Washington state Fish & Wildlife Weekender for December

Despite the winter chill, Washingtonians have plenty of reasons to head outdoors during the holiday season. Steelhead are surging up coastal rivers, waterfowl hunting is in full swing and birders are gearing up around the state for the 113th annual Christmas Bird Count.

Those planning to do some holiday shopping between their outdoor adventures can share their appreciation for Washington’s renowned recreational opportunities with the gift of a fishing license, hunting license or a Discover Pass.

Although the new licensing year doesn’t begin until April 1, a lot of people like to have their license in hand a few months early, said Bill Joplin, licensing manager for the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.

“It’s always great to be prepared when the new season arrives,” Joplin said. “Besides, hunting and fishing licenses make great holiday gifts.”

Starting Dec. 1, state fishing and hunting licenses are available for the 2013 season by phone (866-246-9453), online (https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/), and from licensing dealers around the state (http://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/vendors/). A Vehicle Access Pass to lands owned by Fish & Wildlife is free with most types of fishing and hunting licenses.

For even broader access to state lands, a state Discover Pass also makes a fine holiday gift. At $35, an annual pass provides access to nearly seven million acres of state-managed recreation lands, including state parks, water-access points, heritage sites, wildlife and natural areas, trails and trailheads.

New this year is the option to choose the activation date for an annual Discover Pass purchased online or from an authorized WILD licensing dealer.

“Those who buy an annual Discover Pass through the WILD system can now activate the pass immediately or anytime within one year of the purchase date,” Joplin said. “On-line gift buyers can select a future start date so long as they allow 10 days to receive their Discover Pass by mail.”

For details on purchasing a Discover Pass, see http://discoverpass.wa.gov/.

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 the department’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: The holiday season has arrived and with it comes opportunities to hook hatchery steelhead on several coastal streams, catch crab and salmon in Puget Sound and dig razor clams on ocean beaches.

Early in December, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife will proceed with an evening razor clam dig at several ocean beaches if marine toxin tests are favorable. The tentative opening dates and evening low tides are:

Tuesday, 4:51 p.m., -1.1 ft., Twin Harbors

Wednesday, 5:40 p.m., -1.6 ft., Twin Harbors

Thursday, 6:29 p.m., -1.9 ft., Twin Harbors

Friday, 7:15 p.m., -1.8 ft., Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks

Saturday, 8:01 p.m., -1.6 ft., Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks

Dec. 16, Sunday, 8:47 p.m., -1.0 ft., Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Another digging opportunity is tentatively scheduled later in December. Tentative opening dates and evening low tides for that dig are:

Dec. 28, Friday, 6:42 p.m., -0.3 ft., Twin Harbors

Dec. 29, Saturday, 7:15 p.m., -0.3 ft., Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Dec. 30, Sunday, 7:47 p.m., -0.2 ft., Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks

Dec. 31, Monday, 8:20 p.m., 0.0., Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks

Clam diggers are reminded that they should take lights or lanterns for nighttime digs and 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, fishing for hatchery steelhead in the region is usually at its best in December. “Of course weather is always a big factor this time of year,” said Kirt Hughes, regional fishery manager for Fish & Wildlife. “As long as the weather cooperates and the rivers stay in shape, fishing should be pretty good throughout the month.”

Anglers fishing the Quillayute and portions of the Bogachiel, Calawah, Hoh, and Sol Duc rivers have a daily limit of three hatchery steelhead. In the Grays Harbor area, anglers fishing the Chehalis, Humptulips, Satsop and Wynoochee have a daily limit of two hatchery steelhead.

Rather catch salmon? Anglers can find late-run hatchery coho salmon in some of the region’s rivers, including the Chehalis and Satsop. For winter chum salmon, anglers might want to try fishing the Nisqually River. The late-chum run hits full stride mid- to late December and generally remains strong until at least mid-January, said Hughes.

Hunting: Most archery and muzzleloader hunting opportunities for elk are open through Dec. 15 in the region, although the muzzleloader hunt in Game Management Unit 652 runs through Dec. 8. The region’s archery and muzzleloader hunts for deer wrap up on various dates in select game management units. For details, hunters should check the Big Game Hunting pamphlet.

Meanwhile, waterfowl hunters have through Jan. 27 to hunt for ducks in the region. Goose hunts in Goose Management Area 3 also are open seven days a week through Jan. 27. However, hunts in Goose Management Area 2B (Pacific County) are limited to Saturdays and Wednesdays only through Jan. 19.

Upland bird hunters have through Dec. 31 to hunt forest grouse.

Before heading out, hunters should check the Waterfowl and Upland Game pamphlet for details. Also, area-by-area summaries of the hunting prospects throughout the state are available on the department’s hunting prospects webpage.

As noted on page 17 of the Big Game Hunting pamphlet, Jan. 31 is the deadline for hunters to report their hunting activity for each special permit acquired and each deer, elk, bear, and turkey tag purchased in 2012. Those who do not meet the deadline must pay a $10 penalty before they can buy a license next year. Those who report by Jan. 10 will be entered into a drawing for one of nine special elk or deer permits.

Wildlife viewing: During the holiday season, several Audubon Society chapters throughout the region are coordinating Christmas Bird Counts (CBC), which get under way this month. Sponsored by Audubon, the annual event enlists birdwatchers – veterans and novices – to contribute their sightings over a 24-hour period to the world’s longest-running bird database. For more information on the CBC, visit the Audubon website. To get involved, visit the Washington Ornithology Society’s website for a counting circle in your area.

Looking for a holiday treat for an outdoor enthusiast? A great gift is the Discover Pass — the vehicle access pass to millions of acres of Washington State parks and recreation lands. Now purchasers can choose the pass activation date when buying online or from recreational license vendors.