Odds for winter steelhead are up (some) and down (more often) from one river to the next these days, and regulations for a downtrending run of spring kings are all over the map this month. With that in mind, some anglers may be inclined to try their odds for panfish of a different stripe, or freckle, as it may be.
Cutthroat trout are biting in Puget Sound as well as the streams of the Olympic Peninsula. A report from the WDFW noted that this time of year anglers can often have success from the shore near the mouths of rivers during the tidal shift. Flies and spinners are the most popular bait for the small fish who feature so much fighting spirit.
In more sheltered waters the WDFW continues to stock rainbow trout in area waters. Those recent deposits include 375 large rainbows at Rowland Lake, 2,500 mid-size rainbows at Battle Ground Lake and 4,469 small fry at Lake Sacajawea. While those fish get settled in, the bite for kokanee has reportedly kept anglers entertained at Merwin and Yale reservoirs.
Conversely, the cold snap of February turned the bite off for many warmwater fish. As the sun makes itself more familiar in the coming weeks the bite for those panfish is likely to be back on the rise. Meanwhile, walleye continue to provide opportunity for anglers who find themselves near the Columbia River dam pools. Last week the WDFW sampled three rods on one boat at Bonneville with three walleye in the box. At John Day, 25 rods on 11 boats showed nine walleye on board with another eight reportedly released.
On the Chehalis River the steelhead bite was so slow last week that guides were cancelling trips that were already on the books. Still, some boats were still running the stretches from Centralia down toward Oakville all weekend and through the middle of this week. With a mix of rain and snow in the forecast through the end of the week, anglers who keep putting in time on the river are likely to bump into a new influx of winter steelhead soon. This time of year the Skookumchuck, Wynoochee and Satsop rivers also provide good odds for landing a hatchery steelhead. Midweek the flow on the Wynoochee River was about 690 cubic feet per second above Black Creek, and just 288 cfps at Grisdale.
Puget Sound is open in several areas this month for a blackmouth salmon fishery. Those areas include Marines areas five (Seiku) and six (Strait of Juan de Fuca), 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island, 12 (Hood Canal) and 13 (South Sound). Retention regulations vary by area but all wild Chinook must be released. On Tuesday the Nisqually River was running at 1,200 cfps below LaGrande Dam.
The WDFW recently released dates and harvest quotas for the upcoming coastal bottom fish seasons and the forecast looks promising. The coastal sport fishery for bottom fish and lingcod opened on March 9.
Steady or improving populations of the ocean fish led the WDFW to expand opportunities for rockfish, Pacific cod, whiting, sole, lingcod, cabazon and numerous other species. Anglers are allowed up to nine bottomfish per day, which can include as many as seven rockfish, two lingcod and one cabazon.
Changes to this year’s regulations include fewer depth restrictions that will result in about an extra month of deepwater fishing. Those changes were spurred on by an improvement in yelloweye rockfish stock. Canary Rockfish are also on the rebound after 19 years of efforts to recover their stocks so extra limits on their harvest have been removed. Similarly, a size limit for Cabazon was removed in Marine Area 4. In Marine Areas two (Westport) a 30-fathom restriction will be in place from March 9 through May 31, which is two weeks shorter than years past. The deepwater area will be open from June 1-15. In Marine Area one (Ilwaco) there are no depth restrictions.
Heading in from Buoy 10 the spring Chinook fishery has been open on the Columbia River since March 1 but the outlook is depressed due to a poor forecast. Upriver bright returns are supposed to be down about 14 percent from last year and less than half of the recent 10 year average. Those disappointing projections have resulted in a pinch on the typical parameters of that fishery.
“Anglers will still find some good fishing opportunities in the Columbia River Basin this spring, but conservation has to be our first concern,” insisted Ryan Lothrop, Columbia River policy coordinator, in a press release.
Below Bonneville Dam anglers are allowed to target salmon and steelhead through April 10 between Warrior Rock and the boundary line below the dam. However, anglers below Warrior Rock will be prohibited from any salmonid fishing through April 10 in order to protect paltry returns to the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers.
Last weekend the WDFW conducted creel checks at several areas along the lower Columbia River. From Bonneville Dam to Warrior Rock 47 salmon boats and six Washington side bank anglers were counted. Near Longview two bank anglers and four boat rods had no catch to report and around Cathlamet three bank anglers and two boat anglers also had no catch. In the Vancouver area more anglers came up with the same empty creels.
Last week on the East Fork Lewis River, the WDFW checked 16 bank anglers with two steelhead released while one boat rod had no catch at all.
Fishery managers anticipate that the return to Lower Columbia River tributaries will likely be even worse than the upriver contingent. In particular, the Cowlitz River is expected to only return about 11 percent of its recent 10-year average of spring Chinook. Salmon fishing on both the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers is currently closed to help conserve limited broodstock resources for hatchery operations. However, the Kalama River will remain open to both salmon and steelhead fishing with a reduced harvest limit of just one fish per day.
In just a few days the onslaught will finally be over for area wildlife when the sand runs out on the very last of the general season waterfowl hunts. Goose season will end in the inland portion of Area 2 on March 9.
However, most cougar hunts remain open but hunters should be sure to check with the WDFW before heading out. That extra effort has been recommended since the New Year when cougar areas became subject to restrictions based on cumulative harvest numbers from the fall and winter season. In areas where the take remains below the quota hunting will continue through April 30.
Additionally, bobcats, fox, raccoons, snowshoe hares and cottontail rabbits will continue to exercise caution through March 15 when those seasons close. Trapping seasons for beaver, badger, weasel, marten, mink, muskrat and river otter will continue through the end of March. And, as always, coyotes are fair game all year round.
Looking forward, general spring turkey hunts are set to begin on April 15.
Roadkill salvage is also legal in Washington with the use of an emergency permit provided by the WDFW. Permits are available online and must be obtained within 24-hours of any deer or elk salvage. Permits can be found at wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/game_salvaging/application.html.
Hunters who wish to obtain a multiple-season hunting tag for next fall and winter have through the end of March to submit their applications. Successful entries will be entered into a drawing for a limited supply of multiple-season tags. Those drawings will be used to award 8,500 extended tags for deer and 1,000 bonus tags for elk.
Those hunters who are selected will be able to purchase a special tag that would allow them to hunt during archery, muzzleloader and modern firearm general seasons for their particular animal.
“With the multiple season tag, hunters have the opportunity to extend their seasons this fall,” explained Anis Aoude, WDFW game division manager, in a press release. “Winners do not need to choose one hunting method over another, so they have more options and flexibility.”
Additional information can be found on the WDFW website or by calling 360-902-2464.