"Hunting has been really good so far this season (on the Skagit delta)," said state biologist Paul Debruyn at the agency's La Conner office. "Not necessarily because the number of birds on the bays is so great, but that windy weather conditions have pushed them inland and kept them moving."
Debruyn said mallards and wigeon in about equal percentages have made up the bulk of the bag so far, filled out with smaller numbers of pintail and teal.
"We've probably lost some teal already to cold temperatures," he said. "They'll start heading south quickly when the temps drop. On the other hand, there are probably still birds coming down from up north."
He said the windy weather over the weekend produced good shooting along the Skagit bayfronts, and for hunters participating in the Quality Waterfowl hunting Program (or Private Lands Hunter Access Program) at various spots between Edison and Conway. The program provides access, and in some cases blinds, on a first-come, first-served basis, to private land in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties.
Belinda Schuster, new manager of the Skagit Wildlife Area (360-445-4441), said there was a heavy turnout of waterfowl hunters over the weekend, and good success rates along the Skagit bayfront near the "headquarters unit," between the North and South forks of the Skagit River. There were also a lot of limits taken during the windy weather in the "Samish Unit" and its bayfront on Samish and Padilla bays, Schuster said.
Anthon Steen at Skagit Arms (360-588-4672) said a lot of fresh northern mallards came in on the last series of storm fronts, and that hunting has been good in the Edison area and along the Skagit bayfront. Duck populations have also been increasing on Samish and Padilla bays, he said, and snow geese have been moving well around the delta, to various feeding spots.
As waterfowl hunting moves into the most productive part of the year, state officials say this season may offer the best opportunity in over 50 years.
"Waterfowl biologists are predicting the best flights of migrating ducks since 1955," said Greg Schirato, deputy director of the state's wildlife program. "Opportunity hasn't been this good in most hunters' lifetimes."
The expected abundance of birds makes this a good season for waterfowl hunters to introduce newcomers to the sport, Schirato said. In that spirit, the state has launched a new waterfowl hunting feature on its Web site, http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/waterfowl/, with information ranging from the basics of duck and goose identification to details on hunting locations, equipment, licensing requirements and handling harvested waterfowl. Searching on and around the site should also turn up maps and information on the quality, or private lands, waterfowl programs in this area.
Marine Area 9 closed to blackmouth fishing yesterday, which eliminated Possession Bar -- probably the most consistent local chinook producer so far this winter -- from the salmon scene until it reopens on Jan. 16.
"It (Possession) had been a pretty good fishery and we wanted to take more advantage of it before it closed, but the wind made that almost impossible," said Gary Krein, owner/skipper of All Star Charters in Everett.
Instead, anglers were forced into the more protected waters of Saratoga Passage over the weekend, where Elger Bay was perhaps the best choice, putting out a 14-pounder on Friday. Krein said he likes the incoming tide at Elger Bay, or any morning tide change, and suggests a flasher/spoon setup, using black/white or green/white Kingfisher or Coyote spoons. Onamac Point has also put out a few fish, he said, but much of Area 8-2 has been slow, including Hat Island and the racetrack.
Krein said good winter crabbing remains an option, for nice, big crab in prime condition. Try the Langley shoreline and farther north, he said.
San Juan Islands
Marine Area 7 opened for blackmouth this morning, and usually offers the best fishing in northwest Washington. Anthon Steen at Holiday Sports/Skagit Arms in Burlington said action was pretty good when the area closed at the end of October, and that should carry over to the current season. Eagle Bluff and Thatcher Pass are usually good bets this time of year, he said, and Fidalgo Head would also be a top, close to home, choice.
Try plug-cut herring if dogfish aren't a problem, a flasher/green squid setup if they are, or one of the relatively new Silver Horde spoons equipped with a small squid.
Winter steelhead fishing on the Cowlitz is picking up, particularly in the Blue Creek area, with a reported 67 fish in the hatchery traps last week and a total of 151 to date this winter.
The first winter steelhead of the season have already been taken off both Bush and Lagoon Points.
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