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Originally published January 10, 2014 at 8:43 PM | Page modified January 11, 2014 at 3:58 PM

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Clammers finding success, and it should continue

The coastal razor clam season has garnered rave reviews since it started in mid-September, and the outlook for the months ahead look very bright.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The coastal razor clam season has garnered rave reviews since it started in mid-September, and the outlook for the months ahead look very bright.

“I’m fired up that we are in for a great spring season on most beaches,” said Dan Ayres, the head state Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager.

“We’re about halfway through the season, but a little behind the total harvest of clams,” Ayres said. “Many people prefer the spring-time morning digs, and that is also when the clams start to fatten up.”

Overall clam populations on coastal beaches like Twin Harbors, Long Beach and Mocrocks remain in decent shape.

“We always try to make sure we have enough clams for spring digging,” Ayres said. “I’m a little concerned with Copalis, and need to be careful not to go over the total catch harvest. There is a lot of infrastructure at Ocean Shores, and it receives a lot of pressure and less digging days. The upside is the area has a good population of clams.”

The most recent digs over the winter holiday from Dec. 29 to Jan. 5 generally produced excellent digging, and a total of 47,729 diggers took home 698,702 razor clams.

Long Beach from Dec. 29 to Jan. 5 had 18,350 diggers with 267,179 clams for an average of 14.6 clams per person (the first 15 clams dug regardless of size or condition is a daily limit). Twin Harbors from Dec. 29 to Jan. 5 had 7,032 with 100,739 for 14.3.

Copalis on Dec. 29-31 and Jan. 3 had 12,512 with 185,359 for 14.8. Mocrocks from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4 had 9,835 with 145,424 for 14.8.

Since the season began Sept. 19, 168,442 diggers harvested more than 2.3 million clams.

Final approval of the next dig series will be announced Monday.

Digging at Twin Harbors will go from Wednesday to Saturday, and Long Beach and Mocrocks on Friday and Saturday only. Digging is open from noon to midnight each day.

More digs are also planned Jan. 30-31, Feb. 2 and Feb. 27-28 at Twin Harbors, Long Beach and Mocrocks; Feb. 1 at Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Mocrocks and Copalis; Jan. 29 at Twin Harbors and Long Beach; and Jan. 28 and Feb. 26 at Twin Harbors.

Winter steelhead slump

Will the heavy rainfall end the winter hatchery steelhead drought in many western Washington streams?

If the latest surge of wet weather doesn’t do the trick – a signal for fish to migrate upstream — then the hopes of this winter season will likely be gone.

“It has been a slow year for hatchery steelhead, and returns have been less than anticipated,” said Brett Barkdull, a state Fish and Wildlife northern Puget Sound regional biologist. “The low flows and lack of rain to this point has contributed to the situation, especially on places like the Cascade River.”

Hatcheries like Marblemount on the Cascade-Skagit; Whitehorse on the Stillaguamish North Fork; and Kendall Creek on the Nooksack aren’t meeting winter steelhead spawning escapement goals.

That led to closures of the Cascade, Nooksack and North Fork Stillaguamish River until Jan. 31. Also closed are the Whitehorse Hatchery intake and Fortson Hole area.

“I’m not concerned that we won’t reach spawning goals at Marblemount, and the closures were needed to make sure we get enough fish back to the hatchery,” Barkdull said. “The situation on the Nooksack is different, and I am concerned we won’t have enough fish to meet goals. The tribes have ended their fishery on the Nooksack.”

A glimmer of hope occurred on the Nooksack this past week when the number of fish returning to the hatchery doubled.

“When you go from 10 to 20 female fish coming back that isn’t impressive, but there are signs of life,” Barkdull said. “I also heard for the first time that anglers had caught some steelhead in the Nooksack (before it closed).”

“We plan to open everything up (Feb. 1) depending on returns, and were watching it very closely,” Barkdull said.

In the southwestern region, steelhead returns have been in a funk in the Cowlitz, Washougal, Lewis and Kalama.

“Hatchery returns are pretty low right now in the region,” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist in Vancouver. “We ought to really know what this winter run is made of with the rain this weekend.”

Brant hunting season opens

The brant goose numbers in Skagit County are high enough to open an eight-day hunt that began Saturday with a bag limit of two birds daily.

An aerial count Dec. 30 revealed a total of 6,486 birds (down from 8,960 last year) in Fidalgo, Padilla and Samish bays. At least 6,000 are needed before a season is allowed. Another 4,000 were counted in areas near Whatcom County.

Other hunting dates are Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday; Jan. 19 and 22; and Jan. 25-26.

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