Fishing: WDFW district fish biologist Bob Jateff of Twisp says steelhead fishing in the upper Columbia River is usually slow at this time of the year, but there are exceptions. “There have been reports of fish being caught within the mainstem Columbia, as well as the Okanogan and Methow rivers,” Jateff said. Anglers should keep a close eye on air temperatures, because anything over 32 degrees keeps the rivers fishable and free of ice.”
Jateff reminds anglers of the mandatory retention of adipose-clipped hatchery steelhead from Priest Rapids Dam upstream including the Wenatchee, Entiat, Methow, Okanogan, and Similkameen rivers.
As a change of pace from steelheading, Jateff suggests that anglers try fishing the Methow River for its sizeable population of mountain whitefish. “These fish can be caught readily on flies,” he said. The daily limit is15 whitefish, no minimum size, with selective gear rules in effect for whitefish in all areas that are currently open for steelhead.
Winter rainbow trout lakes in the Okanogan are usually in good shape for ice fishing in January. Jateff recommends Davis Lake in the Winthrop area, Big and Little Green lakes in the Omak area, and Rat Lake near Brewster. For anglers seeking yellow perch, Patterson Lake near Winthrop has a good population of six to 10-inch perch, as well as a few kokanee and rainbow trout.
Other popular ice fishing lakes in Okanogan County are Sidley, located east of Oroville, and Bonaparte, located east of Tonasket. Sidley has rainbow trout and Bonaparte has eastern brook trout and kokanee.
Jateff warns anglers to be aware that ice conditions can change at any time and become unsafe. 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. The ice can reach these standards after at least a week of below-freezing temperatures, both day and night.
Ice depths vary throughout a waterway due to underwater structures, springs, geothermal activity and water movement. Rivers and streams rarely have safe ice because of constant currents. Thawing and re-freezing can create air pockets that leave ice “honeycombed” or porous and significantly weakened.
Drilling a hole in the ice from a safe, near-shore location can give anglers an idea of ice depth. However, this approach provides only 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.
WDFW does not measure ice on fishing lakes and cannot guarantee ice-fishing safety. But here are a few tips to help keep an outing safe:
- 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.
Hunting: The Columbia Basin, in January, can provide some of the best waterfowl hunting opportunities in the state, depending on winter weather conditions. Both resident and migrant ducks and geese from the north concentrate on the Basin’s big open water, including Banks Lake, Rufus Woods Lake, Wanapum pool and other Columbia River reservoirs; the Stratford Wildlife Area’s Billy Clapp Lake; Moses Lake; and Potholes Reservoir.
Duck hunting continues through Jan. 30. Goose hunting is open Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays only through Jan. 23, plus Martin Luther King holiday on Monday, Jan. 17, and every day from Jan. 24-30.
Pheasant, quail and partridge hunting continues through Jan. 17. If snow cover stays in the usual haunts for these birds, January can be very productive for upland game bird hunters who are willing to brave the elements and have dogs. Bird hunters should check bag limits and other regulations in the Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game Seasons pamphlet, available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.
Hunters licensed to hunt deer, elk, black bear, or 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 online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.
Wildlife viewing: January can be a terrific month for wildlife viewing in northcentral Washington. For example, thousands of waterfowl can now be seen on the Columbia River between the mouth of the Okanogan River at Brewster, near Entiat and along the Wanapum pool where Interstate 90 crosses, reports WDFW habitat biologist Ken Bevis of Winthrop.
“Vast mixed flocks of coot, widgeon, greater and lesser scaup, redheads, ring-necked duck, Canada geese, canvasbacks, bufflehead and many other species, spread out on the big water,” Bevis said. “These birds come from places far north, and winter in the relatively warm waters of the Columbia.”
Spending time in at one spot can yield memorable observations. “Spectacular bald eagle attacks on flocks can result in the formation of “coot balls”, similar to herring being attacked by predatory fish,” Bevis said. “The eagles will haze these dense accumulations of ducks, trying to scare a slow bird out, or pick off a straggler when the flock panics and flies to escape. The flocks shift up and down the river in unpredictable patterns, but reliable concentrations are seen at Brewster and Entiat. Study the flocks with a spotting scope and see how many species of waterfowl you can identify.”