Eastern Washington: Anglers need to be cautious of conditions when ice-fishing this month. Fishing on or through ice is only safe after temperatures remain below freezing for an extended amount of time. Anglers also should be wary of thin ice along the shorelines of rivers and streams.
Due to unusually warm weather, very few of the regions winter-only rainbow trout lakes had sufficient ice in late December to be safe for fishing. But if more wintery conditions prevail, those lakes should start to provide catches through the ice this month.
Randy Osborne, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) central district fish biologist of Spokane, reports that Fourth of July Lake, on the Lincoln-Adams county line, has a good number of large rainbow trout, many over 14 inches long. Hog Canyon Lake, in southwest Spokane County, has trout ranging from nine to 13 inches.
At both lakes, only two of the five-trout daily catch limit can be over 14 inches. Osborne said the retention limit by size extends the fishery for the December-through-March season, especially at Fourth of July Lake where most fish are large. After catching the limit of two large fish, anglers using bait should switch to lures or flies to facilitate the release of fish over 14 inches. See Bait Rules under Statewide Freshwater Rules on page 16 of the fishing pamphlet.
Williams Lake, north of Colville in Stevens County, has some fat rainbow trout that are 16 to 17 inches as well as many trout stocked this year that are averaging 13 inches, reports Bill Baker, WDFW northeast district fish biologist of Colville. Catch rates were fair when the season began in early December, so anglers should not expect to catch the five-trout limit quickly, Baker said.
Hatch Lake, southeast of Colville, had an abundance of rainbow trout ranging between 12 and 16 inches in early December. But the lake had only a thin ice cover, making for poor ice-fishing in late December, Baker said.
Waitts Lake, south of Chewelah in Stevens County, is open for fishing through February and usually is good for rainbow and brown trout and yellow perch at this time. In late December there was not sufficient ice cover to provide safe conditions for fishing through the ice, which is the most popular method at this time of year.
WDFW does not measure ice on fishing lakes and cannot guarantee ice fishing safety. But here are a few tips to help keep an outing
Dont fish alone. Let others know exactly where you and your fishing partners are going and when you plan to return.
Keep fishing holes small and few. When drilling fishing holes with an ice auger, keep the diameter under eight inches. Bigger holes are not necessary to land fish and can create a safety hazard for others.
Watch your step. Avoid ice fishing near feeder streams or known springs; brush, logs, plants or docks; multiple ice cracks or ice that is popping or otherwise audible; and dark-colored ice that may be weak.
Spread out. Too many people congregated in one area may be more than the ice can safely support. Disperse weight and fishing holes.
Be prepared for weather conditions and emergencies. Dress in layers and wear thermal underwear, fleece or wool, and wind and waterproof outerwear, especially for feet, hands and head. Take extra clothes, food, water, sand for on-ice traction, and a sled for easy on-ice transport of all equipment. Carry equipment such as ice picks or awls, rope, and personal flotation devices. Also pack a first-aid kit and matches for starting a fire.
January is a good time to fish Lake Roosevelt, the Columbia River reservoir off Grand Coulee Dam that is open year-round. Fishing has been very good on the impoundment, where anglers are catching rainbow trout in the 15-18 inch range, Osborne said.
Baker also notes that January is a good time to catch lake whitefish in Lake Roosevelt. Whitefish are currently grouped together for spawning, Baker said. They should be easy to locate on a fish finder. Look for windswept shorelines with cobble and gravel bottoms in 40 to 50 feet of water.
The mountain whitefish is a smaller native species found in some of the regions waterways, including the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers. A whitefish season runs through March 31 on the stretch of the Little Spokane River from Highway 291 upstream to West Branch. Theres no minimum size and the daily limit is 15 whitefish. Whitefish gear rules apply one single-point hook, maximum hook size 3/16-inch point to shank (hook size 14).
This is also a good time to fish for burbot in Lake Roosevelt and at Bead and Sullivan lakes in Pend Oreille County, Baker said. Normally, wed have enough ice cover on Bead Lake to allow for safe ice fishing by this time, but obviously thats not the case this year.
Instead, anglers can fish from boats or from the shoreline by casting jigs or plunking bait. The south end of Sullivan Lake is an area that anglers target burbot at this time of year. On Lake Roosevelt, the mouth of the Colville River and the mouth of the Spokane River are good spots, Baker said
Anglers also do well at this time of year on yellow perch in Silver and Eloika lakes, both in Spokane County. Long Lake (or Lake Spokane, the Spokane River reservoir off Long Lake dam) is a good spot for catching crappie and yellow perch. Anglers have been catching good numbers of the rainbow trout at Long Lake and at Sprague Lake on the Lincoln-Adams county line.
Snake River steelhead fishing continues through March 31. No current creel check information is available at this time, but traditionally the stretch of river near Clarkston on the Idaho border and the mouth of the Grand Ronde River (and the Grand Ronde itself) are the most popular.