Fishing: With warming air and water temperatures, steelhead fishing picks up a bit at this time of year on the upper Columbia River, said Bob Jateff, a district fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Most of that action is above Wells Dam on the mainstem Columbia River and in sections of the Methow River.
Steelheading also picks up with warming trends on the Entiat River, where a few fish are usually caught at the mouth. The Wenatchee River has been slow, but fish can still be caught in the mainstem Columbia River between Rock Island and Rocky Reach dams.
Fishing for whitefish on both the Similkameen and Methow rivers also can be good, said Jateff, noting that fly anglers using small weighted nymphs under a strike indicator seem to do best. The whitefish daily limit is 15 with no minimum size requirement. Selective gear rules are in effect for whitefish in areas that are currently open for steelhead.
Ice fishing for rainbow trout has been good at several Okanogan County lakes, including Big and Little Green, Davis, Rat, and Sidley.
Sidley Lake, near Molson and the Canada border, is the scene of the 7th annual Northwest Ice Fishing Festival on Feb. 19. The day-long event is hosted by Molson Grange and sponsored by the Oroville Chamber of Commerce. Ice fishing is conducted from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with registration fees of $20 per adult and $10 for youth 14 years of age and under. Prizes are awarded for biggest and heaviest fish caught. Food, music, skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and dog sledding are also available. For more information contact Robin Stice at Eden Valley Guest Ranch, (509) 485-4002, or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Another popular ice-fishing spot in Okanogan County is Patterson Lake near Winthrop, where anglers can hook rainbow trout and yellow perch . In Chelan County, ice fishing for rainbows, perch and other fish at Roses Lake near Manson was good earlier in the winter but warming trends have reduced ice thickness and safety.
Chad Jackson, WDFW Columbia Basin district fish biologist, said most lakes in the south end of the region that are open were either treated last fall and have no fish in them yet, or are covered with unsafe ice. "Stay tuned for more fishing coming to the Basin in March," Jackson said.
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.
Rich Finger, WDFW Columbia Basin district wildlife biologist, said the local big waters - Moses Lake and Potholes Reservoir - are usually the best bet for seeing lots of the earliest waterfowl migrants, such as Canada geese and pintail ducks. Bald eagles can also be readily observed in the same areas where they’re taking advantage of the influx of waterfowl.
Up in the other end of the region, WDFW Sinlahekin Wildlife Area Assistant Manager Justin Haug reports good opportunities to see both wintering and migrating raptors. He recently photographed a northern pygmy owl near Blue Lake. Other species usually seen or heard mid- to late winter include northern saw-whet owl, western screech owl, great horned owl, red-tailed hawk, northern harrier , and bald and golden eagles .
The Methow Valley’s annual "Nature of Winter Snowshoe Tours " are available every Saturday during the month of February, plus Sunday, Feb. 20. Local naturalists lead the tours about winter ecology, wildlife and tracks, snow conditions and more. These family-friendly tours leave at 11 a.m. each Saturday from the North Cascades Basecamp in Mazama, which co-hosts with the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA).
MVSTA snowshoe trail passes ($5) are required and available at the North Cascades Basecamp or Mazama Ski Shop. Reservations are not required; space is available on a first-come, first-served basis and limited to 10 participants. Call MVSTA at 996-3287 or email email@example.com for more information.