Washington state department of Fish & Widlife weekender for Sunday, Feb. 17

Temperatures are warming, birds are singing and spring chinook salmon are starting to move into the lower Columbia River. Spring is still a ways off, but February offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

This year’s return of spring chinook is expected to be lower than in the past few years, but the fishery still offers anglers an opportunity to catch some of the Northwest’s most highly prized fish, said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.

For information about the spring chinook season, see the department’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/news/jan3013a/.

State fishery managers also point to several other promising fishing opportunities available this month:

Blackmouth salmon: More areas of Puget Sound are opening to fishing for blackmouth chinook salmon, including Hood Canal, Marine Area 11 (Tacoma-Vashon) and – later in the month – Sekiu. Good fishing for blackmouth has also been reported around the San Juan Islands and the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Squid: This is also prime time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. Good spots include the Elliot Bay Pier in Seattle, the Edmonds Pier, Point Defiance Park Pier in Tacoma and the Indianola Pier in Kitsap County. For more information, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/squid/howto_fish.html

For more information about these and other opportunities to enjoy Washington’s great outdoors, see the Weekender Regional Reports posted on Fish & Wildlife’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.

South Sound/Olympic Peninsula

Fishing: Blackmouth fishing opportunities expand in February, when several marine areas in Puget Sound re-open for salmon. In the rivers, steelhead are still the best bet – especially on the coast, where two razor clam digs also are scheduled at ocean beaches.

The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has given the green light to an evening razor clam dig at several ocean beaches.

Fish & Wildlife will proceed with another digging opportunity if marine toxin tests are favorable. Tentative opening dates and evening low tides for that dig are:

Feb. 23, Saturday, 5:12 p.m., +0.3 ft., Long Beach, Twin Harbors

Feb. 24, Sunday, 5:47 p.m., +0.1 ft., Long Beach, Twin Harbors

Clam diggers are reminded that they should take lights or lanterns for the nighttime digs and to check weather and surf forecasts before heading out. No digging will be allowed before noon on any of the razor-clam beaches. Harvesters are allowed to take no more than 15 razor clams and must keep the first 15 they dig, regardless of size or condition. Each digger’s clams must be kept in a separate container.

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2012-13 fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, are available on Fish & Wildlife’s website and from license vendors around the state.

Meanwhile, anglers will have additional opportunities to fish for blackmouth in the marine areas of Puget Sound on Feb. 1, when marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon) and 12 (Hood Canal) open for salmon. Marine areas 13 (South Puget Sound) and 6 (eastern Strait) are already open for salmon fishing.

“Fishing has been very good in the eastern Strait and Marine Area 7 (San Juan Islands), especially at Coyote, Hein and Partridge banks,” said Ryan Lothrop, WDFW’s Puget Sound recreational salmon fishery manager. “That should continue into February.”

Later in month, anglers will also have a chance to hook blackmouth in Marine Area 5 (Sekiu), where salmon fishing opened on Saturday.

Anglers can check creel reports for information on catch and effort in Puget Sound. Recreational fishery samplers with Fish & Wildlife collect the information each week at fishing access sites throughout the Sound.

Winter is prime time to jig for squid in Puget Sound. Good spots include the Point Defiance Park and Les Davis piers in Tacoma, and the Illahee State Park, Waterman and Indianola piers in Kitsap County.

More information is available on the department’s squid fishing webpage. Information on fishing piers is available here.

Another option is to head to a local lake and hook some trout. Anglers fishing American Lake (Pierce County) and Saint Clair Lake (Thurston County) have been doing well for rainbow trout, said Phillips.

In the northern rivers, the hatchery steelhead run is winding down, but more wild steelhead are arriving each week, said Kirt Hughes, regional fishery manager for WDFW.

Beginning Feb. 16, anglers can retain one wild steelhead per license year on the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Hoh, Quillayute, Quinault and Sol Duc rivers. Those eight rivers are the only waters in Washington where wild steelhead retention is allowed.

“The abundant wild steelhead populations returning to those rivers also provide great catch-and-release fishing opportunities,” Hughes said. Information on weekly steelhead catches in the Quillayute River system and the Hoh River are available on Fish & Wildlife’s website.

Farther south, anglers can still find hatchery steelhead in the Skookumchuck, Satsop, Wynoochee and mainstem Chehalis rivers, where late-run steelhead are still being caught, said Hughes.

Before heading out, anglers should check the department’s sportfishing regulations pamphlet for details on all fisheries.

Looking for some competition? Anglers can take part in the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby over Presidents’ Day Weekend near Sequim. Details are available at the derby’s website.

Hunting: Hunters and other members of the public will have through Feb. 15 to comment on changes to hunting rules proposed by Fish & Wildlife.

The department is accepting written comments on the 17 proposals, posted on the department’s website. Written comments may be emailed to wildthing@dfw.wa.gov or mailed to: Wildlife Program Commission Public Comments, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, a nine-member citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for FIsh & Wildlife, will discuss the proposals and hold a final round of public comments during a meeting set March 1-2 in Moses Lake. The commission is scheduled to vote on the new hunting rules during a meeting April 12-13 in Olympia.