At the start of the March 1 trout opening, winter is giving way east of the Cascades in southeast and central locales, but March trout anglers could still find a lot of iced-over water in the Okanogan.
Except for such lakes as Fish, in the Lake Wenatchee area, and Palmer and Sidley, along the northern tier east and west of Oroville, that are tucked back into the mountains at higher elevations, anglers are cautioned not to trust in the weight-bearing ability of lake ice from now until melt-out.
Guidelines and tips for safe ice fishing can be found on the department's Web site, wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/ice_fishing/.
With just under two months to go before the main trout fishing opener at the end of April, a host of well-stocked Eastern Washington lakes have come online for early trouting opportunities.
OKANOGAN SOONER TROUT
As winter catch-and-keep trout fisheries wrap in the Okanogan at the end of this month, anglers should soon find some bare water rainbow opportunities on Davis Lake in Winthrop, Big and Little Green lakes west of Omak and Rat Lake, near Brewster. When its ice cover begins to shrink, Patterson Lake will put out trout as well.
From April Fool's Day on, the rainbow wrangling continues in these waters, the first four under a seasonal catch and release rule while keeper fishing continues in Patterson because of its year-round open status.
CENTRAL BASIN RAINBOWS
The closest of the March 1 Grant County lakes to Bellingham by road are two clusters located roughly on the Columbia River between Interstate 90 and Quincy.
One grouping is near Interstate 90's exits 143 and 149 coming up out of the Columbia River Vantage crossing. It includes Martha Lake and the Caliche trio.
The second cluster of lakes, lie south of the City of Quincy in the upper spillway ends of the Potholes Coulee. Burke and Quincy are the trout standouts in this series of four long east-west trending lakes.
District Biologist Brad Jackson expects Upper Caliche and Quincy to yield the biggest crop of carryover fish with Burke coming off a rehab last fall producing catches of eager rainbows installed in February.
Evergreen Reservoir and Stan Coffin Lake are the remaining named waters in the vicinity of Burke and Quincy in this group with reputations for producing warm-water species, and thus are not in play much for the trout opener.
For the angler out for a little adventure and a good measure of exercise, the hike-in Spring Lakes group in cliffy terrain west of Quincy Lake including Dusty, Cup, Ancient, Cascade, Cliff, Cup and Crystal are worth the effort. They're known for their interesting and occasionally finicky trout and trout hybrids (rainbows, browns and tigers).
Dusty, in particular, starts out slow but is highly reputed for producing a few big rainbows including a lunker or two until the weather breaks hot.
Also on the March 1 list of waters for fly fishers are Lenice, Nunnally and Merry lakes, east of the town of Beverly. Not a lot is being said about 2013 expectations for this trio of selective gear waters, but the spring chironomid fishing here can be excellent, depending on the wind and water temperature.
DESERT UNIT WATERS
This string of seep lakes, including Beda, Brookie, Harris, Dune, Sedge and Tern, all associated with the Winchester Wasteway about four miles south of Interstate 90 off Dodson Road, was rehabbed several years back but most should be on the rebound.
Beda was initially restocked with catchable rainbows while Harris, Dune, Sedge and Tern lakes all had infusions of rainbow fry that should be fully grown by now.
Brookie's fate is not known but these waters, once touted for their big trout, may have been eliminated from the stocking list because they're now too shallow and in-grown with vegetation.
LOWER GRAND COULEE
Lake Lenore, replete with its vaunted alkaline-tolerant Lahontan cutthroat, is reportedly ice-free.
This spectacular cliff-dominated lake next to State Route 17 north of the community of Soap Lake is the broodstock source for this strain of introduced Humboldt Basin trout.
It can be a slow starter, notwithstanding the spring two-month catch and release period and a one-fish bag limit which governs the remaining season (starting May 1) that closes the first of November.
SEEP LAKES UNIT
The greater Heart-Windmill-Canal and Teal grouping of lakes on the east side of the great seep lakes cluster below Potholes Reservoir, south of O'Sullivan Dam, are well into their post-rehab phases and should produce good catches this spring.
Another option in that area of the basin is the year-round Corral, Blythe and Chukar string of lakes in the Drumheller Channels under the imposing west end of O'Sullivan Dam. They, too, have good numbers of rainbows, fostered from fry plants.
For carry-over trout enthusiasts willing to go for a hike there's Quail Lake, also in the Drumheller Channels, on Columbia National Wildlife Refuge lands northeast of McManaman Road. It's regularly able to yield 16 to 18-inch rainbows, because it is literally accessible via a foot-worn, not car-beaten path, is governed by catch/release and fly fishing only rules, and the hefty trout do not have to dodge anglers on motorized watercraft.
SPOKANE NORTH AREA LAKES
Four noteworthy waters in the greater Spokane area top the March 1 mentions list this year.
? Amber Lake, in the southwest corner of Spokane County, which is touted for its mix of rainbow and cutthroat that are on catch and release rules until April 27.
? Medical Lake, west of Spokane, that is now sustained by both rainbow and brown trout plants and is fishable under selective gear rules including no motorized craft and a two-14-inch-minimum-size-trout daily bag limit.
? Downs Lake, the westernmost of the Spokane County March 1 waters, because it sheds its winter ice the earliest, unveiling a catchable trout and warmwater roster including yellow perch, largemouth bass and some nice black crappie.
? Liberty Lake, south of Interstate 90 near the Idaho state-line, which has been infused with brown and rainbow trout, some in the jumbo size range, to compete with the warmwater suite of fishes that includes the exotic cross between a walleye and sauger, called by its syllabic cut-and-paste name the saugeye.
Also for March 1 anglers there is North Silver Lake, located south of State Route 902, where the daily limit is two trout of a minimum 14-inch size and Deer Lake, east of U.S. Highway 395 in Stevens County, where anglers may keep five trout, but only two of them may be longer than 30 inches.
If you travel a long way only to find the icy lid still shut on any or all of these lakes, there are two reliable alternatives: Roosevelt Lake behind Grand Coulee Dam or blustery Rock Lake.
Roosevelt's late winter fishery for big kokanee and rainbow trout is drawing lots of angler attention, while Rock Lake almost never freezes shut. But that's due to the incessant, cliff-funneled winds.
North-central Washington's lower Methow River (from Highway 97 Bridge near Pateros upstream to the Chewuck River) has reopened for hatchery steelhead and whitefish.
The Met rejoins the list of Okanogan waters including sections of the Okanogan River as well as the lower Similkameen River up to Enloe Dam that are conditionally open to steelheaders to the end of March.
Would-be Okanogan anglers should be aware that two reaches of that stream in the vicinity of Omak and Tonasket close for sure Sunday, March 17, to protect soon-to-spawn wild summer steelhead.
In addition, steelheaders may hit the lower Wenatchee (up to Tumwater Dam) and Icicle (up to the hatchery marker) rivers as well as Columbia River reservoir pools from Rock Island Dam upstream to the markers below Wells Dam and the Lake Pateros pool from the Highway 173 bridge up to the Chief Joseph safety markers.
However, any or all of these waters - especially the tributaries - could be closed earlier if the interaction tipping point between anglers and wild steelhead is deemed to have been reached before Sunday, March 31. Anglers also buy a Columbia Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement to go with their license and are required to keep the first two hatchery steelhead they catch and then stop fishing.
SOUTHWEST CHINOOK CUTBACKS
In the mainstem Columbia wild (non-marked) salmon and steelhead figure significantly in the restrictions and shutdowns, but in the tributaries, hatchery fish hold sway over angling opportunities - especially if a given year's contingent of clipped chinook is sub-par, as managers have termed the 2013 return.
Concerns that several southwest Washington state and federal fish hatcheries may not get enough spring kings to spawn have prompted curtailment of normal salmon fishing options on the Lewis, Kalama and Wind river systems.
Until further notice all chinook salmon regardless of origin must be released in:
? The Lewis River mainstem from its mouth upstream to the mouth of the East Fork Lewis.
? The North Fork Lewis River from its mouth upstream to Merwin Dam.
? The Kalama River from the markers at the mouth upstream to the upper salmon production facility, Kalama Falls Hatchery.
During the salmon season pause, anglers may still fish for and keep hatchery steelhead in these river sections.
Emergency rules imposed on the Wind River will close it entirely to fishing March 16-31, then from April 1 to July 31 anglers may fish for and keep one hatchery chinook or one hatchery steelhead a day in the lowest river reach upstream to Shipherd Falls. Also from now until further notice under the current order, the Wind above Shipherd Falls is closed to all fishing.
WDFW Region 5 salmon managers say the Cowlitz and Klickitat rivers plus Drano Lake (the pool above the State Route 14 causeway at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River) will be open for salmon fishing as indicated in the permanent rules.
WINTER-RUN HATCHERY WATCH
With restrictions now prohibiting inter-basin transfers of hatchery winter-run steelhead eggs, it is more important than ever that enough adult fish reach their artificial spawning destinations.
As of Thursday, Feb. 28, these are the numbers, reported by installation, of adult hatchery (adipose fin-clipped) winter-run steelhead trapped as well as eggs already taken and the target takes as documented in the 2012 state/tribal agreement on hatchery production:
Maritime Heritage Center Hatchery, Whatcom Creek: Four adults reported, no eggs taken.
Kendall Creek Hatchery, North Fork Nooksack River: 55 hatchery adults, 104,000 eggs taken (target 165,000 egg take).
Marblemount Hatchery, Cascade River, Skagit: 198 hatchery adults, 253,000 eggs taken (target 275,000 egg take).
Whitehorse Hatchery, North Fork Stillaguamish River:172 hatchery adults, 227,890 eggs taken (target 200,000 egg take).
Tokul Creek Hatchery, Snoqualmie River, Snohomish: 703 hatchery adults, 657,373 eggs taken (target 450,000 egg take).
Soos Creek Hatchery, Green River: 109 hatchery adults, 144,000 eggs taken (target 125,000 egg take.
Dungeness Hatchery, Dungeness River: 58 hatchery adults, 43,000 eggs taken (target 50,000 egg take).
Bogachiel Hatchery, Bogachiel River, Quillayute: 2,342 hatchery adults, 306,000 eggs taken (target 275,000 egg take).
Humptulips Hatchery, Humptulips River: 895 hatchery adults, 229,750 eggs taken (target 200,000 egg take).
Forks Creek Hatchery, Willapa River: 663 hatchery adults, 200,000 eggs taken (target 225,000 egg take).
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.belinghamherald.com/outdoors.