Brace for winter and enjoy waterfowl,
steelhead, views of wintering wildlife
For Washingtonians, the start of the new year is a great time to hunt for waterfowl, fish for steelhead, and enjoy the annual spectacle of bald eagles, snow geese, elk, bighorn sheep and other wintering wildlife.
But weather is an important consideration. Preparation is essential for any outdoor activity, especially in winter. Check the weather conditions, river conditions and road conditions – and let people know where you’re going before heading out.
Those hardy souls that do head outdoors this month can enjoy:
- Waterfowl hunting: Winter storms are good news - up to a point - for waterfowl hunters, who welcome the surge of ducks and geese that comes with wet, blustery weather. Success rates for waterfowl hunters typically pick up when storms roll in..
- Steelhead fishing: Fishing for hatchery steelhead continues on several rivers on both sides of the Cascades.
- Blackmouth salmon: Several marine areas of Puget Sound will be open in January to blackmouth fishing, including the San Juan Islands, which traditionally reward anglers with some of the highest salmon catches during winter months.
- Puget Sound squid: Winter is prime time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. Good spots include the Elliott Bay Pier in Seattle and the Edmonds Pier.
- Whitefish: Anglers can catch and keep up to 15 whitefish from several rivers in the Columbia River Basin.
For more information about fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities available this month, see the Weekender Regional Reports posted on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/weekender/. These reports are updated throughout the month to provide current information about recreational opportunities around the state.
Region 1: Eastern Washington
(Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla and Whitman counties)
Winter-only / Ice-fishing: January weather conditions should prompt angler caution. Lake fishing on, and through, ice is only safe after extended below freezing temperatures. Shelf ice along the shorelines of rivers and streams can be hazardous.
Fourth of July Lake, on the Lincoln-Adams county line, is yielding rainbows ranging from nine to 22 inches. WDFW district fish biologist Randy Osborne reminds anglers that the daily catch limit for trout is five fish but only two of those trout can be over 14 inches. Osborne explains the retention limit by size extends the fishery, which opened Nov. 24 and continues through March. Anglers using bait should switch to lures or flies after catching and retaining two trout over 14 inches so that they can release large fish unharmed. (See “Bait Rules” under “Statewide Freshwater Rules” on page 14 of the fishing pamphlet.)
Also open through March is Hatch Lake, southeast of Colville in Stevens County. Anglers fishing here can often catch 12- to 14-inch rainbows through the ice. Hatch Lake has a five-trout daily catch limit with no size restrictions.
Anglers are reminded that both Hog Canyon Lake in Spokane County and Williams Lake in Stevens County, which normally also open the Friday after Thanksgiving, do not have fishing this season because they were treated with rotenone in the fall to remove non-trout species. Both will be re-stocked with trout this spring and provide fishing in the fall and winter of 2018-19.
Lake Roosevelt: January is a good time to fish year-round-open Lake Roosevelt, the Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam. WDFW fish biologist Marc Divens reports that both bank and boat fishing at Roosevelt is good for rainbow trout. See the Lake Roosevelt winter shoreline fishing video for tips on catching fish without a boat.
Now is usually a good time to also catch lake whitefish in Lake Roosevelt where they can be found spawning in groups approximately 40 to 50 feet below the surface. Burbot fishing is also good on the reservoir, especially near the mouth of the Colville River and the mouth of the Spokane River. See the burbot fishing video to learn how to catch them.
Other lakes: WDFW fish biologist Marc Divens notes that Rock Lake, which is open year-round, in Whitman County is one of the best winter fisheries in the region for both brown and rainbow trout.
Several other waters that are open year-round in the region usually provide good fishing through January. Anglers do well at this time on yellow perch in Silver and Eloika lakes in Spokane County. Long Lake (or Lake Spokane, the Spokane River reservoir off Long Lake dam) can produce black crappie and yellow perch catches fairly well. Anglers there also have been catching good numbers of stocked rainbow trout. Walleye also start to come on in the Lake Spokane fishery in January.
Spring and Blue lakes in southeast Columbia County (Tucannon River impoundments on the W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area), were still fishable with open water in late-December. Neither of these rainbow-trout-stocked lakes ever develops enough solid ice for safe ice fishing, so once shorelines ice up, access is limited.
Bead and Sullivan lakes in Pend Oreille County can be good for burbot fishing this month. Depending on conditions, you can catch them through the ice, or try casting jigs or plunking bait for them from shore. The south end of Sullivan Lake is an area that anglers usually target burbot in January.
Whitefish: The whitefish season continues through March 31 on that part of the Little Spokane River between State Highway 291 upstream to West Branch, and on the Kettle River in Ferry and Stevens counties. The 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).
Steelhead: Snake River steelhead fishing continues for hatchery-marked fish less than 28 inches. WDFW southeast district fish biologist Jeremy Trump 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 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.
Region 2: Northcentral Washington
(Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties)
Winter-only lake fishing: Three lakes in Okanogan County have been open for “catch and keep” rainbow trout fishing since the first of December – Rat Lake near Brewster and Big Green and Little Green lakes near Omak. All three lakes switched from a catch-and-release regulation to a five-trout daily catch limit. The Green lakes are open through Feb. 28 and Rat Lake is open through March 31. These fisheries provide good angling throughout the winter months, either iced-over as they usually are by January or in open water. Nice catches of rainbow trout in the 10 to 12-inch range can be made on a variety of bait, lures, and flies.
The 14th Annual Northwest Ice Fishing Festival is Saturday, Jan. 13, on Sidley and Molson lakes in Okanogan County. The annual event is sponsored by the Oroville Chamber of Commerce and hosted by the Molson Grange.
Anglers who fish through the ice on any waterway with an open fishing season through the winter are reminded to check out the ice fishing safety information.
Year-round waters: Fish Lake in Chelan County iced up in late December and, if it’s thick enough, should provide opportunities for through-the-ice catches of yellow perch and rainbow trout. WDFW Chelan district fish biologist Travis Maitland says he doesn’t yet have catch reports, but is expecting perch in good numbers and an occasional rainbow.
Roses Lake in Chelan County was still building ice in late December. Assuming cold conditions persist, Maitland predicts the lake will provide some safe through-the-ice catches in January. Roses Lake was stocked in November with 18,500 half-pound rainbow trout, which will make up the bulk of the catch. But Roses also provides catches of yellow perch, bluegill, black crappie and the occasional largemouth bass.
Lake Chelan usually has fair open-water fishing for lake trout (mackinaw) throughout the winter, when anglers usually troll just off the bottom for them. The state mackinaw record – a 35.63-pounder – was caught in Lake Chelan on Feb. 4, 2013.
“Anglers targeting lake trout here always stand a chance of becoming the new state record holder,” Maitland said. “There’s no telling when the record will be broken again, but I am sure it will be on Lake Chelan.”
Maitland also notes Lake Chelan is yielding kokanee in the 12 to 14-inch range, with a few younger age class fish in the 10-inch range.
Okanogan County’s Leader Lake usually provides fair fishing for black crappie, bluegill and rainbow trout as conditions allow. Patterson and Davis lakes in the Winthrop area usually provide good winter fishing, either in open water or through the ice. Davis has rainbows in the 10 to 12-inch range and Patterson has yellow perch in the seven to eight-inch range.
Rufus Woods reservoir has big triploid rainbow trout that can be caught throughout the winter months. Several areas upstream of Chief Joseph Dam can usually be accessed by shore anglers. Boat anglers often launch at the Army Corps of Engineers boat ramp and can explore upstream any one of numerous back bays and shorelines that could hold triploids.
Moses Lake in the Columbia Basin usually provides good yellow perch fishing at this time when the fish bunch up into large schools. The lake freezes over some years and provides good ice fishing for both perch and rainbow trout. The most popular ice fishing location is near Blue Heron Park.
Anglers who fish through the ice on any waterway with an open fishing season through the winter are reminded to check out the ice fishing safety information.
Region 3: Southcentral Washington
(Benton, Franklin, Kittitas and Yakima counties)
Steelhead: Fishing for salmon and 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 steelhead fishery in the Columbia River above Hwy. 395 targets Ringold Hatchery steelhead specially marked with both a clipped adipose and ventral fin. The upper boundary line on the lower Hanford Reach steelhead fishery is the old Hanford townsite wooden powerline towers.
The Snake River is also open, but is generally slow this time of year. With a few warm days and snow melt, anglers could see some fish moving into tributaries like the Walla Walla, Touchet, Tucannon, and the lower Grand Ronde rivers, but anglers’ chances will improve on these waters in February.
Sturgeon: The John Day Pool (Lake Umatilla) reopens in January for retention of white sturgeon measuring 43 to 54 inches from their snout to the fork in their tail. Paul Hoffarth, a WDFW district fish biologist, recommends that sturgeon anglers hit the John Day Pool sooner rather than later, given that anglers are making quick work of this year’s quota.
Walleye: There’s also a chance of catching a monster walleye in the Columbia River in and around the Tri-Cities. While walleye fishing can slow down during the winter months, both the current and previous record-holding fish were harvested at this time of year.
Winter whitefish: The fishery is open through Jan. 31 on the Naches River (mouth to Tieton River) and on the Yakima River (Sunnyside Dam to 3,500 feet below Roza Dam and from Roza Dam to Easton Dam.) The catch limit is 15 per day, but anglers are required to use a single-point hook measuring no more than 3/16-inch from point to shank (hook size 14).
Eric Anderson, a WDFW fish biologist stationed in Yakima, recommends that whitefish anglers target deep pools below riffles. Most whitefish are caught with a small fly, tipped with a maggot, he said. The individual limit is 15 whitefish per day, most of which range from 10 to 15 inches long.
Trout: A catch-and-release trout fishery is open year-round on the Yakima River from Roza Dam to Easton Dam under selective gear and whitefish gear rules. Fishing is closed above Easton Dam until the first Saturday in June. Check the Weekly Trout Plant Reports to see what’s jumping in area lakes.
Tri-Cities Sportsmen Show: The Tri-Cities Sportsmen Show, Jan. 19-21, features the latest in outdoor equipment, a kids fishing pond, a free air-rifle range, fishing and hunting seminars, retriever demonstrations and much more of interest to outdoor women, men and children. Stop by and visit with staff at the WDFW exhibit. Visit the show’s website for details and admission prices.
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.
Blackmouth salmon: Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) is open for blackmouth salmon fishing throughout January. Anglers fishing here have a two-salmon daily limit, one of which may be a hatchery chinook. All wild coho and wild chinook salmon must be released.
Marine Area 7 (San Juan Islands) opens Jan. 1 to fishing for hatchery chinook. This area traditionally rewards anglers with some of the highest salmon catches during winter months. Anglers fishing here have a daily limit of one fish and must release coho and wild chinook.
Marine areas 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island, and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gamble), and 9 (Admiralty Inlet) are closed to salmon fishing until further notice. These three marine areas will re-open when there are fewer juvenile salmon and more legal-sized salmon available to catch.
Report your crab catch: The Puget Sound crab season closed Dec. 31, and crabbers have until Feb. 1 to report their winter catches to WDFW. If crabbers don’t submit their catch record card, a $10 administrative fee will be applied to their next license purchase.
Crabbers can report their catch online or send their catch record cards to WDFW by mail to WDFW CRC Unit, PO Box 43142, Olympia, WA 98504. For more information, visit WDFW’s catch record card webpage.
Region 5: Southwest Washington
(Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat, Lewis, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties)
Sturgeon: Starting Jan. 1, retention fishing for white sturgeon opens seven days a week on the Columbia River from Bonneville Dam upstream to The Dalles Dam until further notice. Anglers can retain one white sturgeon measuring 38 inches to 54 inches long (fork length) per day on that section of the Columbia and adjacent tributaries.
Anglers may also retain white sturgeon seven days a week from The Dalles Dam upriver to McNary Dam, including adjoining tributaries. The daily catch limit is one white sturgeon measuring 43 inches to 54 inches (fork length) until harvest guidelines are reached.
Sturgeon retention remains closed below Bonneville Dam, but catch-and-release fishing is open there and in areas above the dam that are open to retention fishing.
Steelhead: With rain in the forecast, prospects for steelhead fishing were looking up in the lower Columbia River Basin during the first week of the new year. Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish manager, said anglers were ready for some wet weather after a string of dry, cold days in late December
“Most anglers do best when water levels are rising or dropping,” he said. “It’s a lot harder to catch steelhead in the peaks and troughs.”
Hymer recommends fishing the Lewis, Washougal and Elochoman rivers, along with Salmon Creek (Clark Co.) and Rock Creek (Skamania Co.) early in January. He said the bite usually picks up on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers later in the month.
The daily limit on most tributaries below Bonneville Dam is three hatchery steelhead, plus the salmon limit listed for individual rivers in the 2017-18 Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet. Only hatchery steelhead with a clipped adipose fin may be retained.
Anglers should also be aware that Dec. 31 was the last day to fish for steelhead and salmon in Mill Creek, a tributary of the Cowlitz River.
Chinook salmon: While the spring chinook run isn’t expected to arrive in earnest until March, early birds often start catching early-arriving fish by late January. Anglers may now retain up to two adult hatchery chinook salmon per day on the mainstem Columbia downstream from the I-5 Bridge.
The same is true in the lower Cowlitz, Kalama and Deep rivers. On the Lewis River, the daily limit is one adult hatchery chinook per day.
The pre-season salmon forecast for the Columbia River anticipates a return of 166,700 adult upriver bound spring chinook this year, up slightly from the 2017 forecast of 160,400 fish and considerably higher than the actual return of 115,822 fish last year. The forecast also projects a run of 67,300 summer chinook, slightly below last year’s return of 68,204 fish.
As for the tributaries, 3,600 spring chinook salmon are expected to return to the Lewis River, the highest number in a decade. However, projected runs to the Cowlitz River (5,000) and the Kalama River (3,100) are expected to be significantly smaller than in 2017.
Above Bonneville, 10,200 spring chinook are projected to return to Drano Lake – up from 8,900 last year – while runs to the Wind and Klickitat rivers are expected to be about the same as in 2017.
Trout: Die-hard anglers looking for a good place to catch trout this month might want to try these lakes, all stocked in late December.
- Battle Ground Lake – 4,115 rainbows, including 30 one-pounders and 85 half-pounders.
- Ice House Lake – 1,500 rainbows at 2.8 to the pound.
- Klineline Pond – 2,000 rainbows at 2.4 to the pound.
- Kress Lake – 800 rainbows at 0.8 to the pound.
- Lake Sacajawea – 800 rainbows at 0.8 to the pound.
Sportsmen’s Show: Anglers preparing for the 2018 season might want to mark their calendars for the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show running Feb. 7-11 in Portland. Besides offering a dizzying array of gear for sale, this year’s show features fishing demonstrations in a 45-foot tank, seminars on outdoor survival, a kids’ trout pond, a head-and-horns competition and Brutus, a 900-pound grizzly bear.
Region 6: South Sound/Olympic Peninsula
(Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kitsap, Mason, Pierce, Thurston and Pacific counties)
Hatchery steelhead: December and January are typically great months to fish for hatchery steelhead on the north coastal rivers. Anglers fishing the Quillayute River and the lower portions of the Bogachiel, Calawah, and Hoh rivers have a daily limit of three hatchery steelhead. South coastal rivers also are an option for hatchery steelhead fishing in January. Anglers fishing the Humptulips, Chehalis, Wynoochee and Satsop rivers have a daily limit of two hatchery steelhead; the same is true when fishing the Willapa Bay tributaries.
Salmon: Many Puget Sound marine areas are open in January for salmon fishing as the hatchery chinook fishery heats up.
Marine areas 10, 11, 12 and 13 are open for salmon fishing this month. Anglers fishing in Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) can keep one 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 have a daily limit of two salmon and must release wild chinook and wild coho. In Marine Area 12 (Hood Canal), anglers can keep two salmon each day but must release wild chinook.
Anglers can also fish for chum salmon in the Nisqually River, which WDFW recently opened for fishing after chum spawning goals were met. Several south coastal rivers – including the Chehalis, Humptulips and Satsop rivers – are also open for salmon fishing. Anglers fishing those rivers have a daily limit of two hatchery coho.
Beginning Jan. 1, anglers are limited to one adult salmon daily in Willapa Bay, Willapa Rvier and its tributaries. Anglers must also release wild coho. More information is available in the emergency fishing rule change.
Razor clams: The New Year will begin with a two-day dig Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 on various ocean beaches. The upcoming dig is scheduled on the following dates, beaches and low tides:
- Dec. 31, Sunday, 5:12 p.m.; -1.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks
- Jan. 1, Monday, 6:02 p.m.; -1.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
The agency also announced a tentative opening for later this month and into February pending the results of marine toxin tests. The department will announce final approval for planned openings about a week before the dig is set to begin.
Those tentative dates include:
- Jan. 28, Sunday, 4:06 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Mocrocks
- Jan. 29, Monday, 4:59 p.m.; -1.0 feet; Copalis
- Jan. 30, Tuesday, 5:47 p.m.; -1.5 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
- Jan. 31, Wednesday, 6:33 p.m.; -1.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
- Feb. 1, Thursday, 7:17 p.m.; -1.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
- Feb. 2, Friday, 8:00 p.m.; -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
- Feb. 3, Saturday, 8:42 p.m.; -0.4; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
Diggers should keep an eye on WDFW’s webpage for updates.
Under state law, diggers can take 15 razor clams per day and are required to keep the first 15 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 at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov and from license vendors around the state.
Crab: The recreational crab fishery closes at 5 p.m., Dec. 31, in the remaining open marine areas of Puget Sound. Crabbers are reminded to turn in winter catch cards by Feb. 1. Crabbers can report their information online.