His boots were wet when he put them on but he didn’t really mind. Comfort was no concern of his, especially when he was fishing. It was a concept his father had instilled in him long ago. Now he fished all alone, but his old man’s words never left him.
His fingertips were stained pink from a super-secret stink brine and his fingernails were stained orange from rolling his own cigarettes while wearing hobo gloves. His boots, once black, were all brown now, mostly from mud, and a little from the sun’s bleaching reach.
In the morning fog he pulled deep and adjusted the drag. He handled the reel expertly in his hands, rolled the cigarette in his lips to let the ash fall away with an expert’s ease into the consistent current at his feet. On the exhale he sent his striped barber’s pole lure sailing across the river’s obsidian slick surface toward the rushing riffles and eddies by the the old snag tree.
The splash scared a blue heron that he had not seen before he’d slung his trusty gear toward the opposing bank. The irritated bird lurched and squawked and lifted off like a rusty slinky with wings in search of another hideaway.
The angler felt a twinge of guilt in his guts as the big bird ascended through the vapors. He knew the sanctity of solitude and held a great reverence for quiet places where he could unhitch his heaviest burdens for awhile.
He knew all too well what it felt like to be chased from his personal retreat. He intimately familiar with the acrid anger and sour resentment that swirled around those intrusions. This time it was his fault, which he hated, but had grown reluctantly accustomed to.
The world underwater was a mystery even to the experienced fisherman. He used cues above the surface to read what was likely going on below, but he could never really know. Like the most important things in life, success was largely dependent upon intuitive feel and a wave of blind good luck.
One he’d always felt he had a good grasp on. The other was like lightning in a bottle, and his flask had a long standing habit of coming up dark and empty when he felt most in need of the shine.
Still, he always approached the river with a baptist's reverence and a Boy Scout’s earnest effort. He made sure to cure the perfect bait in his fleeting moments of spare time. He always remembered to check the water conditions from home before striking out on his adventures. He never brought bananas because they were rumored to scare off the big fish and he’d sacrifice sleep or lunch before he ever considered tainting the purity of his respect for the river.
As he burned through his rollies and watched the orange of the morning sun shimmer across the river’s mottled ceiling he continued to punch the reel and flick his wrist with the rhythm his guts told him to. He felt like the fish were right here, but there was no action to confirm his suspicions. He was living on a fishermen’s faith.
He was confident that his presentation was up to par, but he had no idea when, or even if, he’d be able to draw a bite. It had always been like that and the gamble was part of his addiction.
He knew no matter how hard he tried the simple truth had always been that the object of his lust just might not bite. Maybe the big fish just wasn’t in the mood, or maybe it just wasn’t quite looking at it right.
That’s why he always remained faithful to his habit of impeccable effort. So he could wrap himself in the threadbare solace that at least this failure wasn’t his fault, or for lack of effort.
Not that any of it mattered later when he found himself back home alone and hungry. But comfort had never been his concern.
Finally. There are fresh fish in the river.
A deluge of rain late last week helped to renew area rivers and put piscatorial prospects on a positive track and anglers are poised to take advantage whenever their schedules allow.
It’s possible that the Chehalis River received the most benefit from the influx of water into its vast system. For weeks on end the waters above Elma had been home to nothing but old dog kings and a swarm of sucker fish. Now though, silvers have been hitting hooks at least as far up as the confluence of the Skookumchuck River. Those coho have been on the move and will often hide away in the mouths of tributary creeks and streams in the early morning and late evening. Some anglers near Rochester said that red and white spoons have been working like a charm in recent days. On the mainstem Chehalis the daily limit below the Highway 107 Bridge near Montesano is six salmon, one of which may be an adult. All adult Chinook must be released. Upstream of Highway 107 anglers can also keep six fish per day, two of which may be adults. All adult Chinook and wild coho must be released, though.
The Satsop, Humptulips and Quinault rivers have also been fishing well as of late. Beginning in late November the Humptulips will also begin to see the first of its hatchery steelhead run. Flows on the Wynoochee River, in particular, are up this week which represents good news for anglers. On Wednesday flow at Black Creek was reported at 1,500 cubic feet per second while flow at Grisdale was reported at 459 cfps. Off of Puget Sound the mouth of Kennedy Creek in Totten Inlet in northwest Olympia has also been drawing a crowd.
Salmon fishing is still all shackled up on the Columbia River from Buoy 10 up to Pasco. However, there are still several tributaries in southwest Washington that are providing opportunities to cast a line with reasonable hopes of a return on investment. Anglers can target steelhead in the Elochoman, Cowlitz, Lewis, Toutle and Coweeman rivers, while coho are open for retention in the Cowlitz, Washougal, Kalama, Lewis and Klickitat rivers. Anglers are also permitted to keep Chinook in the Lewis River. Additionally, numerous streams opened up to salmon and steelhead fishing at the beginning of the month including Abernathy, Germany, Mill, and Coal creeks.
Creel sampling conducted by the WDFW last week showed inconsistencies in the bite depending on location. On the Grays River 18 bank anglers released five silvers while three rods on one boat showed no catch. Three bank anglers on the Elochoman showed no catch and a pair of bank anglers on Abernathy and Germany creeks were also skunked.
State stats show that fishing was slightly better on the Cowlitz River, particularly up by the barrier dam in Salkum. Downriver of the I-5 Bridge the WDFW contacted 22 bank rods with no catch but four rods on two boats did release one king. Between the barrier dam and Vader 53 bank rods kept four coho jacks and released ten Chinook along with four coho jacks, one steelhead and three cutthroat trout. Another 21 rods on eight boats managed to keep one big silver and 18 jacks.
Returns to the salmon hatchery separator last week were up a bit over the previous week with 1,242 adult coho, 1,737 coho jacks, 32 fall Chinook adults, 14 Chinook jacks, 187 cutthroat trout an 35 summer steelhead gathered up by crews. Those crews also released 109 coho adults, 160 coho jacks and one cutthroat trout into the Cispus River near Randle, along with 177 coho adults and 254 coho jacks at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood. Another 329 coho adults, 780 coho jacks, five fall Chinook adults, 14 fall Chinook jacks and six cutthroat trout were deposited into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton, and 307 coho adults, 483 coho jacks, and two cutthroat trout were put into Lake Scanewa in Randle. On Wednesday river flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at about 3,520 cubic feet per second with 12 feet of visibility and a stable water temperature of 53.6 degrees.
On the Kalama River last week the WDFW contacted 57 bank anglers with two keeper Chinook, one jack, one coho and one steelhead to show, along with one Chinook, one coho and one steelhead released.
On the East Fork Lewis River two bank anglers showed no catch to surveyors but the mainstem had 86 bank rods with six keeper coho adults and two jacks and a set of coho released. Another 37 rods on 15 boats kept one Chinook jack, seven coho and four jacks.
A concerted hatchery trout stocking effort by the WDFW is underway in order to get area lakes, ponds and billabongs ready for the big Black Friday fishery. Area lakes slated to receive hatchery trout in time for that happening include Klineline Pond, Battle Ground Lake, Kress Lake, South Lewis County Park (Ol’ Wallace) Pond, and Fort Borst Park Pond. Elsewhere, Vance Creek ponds in Grays Harbor, Lost Lake in Mason County, Lake Kapowsin in Pierce County and Lake St. Claire in Thurston County have already received their shipments of fresh fish.
In the reservoir world Yale Lake has a lively population of kokanee this time of year. Merwin Reservoir has reportedly been slow but the bite is rumored to be on the rise as of late. Swift Reservoir will remain open through the end of the month. Tiger muskies and rainbows are still biting at Mayfield Lake and bass are still biting at Riffe Lake.
There’s plenty of tracking and glassing to be done out in the wild but the WDFW is hoping they can find some help for work that gets done at roundtables in meeting rooms.
This week the WDFW put out a call for applicants to their Master Hunter Advisory Group which advises the agency on a variety of important issues including seasons, access and wildlife management. Those applications and letters of interest can be submitted through the end of the year.
This year five of the 15 volunteer positions will come open. Members serve three year terms with new members beginning their service on Apr. 1, 2019. There is one vacancy open for master hunters who live in Region 6 (Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kitsap, Mason, Pacific, Pierce, and Thurston counties), and two vacancies exist for at large bids. Additional information on the program and application process can be found online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/masterhunter/.
Letters of interest should be sent to Kris Thorson at Kristopher.email@example.com or to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wildlife Program, Master Hunter Section, Attn: Kris Thorson, PO Box 43141, Olympia, WA 98504.
Back in the great out of doors there are a great many opportunities for hunting that will take place this month.
Most notably, modern firearm elk hunts will continue through Nov. 14 in western Washington. A mild winter last year has buffered ungulate populations around the state and in District 10 (Lewis, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties) the elk population is believed to be up about five percent this season. GMUs 506 (Willapa Hills), 520 (Winston), 530 (Ryderwood), and 550 (Coweeman) are always favorites among area hunters. Additionally, GMU 560 (Lewis River) offers good opportunities that extend into parts of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. In District 17 (Pacific and Grays Harbor counties) there are stately elk to be found in both the Roosevelt herds of the Olympic Peninsula and the Willapa Hills herd in GMUs 658, 672, 673 and 681. The highest elk harvest numbers in District 16 (Clallam and west Jefferson counties) are generally reported in GMUs 615, 602, 612, and 607. Archery and muzzleloader hunts for elk will begin on Nov. 21.
Late buck hunts with modern firearms will run from Nov. 15-18. That late season hunt typically coincides with a rush of wintery weather that, along with the seasonal rut, helps to make for a successful short hunt. According to WDFW stats that four-day hunt typically accounts for about one-third of the region’s annual buck harvest. Some of the best odds for black tail harvest are typically had in GMUs 663, 648, 672, 660, 621, 627 and 633. Muzzleloader and archery buck hunts will both open up on Nov. 21.
Bear hunters have one week left to find a legal target before the season closes up until spring. As always, the WDFW urges (but does not mandate) that hunters refrain from shooting mamma bears with cubs between 30 and 50 pounds. Meanwhile, hunts for cougars will continue through at least the end of the year in all open GMUs. After the New Year arrives harvest data will be crunched in order to determine additional openings that may last through April.
Bird hunting has been taking up a larger percentage of hunting effort in recent weeks, particularly the waterfowl variety. As real winter approaches the increase in wind and rain has helped to bring in new flocks on the wing. While most local waterfowl have already been hunted and pushed out of the area, birds from the hinterlands are said to be heading down the Pacific Flyway in mass. The numbers of white-fronted geese in particular appear to be far above their ten year average.
Goose hunting picked back up on Nov. 3 following a five-day break in Goose Management Area 3 (Lewis and Skamania counties). However, goose hunting will not resume until Nov. 24, on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays only, in the inland portion of Goose Management Areas 2 (Cowlitz, Clark and Wahkiakum counties). However, sections of GMA 2 along the coast in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties will be open through Dec. 2 on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. Seasons for ducks, snipe and coot will run uninterrupted through Jan. 27. Prime locations for locating ducks include backwaters along the Chehalis River, the various inlets of south Puget Sound, the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, and the old Coal Mine near Centralia. Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor are also popular places for ducks to congregate.
Hunters can target forest grouse statewide through the end of the year and particularly plentiful hunting grounds exist in Clallam County, as well as the Skokomish Valley and sections of south Puget Sound along the Olympic Peninsula. Quail hunts will continue in western Washington through the end of the month. Prospects for quail are best in timberlands such as the ranges between Shelton, Matlock and McCleary. The lands around Mason Lake can be especially rewarding.
Tis the season for pheasant hunts as well. The general season in western Washington will continue through the end of the month but several release locations will stay open into December. Those locations include Fort Lewis, Scatter Creek and Skookumchuck wildlife areas. The WDFW is set to release about 2,000 pheasants at the Skookumchuck Wildlife areas, and another 3,900 pheasants at Scatter Creek. Another 4,000 pheasants are slated for release at JBLM. Pheasant opportunities also exist at Lincoln Creek and out east off of Highway 12.
If you need a turkey for the Thanksgiving table then GMUs 101-154 and 162-186 are where you should head. Those areas will remain open through the end of the year.
Bobcat, fox, raccoon, cottontail rabbits, and snowshoe hares will all find themselves trying to avoid the crosshairs through the Ides of March. And, as always, coyotes are legal to target all year long, but they can’t be shot at night during big game hunting seasons.
Beavers, badgers, weasels, marten, mink, muskrat, and river otter seasons opened up on Nov. 1 and will stay open through the end of March. Those animals can only be harvested through trapping methods. And, of course, roadkill is legal for salvage with a free emergency permit available through the WDFW.
Succulent bivalve seekers will be headed for coastal beaches this week in order to take advantage of a four-day razor clam dig set to begin Thursday that was approved late last week by the WDFW. Those digs were approved after marine toxin testing confirmed that the clams are safe for human consumption.
The upcoming digs are all set for evening tides and no digging will be permitted prior to noon on any beaches. The upcoming dig is approved on the following beaches, dates, and evening low tides:
• Nov. 8, Thursday, 6:57 p.m.; -0.8 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
• Nov. 9, Friday, 7:36 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis
• Nov. 10, Saturday, 8:15 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
• Nov. 11, Sunday, 8:56 p.m.; 0.0 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis
Following the last round of razor clam digs Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the WDFW, provided The Chronicle with up to date digging data. Those stats showed that clams have been slightly larger at Copalis but the diggers at Mocrocks have been getting closer to reaching their daily limits. Taking all of the fall razor clam digs as a whole, Mocrocks has been sending diggers home with the highest average haul of 12.7 clams per day. Meanwhile, Twin Harbors diggers have been hauling out an average of 9.6 clams per day and diggers at Copalis have been averaging 8.8 clams per trip.
Ayres noted that those results got a little bit wonky due to poor weather that wiped out much of the effort on the most recent round of digs. This week the weather looks likely to cooperate, except for the possible exception of Friday.
As always, Ayres reminds diggers that the best results are typically had about one or two hours before low tide. He also advises diggers to bring a light source for the evening digs and insists that old fashioned lanterns are better than high powered LED flash torches.
The next tentative round of razor clam digs are slated for Nov. 22-25. Those digs are dependent upon marine toxin testing that will be conducted about one week prior to the first digging date.
Washington state law allows diggers to harvest up to 15 clams per day, although they must keep the first 15 clams they keep regardless of size of condition. All diggers age 15 and older are required to possess a fishing license and all diggers must both dig and haul their own clams.
Crab grabbers will be able to deploy recreational pots in Willapa Bay beginning Nov. 15. That announcement came from the WDFW this week and means that crabbers will be able to deploy their gear a full two weeks earlier than the typical Dec. 1 opening date for the area.
The opening will allow recreational crabbers to target Dungeness crab in Marine Area 2-1 (Willapa Bay). The decision to jump start the season was made on Oct. 15 at a Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Olympia.
According to a press release, “The earlier opening for pot gear will provide some additional opportunity for recreational crabbers prior to the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in this area.”
In recognition of Veterans Day the U.S. Forest Service, Washington State Parks, and the National Parks Service are waiving their pesky day use fees. That means that visitors will be able to traipse about those public lands for free (what a concept!) on Nov. 10-11.
“This fee waiver is one small way of thanking and honoring our nation’s veterans,” said Glenn Casamassa, Pacific Northwest Regional Forester, in a press release. “We hope this fee-free weekend will encourage veterans, their families, and all Americans to visit their national forests and enjoy the many benefits these lands provide.”
On U.S.F.S. land the waivers include most picnic areas, boat launches, trailheads, and visitor centers. However, fees will still apply for camping, cabin rentals, heritage expeditions and other activities that require a permit.
Washington State Parks will offer just one day of free admission, on Nov. 11. On that day visitors will not be required to display a Discover Pass or purchase a one-day entrance pass. Entrance fees will also be waived for the day at Mount Rainier National Park and other National Parks in our neck of the woods.