For the first time during the late whitetail buck season, Washington rifle hunters are hunting in areas where there is enough snow to track the bucks. However, they have only three more days to put tags on the deer. The late buck hunt ends at sunset Sunday.
Some bucks that carried trophy-size antlers were taken the last week in game-management units open to the rifle hunters.
Archers, hunters who have muzzleloaders and some who have special permits still will hunt deer after Sunday, but most hunters will put away their rifles until next year.
Several Idaho Panhandle game-management units will remain open to rifle hunters until Dec. 1. Now that snow has fallen in many deer areas, those who traditionally wait until after a snowfall or two will be in the woods.
Units open through Dec. 1 include 1, 2, 3, 4A, 5, 6, 8 and 8A. The latter two are open only for white-tailed deer.
Ross Fister of the Fins & Feathers shop at Coeur d’Alene said hunters who have visited the shop reported good hunting in many parts of the Panhandle. The bucks are moving around looking for does and aren’t nearly as wary as they are early in the season.
If you’ve been waiting for the “northerns” to arrive, you don’t need to wait any longer. Most of the ducks and geese that spent the spring and summer in Alberta and British Columbia are now in North Idaho and Eastern Washington.
Hunting was sensational last weekend in parts of the Columbia Basin. Mark Quinn, Basin regional wildlife manager, said a high percentage who hunted public waters, including the Potholes Reservoir and the wasteways, took seven-bird limits of mallards.
“There are lots of ducks in the Basin,” he said, “and lots of hunters shot limits.”
He hadn’t talked to any hunters who didn’t have good shooting.
The ducks are so numerous they blacken the sky when they go out to feed. And they gather in huge rafts on the big waters, such as the reservoir and Moses Lake.
Another indication that the northerns have arrived is the report that more than 18,000 ducks, including 17,125 mallards, were on the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge on Monday. That’s nearly three times the count of the previous week.
If you decide to hunt in the Basin, remember you have to be in the right place to do well. Sub-freezing temperatures have put ice caps on most small potholes and ponds, forcing ducks to move to the larger lakes and reservoirs.
The birds bagged last weekend obviously hadn’t seen decoys or heard calls. They decoyed readily. However, they’ll soon become wary of spreads and calls that sound more like crows than ducks.
Most of the ducks stay only a short time in northeastern Washington before moving to the Columbia Basin. The Pend Oreille River holds ducks for awhile if there is adequate feed near the river, but most, led by old birds, move to the Basin.
Many Canada geese, however, remain in northeastern Washington even after lakes are ice-capped and stay until snow covers the grasses and grain.
Best waterfowl hunting from now on will be in the Basin. Most of the choice hunting areas are leased by waterfowl clubs, but there are still many places where freelancers can hunt both ducks and geese.
The Winchester and Frenchman Hills wasteways usually provide excellent hunting the first week or two after the northerns arrive. But hunting gets tough after the birds become wary.
Many hunters set out decoys around the sand dune islands in the north end of the Potholes Reservoir and along the Lind Coulee. The Fish and Wildlife Department controls access to thousands of acres of land and water. To get maps of places where public hunting is allowed, call the Ephrata office.
When big waters are frozen over, thousands of ducks and geese usually move to the Columbia River. Hunting can be outstanding from the Ringold Springs area to the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge.
If you’re willing to hike several hours along steep canyons near the Snake River and through harvested corn and wheat fields and dense cover in the Columbia Basin, you still have a chance to bag a wild rooster pheasant or two.
Wild birds are living up to their reputations. To be consistently successful, you have to block escape routes. Pheasants run through cover and flush out of shotgun range if you don’t.
You should have a good pointer or flushing dog. It’s possible for hunters who don’t have dogs to get a few shots at roosters during a day’s hunt, but good dogs find birds, point or flush them and then find them after they’ve dropped.
If you don’t have a good dog, you still can shoot near-helpless roosters. The Fish and Wildlife Department releases birds in selected areas. To find out where, call a department office.
Hunters are finding more Hungarian partridges than expected. Evidently, the Huns did fairly well during the nesting season. Huns usually are in thin cover on or near irrigated fields.
Now that temperatures are in the 40s and 50s during mid-day hours, some hunters are pursuing chukar partridges in southeast Washington and in parts of the Columbia Basin. Hiking the steep talus slopes where the chukars thrive isn’t nearly as tough as it was a month or two ago.
Steelhead fishing wasn’t quite as good along the Snake and Clearwater rivers last weekend as it was the previous week, but it was fairly good.
The Idaho Fish and Game Department reported anglers averaged 18 hours per steelhead along the lower Clearwater during the week that ended Sunday. The average was 15 hours per fish along the Snake from just below the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers to the Salmon.
Best fishing along the Salmon River was from Vinegar Creek to the South Fork. Anglers averaged 14 hours per steelhead. The averages on the lower Salmon ranged from 27 to 36 hours.
The hottest fishing in the region during the week that ended Sunday was along the Tucannon River. Jerry Dedloff of the Fish and Wildlife Department’s Snake River Laboratory reported that anglers averaged only 2.2 hours per steelhead. Such a low average indicates that most anglers hooked two or more fish.
Other averages: Wallula area, 10.7 hours; Walla Walla River, 10.6; Little Goose Dam, 12.7; Lower Granite, 8.5; mid-Snake, jet boat, 11.8; and mid-Snake shore, 16.1. Anglers on the Grande Ronde weren’t checked, but the river has been producing sensational fishing.
Several hundred anglers are expected to troll Lake Pend Oreille the next nine days for big rainbows and mackinaw trout.
The one who catches the biggest rainbow will win $1,000. The angler who boats the biggest mack will take home a high quality, high-tech downrigger valued at $900. The Lake Pend Oreille Idaho Club will distribute $2,700 in cash, plus merchandise, during the Thanksgiving Challenge Derby Saturday through Nov. 30.
Only rainbows 34 inches or longer can be entered in the derby. The fisherman who catches the second-largest rainbow will receive $500. Third place is $250.
Cash prizes for macks: 2nd, $250; 3rd, $150; 4th, $100; and 5th, $100.
Cash prizes also will be awarded youngsters ages 9 through 13.
Registration fee is $20. North Idaho and Spokane area sporting goods stores have forms.
Fister said fishing for macks at Priest Lake has been excellent, with both jiggers and trollers hooking fish up to 25 pounds. Most of the macks are 10 to 15 pounds.
Best spot to hook the biggest macks is Reeder’s Bay, where anglers troll lures down to 170 feet. Fishing also has been good around the islands and in Cape Horn Bay.
“This is the best time of the year to fish for macks at Priest Lake,” Fister said.
Anglers also have been catching nice-sized trout at Fernan and Hauser lakes, he said.
Washington’s Amber, Lenore and Dry Falls lakes, all selective fishery waters, will be closed in nine more days. Fishing has been good at times at Amber, where all trout hooked must be released.
Fishermen can keep one trout a day at Lenore and Dry Falls.
Coffeepot Lake is closed to fishing, but other lakes in the drainage, including the Twins, Deer Springs and Pacific, are open and providing fair to good fishing for rainbows.
Fishing for chinook salmon at Lake Coeur d’Alene was surprisingly good last weekend.
Guide Rick Caddy hooked three salmon in the 3- to 9-pound class while trolling mini-squids behind short flashers in 80 feet of water.
Most productive areas were Carlin, Mica and Powder Horn bays, but the fish seem to be scattered in many places.
Fister said green mini-squids and fluorescent green 8- to 9-inch flashers were especially productive.
Anglers have been hooking northern pike up to 10 pounds at the lakes adjacent to the lower Coeur d’Alene River, Fister said. Most are baiting hooks with smelt and fishing the bait under bobbers. Big lures, such as Rapalas, are popular on Lake Coeur d’Alene.
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