Fishing: Anglers continue to reel in hatchery steelhead from portions of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, although the lure of bigger fish will undoubtedly prompt some to switch gears. Starting Jan. 1, Lake Umatilla – also known as the John Day Pool – will reopen for retention of white sturgeon that measure 43 to 54 inches from their snout to the fork in their tail.
Anglers planning on taking part in the fishery should be aware that the annual sturgeon quota for Lake Umatilla is 165 fish, said Paul Hoffarth, a regional fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “In recent years, the quota has been reached in a couple of months, so I’d advise anglers to get out early if they want to take a sturgeon home for dinner,” he said.
Another option is Lake Wallula (McNary Pool), including the Snake River below Ice Harbor Dam, which will reopen for sturgeon retention Feb. 1.
Meanwhile, steelhead fishing has been up and down, typical of the winter fishery, said Hoffarth, who noted that some of the best catches on the Columbia River have been reported in the Ringold area. In the Tri-Cities area, the fishery is open for retention of hatchery steelhead from John Day Dam upstream to the wooden power line towers at the old Hanford town site through March 31, 2011.
Another section of the Hanford Reach is open to fishing for hatchery steelhead from the Highway 24 bridge (Vernita Bridge) upstream to Priest Rapids Dam. Fishing in that area, which opened Dec. 8, is one of a number of angling opportunities funded by the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement Fee.
The lower Snake River is also open for the retention of hatchery steelhead through March 31. The daily limit in the Snake River is three hatchery steelhead and barbless hooks are required.
Walleye fishing can get slow in winter, but there’s always a chance of catching a lunker. Hoffarth said some of the largest walleye of the year are boated during the winter months near the Tri-Cities – including the 19.3-pound state record taken in Lake Wallula in 2007.
Hunting: Most big-game hunts in the region will be closed by the end of December, including the general-season cougar hunt in the Kittitas-Yakima zone. But waterfowl hunters can continue to bag ducks and geese through Jan. 30. Hunting rules are outlined in the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet, available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/ for details.
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: WDFW’s winter feeding program is now under way at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area, where hundreds of hungry elk and big-horn sheep are expected to descend from the high country to dine on alfalfa hay and pellets. Now that the snow is flying, managers at the wildlife area are expecting a strong turnout at feeding stations 15 miles northwest of Yakima. Bald eagles can also be observed feeding on spawned-out coho salmon at Oak Creek and along the Yakima River.
Oak Creek visitors can check the recorded message on the headquarters phone (509) 653-2390 for updates on feeding and elk-viewing tours. Tour reservations must be made at least 48 hours in advance by calling (509) 698-5106. For driving instructions and more information on the wildlife area see http://bit.ly/hW6VAu on WDFW’s website.
Meanwhile, birders will be counting birds for the 111th annual Christmas Bird Count, which runs through Jan. 5 in the Columbia River Basin and throughout the Americas. Sponsored by the Audubon Society, the annual event enlists birdwatchers – veterans and novices alike – to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world's longest-running bird database. Check out this year’s tally under the Current Year Results heading on Audubon’s website (http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count).