This side of the mountain always wakes up a little slower than the rest of the vast nothingness that presumably stretches from Naches to New York City.

It seems the sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean and casts golden over All-America corn stubble and amber waves of grain. Then, with a world’s worth of momentum pent up it collides headlong into the unfamiliar flanks of the Cascade Mountains while coastal Washington rests under the delicate shroud of the mountain’s looming sunrise shadow.

While fading embers pop and click in hollow belly wood stoves the delicate and sensible among us cling tight to flannel sheets and clench tight soft eyelids to keep away the cold linoleum just a little while longer. If only the coffee beans would grind themselves and then pour their magical remains in the hopper. Instead sleepy heads hit the snooze button for five more minutes five times over.

On the two lane roads that reach into the mountain passes, though, the crazed ones are already making their procession toward the summit. Thermoses burble with residual heat and waxed board bottoms glimmer under flickering dome lights. Sack lunches and last year’s lift tickets crumple in the cars cramped quarters but nobody complains. Not even when the heater kicks the bucket. After all, the car is just a vessel that will deliver them to the untouched powder spoils that have enveloped the jagged rock slab of the mountain’s face.

As the headlights line up in the parking lot down below, though, a solitary soul is already making the final ascent to the ridgeline in his girded conveyor track snow-cat. With his floodlights on full beam he traces another contour to lay fresh corduroy bands that stretch out behind his rig. Everywhere he goes he leaves the surface remade and fresh for whoever finds it first. Well, whoever finds it first after he leaves, anyway.

As beams of oyster shell purple and duckling fluff yellow begin to broach the mountain’s highest peak the operator can see the promise of a new day crystalizing to the mountain’s yawning cadence. With his windshield wipers slapping double time to keep up with the snow blowing in from a nearby storm he knows his vantage will be short lived and his work will soon be etched away by the unwashed masses with their planks, poles, and boards.

As he steered his machine away from the precipice of heaven’s edge the brilliant tones of dawn began to fade into the mundane shades of everyday living. The snow seemed a little less vibrant when it shimmered in the sunlight and the trees were predictably evergreen.

That’s when he saw it. There, cutting a path down and across his freshly roped terrain, were the telltale tracks of a real life bobcat, fresh and refreezing where they had momentarily melted. In the tree line up ahead a pair of glittering jewels flashed like emeralds in the alpines before disappearing down a dilly-dally alleyway.

Over the years he’d fallen in love with the fallacy of being first up the mountain each morning. But that day he learned there were perks to be being the runner-up.

FISHIN’

The new year brings rejuvenated prospects for those who like to reel big fish as salmon, steelhead and sturgeon openings have all returned on the lower Columbia River.

As of Jan. 1 anglers have been permitted to target hatchery steelhead and hatchery Chinook from Buoy 10 up to the I-5 Bridge to Portland, with steelhead legal all the way up to McNary Dam. Additionally, sturgeon can now be targeted for harvest at Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day dam pools while the lower Columbia remains open for catch-and-release sturgeon efforts.

The reopening of those Columbia salmon and steelhead fisheries comes after a nearly four month emergency closure intended to protect upriver fish stocks. The timing of the new opening does not coincide with any particular run but some straggler steelhead and early springers are sure to be lurking in the system somewhere.

However, the forecast for spring and summer salmon runs is not looking particularly promising this year. The upriver spring Chinook run is expected to come in around 99,300 adult fish, which would be down from the 115,080 returners in 2018.

The daily limit on the mainstem Columbia River is two adult hatchery Chinook, two hatchery steelhead, or one of each from the I-5 Bridge on down to Buoy 10. The daily limit for hatchery Chinook is the same on tributaries like the Cowlitz, Kalama and Deep rivers, but anglers are only allowed one adult hatchery Chinook per day on the Lewis River. The daily limit for steelhead on most lower Columbia tributaries is three hatchery fish. Similarly, the summer Chinook run is expected to come in around 35,900 fish this year whereas 42,120 adults returned last year.

“Staff will be monitoring this year’s salmon returns very closely,” said Ryan Lothrop, WDFW’s Columbia River Policy Coordinator, in a prospect report. “Given these low projections, our first responsibility is to make sure we can meet our conservation requirements and spawning objectives during the upcoming seasons.”

Last week the WDFW conducted their final creel sample of the season. The department plans to continue that monitoring effort on area rivers in February. Last week’s results showed another muted return on area drainages.

Two bank anglers on the Grays River had no catch, while four bank anglers on Abernathy Creek and six bank anglers on Germany Creek were also skunked. The Elochoman River rewarded 27 bank anglers with four keeper steelhead but two boat rods had no catch to show. On East Fork Lewis River 24 bank anglers released just one steelhead.

The Cowlitz River offered no respite for frustrated anglers as 12 bank anglers below the I-5 Bridge and nine upriver rods all went home empty handed. River flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at 6,130 cubic feet per second on Monday and rose to 9,620 cfps by Wednesday despite a series of dry days. Water visibility has been about eight feet with water temperature near 47 degrees.

At the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator last week employees retrieved just 60 coho adults, 129 coho jacks, eight cutthroat trout, two summer-run steelhead, and one winter-run steelhead. Those crews also relocated one coho adult and 14 coho jacks into the Cispus River near Randle and released eight coho adults, 54 coho jacks and one cutthroat trout into Lake Scanewa in Randle. Another 51 coho adults, 63 coho jacks and four cutthroat trout were put into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton.

Anglers seeking sturgeon for the table will need to head up the Columbia River a bit. The daily limit is one white sturgeon with a yearly limit of two fish. In the Bonneville Pool anglers can keep sturgeon measuring between 38-54 inches. At The Dalles and John Day pools anglers are allowed to keep sturgeon measuring between 43-54 inches.

Anglers hungry for steelhead can also head west in search of a honey hole as coastal rivers from the Willapa to the Humptulips are poised to host winter fisheries. Anglers on the Willapa system, along with the Humptulips, Chehalis, Wynoochee, and Satsop rivers are allowed two hatchery steelhead per day. On Wednesday river flow on the Wynoochee was reported at 2,280 cfps above Black Creek and 869 cfps at Grisdale. Sections of the Willapa System open to salmon fishing include the Willapa River, portions of the Naselle, and three sections of the Nemah River.

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 1,920 cfps on Wednesday.

If you prefer smaller fish there are plenty of opportunities for trout and warm water species. The WDFW reports that anglers have been hooking “good-size crappie” at Silver Lake near Toutle. Kokanee fishing is also said to be rewarding in the Merwin and Yale reservoirs. Bass are also biting in the slackwater of the Chehalis River and walleye have been showing up on hooks both above and below John Day Dam.

Excess adult steelhead from broodstock operations have recently been planted in Kress Lake in Cowlitz County. Between Dec. 3-14 Kress Lake received 22 fish weighing about ten pounds each. Additional lunkers are expected to be deposited as they become available. According to the WDFW those new arrivals are, “Small in number but prodigious in size.”

Other hotbeds for stocked trout include Lake Sacajawea in Longview and Mineral Lake out in Northeast Lewis County. Longview’s crown jewel received 640 one-pound trout on Dec. 18 and Mineral Lake received 672 of the same size fish the following day. The previous week Mineral Lake was planted with 11 trout weighing roughly 10 pounds each and on Dec. 17 some 203 trout tipping the scales at about five pounds each were dropped off. In Onalaska anglers at Carlisle Lake will be happy to note that on Dec. 17 there were 25 10-pound trout and 100 five-pound trout dropped in the Ol’ Mill Pond.

HUNTIN’

There’s no longer any doubt what season it is in the hunting world as nearly all big game openings have come and gone for good. That leaves birds of assorted feathers as the target de jour for the rest of winter.

Waterfowl seasons for ducks and geese 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 good place to find birds congregating in mass. The Willapa and Chehalis river systems are also dependable places to look for birds to wing.

Openings for blue, ruffed and spruce forest grouse all closed on Dec. 31, along with old crow season and the final wild turkey hunts. However, coot and snipe seasons will continue statewide through Jan. 27. At the same time, a brant goose hunt will take place in Pacific County on Jan. 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, and 27.

Meanwhile, cougar hunts have become restricted in some areas in the new year. During the fall and early winter portion of cougar hunts each area remains open no matter how many kills are registered. Going forward, harvest data will be analyzed regularly and areas where the harvest quota has been met will be shut down until next fall.

Opportunities for deer are all shut down except for master hunters but 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 need to take heed through the Ides of March. Snowshoe hare are most prevalent in the foothills of the Olympic Mountain range in western Washington. However, some of the best cottontail rabbit territory can be found in the scrublands of Thurston and Pierce counties.

Trapping season for beaver, badger, weasel, marten, mink, muskrat and river otter will all run through the end of March. And, as per usual, almost all roadkill salvage is legal in Washington with the use of an emergency permit provided by the WDFW.

As always, coyotes are legal fodder all year round but they can’t be targeted at night in any areas where big game seasons are open.

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 on Wednesday. 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 got underway on Wednesday at Twin Harbors but will expand to other beaches by this weekend. Those clam tides were approved by the WDFW last week after marine toxin tests showed that the succulent bivalves are safe to eat.

The remaining digs have been approved on the following beaches, dates, and evening low tides:

Jan. 3, Thursday; 5:06 p.m.; -0.2 feet; Twin Harbors

Jan. 4, Friday; 5:46 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Jan. 5, Saturday; 6:23 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis

Jan. 6, Sunday; 6:59 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

WDFW coastal shellfish manager Dan Ayres says that the best digging results are typically had about one or two hours prior to low tide. However, no digging will be allowed on any beach prior to noon. Those evening digs mean diggers need to have a way to search for clammies in the dark.

“Diggers should come prepared with good lighting devices and always keep an eye on the surf, particularly at this time of year when the best low tides come after dark,” Ayres noted in a press release.

The WDFW has also scheduled a tentative set of razor clams that would run from Jan. 17-21. Those digs would include three dates at Kalaloch Beach on the west end of the Olympic Peninsula, however, it is unclear how the ongoing government shutdown will impact those opportunities. The Olympic National Park has not responded to inquiries by The Chronicle.

Digs that have been proposed through February include 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 (Martin Luther King Holiday)

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.

BIRDIN’

The final day of the Christmas Bird Count will take place on Jan. 5 and local birders can flock to Grays Harbor in order to participate.

That counting circle is coordinated by Dianna Moore and will be out and about in the field from about 8 a.m. until dusk on Saturday. Various groups will cover areas from Ocean Shores to Westport, including coastal jetties, the Oyhut Wildlife Area, John’s River Wildlife Area, and Bottle Beach state Park.

The Christmas Bird Count was founded by the Audubon Society in 1900 and is considered the longest running citizen science census of birds in North America. Anyone interested in joining the official bird counting effort should contact Moore as soon as possible by phone at 360-590-1395, or by email at dlmoor2@coastaccess.com.

In Clark County thousands of snow geese have descended upon the Vancouver Lowlands. A report from the WDFW noted that one witness reported 2,000 geese feeding on one old corn field. That gigantic gaggle of honkers is said to have attracted a mass of bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, and other flying raptors. Another report came straight from a team of WDFW biologists. Those scientists said they saw a rare “blue goose” among a mess of white geese. The report noted that, “While considered rare, blue-morph snow geese are becoming more common in southwest Washington as the snow goose population continues to grow. Blue geese have bluish-grey plumage, except on the head, neck and tail tip.”

SNOWIN’

Snow fell all weekend at White Pass and kept powederheads punching the runs and churning the turnstiles through the holidays. A break in the weather system early this week didn’t do much to slow things down since the temperature has stayed at or below freezing.

Board riders and plank gliders will be happy to hear that more snow was expected to begin falling Wednesday night and continue through the weekend with more than a foot of new powder possible. As of Wednesday afternoon the snowpack at the summit was up to 63 inches with 36 inches piled up at the base.

White Pass is currently open daily with most lifts in operation. Progression Park is open along with 18 features at Ribeye. The Nordic area is open daily through Jan. 6 as is the tubing area. Night skiing will resume on Saturday, Jan. 5.

Up to date condition and operation can be obtained by calling 509-672-3100.

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