A drake and hen blue-winged teal take to the skies over the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
A drake and hen blue-winged teal take to the skies over the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. (Larry James)

Don’t let gloomy weather hem you in

Here are ideas for getting outside despite dreary seasons

The rainy, dark, colder seasons of fall and winter in Washington can carry a case of cabin fever if you let them keep you indoors.

Thankfully, the Life Outdoors knows no off season, so there are still plenty of options for getting outside to stretch your legs if you’re willing to gear up a little and maybe try something new.

In that spirit, we have gathered some ideas for ways to get you, your family, and friends out there despite the urge to hunker down inside with sweaters and hot cocoa.

Below are just a few of the options in this time of earlier sunsets and overcast skies, and they provide only a starting point for staying active outside in fall and winter.

Safety first

Since we’re talking about facing the elements in harsher conditions and when fewer people are around, a few words on safety are in order.

· Gear up: If your activity requires specific gear like fishing or hunting equipment, make sure you’ve packed using a comprehensive list of what you could need in your outing. Generally, if you’re heading out into rainy, cold conditions, items like hand and footwarmers and waterproof clothing that didn’t make it into your summer daypack could now be an essential item, so pack for the weather.

· Fashioned for safety: Clothing is key to being able to enjoy the outdoors safely in poor weather. It’s essential to dress in layers suited for the expected weather conditions and to also have waterproof options. Having enough insulating layers to keep you warm and a waterproof shell will make all the difference, and you can shed underlayers if you heat up. And of course, proper, broken-in, waterproof footwear such as hiking boots or rubber boots are a must.

· Stand out: November and December boast several big and small game hunting seasons, so it’s always a good idea to wear blaze orange/pink or other bright colors for visibility even if you’re not hunting.

· Eye on the sky: Your clothing choices will be dictated by the weather forecast, so monitor weather reports in the lead-up to your outing. Also, poor weather can cross over to dangerous weather when you factor in high winds or unstable, rain-soaked soils, so be mindful of that line especially if you’re headed for remote areas. Even if the forecast is unseasonably pleasant, it’s a good idea to have warm and waterproof options near at hand.

· Know your limits: If you’re trying a new activity or exploring a new location, don’t push your limits in poor weather. Be honest with yourself about your experience level, the degree to which you geared up, and the quality of your gear and don’t be afraid to change plans. If the weather takes an unexpected turn, if you suffer a minor injury, if the terrain is just rougher than expected, or if some of your gear fails, don’t be afraid to call the venture off rather than forging ahead. It’s also a good idea to start small in new activities and locations by planning shorter excursions.

· Point of contact: It can be easy to get lost in outdoor outings, especially if your activity leaves trails and roads behind, so be aware of your surroundings, plan your route, take a map and compass, and let others not joining you know your travel plans and when you expect to return.

· It’s essential: In any wilderness outing, these 10 essentials should always be in your pack. The 10 essentials are a collection of first aid and emergency items that can help you in the event of minor injuries, sudden weather changes, or unexpected delays, according to the National Park Service. The 10 essentials are only the basic items you should carry. You might need additional items depending on your activities.

A girl hoists a stringer of trout she caught at Battle Ground Lake in Clark County.
Young Violet came away from Battle Ground Lake in Clark County with quite a haul of trout in a November 2018 fishing trip. The lake was stocked with 2,000 rainbow trout this year ahead of Black Friday. (Joshua Myers)

Fishing opportunities

November and December have abundant opportunities to get outside for fishing. Even though the weather might be dreary, there can be a certain therapeutic quality to facing the elements while angling for your favorite fish. Check WDFW’s Weekender Report for options in your region, but here’s a snapshot of some of the possibilities:

· Salmon, hatchery steelhead: December sees some potential remaining for later-season chum salmon in some rivers as well as the start of hatchery steelhead fishing on some coastal streams. Check the Washington Sport Fishing Rules book for a closer look at the opportunities near you, and be sure to read the recently announced rule changes for coastal steelhead fisheries, which aim to protect wild steelhead populations. For how-to information on salmon fishing, check out these resources at wdfw.wa.gov and www.mywdfw.com. Always pay attention to flow rates and water levels on rivers when it’s raining or the snow level is rising.

· Holdover Black Friday trout: WDFW stocked 24 lakes statewide with over 140,000 rainbow trout for Black Friday fishing. The “holiday specials” that were stocked for Nov. 26 included thousands of large trout averaging 15 to 16 inches in length and weighing up to three pounds. All that means there is likely plenty of remaining angling opportunity from this stocking effort even though Black Friday has come and gone. For up-to-date stocking information, anglers should follow the department’s weekly catchable trout stocking report, where they can find reports on stocking that has taken place within the last 30 days and throughout the year. Read our blog on shore fishing for rainbow trout for helpful tips on tactics and gear for this family friendly fishery.

Razor clam diggers work by the light of headlamps in pursuit of a limit of razor clams at a beach near Ocean Shores.
Managers with WDFW have set dates for razor clam digs on the Washington coast in December. Here clammers take to the beach near Ocean Shores for a night dig. (Serni Solidarios)

· Come out of your shell: Moving on to shellfish, managers with WDFW have set dates for razor clam digs on the Washington coast in December. Razor clam diggers can find approved dig dates that have cleared marine toxin tests, detailed beach maps, and a wealth of other razor clamming information on WDFW’s razor clam webpages. There are also opportunities for oyster and clam harvesting on Puget Sound beaches. Check our public clam, mussel, and oyster beaches webpage for options near you.

A boy shows off a pair of Dungeness crabs caught in the waters off Mukilteo.
Several Puget Sound marine areas are open for recreational crab fishing seven days a week through Dec. 31. Here William Young shows off a pair of Dungeness crabs caught after soaking a crab pot for just 15 minutes off Mukilteo. (Claire Young)

· Get crabby: Heading over to crabbing, several Puget Sound marine areas are open for recreational crab fishing seven days a week through Dec. 31. Information on what marine areas are open, crabbing gear, how to go crabbing, and regulations is available on WDFW’s website.

A woman holds up a squid she caught in 2018 during a WDFW squid fishing derby for Joint Base Lewis-McChord families at the Point Defiance Boathouse/Marina in Tacoma.
It’s a good time to jig for squid at certain piers along Puget Sound. Here a woman holds up a squid she caught in 2018 during a WDFW squid fishing derby for Joint Base Lewis-McChord families at the Point Defiance Boathouse/Marina in Tacoma. (Alex Biswas/WDFW)

· Jig for squid: It’s a great time to jig for squid at select piers along Puget Sound. Visit our squid fishing webpage for tips on how to fish for squid and tasty recipes.

Hunting seasons

December is host to a variety of big game, resident game bird, and migratory waterfowl seasons, so opportunities abound:

A girl displays the whitetail buck she harvested at Lake Roosevelt in Northeast Washington during a recent late archery season.
Late deer seasons for archery and muzzleloader take place across the state at various times this month. Brett Elizabeth Berry, then 16, harvested this whitetail buck at Lake Roosevelt in Northeast Washington during a recent late archery season. (Brett Elizabeth Berry)

· Big game: Deer and elk seasons for archery and muzzleloader take place across the state at various times this month, and hunting prospects in many areas of the state look promising. For how-to information on big game hunting, take a look at the resources at https://www.mywdfw.com.

· Resident game birds: Hunters can harvest pheasant, California quail, northern bobwhite, forest grouse, gray partridge, and chukar this month with resident game bird seasons well underway. Additionally, there’s more than one way to put a turkey on your table for the holiday season. Rather than head to the grocery store, hunters plan to get their birds during the hunting season for wild turkey already underway in Eastern Washington. WDFW’s blog has loads of tips and tactics for hunting upland bird species, as well as specific pieces on hunting pheasant, forest grouse, turkey, and partridge.

Volunteers release pheasants at a Klickitat County private property enrolled in WDFW’s Feel Free to Hunt program.
Volunteers release pheasants at a Klickitat County private property enrolled in WDFW’s Feel Free to Hunt program. (Tara Meyer)

· Migratory waterfowl: Hunting seasons for ducks and geese should get into full swing in parts of the state this month, where migratory waterfowl are expected to make another strong showing this year.

A drake wood duck takes flight over the waters of Hicks Lake in Lacey.
A drake wood duck takes flight over the waters of Hicks Lake in Lacey. (Larry James)

Watchable wildlife

The main wildlife-viewing opportunities that are on rain or shine include increased deer activity during the late portion of their breeding season and an influx of migratory waterfowl stopping over on their way between their Arctic nesting grounds and Central and South America.

Two young mule deer bucks engage in light sparring to sort out the pecking order in Republic.
These young mule deer bucks engage in some light sparring to sort out the pecking order in Republic. This important social behavior among bucks helps establish dominance and breeding rights within a particular area. (Genie Cary)

Though the peak of deer breeding season (or the rut) has past, bucks can still be out and moving more during daylight hours so keep an eye out, especially for deer crossing roads.

As a stopover on the Pacific Flyway migration route for waterfowl, Washington hosts a dizzying array of these traveling birds in the fall and winter. Depending on where you are, swans, geese, ducks, and other birds are all possible visitors.

Canada geese feed in a farm field in Winthrop.
Canada geese feed in a farm field in Winthrop. (Scott Fitkin/WDFW)

When will the migratory birds be on the move near you? You can get real time bird migration maps and forecast maps at birdcast.info. If you’re around Puget Sound or the Washington coast, look for migratory waterfowl on rocky seashores, sandy beaches, and estuaries. Elsewhere in the state, water bodies and farm fields are hot spots. Check out the Life Outdoors landing page and WDFW’s wildlife areas webpage for information on public lands where you can enjoy the spectacle.

A rainbow arches over hillsides under gloomy skies in the Wenas Wildlife Area in Eastern Washington.
WDFW Wildlife Areas still have plenty of impressive scenic vistas to offer — like this view of the Wenas Wildlife Area in Eastern Washington — even when the weather gets dreary in fall and winter. (Justin Haug/WDFW)

Share your outdoor adventures for a chance to win outdoor gear!

Send us your best photos of how you spend time outdoors! Your photos may be featured on WDFW’s Facebook and Instagram to celebrate the variety of ways people enjoy outdoor lifestyles and to inspire others to spend time in nature.

Enter our monthly photo contest now through December 2021 for a chance to win a Cabela’s gift card! Each month has a new theme and a new winner.

Participating is simple:

1. Visit WDFW’s Life Outdoors webpage now through December 2021 to find out the outdoor recreation theme for the current month: https://wdfw.wa.gov/life-outdoors

2. Submit pictures of you, your friends, or family participating in the month’s featured outdoor recreation theme on WDFW’s website: https://wdfw.wa.gov/share

3. When submitting your photo, select #LifeOutdoorsWA in the category section. In the description area, tell us a little about your experience.

4. On the last Friday of the month, a winner will be selected and featured on WDFW’s Facebook and Instagram. Winners will also be contacted via email to receive their prize.

When sharing your photos on social media, be sure to use #LifeOutdoorsWA!

WDFW fish biologists Danny Garrett and Randy Osborne show off rainbow trout they caught at Fourth of July Lake in Lincoln County during a November outing.
WDFW fish biologists Danny Garrett and Randy Osborne show off rainbow trout they caught at Fourth of July Lake in Lincoln County during a November outing. The lake was stocked with 80,000 rainbow trout this year ahead of Black Friday. (WDFW)