By Paul Lewis
Finally! Its March and things are looking up in the weather department. Snow, ice, and cold are beginning to lift and we are seeing the start of one of our state’s best fishing seasons, Spring! Starting this month, we have a fantastic combination of saltwater and freshwater opportunities that wake up all corners of our state. Below is a quick look at some of our state’s prime opportunities in the springtime that you can take advantage of to enjoy a great day on the water.
Usually, we are reaching the closing couple of months of our Blackmouth Salmon season during this time of year, but so far this year we have had Marine-Area 13 and a short 19-day stint in Marine-Area 10. Luckily for salmon anglers, we have two more opportunities opening this March!
Marine-Area 5 (Seiku) in the Straits opened March 1st for a 2-month salmon season, offering anglers who enjoy chasing salmon in the salt some much needed relief from a season that offered such limited opportunity. The limit on this fishery is 2 salmon. Minimum size on Chinook is 22 inches, and all wild Chinook and Coho must be released. The early report from March 1st saw 1 72% catch rate from 54 anglers, meaning a healthy 39 fish were retained. Trolling spoons and hoochies are fantastic ways to target these fish, as well as running bait.
March 13 sees the opening of the coast’s Bottomfish opportunities, with fantastic chances on Rockfish, Lingcod, and Cabezon all along the coast. As many anglers know, Bottomfish are some of the best eating the state has to offer, and can be easy to catch using bait, or jigging a plethora of different lures from soft jigs to lead-pours, and beyond! The overall combined Bottomfish limit is 9 fish, with each fish having their own select limits to abide by as well. This fishery is limited to MA-1 to MA-4. Be sure to read your area’s restrictions before heading out. Small vessels have great opportunity as well, as some areas, such as east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line in Area-4 are accessible by small-craft on calm days. Be sure to study rockfish identification as well to ensure only legal species are being retained.
Arguably the state’s most famous spring fishery is back open this year for anglers to take advantage of! That’s right, Spring Chinook on the Columbia River is OPEN! Starting March 1st, Buoy 10 to Beacon Rock opens up for retention. The limit is set at 6 salmon, but it is important to keep in mind that only 2 fish may be adults and only 1 may be an adult Chinook. All salmon and wild Steelhead must be released except for hatchery Steelhead and hatchery Chinook. An important note for the 2021 season as well is noted restrictions to boats in areas. Some spots on the Columbia and tributaries are closed to angling from a boat, so make sure to check online for the correct areas for your spot. 16 days after the Buoy-10 opener, the Tower Island Powerlines to the Oregon/Washington border opens with the same limits and restrictions.
Another great opportunity on the Columbia is an open Shad season with no size restriction or daily limit. If you catch your salmon fast or need a change of pace, shad are great fighters on light tackle and are incredibly entertaining for everyone onboard. They are certainly worth bringing the ultralight rods for!
Spring represents the opening of many of the State’s lakes for stocked trout! Anglers on the Eastside of the state saw dozens of lakes open up on March 1st for trout fishing, which fantastic reports coming from many shorelines. The official state opener happens on the 4th Saturday of April, where the State will have lakes planted with hundreds of thousands of trout ready for the taking.
Stocker trout fishing is usually a “bait and wait” game, using Carolina rigs with leaders and Powerbait floating above to entice a bite. Powerbait is a hatchery feed that is supercharged, so it is a familiar bait, but made to be even more irresistible if you’re a stocked fish! If Powerbait is not your style, other baits such as nightcrawlers or marshmallows are great choice and moving baits such as Kastmaster spoons or Thomas-Buoyant lures are great choices. I always make sure to have my favorite bottles of scent with me as well, including garlic, shrimp, bloody tuna, and anise.
For warmwater anglers, spring can be like Christmas as our bass populations begin to wake up, head towards shallow water, and begin their spawning! Spawning bass means sight fishing for big mature fish who are exceptionally territorial and aggressive to try and protect their beds. The bass spawn is dependent on water temp, and for both Smallmouth and Largemouth temperatures in the 55–65-degree range are preferred. Depending on your body of water, this is usually around mid-late May. Great ways to work bedding bass is soft plastics on their bed, or slow-moving crankbaits in the area around. Beds are often very noticeable but having a good pair of polarized sunglasses is a major help. Smallmouth usually prefer gravel beds such as areas around creek mouths or beaches with rock, where largemouth prefer a little weedier water, so make sure to zero in on your habitat to maximum your catches. Bedding bass can be very picky and their hyper vigilance can make them harder to catch, so a great tactic is to work a bed, then let it rest for a while before coming back to it and working it again.
No matter your favorite Washington species to target, spring is a fantastic time to hit the water. The opportunities listed above are just a handful of Washington’s fantastic spring fisheries, but they are certainly far from the only chances to catch a fish! Warmer water, ice leaving lakes on the Eastside, and temperatures that start to turn shallows into nurseries, and creeks that push nutrient rich water becoming accessible again are all around and ready to be taken advantage of. So, grab your rods and gear, get in the car, hop in the boat or hit the bank and chase some fish around!