"Our area is enjoying the best hunting season and mildest weather conditions in years," said Mike Meseberg at MarDon Resort (1-800-416-2736) on Potholes Reservoir. "Ice is often an issue on the reservoir and other bodies of water in the north Basin by the end of November, but we had no ice at all as of last week in the sand dunes."
Meseberg said this year's corn acreage in the Basin is the highest in recent memory, and as long as waterfowl can get at it, they will tend to stay in the area. He said large flocks of mallards are being reported everywhere, from farm ponds to the reservoir and even in dry corn fields in the evening hours. Hunters have been enjoying consistent limits of mallards and pintail he said, and there are still good numbers of widgeon, teal and gadwall around, mostly on the smaller waters.
"This season is playing out like the hunting of old," he said.
Mild weather has also made it possible to combine a little fishing with a duck hunting trip. Perch to 10-inches-plus are on the bite in Lind Coulee and around Goose Island; walleye fishing on the edge of the dunes has been at least fair for trollers ripping blades, pitching jigs and pulling spinners; and multi-pound rainbow are taking trolled Needlefish spoons or crank baits off Medicare Beach.
With adult winter steelhead from a nice plant of 128,000 smolts in 2011 coming back to the North Fork Stillaguamish this year, compared to 77,000 smolts the year before, more steelheaders are showing an interest in the Stilly system this winter.
They should be aware, however, that Stillaguamish tribal commercial fishermen will mount a directed net fishery on winter steelhead for the first time in at least a couple of years.
A schedule posted on the tribal website, www.stillaguamish.com,, shows a current fishery as follows: open noon Tues., Dec. 4, close noon Tues., Dec. 11; open noon Thurs., Dec. 13, close noon Tues., Dec. 18. Neting is to take place on the main river, from its mouth to the Danielson Hole, river mile 14.
"I was told the tribe plans to fish through the first week in January," said Arlington resident and recreational fishing activist Sam Ingram, "or longer than that if weather conditions keep them off the water."
Ingram met with tribal biologist Jason Griffith, natural resources supervisor John Drotts, and tribal chair/fisheries manager Shawn Yanity on Nov. 30.
Ingram said he was told the tribe has seven fishermen entitled to work the river, and that the winter steelhead plan calls for a minimum harvest of 44 fish.
"I was shown a landing report covering 2010 through last week which basically indicated a salmon fishery with no take of targeted winter or summer steelhead," Ingram said. "They told me they had given up summer-run fishing and transferred those rights to winter fish."
So there should be no nets above the Highway 9 bridge in Arlington, Ingram said. "Anybody sees one, take pictures of it, boats, vehicles, and report it to the authorities."
The Stillaguamish tribal phone number is 360-435-2755; Jason Griffith's number is 360-631-0868. The Mill Creek office of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is 425-775-1311.
North Fork opener
Speaking of the Stillaguamish, the changeover from fly gear to all-tackle fishing at the North Fork's Fortson Hole was pretty much a non-event Dec. 1, because of high, dirty water conditions.
"It was fishable for an hour or two at midnight," said Darrel Kron at Hook Line & Sinker in Smokey Point, "but by 2 a.m. it was blown out. We did hear of one steelhead taken -- don't know whether it was a summer or winter fish -- but that was about all."
One of the best weekend-day low tides of the winter is included in the next series of razor clam digs tentatively scheduled by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on coastal beaches -- a minus 1.6-foot low on Saturday, Dec. 15, at 8:01 p.m. Digging will be allowed that evening on all beaches except Kalaloch.
Other tides and dates in this series: Dec. 11, minus 1.1 feet at 4:51 p.m. on Twin Harbors beach only; Dec. 12, minus 1.6 feet at 5:40 p.m. on Twin Harbors; Dec. 13, minus 1.9 feet at 6:29 p.m. on Twin Harbors; Dec. 14, minus 1.8 feet at 7:15 p.m. on all beaches except Kalaloch; Dec. 16, minus 1.0 feet at 8:47 p.m., on Twin Harbors and Mocrocks beaches.
San Juan blackmouth
The islands, Marine Area 7, opened for the winter blackmouth season on Dec. 1, but wind kept anglers on the beach for most of the weekend, and few reports were available. Friday and Saturday were particularly bad, said Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington. By Sunday, things had calmed down some and and John said a few boats were out and around. One customer came by with an 8-pounder and a 14-pounder, taken on small spoons in Thatcher Pass, he said, and Burrows Island put out a fish or two as well.
The Resurrection Derby flies this weekend, so the salmon fishing community should have a better idea of where the fish are in western Washington's premier winter blackmouth area.
State checks at the Washington Park ramp in Anacortes were pretty good on Sunday, showing 21 fishermen in 11 boats with 10 chinook.
END PRINT COLUMN
Maass wins again
Popular and prolific wildlife artist David Maass has won a record-breaking fourth Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year award. His 2012 winning painting is of mallards, "Pitching into Cypress," and follows wins in 1974, '88, and 2004. He has also won two federal duck stamp design competitions.
Maas' renowned wildlife art career spans five decades, making him perhaps the dean of the genre. More than an artist, however, he is recognized as a dedicated waterfowl and wetlands conservationist.
"Pitching Into Cypress" limited-edition prints will be available exclusively at DU events beginning next month.
Columbia steelhead closure
Steelhead fishing on parts of the upper Columbia closed Dec. 1, along with the Wenatchee, Icicle, Entiat and Methow rivers. Steelheading on the Columbia remains open from Rock Island Dam to Wells Dam and from Brewster to Chief Joseph Dam.
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