The start of the new year is prime time 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.
Shellfish managers at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are also planning to announce another round of razor clam digs in January.
But winter weather is an important consideration wherever you go. Ice fishing is a dicey proposition in most 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, deputy enforcement chief for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “Check the weather conditions, river conditions and road conditions – and let people know where you’re going before you head out.”
Then again, the arrival of winter storms is good news for waterfowl hunters, who have welcomed the surge of ducks and geese that comes with wet, blustery weather. Just before New Years, success rates for waterfowl hunters soared in many areas of the state.
Steelhead fishing has also been good on rivers ranging from the Cowlitz in southwestern Washington to the Tucannon on the east side of the state. Anglers should be aware, however, wild steelhead must be released everywhere in the state in January, and that the steelhead fishery on the upper Columbia River above the Rock Island Dam closes Jan. 2.
But there are also a lot of other ways to enjoy Washington’s wildlife at this time of year.
A rare Ross’s gull has attracted a lot of attention in Okanogan County, and an invasion of snowy owls has kept birders on their toes throughout the state. In the coming weeks, visitors to WDFW’s Oak Creek Wildlife Area near Yakima can watch hundreds of hungry elk and big-horn sheep dine on alfalfa hay and pellets.
For more information about fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing available over the next month, see the Weekender Regional Reports posted on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/weekender/ . These reports are updated throughout the month to provide current information about recreational opportunities around the state.