Fishing: Of all the mid-winter fishing opportunities now available in the region, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) fish biologist Chris Donley recommends fishing Lake Roosevelt - the huge Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam.
"Lake Roosevelt’s kokanee fishery is usually pretty good at this time of year," Donley said. "Large kokanee, measuring 20 inches and more, are caught near the surface by trolling small flies and plugs in four-to-six feet of water. It’s also the start of the lake’s fishing season for walleye , which are starting to stage at the mouth of the Spokane River to make their annual spawning run up the river."
Anglers also continue to pull rainbow trout out of Lake Roosevelt, Donley said. Night fishing for Roosevelt’s three-to-five-pound burbot should be productive, too.
Even bigger burbot, up to 10 pounds, can be caught in Sullivan Lake in Pend Oreille County. Burbot are nocturnal predators, so night fishing is most effective, said Donley, noting that burbot are now gathering to spawn. "If you find one you usually find others," he said.
Depending on temperature fluctuations, ice fishing should remain good at several winter-season or year-round fisheries in the region. Spokane County’s Hog Canyon Lake and Stevens County’s Hatch and Williams lakes should continue to provide rainbow trout catches through the ice. Action at Lincoln County’s Fourth of July Lake seems to have slowed, and ice conditions may be questionable.
Yellow perch fishing through the ice should continue to be good at Spokane County’s year-round Eloika and Silver lakes and Stevens County’s Waitts Lake, which closes Feb. 28.
Sprague Lake might be a good bet for rainbows, but reported "iffy" ice conditions in late January are a reminder that anglers need to be cautious. Look for ice-fishing safety tips at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/ice_fishing/ . Whitman County’s Rock Lake provides open water fishing on rainbow and brown trout for the hearty angler who can brave the wind chill.
Snake River tributaries, like the Grand Ronde, Tucannon, and Touchet rivers, are usually the place to target steelhead in February. Joe Bumgarner, WDFW fish biologist, said the Grand Ronde in particular is improving, although more creel checks will just be getting under way during the month of February to determine actual catch rates.
WDFW fish hatchery crews are gearing up to get catchable rainbow trout stocked this month in waters that open March 1, mostly in the southeast corner of the region.
Wildlife viewing: The 14th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), Feb. 18-21, is a way for wildlife enthusiasts of all kinds across the continent to help scientists learn more about bird populations, distribution and movements in late winter. Led by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada, with sponsorship from Wild Birds Unlimited, GBBC participants count birds anywhere - in backyards or at wildlife refuges - for as little as 15 minutes a day or as long as they wish during the four-day period. They tally the highest number of birds of each species seen together at any one time, and report their counts through an online checklist at http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/ .
As the count progresses, anyone with Internet access can explore what is being reported from their own towns or anywhere in the United States and Canada. They can also see how this year's numbers compare with those from previous years. The count is conducted in February to provide a snapshot of how birds are surviving the winter and where they are located just before spring migrations begin in March.
One place in the region where waterfowl are usually found during February is on the flooded parts of farm fields in Whitman County and southern Spokane County. Kurt Merg, WDFW wildlife biologist, said these "sheet waters" consistently harbor large groups of migrating pintails, widgeons and other ducks and geese. "These are great places to drive through, and with binoculars or scopes from the roadside, observe early courtship behaviors of these birds," Merg said.
If you don’t know one duck from another, pack a bird field guide or use your mobile online device to check out "Ducks at a Distance" ( http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/birds/duckdist/index.htm ), a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Guide to Waterfowl Identification.
Other wildlife watching at this time of year can be closer than expected as winter-weary animals seek easier travel corridors or forage. WDFW Wildlife Biologist Woody Myers advises motorists to slow down on roads through deer, elk and moose country and wildlife viewers to maintain respectable distances from animals. "It is still winter throughout the region," Myers said. "Keep your distance from wildlife that are likely experiencing stress from persistent snow cover, cold temperatures and limited forage."