Feisty whitefish are angling for a little respect

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While this has been a decent year for winter steelhead, there's another fish that doesn't get much attention.

The winter whitefish, thought by many anglers as a throwback fish, doesn't get the respect it deserves. Many are caught by winter steelhead anglers, and if you've ever hooked one, you would have thought it was a feisty rainbow trout at first.

Whitefish go after a single salmon egg, maggot, small grub, size-12 stone nymph fly, sandshrimp fly or whitefish fly — a floss body (pink, red, white or green) topped with a maggot.

"Fishing is generally best during periods of low flows," said Curt Kraemer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. "The Green, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, Wallace, North Fork Stillaguamish and Skagit rivers all can produce good fishing."

In Eastern Washington, try the Yakima River from Ellensburg to Cle Elum, as well as the Cle Elum, Naches and Tieton rivers.

In Okanogan County, try the Methow (hey, book a great cross-country ski trip, too), Similkameen and Sinlahenkin rivers.

In Chelan County, the whitefish bite is worth a shot in the Entiat and Wenatchee rivers.

Check the regulation pamphlet for specific fishing rules and gear-use on rivers.

Top fishing-hunting spots

1: Winter steelhead in statewide rivers — "We've been seeing some nice fish coming into our shop from the Skykomish, Skagit, Snoqualmie and Stillaguamish rivers," said Mike Chamberlain, manager of Ted's Sports Center in Lynnwood. "I wouldn't say it's hot, but it has been better than past years. And, there has even been some three-salt fish up to 17 pounds."

Other close-to-home prospects are the Green, Puyallup and Nooksack rivers.

The coast is the biggest place to boast. Hatchery winter steelhead fishing has been productive in the Calawah, Bogachiel, Hoh, Elhwa, Lyre, Quinault, Queets, Humptulips and Wynoochee rivers.

In Southwest Washington, it's fair to good in the Lewis, Cowlitz, Kalama, Elochoman and Washougal rivers.

2: Squid jigging in Puget Sound and Elliott Bay — The peak is happening right now, and good jigging can be found not just at night (traditional bite), but during the wee-morning hours as well.

Pier 69 along the Seattle waterfront in Elliott Bay has been the most consistent place.

Other good bets are Piers 66 and 86, as well as the Edmonds, Des Moines and Fauntleroy piers.

3: Trout in local lakes — "Lone Lake (on Whidbey Island) has not been bad for fly anglers throwing chrinomids (flies)," Chamberlain said. "Most of the trout are 14 to 18 inches long."

Lake Washington has been fair for cutthroat. Most are caught by trolling fast. Try the north end of Mercer Island and the shorelines along the East Channel.

Other spots

Salmon in Puget Sound — Just about everywhere is closed with the exception of Southern Puget Sound (Area 13), which is open for catch and release (only one single barbless hook may be used).

Piers open for year-round salmon: Seacrest Boathouse in West Seattle, Fox Island, Les Davis, Edmonds Marina, Point Defiance Park in Tacoma and Redondo. Otherwise, wait until mid-February.

Satsop River — The late coho run is still making news with fair action for brawny fish up to 20 pounds.

Columbia River — Slow to fair for late summer-run steelhead in the John Day Pool and Ringold area.

Smelt fishing is still too early to worry about in the lower river and the Cowlitz River.

Sturgeon fishing remains fair to good near Woodland and just below Bonneville Dam.

Freshwater fishing — Hatchery coho are still being planted into Lake Scanewa and the Tilton and Cispus rivers. In Eastern Washington, try for winter rainbow trout at Fourth-of-July in Lincoln County, Hog Canyon in Spokane County, and Hatch and Williams lakes in Stevens County. In Southwest Washington, Carlisle Lake near Onalaska and Rowland Lake near Lyle were recently planted with trout weighing 7 to 10 pounds.

Duck hunting in local areas — "The better places are Samish and Padilla bays," said John Garrett, manager of the Wildlife Skagit Area. "Folks in boats are doing better, not limits, maybe half limits. We need some more colder and blustery weather like last month to get the birds in the air."

Mark Yuasa can be reached at 206-464-8780, email at myuasa@seattletimes.com or fax at 206-464-3255.