For the leisurely outdoorsman, winter is a time to stay inside. It’s a time to tie flies, repair waders and read magazines. The fire beckons, and they wait there for spring’s welcome touch. But for the other kind of sportsman, those that love the winter, it is a season filled with an incredible richness of fish and game, even as the number of the people in the woods and on the banks diminishes. Lucky indeed are those hardy souls that venture forth in the steady rain or the freezing wind, for Old Man Winter offers great riches for the soul hardy enough to stand up to his punishment.
In Oregon and Washington the choices for winter adventure are almost endless. It doesn’t matter if you live in the mountains or the valleys, the east side or the west side, along the coast or in the high desert, there is something happening nearby.
SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON RAZOR CLAMS
The winter nights are long, but they are far more fun when you spend them on the beach chasing razor clams. The southwest Washington coastline has some of the best razor clamming beaches in the northwest, but digging them in the winter is a nocturnal adventure, according to Dan Ayers of the WDFW Region 6 in Monsanto. “In the winter the lowest tides are always at night,” he says, “that’s just the way it works.” The daytime digs won’t happen until spring.
Clammers find razors during low tides by looking for the tell-tale holes they leave in the sand. Once these holes are spotted, you have to dig fast, either with a shovel or a clamming tube, to reach the speedy clams before they escape. Since the winter digs happen at night a lantern or flashlight must be used. “I’ve had the best luck with the old-style white-gas type lanterns,” says Ayers, but every veteran clammer has his own favorite.
This is a great family adventure and even the kids can learn to spot the signs of clams. Of course, caution is needed when on the beach at night. “Don’t turn your back on the surf!” warns Ayers. Often the weather is too rough, but that just leaves more clams for the next low tide.
There are four major razor clam beaches in Washington, but the southernmost, Long Beach, is the most popular. The Oysterville approach is a great place to access the beach. Before heading out, stop at Jack’s Country Store (360-665-4988) in Long Beach for gear and the latest info.
Other razor clam beaches are Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks and Kalaloch.
The limit is 15 razors, the first dug, no matter the size.
For more information, check the WDFW Web site, or call the Monsanto office at (360) 249-4628
OREGON COAST STEELHEAD
For a dose of heart-stopping winter steelheading, the Oregon Coast is the place to be in the dead of winter. So what if you sometimes have to use your fingers to thaw the ice in your rods guides? The rivers will be full of metalheads and the action fast enough to keep you warm.
Lower Rogue River
This is Oregon’s premier coastal steelhead fishery, and for good reason according to Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. Martin calls southern Oregon home and explains that fishing the lower river means you get the first shot at all the fish headed to the upper tributaries. “With the hatchery and the wild runs as many as twenty to thirty thousand steelhead will pass through the lower river,” he says. “That’s a lot of fish coming through. When the bite is good, you can hook 8 to 12 fish a day.”
The lower Rogue fishery really kicks in during December and January. The daily limit is two steelhead. After January 1, anglers can keep one wild, unclipped fish a day, and up to 5 wild steelhead a year.
The fish are on the move, so stationary techniques are the most successful. Bank fishermen are plunking with spin-n-glos or plugs, and boat anglers are anchoring with plugs. Popular choices are the #30 cop car Hotshots, and red and gold Fatfish. There is one rule. “Just forget the center of the river,” says Martin. “The steelhead will follow the shoreline in that seam between the fast currents and the slack near the bank. Look for soft edges or inside bends to fish.”
Bank anglers can try the Old Mill, Huntley Park and Lobster Creek. “Plunking is extremely good on the Rogue,” he adds.
For guided trips, contact Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing at (206) 388-8988; www.wildriversfishing.com. Other good coastal steelhead rivers include the Alsea, the Chetco, the Umpqua and the Siletz Rivers. North coast bank fishermen will find mid-winter steel in the North Fork Nehalem, the Klaskenine River, Big Creek and Gnat Creek near Astoria.
POTHOLES RESERVOIR WINTER GREENHEADS
Washington’s Potholes Region is a duck magnet where agricultural water use has changed the desert landscape into a waterfowl wonderland of marshes, seeps, and crop fields. During the early season these marshes teem with a mixture of local ducks that hunters target on the many open public waters. In December the arctic winds change the landscape, and the ducks.
Mikal Moore, waterfowl specialist for the WDFW, says that the northern winds bring duck hunter manna, driving out the myriad smaller local ducks. “We always get a flush of mallards from Canada when that happens,” she says. “Of course, it depends on the weather, but when it gets cold up north the ducks come down.” What they are looking for is the food — the huge fields of cereal grains that this region is known for.
The freezing weather brings another change. “When things freeze up there is less public access,” says Levi Meseberg of Duck Taxi guide service, “but the colder it gets the less hunters there are, too.” As the lakes freeze the focus shifts from the marsh to feed fields and whatever open water there is.
While the Mesebergs hunt a lot of private lands after the freeze, he reports that there are some excellent opportunities on the waterways that feed the Potholes Reservoir, called wasteways. The moving water stays open, proving an irresistible draw for ducks. There is some public access and a small duck boat will help hunters get around even more. Small sets are all that’s needed to get into some great late-season ducks.
Try Winchester Wasteway, Frenchman’s Wasteway, the Lind-Cooley drainage and Crab Creek.
For guided hunts, call the Mar Don resort at (509) 346-2651.
PUGET SOUND CHRISTMAS KINGS
For a true winter king fishery, try for some Puget Sound winter chinook. Called blackmouth, these are hatchery runs of salmon that stay in Puget Sound all year long and feed, feed, feed. Gary Krein of All Star Charters in Everett explains that fishing for blackmouth is just like ocean fishing “These are immature salmon,” says Krein, “So they are aggressive and they feed every day.” He compares these growing salmon to teenagers. “You can always find them in front of the fridge.” In this case the fridge refers to the schools of baitfish in the sound.
The best time to fish is around the biggest tides when strong currents force bait schools behind headlands and into back bays, followed by the salmon The most effective way to catch them is by trolling with downriggers within 20 feet of the bottom using bait or plugs.
The average Puget Sound blackmouth will run from 10 to 15 pounds, with a few into the 20s.
Good places to start include the Possession Bar at the tip of Whidbey Island, and the Saratoga Passage. However, there are good spots from north to south in the sound. Be sure to keep an eye to the weather. “In the sound you don’t have the ocean swells, but in the winter when the storms move in it can get rough,” warns Krein.
For charter trips, call All Star Charters of Everett, Wash., (425) 252-4188.
HIGH DESERT LAKES ICE FISHING
Freezing weather means hot fishing on the dry side of the Cascades in both states
Winter fishing really heats up in the eastern halves of the Beaver and Evergreen states when the lakes freeze. Ice fishing is catching on as more fishermen discover just how good the fishing can get. When the bite is on it can seem almost impossible to catch so many fish so quickly, and from one small hole.
Both states have almost limitless options for the hardwater fishermen, but here are a few of the best to get started with.
Eastern Washington Eloika Lake
Eloika Lake, a few miles northwest of Spokane on Highway 2, is probably one of Washington’s most prolific ice fisheries. “Most fishermen come for the perch,” reports Mallory Laurie, the owner of Jerry’s Landing, “but they also catch crappie, trout and bass.” According to Laurie, the best place to catch perch is straight out from the resort. “Last year they were catching some nice-sized perch through the ice.” The crappie, which average 10 to 12 inches, can be found north of the resort. “The bass and trout are caught all over the lake,” she adds.
Eloika Lake largemouth run big, and bucketmouths from 5 to 8 pounds are common.
The best baits are small Swedish Pimples and Mack’s Lures’ Glo Hooks fished just off the bottom. White and pink are good colors. Ice-fishing is a social sport, so finding the fish is usually as easy as finding the fishermen.
WINTER TROUT FISHERIES
There are four lakes in eastern Washington that are managed for winter trout and provide excellent hard-water fishing. Hatch and Williams Lake are in Stevens County. Hog Canyon Lake and Fourth of July Lake are in Adams County. They are open for trout from December through March with a five-fish limit. Anglers harvest lots of 12- to 18-inch rainbows in these lakes, the result of stockings and a strong carry-over population.
In all four of these lakes keep your baits small and your lines light. Good baits are orange and red mallows, salmon eggs, maggots and worms.
Other E. Washington Ice Hotspots
• Try Davis Lake for carry-over and stocker rainbows.
• Hit Scooteney for bluegill, big perch, walleye, and crappie
• Tap Waitts Lake for a chance at big browns to 9 pounds, but most fishermen target the prolific yellow perch population.
Oregon Hard-Water Fisheries
• Cottonwood Reservoir
This sizable lake northwest of Lakeview offers good ice action and even when it’s drawn down there is at least 15 feet of water. Anglers can drive right to the lake, and the best action is near the face of the dam. There is a good population of redband rainbows, some to five pounds, and anglers can keep two, including one over 20 inches.
These lakes offer good fishing for crappie and trout:
• Piute Reservoir (hatchery-stocked cutthroat and rainbow).
• Mud Lake (hatchery-stocked rainbow trout).
ICE FISHING SAFETY
Follow these simple safety rules when ice fishing:
• Hard, clear ice at least 6 inches thick is needed for safe fishing.
• Avoid heavy snow, which can soften ice.
• Never fish alone.
• Dress warmly. Wear everything you’ve got, and then go borrow more from a neighbor.
• Cut holes of 12 inches or less.
OREGON’S WINTER HONKERS
Hot gunning is the norm when geese from the north invade Oregon’s Klamath Basin.
When the arctic winds howl out of the north in winter they bring more than cold to southern Oregon. They also bring geese, big flocks of heavy, dark geese from Canada and Alaska. These are the true honkers, the ones that look like jumbo jets as they drop into your set. It takes a deep-throated call and a hunter hardy enough to brave the elements to bag these wary and seasoned birds.
They are drawn to Oregon’s big basins, according to Brandon Reishus of the ODFW. “They congregate in the big basins looking for food and open water,” he says. “They are in that cold weather pattern where they are driven to feed more.” He points to the Snake River Basin, Summer Lake and the Klamath Basin. “The Klamath is a biggie,” he says. Thousands of northern dark geese spend the winter here.
Darin Claiborne, of Two Blind Guides, bags a lot of big Canada geese in the Klamath Basin every season. “It usually gets going good in December,” he says. “When it gets cold in Canada they’ll come down.” Claiborne and his partner, Chris Anderson, hunt Upper Klamath Lake until the freeze sets in, then they move over to the Rogue River. “Once the lake freezes, any open water will be good.”
While field hunters may throw a big set, Darin doesn’t find that necessary when hunting the open water patches. “If you can get away from other people, you won’t need a monster set.”
COLUMBIA BASIN PHEASANTS
Upland bird hunters are drawn to Oregon’s Columbia Basin for some of the best ringneck hunting the state has to offer. A true farmland bird, the gaudy pheasant thrives here among the fields of corn, wheat, and other cereal grains.
The northern tier of counties along the mid Columbia often produces a full third of the state’s harvest of ringnecks, although the hunting is not what it once was. As it has elsewhere, modern clean-farming practices have reduced the once broad-ranging population into pockets of birds in the best habitats.
Private access is difficult to find, but there are good public lands available. A string of state wildlife areas and refuges along the Columbia River provide access to some excellent cover. Also, there are 35,000 acres in Morrow County alone that have been enrolled in the ODFW’s Access and Habitat Program.