Outdoors

For more fishing, take a March road trip

Hereabouts, Puget Sound rivers may be shut down to steelheading, the bay to blackmouth fishing and local lakes largely to trouting, but if a road trip isn’t a put-off, options further afield abound around the state.

Steelheading: Rivers from the North Olympic Peninsula to both southerly corners of the state remain open for steelhead of either the summer-run or winter-run persuasion, depending on the region you’re in.

From now to the April 30 closure angler focus in eight coastal rivers including the Quillayute, Bogachiel, Sol Duc, Calawah, Dickey, Hoh, Clearwater and Quinault will be largely on newly entering wild winter-run steelhead, though several of these streams do host summer-runs as well. Hatchery-origin or marked fish of these species are, for certain, keepers but there’s a bonus.

In the period from Feb. 16 to April 15 or April 30 from those streams anglers may take their one allowable keeper wild fish per license year. That unclipped native must be included in the two steelhead per day limit that otherwise must consist of hatchery fish. Catching and releasing is legal until the daily limit is retained.

The Quillayute and Sol Duc rivers also are good for restricted salmon retention in March and April.

In any other stream named as open in the special regulations section of the Fishing in Washington sport rules pamphlet trout and or hatchery steelhead may be retained.

Southwest rivers including those flowing directly into the ocean or into the lower Columbia also are open at least in March (ocean directs) for hatchery steelhead, while the Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis rivers top the list of continuously available waters.

Down east, in main Washington tributaries of the Snake including reaches of the Walla Walla, Touchet, Tucannon and Grande Ronde rivers clipped steelhead of the summer-run ilk are fair game in March.

Always check the special regulations section of the sport pamphlet together with the emergency regulations web page for the application of rules such as closures, the selective gear requirement, mandatory debarbing of hooks or fish retention to waters you intend to fish.

Basin rainbows: Scattered from the desert lands of Grant County east to Spokane County and southeast to the Blue Mountains’ flanks are 32 eastside lakes that open for trout fishing, Sunday, March 1.

With newly stocked rainbows and a mild winter allowing immediate access, the closest to Bellingham of these fishing spots, the Caliche trio plus nearby George Lake, are alongside I-90 just east of the Columbia River near the Silica Road freeway exit. That’s also the southern jumping-off-point for more March lakes in the palisade coulees north of there. Quincy and Burke are drive up and fish (by boat is best). Ancient, Dusty, Cliff, Cup and Cascade lakes are walk in and cast waters. Among them they’re reputed to have some very nice rainbows and/or browns.

Look up the rest of the first of March eastside lakes on pages 85-95 of the 2014-15 sport regs pamphlet.

Salmon angling: the end of April is the nominal closure point for winter blackmouth fishing in all but one of Washington inland waters zones, but that wasn’t the case this season in Marine Area 7.

Our home waters may now be off-limits, but close-by marine areas 6, 8-1 and 8-2 remain open for the time being.

In zone six the west end of Deception Pass (outside West Point) and Smith Island are good places, on the right tide, to start. In area 8-1 waters off Hope Island and Yokeko Point are often-plied waters for hatchery chinook, while Elger Bay and Camano Head are two focal points for late blackmouth fishing in area 8-2.

Razor clams: Monday’s latest dig start was green-lighted last week by state shellfish managers. It’s four-day afternoons-only opportunity involves just the two southernmost razor clam beach management sectors, Long Beach and Twin Harbors.

Two more tentatively scheduled razor clam openings are slated for March including the first morning dig. Last year’s annual licenses are good through the end of month.

STATE ROUTE 20 UPDATE

Though the formal pre-opening reconnaissance survey of the North Cascades Highway has not yet been done, there’s an unofficial indication snow conditions on the northern tier route near its high point are not that far off typical.

That’s remarkable in light of the extraordinary lack of snow cover further west on North Cascades’ windward slopes.

The Washington State Department of Transportation reports that in mid-February a crew working on the Washington Pass weather station found fewer slides along Cutthroat Ridge stretch but bigger avalanche runouts under Liberty Bell Mountain and a near-normal eight feet of snow blanketing the 5477-foot summit’s road course.

WSDOT also reports the large debris slide at milepost 143 is cleared but the stretch of road from Happy Flats gate (MP 134) east to the repair site remains off-limits to hiking, bike riding and other recreation while a contractor installs bolts in the rock-face at MP 143 to reduce the slide hazard.

Tuesday, Mar. 10 is scheduled by WSDOT for the formal avalanche assessment survey that’s done prior to unleashing snow removal equipment on the numerous avalanche piles and pack snow that can be especially troublesome on the route’s east slope approach to the Cascade crest.

Once the department’s avalanche specialists give the thumbs up a task group out of Twisp initially composed of a purpose-built snowblower, a Piston Bully snow machine and a front-end loader begin exposing pavement up from the Silver Star gate above Early Winters. If encountered avalanche chute accumulations reach certain proportions, a contractor’s D-8 bulldozer is brought up to assist.

A smaller snow removal entourage also starts up the westside from Diablo uncovering pavement and doing repairs. The two crews usually meet somewhere around Rainy Pass.

Given the complexities of mountain environments (snow accumulations, avalanche hazard, weather swings and machinery breakdowns), WSDOT resists precisely pegging a gate-opening date.

With work likely to start sometime near the end of March, they do say that over the highway’s history it’s taken as few as four to as many as eight weeks to wrestle the road from winter’s clutches.

Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald’s outdoors correspondent, since 1983, has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that now appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at http://pblogs.bellinghamherald.com/outdoors.

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