Fishing: Lake Roosevelt is the region’s hot spot for January fishing, says WDFW eastern regional fish program manager John Whalen. The huge Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam provides winter fishing opportunities for big net-pen-reared rainbow trout. Boat and shore anglers can take up to five trout a day, although only two over 20 inches can be retained. Roosevelt also has kokanee, walleye, smallmouth bass, burbot, lake whitefish and yellow perch, but the rainbows star at this time of year.
Four winter-only rainbow trout lakes – Stevens County’s Williams and Hatch and Spokane County’s Fourth-of-July and Hog Canyon – have been producing well since opening Dec. 1. Access and style of fishing, through the ice or open water by boat or from shore, vary with winter conditions.
No agency or organization is responsible for measuring ice thickness on area lakes, so there are no guarantees that fishing through the ice is safe, said WDFW central district fish biologist Chris Donley. According to U.S. Coast Guard guidelines, no one should venture onto lake 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.
Drilling a hole in the ice from a safe, near-shore location can give anglers an idea of ice depth. However, drilling only provides an estimate of the ice depth because shallow water near shore freezes quicker than deeper water in the middle of a lake where springs may slow the freezing process. Ice depths vary throughout a waterway due to underwater structures, springs, geothermal activity and water movement.
Donley suggests following these winter fishing tips:
- Don’t fish alone. Let others know where you and your fishing partners are going and when you plan to return.
- Keep fishing holes small and few. When drilling fishing holes with an ice auger, keep the diameter under eight inches. Bigger holes are not necessary to land fish and can create a safety hazard for others.
- Watch your step. Avoid ice fishing near feeder streams or known springs; brush, logs, plants or docks; multiple ice cracks or ice that is popping or otherwise audible. Also, avoid dark-colored ice; it may be weak.
- Spread out. Too many people congregated in one area may be too much for the ice to support. Disperse weight and fishing holes.
- Be prepared for weather conditions. Dress in layers and wear thermal underwear, fleece or wool, and wind and waterproof outerwear, especially for feet, hands and head. Take extra clothes, food, water, sand for on-ice traction, and a sled for easy on-ice transport of all equipment.
- Be prepared for emergencies. Carry equipment such as ice picks or awls, rope, and personal flotation devices. Also pack a first-aid kit and matches for starting a fire.
Donley says there’s also good trout fishing opportunity through the winter at several large year-round waters, including Rock in Whitman County, Sprague Lake on the Lincoln-Adams county line, and Waitts Lake in Stevens County.
In Lincoln County, WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area manager Juli Anderson reports shoreside openings in Z Lake, thanks to an aeration system. “I don’t know how many folks are trekking in to Z Lake to fish those rainbow trout, but they’re available,” she said.
The Snake River steelhead catch season continues, but according to WDFW fish biologist Joe Bumgarner, it’s been one of the slowest in the past decade. He guessed that those who brave the elements on the river will likely average no better than 25 hours of fishing per steelhead caught. “Lately angler effort has been so low, and checked fish so few and far between, that it’s really hard to say what an average catch rate is,” Bumgarner said.
Hunting: The last weeks of waterfowl and upland game bird hunting can be some of the most productive, depending on snow and ice conditions and hunters’ willingness to tough them out.
WDFW regional wildlife program manager Kevin Robinette explains that when smaller waters are iced up, ducks and geese concentrate on bigger, open waterways, such as the Pend Oreille and Snake rivers. For a successful hunt, waterfowl hunters need to be prepared to access those areas in winter conditions bring trained retrieving dogs, he said.
Hunting seasons for ducks and geese continue through Jan. 30 in most parts of the region. Goose hunting in Spokane and Lincoln counties is open Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays only through Jan. 23, plus on Monday, Jan. 17 for the Martin Luther King holiday, then every day Jan. 24-30.
WDFW’s Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area manager Juli Anderson notes that Hungarian (gray) partridge are hanging out closer to plowed roads at this time. Upland game bird hunting continues through Jan. 17. Bird hunters should check bag limits and other rule details in the Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game Seasons pamphlet, available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.
Hunters licensed to hunt for deer, elk, black bear and turkey have a chance to win one of nine 2011 special hunting permits if they report this year’s hunting activities by Jan. 10. All hunters of those species, whether successful or not, are required to submit hunting reports for by Jan. 31. Failure to meet the deadline can result in a $10 fine, payable before a hunter can purchase a 2011 license. Hunters can report by phone (877 945-3492) or the Internet https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov .
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.
More information on mandatory hunt reporting is available on page 13 of the Big Game Hunting pamphlet, available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.
Wildlife viewing: January’s typical snowy, cold conditions throughout the region often bring foraging wildlife closer to people. That can make for unique viewing opportunities, but it can also create problems. Moose wandering around town can be fun to watch, but should be given a wide berth, said WDFW central district wildlife biologist Howard Ferguson of Spokane.
“Dogs especially need to be controlled to avoid problems with moose,” Ferguson said. “This will not only to keep them from chasing moose at this stressful time of year for all wildlife, but also protect dogs, themselves. Moose see dogs as predatory wolves and some will go out of their way to attack dogs.
People should keep some distance between themselves and moose, too. “Use binoculars, a scope or a telephoto camera lens to enjoy them, rather than approaching too closely. And even if a moose is munching your shrubbery, it’s best at this time of year to just leave them alone. Most will wander off in a short time.”
WDFW habitat biologist Sandy Dotts of Colville reports deer, turkeys and quail are highly visible during warming, thawing periods when they take advantage of open south-facing slopes to forage.
WDFW Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area manager Juli Anderson relays reports from volunteer Kim Thorburn of snow buntings among the usual horned larks, and even one “unhappy-looking” western meadowlark that evidently didn’t migrate south.
Spokane Audubon welcomes birdwatchers of all levels to join a “Banana Belt” field trip to southeast Washington and Idaho on Jan. 22. Trip leader Cindy McCormack says birders will convoy to the Lewiston/Clarkston area “looking for warmer weather as well as the thousands of waterfowl that winter in that milder climate.” Target species include loons, grebes, scoters, and other wintering waterfowl, and night heron, barn owl, lesser goldfinch, and other wintering passerines. Contact Cindy McCormack (firstname.lastname@example.org or 939-4448) for futher details.