Fishing: Ocean bright spring chinook salmon will be moving into the Columbia River in increasing numbers in the weeks ahead, setting the stage for one of the state’s most popular fisheries. Anglers typically start landing early-returning "springers" in early February, but the fishery usually doesn’t catch fire until March.
"This is a good time to dust off your gear, prepare your boat and maybe do a little prospecting," said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "You want to be ready to go when the bulk of the run arrives."
According to the pre-season forecast, a total of 198,400 upriver spring chinook will return to the Columbia River Basin this year - well below last year’s run of 315,345, but close to the 10-year average. Then again, 40,000 of this year’s fish are expected to be five-year-olds, compared to 7,855 last year. In addition, 62,400 of the 104,000 fish headed back to the Willamette River are projected to be five-year-olds.
"We’re definitely expecting more big fish this year," Hymer said. "Five-year-olds can run from 18 to 30 pounds apiece."
Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon are scheduled to meet Feb. 8 to work out fishing seasons and regulations for both the spring chinook fishery and white sturgeon fishery below Bonneville Dam. In the meantime, seasons and regulations listed in the 2010-11 Fishing in Washington pamphlet ( http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ ) will remain in effect.
As in previous years, only hatchery-reared fish marked with a clipped adipose fin and a healed scar may be retained. All wild spring chinook, identifiable by an intact adipose fin, must be released unharmed.
Fishing for spring chinook is currently open on the Columbia River below the Interstate 5 Bridge, where the limit is two adult fish per day. Anglers may also retain two adult springers per day on the Cowlitz and Deep rivers, but are limited to one adult fish a day on the Lewis and Kalama rivers.
"The Cowlitz River and waters near the Willamette River are probably the best bets early in the season, because spring chinook usually start showing up there first," Hymer said.
Meanwhile, anglers continue to reel in hatchery steelhead from waters ranging from the Cowlitz River to the John Day Pool and beyond. In general, the steelhead in the lower tributaries are winter-run fish, while those above Bonneville Dam are left over from last year’s summer run, Hymer said.
"Hatchery-reared late-run winter steelhead are still moving up the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers and should be available to anglers for weeks to come," he said.
Columbia River anglers can also retain one sturgeon per day in the lower Columbia below the Wauna powerlines or in the Bonneville, The Dalles or John Day pools. Anglers can also retain a fish per day Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from the Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam.
Fishing strategies vary from area to area. Hymer said boat anglers fishing the Bonneville Pool have done well by anchoring above the deeper holes and plunking with smelt, squid, sand shrimp, or roll-top herring. In the lower river, anglers have had some success fishing for sturgeon that gravitate toward the warmer waters flowing from the Willamette River. Fishing for smelt (eulachon) is closed to humans, but sturgeon still follow them up the Cowlitz River as far as Castle Rock, where anglers are waiting for them.
Fishery managers are scheduled to set new seasons for sturgeon Feb. 8. Until then, most seasons and regulations listed in the 2010-11 Fishing in Washington pamphlet will remain in effect until then. The exception is that angling is closed on the mainstem Columbia at Sand Island near Rooster Rock State Park through April 30. Until then, all angling is prohibited from a line between the upstream end of Sand Island to a marker on the Oregon shore, downstream to a line between the lower end of Sand Island and a marker on the Oregon shore.
Trout anglers should be aware that Battle Ground Lake and Klineline Pond are both scheduled to be stocked with 2,000 half-pound rainbows from Vancouver Hatchery in February. But fishing could be just as good on 13 other regional lakes that were stocked with tens of thousands of trout in January.
"Those fish - particularly the bigger ones - tend to stick around for a while when the weather is cold and anglers don’t spend as much time on the water," Hymer said. "That will change once the weather breaks and fishing picks up."
The weekly trout-stocking schedule is available on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/ .
Hunting: The waterfowl hunting season wraps up statewide at the end of January. Hunters, who have through Jan. 30 to hunt ducks and geese, should check the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet 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.
WDFW is accepting enrollment applications through Feb. 15 for its Master Hunter program . The department enlists master hunters to participate in controlled hunts to remove problem animals that damage property or threaten public safety. For information, see WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/masterhunter/ or call 360-902-8412.
Wildlife viewing: Have 15 minutes to spare for bird science? That’s virtually all it takes to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count , an annual survey of birds sighted throughout North America over a four-day period. This year’s bird count is scheduled Feb.18-21, when birders of all levels of experience are invited to count the number of birds they see in a 15-minute period and enter their tally, by species, on the bird count website ( http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc ). Participants can conduct their count in their own backyards, in a neighborhood park or anywhere they choose.
Meanwhile, WDFW biologists have been conducting a bird count of their own. In recent weeks, regional staff members have spread out across southwest Washington to participate in the national midwinter waterfowl survey, the primary source of population information for these birds. One team counted nearly 13,000 water birds between Bonneville and John Day Dam on the Columbia River. Among them were 100 tundra swans, sighted in the Columbia River Gorge, most around Franz Lake. Many birds were also counted at Beacon Rock State Park.
Rather see raptors ? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hold its first "Eagle Watch" event Saturday, Feb. 5 from 1-4 p.m. at The Dalles Dam Visitor Center. Agency employees will make spotting scopes and binoculars available at the free event so visitors can get a close-up view of eagles roosting at Westrick Park, at the west end of the powerhouse across the river from the visitor center. At 2:30 p.m., a park ranger will present "Birds of the Columbia Gorge" about bird adaptations and how to use a field guide. For more information please contact The Dalles Lock and Dam Ranger Office at 541-506-7819 or visit http://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/recreation/home.asp .