The start of the new year is prime time for Washingtonians to hunt for ducks and geese, fish for hatchery-reared steelhead and enjoy the annual spectacle of bald eagles, snow geese, elk, big-horn sheep and other wintering wildlife.

Winter storms are good news – up to a point – for waterfowl hunters, who welcome the surge of ducks and geese that comes with wet, blustery weather. Success rates for waterfowl hunters typically pick up once the winter storms rolled in.

January is also prime time to fish for hatchery-reared steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula, squid in Puget Sound and whitefish in the Yakima, Naches and Cle Elum rivers. In addition, two razor clam digs are tentatively scheduled in January, as outlined on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) website at .

But winter weather is an important consideration wherever you go. Ice fishing can be a dicey proposition in many parts of the state and heavy rains can render a river “unfishable” – even dangerous – virtually overnight.

“Preparation is essential for any outdoor activity, especially in winter,” said Mike Cenci, WDFW deputy chief of enforcement. “Check the weather conditions, river conditions and road conditions – and let people know where you’re going before you head out.”

Weather notwithstanding, WDFW fish and wildlife managers want to pass along a few other seasonal reminders:

  • Barbless hooks:   Starting New Year’s Day, Columbia River anglers are required to use barbless hooks when fishing for salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout from the mouth of the river to the state border with Oregon, 17 miles upstream from McNary Dam.
  • Crab reports:   The Puget Sound crab fishery closed Dec. 31, and crabbers are required to report their winter catch by Feb. 1.
  • Hunter reports:   Hunters who purchased tags for black bear, deer, elk or turkey are reminded that reports are due by Jan. 31 for each 2012 license, permit or tag they purchased.

For more information about the full array of fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing available over the next month, see the Weekender Regional Reports posted on WDFW’s website at . These reports are updated throughout the month to provide current information about recreational opportunities around the state.

Image courtesy Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

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