The stones that poked out from beneath the grass of the field were round because of the river that had made a habit of running through it and over them.

In the summer they scorched beneath the sun’s beams and warmed cow pies like EZ Bake Ovens. But as the river began to make its rise those same stones seemed to shimmer without a speck of sunlight. At first the rains were normal, like all Washington winters, springs, autumns and early summers. Then the puddles began to grow but nobody made much of it because mud puddles are just the welcome mats of Western Washington. The more the merrier, we tell ourselves in a fit of rain diluted delusion.

After awhile though it became clear that things were not normal and the water began to rise straight up out of the ground where the gophers had tunneled. Where tufts of grass had once unfurled through the crust now gnarly pasture waves crested.

While field mice, moles and voles fled for higher ground the fish in the river began to explore their newfound expanse of territory. They stretched their fins carefree and breathed deeply as the turbid waters rushed through their gills.

In the cooling ether of the storm eagles flapped furiously to remain overhead and out of reach of the overflowing riverway. They circled and watched on as familiar fishing grounds were gobbled up by the glutinous river and age old tree stands began to jut from the crushing current like abandoned jetty pilings.

First it was bundles of firewood that began to drift by the old farmhouse. Next came the plastic lawn furniture. Then the entire cobwebbed contents of gutted garages seemed to shuffle by on the river’s rippled whims. By the time the neighbor’s broken down El Camino bobbed around the bend those who had holed up in the upstairs of their homes began to wonder if the waters would ever relent, let alone recede.

The fleet footed yard vermin crowded together into whatever elevated nooks and crannies they could find and wondered why they were not blessed with either gills or wings. They shivered and shrieked in rolling waves of freight. The constricting marrow in their brittle bones told them that every safe harbor offers only temporary relief. There are no lifetime guarantees and they wondered if they would ever see the sun shine again.

Eventually, though, the flow did begin to ease and earthbound critters breathed a collective sigh of relief. The lot was not as promising for a wayward king salmon who had charged headlong across old barriers in search of the scent of her washed out headwaters of home. Now she found herself on the wrong side of the high water mark and floundering meekly in her final mud choked gasps of regret.

Then, from the Crayola underbelly of an emergent rainbow one overseeing eagle set out on an arrow straight strike. With wings pinned back and nose cutting a course through the wind the bird dove like a coin to a wishing well until its pierced the bulging egg belly of the ill fated fish. Clenching tightly the regal bird let the mud squeeze like icing between its talons. With pink gelatinous life force dripping from its white capped head and scales glistening on its goldenrod beak the eagle basked in its success while the fish simply died.

As the eagle stood elegant and statuesque the hairy critters who had holed up in nearby hideaways began to scurry with the fear of God. With their great nemesis momentarily distracted by the spoils of death they had no time to rejoice beneath the shimmering prism of the sun’s great return.

As they scrambled they knew not what the future would hold, only that it was was good to be grounded again.

FISHIN’

The reel talk has been ugly as a dog salmon as of late as area rivers have continued to be either blown out or void of fish to latch onto lures in recent weeks.

Asked to provide a fishing report for the Cowlitz River from the Barrier Dam Campground, Karen Glaser was nearly at a loss for words.

“I wish I did. It’s pretty grim. There’s not a lot of fish around so therefore not a lot of guys are fishing. Not even over the holiday,” lamented Glaser.

She said that the only real reel action has been reserved for the most refined of the angling species — Fly fisherman.

“We still have fly fishermen coming around for those. They’ve been getting some pretty good size ones from what I’m hearing, 17-19 inches,” sad Glaser. “That’s only the fly fishermen, and of course that is mostly down in the Blue Creek area.”

According to WDFW creel reports from last week five rods on three boats kept one steelhead on the lowest reach of the Cowlitz River while eight bank rods released one jack silver and four boat rods had no catch between Vader and the Barrier Dam. At the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery fish separator last week crews retrieved 35 coho adults, 57 coho jacks, one cutthroat trout, one summer-run steelhead adult and four winter-run steelhead adults during four days of operation.

Last week crews also relocated one coho jack into the Cispus River near Randle as well as two coho adults and 15 coho jacks into Lake Scanewa in Randle. Another 27 coho adults, 36 coho jacks, three winter-run steelhead adults and one cutthroat trout were thrust into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton. On Monday river flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at 8,680 cubic feet per second with water conditions of nearly 45 degrees and 11 feet of visibility. By Wednesday flow had risen slightly to 9,680 cfps. Chinook retention is currently prohibited on the Cowlitz River from the Barrier Dam on down and fishing is restricted within 400 feet of the Barrier Dam. On the Tilton River fishing is closed at the posted signs within 100 feet of the fish release site at Gust Backstrom Park.

Additional stringer sampling by the WDFW showed limited returns for area anglers on the tributaries to the lower Columbia River. Three bank anglers on the Grays River had no catch. On the Elochoman 31 bank anglers on the Elochoman kept three steelhead and released one silver jack while seven boat rods kept two steelhead. On Abernathy Creek three bank anglers had no catch and four bank anglers on Germany Creek kept one steelhead and released another. Salmon Creek offered no catch to 41 bank anglers while 24 bank anglers on the East Fork Lewis River let go two steelhead and eight bank rods showed mercy to one steelhead.

Creel sampling by the WDFW on the mainstem of the Columbia River is set to resume in February but as of Jan. 1 anglers have been allowed to keep hatchery Chinook and steelhead from Buoy 10 up through the dam pools.

In The Dalles pool an opening for white sturgeon proved to be short lived after anglers slayed the river monsters faster than the WDFW had anticipated. Harvest officially ended at the close of the day on Sunday after anglers had taken more than the 135 sturgeon allotted for those waters in just three days of fishing.

“The catch mounted much faster than expected,” said WDFW special assistant Bill Tweit, in a press release. “The water temperature was higher than usual, but we don’t know for certain what caused the bite to come on so strong.”

Sturgeon retention is now prohibited from Buoy 10 up to Bonneville Dam and from The Dalles Dam up to John Day Dam but anglers in the Bonneville Pool and John Day Pool can still catch and keep the big fish. Anglers at Bonneville can keep sturgeon between 38-54 inches and anglers at John Day can keep sturgeon between 43-54 inches. The daily limit is one fish per day with an annual limit of two fish.

Steelhead are still an option on the Chehalis and Willapa river systems but winter storms have conspired to muddy the waters beyond the point of justifiable returns. On Wednesday the Wynoochee River was running at 2,850 cfps above Black Creek and 1,220 cfps at Grisdale and the mainstem Chehalis was a dependably murky shade of latte.

Anglers on the Willapa system, along with the Humptulips, Chehalis, Wynoochee, and Satsop rivers are allowed two hatchery steelhead per day. Additionally, salmon fishing is ongoing in portions of Puget Sound including marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island), 12 (Hood Canal) and 13 (South Puget Sound) where anglers are allowed two salmon per day. All wild Chinook must be released, along with wild coho in South Puget Sound. Flow on the Nisqually River, a tributary to the south South Puget Sound, was reported at 1,900 cfps below LeGrande Dam.

HUNTIN’

Just days before a special brant goose hunting season was set to begin the WDFW has moved to restrict opportunity in several areas.

The brant hunt in Skagit County will now occur on Jan. 12, 16 and 19, based on population numbers used by th WDFW. According to WDFW waterfowl section manager Kyle Spragens, the reduction in dates was implemented after aerial surveys counted 6,000 fewer birds than necessary to host a full eight day season.

“The number of hunting days is directly related to how many brant are counted during those surveys,” Spragens said in a press release. “These low counts require us to prioritize conservation responsibilities for this distinctive, coastal species, while providing harvest opportunity when appropriate.”

However, stable returns of arctic brant to other regions around the state mean those hunts wills go on unobstructed. The traditional 10-day brant season in Pacific County will take place on Jan. 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26 and 27, while hunters in Clallam and Whatcom counties can take aim on Jan. 12, 16 and 19, the same days as the Skagit hunt.

Waterfowl seasons for common geese and all assortment of ducks will run through Jan. 27 in most areas. However, the coastal section of Goose Area 2 (Pacific County and Grays Harbor County west of Highway 101) is only open Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays through Jan. 20, but will reopen from Feb. 2-16. The inland portion of Goose Area 2 west of Highway 101, as well as Wahkiakum, Cowlitz and Clark counties will be open Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday before closing for good on Jan. 13. Goose Management Area 3 covers Lewis, Pierce and Thurston counties, among others, and contains some of the best waterfowl hunting in the area. Some prime spots include the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge and the various bay inlets around Olympia. The old Centralia Coal Mine is another place where water birds flock, along with the Willapa and Chehalis river systems.

Hunts for coot and snipe will continue statewide through Jan. 27.

Cougar hunts are now subject to restrictions based on quota by area. Areas where the take remains below the limit will remain open until April 30. Opportunities for deer are but extinct other than some sporadic master hunter openings. However, archers and muzzle loader toters can still take aim at elk in area 407 until Jan. 20.

Hunts for bobcat, fox, raccoons, snowshoe hares and cottontail rabbits will all ramble on through the briers and the brambles through March 15. Trapping season for beaver, badger, weasel, marten, mink, muskrat and river otter will continue through the end of March.

What’s more, nearly all roadkill salvage is legal in Washington with the use of an emergency permit provided by the WDFW. And, as always, coyotes are legal fodder year round but can’t be targeted at night in any areas where big game seasons are open.

All hunters are required to report their activity from the previous year no later than Jan. 31. Those reports are due for each special permit, as well as any deer, elk, bear, cougar, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and turkey tag purchased in 2018. A $10 fine is assessed on the next license purchase to anyone who fails to comply. Hunting reports can be filed by phone at 877-945-3492 or on the WDFW website.

Permits for spring bear hunts went on sale last week. Those sales will continue through the end of February. Additional information can be found online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/permits/spring_bear/.

CLAMMIN’

A five-day coastal razor clam dig wrapped upon Sunday but more openings for the munchy mollusks are waiting just around the corner.

WDFW coastal shellfish manager Dan Ayres said on Wednesday that his department had a press release announcing the confirmation of next week’s digs all ready to go. He said official word on those digs was likely to be announced on Thursday or Friday of this week.

Those proposed razor clam openings would take place on the following dates, beaches and tides:

Jan. 17, Thursday; 3:39 p.m.; 0.4 feet; Twin Harbors

Jan. 18, Friday; 4:30 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Twin Harbors

Jan. 19, Saturday; 5:18 p.m.; -1.1 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Kalaloch

Jan. 20, Sunday; 6:05 p.m.; -1.6 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis, Kalaloch

Jan. 21, Monday; 6:51 p.m.; -1.8 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Kalaloch (MLK Holiday)

With the federal government shutdown continuing its march into oblivion there is a bit of uncertainty surrounding the digs at Kalaloch Beach in the Olympic National Park. Multiple attempts to contact the Olympic National Park and Kalaloch Lodge have gone unreturned to The Chronicle and Ayres said the WDFW has had no better luck.

“We don’t know. We haven’t heard anything from the park other than that they are okay with the dates that we had but that was before the shutdown and we haven’t been able to reach them. So we are going ahead and assume that all systems are a go until we hear otherwise,” Ayres said on Wednesday.

Ayres advises that no matter what beach you head to the best digging results are usually had about one or two hours prior to low tide. However, this time of year no digging is allowed on any beach before noon and evening digs mean diggers will need to pack headlamps or lanterns.

Additional razor clam digs proposed through the end of February include the following dates, beaches and tides:

Feb. 1, Friday; 4:48 p.m.; 0.2 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis

Feb. 2; Saturday; 5:28 p.m.; 0.0 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Feb. 3, Sunday; 6:04 p.m.; -0.1 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis

Feb. 15, Friday; 3:11 p.m.; 0.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Feb. 16, Saturday; 4:08 p.m.; -0.3 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis, Kalaloch

Feb. 17, Sunday; 4:59 p.m.; -1.0 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch

Feb. 18, Monday; 5:46 p.m.; -1.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Kalaloch (Presidents' Day Holiday)

Feb. 19, Tuesday; 6:31 p.m.; -1.5 feet; Twin Harbors

Feb. 20, Wednesday; 7:14 p.m.; -1.3 feet; Twin Harbors

Feb. 21, Thursday; 7:56 p.m.; -0.8 feet; Twin Harbors

All of those digs are awaiting final approval subject to marine toxin testing that will be conducted closer to the digging dates.

State law allows diggers to harvest up to 15 clams per day but no high-grading is allowed. All dug clams must be kept regardless of size or condition. Anyone age 15 or older is required to possess a fishing license. Additionally, all diggers must dig their own clams and carry them in a private container.

CRABBIN’

All openings for sport crab fishing in Puget Sound are now closed and crab crackers have just a few weeks to return their harvest reports to the state. Those harvest cards are due by Feb. 1. Individuals who fail to report on time will face a $10 fee the next time they purchase a license.

“The reports are essential to managing this important fishery,” said Don Velasquez, a WDFW shellfish biologist, in a press release. “They are required for all crabbers with a winter crab Catch Record Card, whether or not they caught any crab during the winter season.”

Reports can be returned online at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or sent by mail to WDFW CRC Unit, PO Box 43142, Olympia, WA 98504-3142. Questions about the online system can be directed to the WDFW Licensing Division at 360-902-2464 or by email at licensing@dfw.wa.gov.

MEETIN’

On Friday and Saturday the Washington Fish and WIldlife Commission will convene in order to discuss wildlife rehabilitation regulations, salmon fisheries and other topics. Members of the public will be provided opportunity to provide comment at specific times during those meetings.

In a move likely related to last year’s deer drama at For Heaven’s Sake Rehabilitation in Rochester the WDFW is looking to clarify their rules and regulations related to the care of injured or orphaned wild animals. A press release said the goal is to make the rules easier to understand.

In other business, WDFW will brief the commission on:

·Whale entanglements in fishing gear during coastal Dungeness crab fisheries.

·Differences between Washington and Oregon in recreational night-fishing regulations on the Columbia River.

·The history of pronghorns and pronghorn management in the state.

·The department’s efforts to increase public awareness of the benefits of WDFW Wildlife Areas around the state.

The meetings will be held on Jan. 11-12 in Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, at 1111 Washington St. SE, Olympia. The meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Friday and at 8 a.m. on Saturday.

SNOWIN’

Powder heads have been rejoicing up on high at White Pass in recent weeks as winter storms continue to quilt the slopes in gobs of fresh snow.

As of 10 a.m. on Wednesday there was 75 inches of snow stacked at the summit and 45 inches at the base of White Pass with occasional snow showers persisting through the day. Those totals included four inches of new snow overnight from Tuesday and 10 inches in 24-hours. Temperatures ranged between 19 and 32 degrees throughout the day. Sunbreaks are expected over the weekend with more snow beginning to fall by the middle of next week.

Night skiing is offered on the mountain on Saturdays as well as Martin Luther KIng Jr. Presidents Day weekend Sundays through March 2. Any lower area or all-mountain lift ticket is good for lifts through 9 p.m.

CLIMBIN’

Anyone interested in climbing Mount Saint Helens again this year will need to adjust their routine from years past.

This year the Mount Saint Helens Institute will not be selling climbing permits as they have previously. Instead, permits will be sold by the U.S. Forest Service. However, due to the federal government shutdown permit sales may be delayed beyond the typical opening date of Feb. 1.

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