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Published: Thursday, December 29, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

OUTDOOR OUTLOOK: Weather changes welcomed by outdoorsmen

With a fair number of folks on holiday this week, the significant change in the weather pattern -- from cold and dry to wet, windy and unusually warm -- couldn't have come at a better time.
Steelheaders desperately needed water in the rivers, to bring in fresh fish, and waterfowl hunters were ecstatic to see rain filling field puddles and wind blowing birds off the big water. Of course, too much rain may already have knocked the rivers out, and salmon anglers were perfectly happy with bluebird skies and a flat calm.
What's fair for the goose is not always that great for the bird in hand. Or something along those lines.
Belinda Schuster, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife manager of the Skagit Wildlife Area, said the number of hunters working the Skagit delta has picked up substantially with the rain and wind. Action had been very slow, under calm weather conditions, for quite a while, she said.
East of the mountains, warm temperatures were in the process Wednesday of opening frozen ponds and sloughs along the lower Yakima River, according to the state's Yakima region wildlife manager Jeff Bernatowicz. Huntable water was showing on the popular Sunnyside Wildlife Area, due south of Sunnyside, and a lot of birds were flying, Bernatowicz said.
The November corn harvest pulled 30,000 ducks into the Yakima Valley, and that has resulted in some of the best hunting Bernatowicz has seen there in several years. Get 'em quick, 'though, before the next freeze hits.
Marine areas 8-1 and 8-2 have offered some really tough fishing so far this winter, according to Gary Krein of All Star Charters in Everett, and Area 9, of course, is closed until Jan. 16. Recreational crabbing closes at the end of the day Saturday in those areas still open, offering a last chance at what has been an outstanding season. It's not as hot as it was earlier, but there are still crab to be had, Krein said.
State personnel checked four boats with seven anglers and one chinook on Saturday, at the Port of Everett ramp.
And, looking ahead a couple of weeks, he expects good things in Area 9 when it reopens.
"All the indicators point to good fishing," he said. "Possession closed on a positive note, and Kingston, along with a couple of other Area 10 spots, have been showing well."
Blackmouth action in the San Juans has been fair to good, with a higher percentage than usual of fish in the teens taken. Tide Point and Guemes Channel have been the top spots recently, according to Anthon Steen at Holiday Sports in Burlington.
A state creel check late last week at the Washington Park ramp west of Anacortes showed seven anglers with one blackmouth.
Smelt
The Oak Harbor Marina was the place to be for smelt jiggers over the Christmas weekend, with Cornet Bay only a step behind.
Alaska halibut
Prince of Wales Sportfishing owner and father-to-be Rob Endsley said new southeast Alaska recreational halibut rules will be much more angler friendly this year than 2011's controversial 37-inch rule, which resulted in the southeast charter fleet catching only 51 percent of its quota. Endsley said the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council has recommended replacing the regulation with a reverse slot limit, allowing charter anglers to keep a halibut under 45 inches or over 68 inches. That would translate to fish under about 43 pounds or over 163 pounds, and Endsley said it's a much, much better deal for charter customers than what they saw last summer.
The recommendation has been forwarded to the International Pacific Halibut Commission and will be voted on in January.
Local fishermen probably know Endsley as a co-host of the popular Saturday morning talk show, The Outdoor Line, on ESPN SEATTLE 710 radio, with Lake Stevens resident Tom Nelson.
Sturgeon petitions
All sturgeon petitions should be turned in this week to local tackle shops -- Bayside Marine, Hook Line & Sinker, John's Sporting Goods, Greg's Custom Rods, Ted's Sport Center, CJ's Marine, Holiday Sports, or Wholesale Sports -- or mailed to: The Sturgeon Coalition, P.O. Box 221, Granite Falls, WA 98252.
For those who missed it, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is proposing closing sturgeon retention in Puget Sound and all its tributaries, supposedly to protect Columbia River fish dipping into the Sound to feed. Opponents say the science isn't there to prove the necessity of closing a sport fishery which, as we're all aware, would perhaps never be reopened.
Controversial regulations
The above sturgeon issue is joined by a couple of other at least mildly controversial proposed regulation changes to be considered at the Jan. 6-7 Olympia meeting of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Another fishing change would close steelhead and other game fish seasons early in several Puget Sound river systems and along the Strait, to protect wild steelhead. The early closures would range from mid-January to mid-February and would apply to the Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish, Green and Puyallup systems.
The state has also proposed increasing the number of multiple-season hunting permits available each year, from 4,000 deer permits in 2011 to 8,500, and from 850 elk permits to 1,250. Multiple season hunting permits allow those selected to hunt during all general hunting seasons, rather than having to choose among weapon types.
For more outdoors news, read Wayne Kruse's blog at www.heraldnet.com/huntingandfishing.
Story tags » FishingHunting

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