted on the North Fork Lewis from Johnson Creek to Colvin Creek.  Beginning Dec. 16, fishing for chinook, hatchery coho, and hatchery steelhead reopens from Colvin Creek upstream to the overhead powerlines below Merwin Dam. 
  • Cowlitz River – Starting Dec. 1, night closure and anti-snagging rules will be lifted from Mill Creek to the barrier dam under permanent rules.

The following closures also will be in effect:

  • Green River, North Fork Toutle River, and mainstem Toutle River from mouth to the forks – Nov. 30 was the last day to fish for hatchery steelhead and hatchery coho in these waters.
  • South Fork Toutle River – Nov. 30 was the last day to fish for hatchery steelhead and hatchery coho from the 4100 Bridge upstream. The stretch from the mouth to the bridge remains open for hatchery steelhead, with selective gear rules in effect starting Dec.1.
  • Klickitat River – Starting Dec. 1, fishing above Fishway #5 closes for trout, hatchery steelhead, and salmon.

Whitefish: The whitefish season on the Klickitat River opens Dec. 1 from 400 feet above Fishway #5 upstream to the Yakama Reservation boundary. Whitefish gear rules will be in effect.

Sturgeon: Catch-and-release fishing is allowed in all areas of the Columbia River except for Hanford Reach, but retention fishing for white sturgeon is closed.

Warmwater fish: Water temperatures may be dropping, but warmwater fishing is still going strong. Silver Lake has been good for crappie, and Lacamas Lake has been showing yellow perch. 

Trout: The Black Friday fishing event has come and gone, but thousands of fish planted by WDFW are still striking lures throughout the region. The department will also begin planting rainbow broodstock – some weighing up to 10 pounds – as they become available this month.

Meanwhile, Merwin Reservoir and Yale Reservoirs are producing some nice kokanee.

Region 6: South Sound/Olympic Peninsula
(Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kitsap, Mason, Pierce, Thurston and Pacific counties)

Hatchery steelhead: The hatchery steelhead fishery is going strong in the rivers. Anglers fishing the lower sections of the Quillayute, Bogachiel, Calawah and Hoh rivers have a daily limit of three hatchery steelhead. The Salmon River (outside Olympic National Park and the Quinault Indian reservation) and the Humptulips River are open for a daily limit of two hatchery steelhead. Later in the month, hatchery steelhead should be showing up in the Wynoochee, Satsop, and Chehalis rivers.

For details on the region’s freshwater salmon and steelhead fisheries, check the fishing regulations on the department’s website. Anglers are required to release all wild steelhead and rainbow trout in the north coastal rivers.

Salmon: Portions of Puget Sound are open for salmon fishing. Anglers fishing in Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) can keep one hatchery chinook as part of their two-salmon daily limit but must release wild coho. In marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) and 13 (south Puget Sound), anglers can keep two salmon daily but must release wild coho and wild chinook.

In Hood Canal (Marine Area 12), anglers have a daily limit of four salmon, but only two of those fish can be winter hatchery chinook, known as blackmouth. All wild chinook must be released.

There are also late fall fishing opportunities for coho in the Chehalis, Wynoochee, and Satsop rivers in early December. Anglers have a daily limit of two adult salmon of which only one may be a wild coho. Anglers must release all chinook.

Before heading out, anglers can check creel reports for information on catch and effort in Puget Sound.

Trout: WDFW stocked regional lakes with trout to provide opportunities for anglers fishing on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). Those lakes should still have plenty of trout throughout December. Stocked lakes include American and Tanwax lakes in Pierce County; and Offutt and Long lakes in Thurston County.  

Other gamefish: Anglers should be aware the Nisqually River will not open to fishing for gamefish on Dec. 1 as scheduled. WDFW and tribal co-managers are keeping the river closed to all fishing to protect winter chum salmon, which are not expected to return in enough numbers to meet conservation goals.

Crab: Sport crabbing is open in all Puget Sound marine areas except areas 10 (Seattle/Bremerton), 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island), 12 (Hood Canal) and 13 (South Puget Sound). Crabbing is open seven days a week in each open area.

The daily catch limit in Puget Sound is five Dungeness crab, males only, in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6¼ inches. In addition, fishers may catch six red rock crab of either sex per day, provided those crab measure at least 5 inches across.

All Dungeness crab caught in the late-season fishery must be recorded on winter catch cards, which are valid through Dec. 31. Additional information is available on WDFW's website.

Recreational crabbing is also open along Washington’s coast.

Razor clams: A four-day razor clam dig gets underway Dec. 1 on various ocean beaches. The dig is approved on the following beaches, dates and evening low tides:

  • Dec. 1, Friday, 4:42 p.m.; -0.3 feet; Copalis
  • Dec. 2, Saturday, 5:29 p.m.; -1.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • Dec. 3, Sunday, 6:15 p.m.; -1.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • Dec. 4, Monday, 7:02 p.m.; -1.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Under state law, diggers at open beaches can take 15 razor clams per day and must keep the first 15 clams they dig. Each digger's clams must be kept in a separate container.

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2017-18 fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, are available on WDFW's website and from license vendors around the state.

WDFW has tentatively scheduled another dig on Dec. 31 and will announce digs for January and February later this month. Diggers should check WDFW's razor clam webpage for updates.

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