Fishing: In January, weather conditions often dictate where an angler chooses to fish. “If the rivers are in shape, steelheading is a good bet,” said Steve Thiesfeld, salmon manager for WDFW. “But if the rivers are blown out, blackmouth salmon fishing in the marine areas of Puget Sound is probably a better option.”
Areas currently open for salmon fishing include marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) and 10 (Seattle/Bremerton). Anglers fishing those marine areas have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook salmon.
Thiesfeld said anglers should focus on the San Juan Islands, where fishing for blackmouth traditionally has been decent this time of year. Later in the month, anglers also might want to consider fishing Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet), which opens for salmon Jan. 16. “It’s been slow in other areas of central Puget Sound – marine areas 10 and 11 – during the last weeks of December,” he said. “But hopefully the fish will be there mid-January and the fishery will start strong.”
Meanwhile, the Puget Sound crab fishery is winding down. The fishery closes at sunset on Jan. 2, and crabbers are reminded that they are required to report their winter catch to WDFW by Feb. 1. Reports are due for the season running Sept. 7 to Jan. 2, whether or not crabbers actually fished or caught crab. To submit catch reports, crabbers may send their catch record card to WDFW by mail or file their report on the department’s licensing website. The mailing address is WDFW CRC Unit, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. The online reporting system is available Jan. 3-Feb. 1 at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/wdfw/puget_sound_crab_catch.html .
Winter is prime time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. Good spots include the Elliott Bay Pier in Seattle and the Edmonds Pier. More information on squid fishing is available on the department’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/squid/. Information on fishing piers is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/piers/.
In freshwater, several rivers are open for hatchery steelhead fishing, including the Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish, Skykomish and Snoqualmie. “As long as the weather cooperates and the rivers stay fishable, anglers should have some good opportunities to hook a hatchery steelhead,” said Bob Leland, WDFW’s steelhead program manager.
Freshwater anglers also might want to try fishing for perch, cutthroat and smallmouth bass at Lake Washington or Lake Sammamish. Anglers targeting perch should fish near deep ledges between 60 and 100 feet, said WDFW fisheries biologist Danny Garrett, who recommends using nightcrawlers. “Perch are generally caught within a couple feet of the bottom,” he said. For cutthroat or smallmouth bass, try trolling the same depth with hard baits near the bottom or around schools of smelt. “Anglers will likely have to put in some time to hook a smallmouth this time of year, but the bass that are caught are often trophy-sized fish,” Garrett said.
Before heading out, anglers should check the rules and regulations for all fisheries on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/.
Hunting: Most big-game hunts in the region will be closed by the start of January, although, waterfowl hunters still have time to bag ducks and geese. Waterfowl hunters, who have through Jan. 30 to hunt ducks and geese in the region, should check the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/ for details.
WDFW will make an announcement in early January – after aerial surveys – on whether the tentatively scheduled brant hunt in Skagit County will open. While more than 10,000 brant typically winter on Washington’s waters each year, at least 6,000 brant must be counted in Skagit County before hunting is allowed there. Hunters should keep checking WDFW’s website for an announcement on the season, which is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 15, 16, 19, 22, 23, 26, 29 and 30.
Hunters who would like to participate in the Snow Goose Quality Hunt program on Fir Island and in the northern Port Susan Bay area should visit WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/snow_goose/ for information on the rules and requirements.
Another option is the new Waterfowl Quality Hunt Program, which provides duck and goose hunting opportunities at more than 40 sites in Whatcom, Skagit and north Snohomish counties. For more information on the program, visit WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/wqhp/.
Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports on their hunting activities are due by Jan. 31 for each 2010 tag purchased. Hunters can file a report by calling (877) 945-3492, or by the Internet at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov. Those who miss the deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can purchase a 2011 hunting license. On the other hand, hunters who submit their reports by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for five deer permits and four elk permits in various areas of the state.
New this year, WDFW is requiring hunters to file separate reports for general-season hunting activities and for special-permit hunts for deer, elk, black bear and turkey. That change will give game managers more information about hunters’ success during both kinds of seasons. Whether reporting online or over the phone, hunters should follow the prompts until they receive a confirmation number for each report.
Wildlife viewing: The Audubon Society continues to compile bird sightings from the annual Christmas Bird Count, which comes to a close in early January. For more information on bird sightings in Washington, check the Current Year Results heading on Audubon’s website at http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.
This compilation of sightings provides important information about bird populations, in Washington and throughout the Americas. But keeping a list of birds seen throughout each year is also a personal endeavor, a common practice among birders, veterans and novices alike. Some birders record their sightings in journals, others on computer software programs. Some keep track in their field guides where and when they saw each species. The Washington Ornithological Society (WOS) offers a wealth of information on birds and birding, including a checklist available at http://www.wos.org/.
Birders along the Skagit River shouldn’t have any trouble marking the bald eagle box on their checklist. January is a great time to see the raptors wintering in the area. Each winter, hundreds of the eagles spend December and January along the river, where the carcasses of spawned salmon provide a feast for the birds. After a few weeks of dining, the eagles head north to their summer homes in Alaska and British Columbia.
Birders in the region may also want to check out the flocks of snow geese wintering in the Skagit Valley. Thousands of snow geese congregate in the Skagit Valley each winter, and can be found in the area from mid-October through early May. A great place to view the birds is at the Fir Island Farms Reserve Unit of WDFW’s Skagit Wildlife Area. For more information on the Fir Island Farms Reserve Unit, visit WDFW’s website at http://bit.ly/9Hk0Vs.