Canopy callipers cast cocoon nests across the limbs of the stately maples that dotted the clean streets of his youth. The bark of the trees that remained had grown chunky and the tops cast more shade than he remembered.
But most of the trees were gone, replaced by new developments like Alder Acres, Oakview Vista, and Evergreen Estates. Development and economy had spread up like varicose veins across his hometown. The old community berry bog was drained, and poisoned, and paved and covered in Crayola colored townhouses packaged as luxurious living at Blueberry Flats.
When he was a child he would grab a pole and head on down to the river with his pals in order to cast a line and tell lies in a native habitat. Sometimes they would hook a shaker or two. Other times they’d get into a mess of squawfish and then flip them for a reward of dollar bills that typically turned into malted milkshakes down at the bait shop. Most of the time though they settled for stopping by the county dump after they got skunked and then taking out their frustrations on the local rat population with their blood spattered hickory sticks.
One time though, when he’d rode to the river all by himself one lonely summer afternoon, he landed a monster that had only previously existed in his most tormented dreamscapes. He’d hooked the fish and played it patiently while wading in the cool waters of his youth. Ripples seemed to scatter forever from the place where the fish breached the silver mercury surface and then came crashing back down with a flat backed splash.
With his matchstick arms he cranked on the rusty old reel and kept the rod tip high just like his Pa had taught him out on the ocean. When the fish ran he waited it out and matched its pace up and down the sandy rock bank. Over time the fish became reserved to its fate and went limp on the line, seemingly waiting for the crew cut boy to pull him from the river and put a merciful end to the timeless tug of war.
Now, all these years later, he stands at that same bend in the river but nothing is the same. His friends have moved, and married, and divorced, and died. His hair is sparse and silver. His collapsed clay bowl belly sags below his beltline and the summer sun threatens to sear his lillywhite skin. His arms are strong from years of toiling but his hands are weak from the aches in his knuckles and phalanges.
He let his crooked twig fingers run over a smooth stone just like the one he used to deliver a fatal blood red blow to that lunker at the end of his line so many years ago. He looked up and down and across the river and saw nothing that looked familiar. The trees that shaded the water were all gone now and nothing seemed to grow near the water’s edge except piles of rubbish.
Exhausted, he heaved the rock into the river like a penny in a wishing well and counted the concentric circles as they dashed toward the ocean and the headwaters, the near and far shore, all at once. In that lingering moment, like that salmon he had caught in his childhood, he only wished he could return home again.
Local angling options took another hit this week when fish officials acted to shutter a lengthy stretch of the Columbia River to steelhead fishing until further notice.
On Monday, the WDFW closed the Columbia River from Buoy 10 at the mouth all the way up to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco due to a depressing return of steelhead. The most recent projection called for just 110,300 of the previously anticipated 182,400 fish to return to the Columbia River system. That updated projection for this year’s steelhead run is similar to last year’s return when officials in both Washington and Oregon closed portions of the Columbia River and its tributaries. This week’s rule change does not apply to tributaries at this time but the WDFW warned that additional restrictions could be coming soon.
“Many factors are clearly taking a toll on our steelhead populations right now, including difficult ocean conditions,” said Ryan Lothrop, Columbia River fishery advisory for the WDFW, in a press release. “We need to do what’s necessary to protect these runs.”
Additionally, recently enacted bans on night fishing will remain in effect from Buoy 10 to Pasco, as well as at Wind River and Drano Lake.
If returns on the Cowlitz River last week are any indication then anglers would be wise to get out and try their luck before the WDFW pulls the plug. Last week at the salmon hatchery separator crews collected 65 summer-run steelhead, 25 spring Chinook adults, two jacks, and two mini-jacks, along with 13 fall Chinook adults, one jack, and 15 cutthroat trout. During that same time frame crews also released ten spring Chinook adults, one spring Chinook jack and seven cutthroat trout into the Cispus River near Randle, along with 13 spring Chinook adults one jack and one cutthroat trout at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood. In Morton another 13 fall Chinook adults, one jack, and two cutthroat trout were put into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park. No steelhead were recycled downstream last week for the first time since June 15.
On Monday river flow just below Mayfield Dam was reported at approximately 2,430 cubic feet per second with water visibility around 14 feet and a water temperature of 54 degrees. Tacoma Power advices that, “River flows could change at any time so boaters and anglers should remain alert for this possibility.” As of Wednesday though flows were still around 2,400 cubic feet per second. Last week the WDFW sampled 12 bank anglers downstream of the I-5 Bridge with no catch but fish were biting closer to the hatcheries. According to that creel report 17 bank rods kept one Chinook and released two others, while 87 rods on 33 boats kept 18 Chinook, three jacks, and 26 steelhead. They also released six Chinook, seven jacks and four steelies.
Upriver, anglers continue to have success for tiger musky and rainbow trout at Mayfield Lake, where last week the WDFW stocked 2,600 rainbows. Bass and landlocked silvers have been hitting lines at Riffe Lake as well.
Other Columbia River tributaries were much more muted. Four bank anglers on the Elochoman reported no catch and one bank angler on the Kalama was also skunked. Similarly, one boat angler on the Lewis River went unrewarded and two boat anglers on the Wind River must have had bananas in the boat because they couldn’t catch a thing.
A free festival scheduled for Sept. 15 will honor the prehistoric river monsters otherwise known as sturgeon. That festival, the 22nd annual of its kind, will be held from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Water Resources Education Center in Vancouver. The City of Vancouver and WDFW will act as co-hosts for the event. WDFW biologists will be on hand to dissect fish for an inside look at the workings of sturgeon. However, besides highlighting the fascinating facts of sturgeon the event will also feature a reptile show, two bird shows, Eartha the Ecological Clown, and a one hour group walk along the Columbia River from 3-4 p.m. The Water Resources Education Center is located at 4600 S.E. Columbia Way, Vancouver.
According to a press release from the WDFW, “Prevalent in the Columbia River, the sturgeon is a primitive fish that has not changed substantially since it emerged millions of years ago. Sturgeon are a long-lived species, reaching five to six feet in length by the age of maturity. A few sturgeon in the Columbia River have been verified to be over 80 years old.”
Currently the harvest of sturgeon is prohibited on the lower Columbia River from the mouth to McNary Dam, including all tributaries. Catch and release fishing is an option but the WDFW recently released a set of dates for sturgeon retention between the Wauna powerlines and the Bonneville Dam, and all of those same tributaries. That fishery will be open on Sept. 15 and Sept. 22 and will allow anglers to keep white sturgeon between 44-inches and 50-inches in length. The WDFW stated in a press release that an increase in legal-size sturgeon in recent years made the limited retention fishery possible. The daily limit for Columbia River white sturgeon is one fish and anglers are allowed only two fish per year. The retention of green sturgeon is prohibited.
Weekend rains were not enough to push any major pulses of salmonids up and into the Chehalis River system but at least one angler reported catching a salmon near Independence. Cooling river temperatures should continue to encourage even more fish to make their way upriver in coming weeks, though, and the prospects on tributaries like the Wynoochee and Satsop rivers should begin to trend up at any time. On Wednesday river flow on the Wynoochee was reported at 324 cubic feet per second above Black Creek and at 348 cubic feet per second at Grisdale.
Beyond the confines of Grays Harbor anglers are already getting good news out in Marine Area 2 (Westport). In that ocean area the WDFW recently moved to open up salmon fishing seven days a week through Sept. 3. During those remaining openings anglers will be able to retain both Chinook and silver salmon, and surveys have indicated that sufficient quota remains to also allow for an increase the daily limit from one to two salmon. However, the Grays Harbor control zone remains closed. Elsewhere, Marine Areas 1 (Ilwaco) and 4 (Neah Bay) are both closed to salmon fishing, but Marine Area 3 (La PUsh) is open daily with a daily limit of two Chinook salmon. All wild coho must be released.
The WDFW has authorized Cooke Aquaculture to move 800,000 juvenile Atlantic salmon from the company’s Scatter Creek rearing facility in Rochester to net pens in located in Puget Sound.
That move was made following a decision by the state legislature to put an end to Atlantic salmon net pens as early as 2022. Until that full phase out is completed Cooke Aquaculture plans to continue its operations, though, and the company submitted an application for a transport permit for the 800,000 one-year old Atlantic salmon on Aug. 2.
Last August more than a quarter million Atlantic salmon escaped from a Cooke Aquaculture facility when the net pen collapsed due to lack of maintenance. It was predicted that those fish would be unable to fend for themselves in the wild and would die off within weeks. However, numerous Atlantic salmon have been found in the months since the escape, including a catch some 40-miles up the Skagit River in April. That escape and the ensuing coverup, in which Cooke Aquaculture attempted to blame the net pen failure on a solar eclipse, caused a public outcry that led the legislature to put in an incremental ban on Atlantic salmon net pen operations in Washington.
According to Ken Warheit, a WDFW fish health manager, the approved batch of salmon was tested for disease and pathogens including PRV (piscine orthoreovirus) and were given a clean bill of health. However, an exotic strain of PRV known to exist in north Atlantic waters was detected in a different crop of Atlantic salmon smolts at the Scatter Creek facility in May. In that instance the WDFW denied the company’s request to transfer their contaminated fish into net pens.
The current batch of Atlantic Salmon destined for Puget Sound will be evenly split between the Hope Island facility in Skagit Bay and the Orchards Rocks facility in Rich Passage (Kitsap County.) State law requires the net pens to be left fallow for at least 30 days prior to moving in a new crop of fish. Additional transplants of Atlantic salmon to Puget Sound are expected in October and November.
The WDFW has released a new set of hunting prospects just in time for hunters to make last minute plans for the first real round of season openers which are set to start on Saturday.
“Local wildlife biologists compiled these reports to serve as a resource for hunters,” said Anis Aoude, WDFW game division manager, in a press release. “The Hunting Prospects contain a lot of useful information and provide a good place to start planning your season whether you’re an experienced hunter or a beginner.”
A hard winter in 2016-17 took a toll on some game populations but most survey returns seem to indicate that prospects will be enticing the season at the very least. That being said, the WDFW is advising hunters to brush up on land use restrictions and access protocol for areas they intend to prowl. A rash of fire restrictions that will extend through the the end of the summer will further complicate the labyrinth of rules to follow.
“Hunters should check current conditions before getting out into the field,” Aoude added. “Some hunters may need to find alternate hunting locations or different routes.”
In addition to the district by district breakdown of species prevalence and success rates, the WDFW also recently released a web map which allows hunters to more easily obtain information on permits and general season hunts. Those selections can be narrowed down by locations, date, weapon choice, species, and more. Hunting prospects can be found online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/prospects/, and the regulation web map can be found at https://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/. Fire restrictions can be found at https://wdfw.wa.gov/news/aug0218a/.
Typically by this time of year bird doggers have already been busy getting their poochers into shape out in the underbrush. However, our spell of scorching temperatures and choking wildfire smoke made most of August a post-apocalyptic nightmare for out of doors pursuits. Bird hunters who use the aid of man’s best friend will need to make haste in order to take full advantage of bird seasons that are about ready to unveil. Those Sept. 1 openings will include forest grouse, crow, wild turkey, and mourning doves. Canada goose opportunities will also open on Sept. 1 in Management Area 2 and on Sept. 22-23 a youth-only duck hunt will be held in western Washington. This year hunters targeting Canada geese will be required to report on their take in both coastal and inland sections.
According to WDFW waterfowl manager Kyle Spragens duck populations have recovered somewhat from lows in 2015 but patience will be necessary, with general seasons not slated to open until Oct. 13.
“Similar to last year, hunters will focus on local birds until the northern birds arrive from Canada and Alaska later this season,” Spragens noted in a press release.
Perhaps the biggest contingent to hit the trail with the flipping of the calendar page will be bow and arrow toting deer hunters. And then elk archery season will open just one week later.
Some hunters have been disregarding the haze and stalking bears since those seasons began to open on Aug. 1. This year any hunter targeting bears in GMUs 418 and 426 in the North Cascades Zone will need to pass a black bear identification test with a score of at least 80 percent. That requirement is meant to keep hunters from accidentally shooting grizzly bears, which are a protected species. That identification test requirement extends to eastern Washington as well in GMUs 101, 105, 108, 111, 113, 117, 203, 204, 209, 215.
Hunts for mule deer, white-tailed deer, cougar, bobcats, fox, raccoon, rabbit, and hare will also open on Sept. 1. And, just as good manners never go out of style, neither does coyote season.
Crab crackers with a penchant for pruney fingers have only a few days left to stock up on the succulent decapods. At the close of the Labor Day weekend, Puget Sound will be closed to almost all recreational crab fishing.
That closure will take place one hour after sunset when all gear must be removed from the water. Crabbers working from shore or piers have until the end of the day to collect their sets.
The only areas remaining open to recreational crabbing in Puget Sound are Marine Areas 7-North and 7-South near the San Juan Islands. Those areas will remain open Thursday-Monday each week until the end of September.
Any crab taken after Sepy. 3 must be reported on winter catch cards. Summer catch cards are due by Oct. 1. Those cards can be submitted by mail at CRC Unit, P.O. Box 43142, Olympia, WA 98504-3142, or online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/#/login. Crabbers who fail to return their card on time will face a $10 fine.
"Catch reports play a major role in determining how much crab is still available for harvest during the winter season," said Bob Sizemore, WDFW's shellfish policy lead, in a press release. "It's important that we receive reports from everyone licensed to fish for crab in Puget Sound - whether or not they caught crab this year."
Sizemore added that he anticipates the WDFW will announce winter crab seasons for Puget Sound in early October, following an assessment of the summer catch.
For more information about recreational crabbing in Puget Sound, see WDFW's website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab/.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has revised its proposal for a hunting and fishing license fee increase. The newest proposal would implement a 15 percent increase across the board, except for a cap on the increase for people who buy multiple “bundled” license packages. By comparison, the first proposal called for just a five percent increase.
The fee increase is intended to cover a predicted $31 million gap between projected revenue and expenses during the upcoming two-year budget cycle. The fee increase would not lead to an increase in services. Rather, the price hikes have been proposed in order to maintain current levels of service.
The one caveat would be for people purchasing bundled packages and would limit the increase to $7 for fishing licenses and $15 for hunting licenses. The newest rendition of the license increase proposal was approved by oral vote, with Commissioner Don McIsaac voicing the only opposition.
“The commission never likes to propose fee increases, but WDFW needs better funding to meet public expectations and ongoing legal requirements,” Chairman Brad Smith said after Monday’s decision. “Knowing we have the support of key recreation and conservation leaders enabled us to improve the balance of our funding request between general tax dollars and revenue from license sales.”
Interestingly, earlier this summer the commission approved a change that will make the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement permanent. That pilot program, which charges anglers more to fish on the Columbia River and its tributaries, was set to expire in June, 2019.
The WDFW has tabbed a new regional director for Southwest Washington. Kessina Lee will take over the position, based out of Ridgefield, on Sept. 1.
Lee has a background in aquaculture work and has been employed by the Department of Ecology since January 2017. In her new position she will oversee all WDFW work in Region 5, including Lewis, Cowlitz, Clark, Klickitat, Skamania, and Wahkiakum counties.
“We’re thrilled to bring Kessina aboard, and have no doubt she’ll be able to address the complex issues unique to southwest Washington,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind, in a press release. “She brings a deep understanding of the region to the role, and a readiness to work closely with our partners there.”
In her role with the Department of Ecology, Lee acted as the lead on the interagency investigation into the collapse of the Cooke Aquaculture net pen in Puget Sound that occurred in August of 2017. She has also captained a team of hatchery water-quality permit managers statewide.
Lee has also worked as a Sea Grant policy fellow focusing on ocean and coastal issues with the Oregon Legislature’s Coastal Caucus, and for the office of Gov. Kate Brown. She has also studied marine mammal strandings in the Pacific Northwest for more than a decade, as well as interactions between fish and sea lions. She holds a master’s degree in biology from Portland State University.
“I’m excited to learn from people, and to listen,” Lee said, in a press release. “What I really relish is the opportunity to confront 21st-century conservation challenges like elk-hoof disease or sea lion predation on salmon that are, in many ways, more complicated than anything we’ve faced before.”