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Originally published Friday, January 4, 2013 at 6:54 PM

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Brant goose hunters may be in store for good year

Hunters will aim to the skies in what could be a decent local brant goose season. Hunting in Skagit County begins Saturday, and Jan. 13, 16, 19-20, 23...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Hunters will aim to the skies in what could be a decent local brant goose season.

Hunting in Skagit County begins Saturday, and Jan. 13, 16, 19-20, 23 and 26-27 with a two-brant daily limit.

The hunting season was approved after an aerial survey Wednesday counted 8,960 birds in Fidalgo, Padilla and Samish bays. About 2,000 more were counted in Whatcom County.

"We're well above the 6,000 criteria level, and right around the 10-year average," said Don Kraege, the state Fish and Wildlife waterfowl manager. "Last year's total was 6,704, but we recorded quite a few juveniles in the population so the larger numbers this season come as no surprise."

"There is a lot of variability when it comes to counting brants, and some will stay to the north," Kraege said. "We've seen a lot more birds (as many as 40,000) wintering in Alaska, which is a recent phenomenon in the last 10 years."

Kraege says many brant are residing in Izembek Lagoon (located about 600 miles southwest of Anchorage), which is a huge 300,000-acre wetland containing the largest prime eel grass habitat beds in North America.

"Historically a lot of brant will stop there in the fall and move south, but now many are staying up there in the winter," Kraege said. "We'll see how that plays out in the coming years."

"In general, hunting was good last year, and we had a high harvest total for Skagit County of 636 brant, and another 80 birds came from the Willapa region," Kraege said. "That is a higher harvest since back in 1996."

How good the brant season turns out each winter depends on many elements.

"We usually see a pretty decent season, and had about 200 or so successful hunters," Kraege said. "There seems to be a core group of hunters each year who've got it pretty well figured out."

Some factors on how good hunters fare are weather conditions and tidal fluctuations. A strong winter north wind combined with rough water during some days will usually put boat hunters out of business.

"Last year we had some pretty ideal weather conditions and tides, which led to a good hunting season," Kraege said.

Those who participate must have prior written authorization and a harvest card. Hunters need to record their information immediately after taking a brant, and return the report by Feb. 15. Hunters who fail to return them will face a $10 fee.

Hunters who harvest a brant fitted with a colored leg band should report the leg band's numbers and color by calling 800-327-BAND or online at www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl/bblretrv.

The stormy weather last month created ideal conditions for statewide waterfowl hunters. The season ends Jan. 27.

"In general it has been a good season, but this nice, sunny weather really slowed things down lately," said Kraege.

That bluebird weather could be short-lived as more weather fronts move into the region this week.

"We'll do some (aerial counts this week) to see what has moved south, and I know we recently got an influx of snow geese in the area," he said.

Word on razor clams

We've reached the midpoint of the coastal razor clam season, and while stormy weather has hindered success, those who've ventured out in between have found excellent prospects.

A total of 22,400 diggers turned out for the Dec. 28-31 digs with an average of 11.7 clam per person.

Next digs are: Tuesday and Wednesday and Jan. 13-14 at Twin Harbors only; Thursday at Twin Harbors, Long Beach and Copalis; and Friday and Saturday at Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis and Mocrocks. Digging is allowed after noon each day.

Other tentative dates are: Feb. 7 and Feb. 11-12 at Twin Harbors; Jan. 26 and Feb. 8-9 at Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis and Mocrocks; and Jan. 25, Jan. 27, Feb. 10 and Feb. 23-24 at Long Beach and Twin Harbors.

Notes

• Sturtevant's, Ski Mart and The Summit at Snoqualmie are offering a custom first-time ski and snowboard learning program titled Learn-2-Gether for $199. Packages are for three to five people, and includes lessons, tickets and gear rental. Classes are held Friday and Saturday in January from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., and participants must be at least age five and older. Details: www.summitatsnoqualmie.com.

• The Coastal Conservation Association SeaTac Chapter meeting is 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 8 at the IBEW Hall, 19802 62nd Avenue South in Kent. Guest speaker Frank Urabeck an advocate on restoring Lake Washington sockeye returns will provide insight on issues and keys to rebuilding the stock back to fishable levels. Details: www.ccapnw.org/SeaTac.

• The Puget Sound Anglers South King County Chapter meeting is 6:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at the South King County Senior Center, 220 Railroad Avenue in Edmonds. Guest speaker Tom Nelson of Salmon University will discuss plug salmon fishing; Nelson Goodsell will offer tips on using metal flashers; and Paul Marander demonstrates jig salmon and bottom-fish fishing. Details: http://pugetsoundanglers.net.

• The 49 Degrees Mountain Resort Winterfest with Winter Trails and Demo Day is Jan. 12-13. New gear, demos for skiers and snowshoers will be available at the Nordic Center. Mini-lessons and rentals will be available. There will be no trail fees. Details: www.ski49n.com.

• The Sun Valley Resort USSA Freestyle Spectacular is Jan. 10-13 on Baldy and Dollar Mountains. The event consists of a mogul competition and slope-style and half-pipe competitions. Details: www.sunvalley.com.

• The Roche Harbor Salmon Classic Invitational is Feb. 7-9 on San Juan Island. Derby is limited to 100 boats with a maximum of anglers per boat. Cost is $754.60, and includes all dinners for registered anglers and moorage. Details: 360-378-5562.

• The Washington Fly Fishing Club's six-week Beginning Fly-Casting Class will be held every Thursday from April 4 through May 9. Classes are held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Green Lake Casting Pier in North Seattle. Cost is $50, and limited to 36 fly anglers. Details: 206-356-4180. The Advanced Fly-Casting Class is four weekly sessions starting April 3 through April 24 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Green Lake Casting Pier in North Seattle. Cost is $50, and limited to 10 fly anglers. Details: 206-356-4180.

• The Women's Living the Dream Bike Ride is May 11. Distances of 18, 24 and 36 miles, and a Century Ride. Deadline to register is April 10 and limited to 500 riders. Details: www.livingthedreamride.org.

• State Fish and Wildlife has extended the deadline through Jan. 29 on accepting public comments for proposal changes to state sport-fishing rules. To view the rule changes, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/rule_proposals/.

• The Northshore Trout Unlimited meeting is the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Shoreline-Lake Forest Park Senior Center, 18560 1st Ave. NE in Shoreline. Details: http://northshoretu.blogspot.com.

• The Issaquah Alps Trails Club holds weekly hikes and meets in downtown Issaquah. Details: www.issaquahalps.org.

• The Washington Trails Association offers statewide trip reports and trail conditions. Details: www.wta.org.

• The Seattle Audubon Society offers field trips and classes every month. Details: 206-523-4483 or www.seattleaudubon.org.

• The Western Bass Club meets every third Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Kennydale Hall in Renton. Details: www.westernbassclub.comor www.nickbarrfishing.com.

• The new nonprofit Cascade Musky Association is looking for members. Cost is $25 or $35 for a couple/family membership. Details: www.cascademuskyassociation.com or www.wafish.com.

Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or myuasa@seattletimes.com

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