The rings of the tree were uneven and wonky in places, but they were persistent and pushed back against forces that sought to rot them from the inside out. The resultant irregularities served to mark trips around the sun and chronicled a lifetime’s accumulation of traumas both large and small.

A dozen floods and an odyssey of recurring droughts here, and there. A ragged harvest moon wind storm had snapped off its mighty crown a decade before the regal giant finally came down. At each oddly spaced interval the lines traced the splintered story the tree had overseen down the centuries.

Methodically, he planed the wood out back behind the tumble down shack and the gnarled old apple tree that still dropped its fruit each fall. Slowly, he honed each muscular branch and each chiseled slab of trunk into uniform square boards and beams and planks. With his eyes trained top dead center and his cracked and swollen hands deftly wielding his grandfather’s worn out tools the tree’s unique imperfections fell away in golden pigtails that piled up around the woodsman’s ragamuffin boots and briefly plugged the gaping hole in his sole.

The old farmhouse on the isolated patch of moss draped drainage had crumbled long ago and wooden shoots now sprouted from the remnants of the hackneyed foundation. His father had been born in that house and his grandfather had died in that house. Generations of kin had grown up traipsing around those familiar woods that still somehow always revealed something new. Similarly, waves of cousins and aunts and uncles had long collided along the bank of the river to pull out fish for frying while passing around cold bottles for drinking.

Over the years those burly fish, just like the pillars of his family, had slowly vanished. Nowadays, it was just the man and his good ol’ dog biding time down by the river as the sun ladled below the horizon of another irretrievable day. The old pole in his hand and the can of worms at his feet were a vestige of old habit more than anything else. Sometimes a sporadic salmon would bite and it would fill his heart with hope. But mostly it was an excuse to put on his father’s tattered angler’s vest that wreaked of cavendish and fish guts, so that he could feel his origins close to his heart.

As the years fell away the thick chunks of the tree disappeared until one day the battered bones of the old giant were gone entirely. In its place a stack of rough hewn boards towered high, teetering on edge and threatening to tumble in the face of seasonal zephyrs.

That’s when the man traded in his rusty wedge and aged blades for a fire forged wood-handled hammer and a heavy leather satchel of ironside nails. Over the months he spun round and round as he pounded the boards into place. Each hand carved plank wrapped around the the other until the old bones locked together again to form the sturdy skeleton of a fresh landmark on the sleepy old homestead.

At night, under the stars, he curled up with his dog next to a smoldering fire and watched the stars burn themselves out. As they twinkled across the universe and into his eyes his mind flickered with sepia toned memories that filtered through the smoke. Sometimes he didn’t recognize the faces of the children but the sound of children laughing was all too familiar as it leaked out of the woods and echoed off the warm walls of a log cabin completed.

Like his father, and his father before him, he had been reared and nurtured by the woods that still surround the old homestead. Over the years they had scared him enough to keep him safe and conspired to set him on the straight and narrow. He knew deep in his bones, where the sap meets marrow, that if a forgotten forest can regenerate itself and a sucker punched salmon run can return after generations of disappointment, that he too could rejuvenate the fertile ground from which he had sprung. So he deposited blood, and sweat and tears in the soil and held on tight to hope.

Maybe someday, while he was still upright, someone would wander along who could appreciate the rings around his heart and the homegrown shingle roof over his head. It was all he’d ever wanted.

FISHIN’

Anglers with a taste for Cowlitz kings only have a few days left to try their luck as the lower river is set to close to Chinook salmon harvest after Sept. 22. That closure will cover the Cowlitz and its tributaries from the mouth all the way up to the Barrier Dam.

According to the WDFW the fall Chinook run has been a disappointment so far and current projections indicate that there will not be enough returning kings to meet broodstock goals for the hatchery. In a press release the WDFW reasoned that, “Closing the lower Cowlitz River to chinook salmon retention will increase the number of hatchery fish available for broodstock and help ensure fishing opportunities in future years.”

However, the Toutle River will remain open during the closure and anglers are still be able to harvest hatchery coho and hatchery steelhead at this time. Last week on the Cowlitz River below the I-5 bridge in Toledo the WDFW sampled 20 bank anglers who showed five keeper kings, four jacks, and seven coho jacks. Those anglers also reported releasing 25 Chinook, 18 jacks, two coho, and one coho jack. In that same stretch 168 rods on 57 boats hauled in 19 Chinook, six jacks, four coho, and ten coho jacks. Those anglers also reported releasing 75 Chinook, 42 jacks, four steelhead, three coho, nine coho jacks, and three cutthroat trout. Action was considerably slower above the I-5 Bridge as seven bank rods reported releasing three Chinook. That is all.

Numbers from the salmon hatchery separator seem to indicate that once the fish make it beyond Vader they’ve got their sights set on running straight upriver while bypassing baited hooks. Last week employees recovered 58 summer-run steelhead, 32 spring Chinook, 150 fall Chinook, 29 jacks, 162 coho, 139 jacks, and 34 cutthroat. Those crews also deposited 11 spring Chinook adults, 32 coho adults, 36 coho jacks and four cutthroat trout into the Cispus River near Randle, in addition to releasing 18 spring Chinook adults,12 coho adults,17 coho jacks and one cutthroat trout at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood. Another 89 fall Chinook adults, 21 fall Chinook jacks, 49 coho adults, 80 coho jacks and four cutthroat trout were put into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton.

At the Barrier Dam Campground, Karen Glaser says the fishing wasn’t as slow as the numbers make it seem, but it still left plenty to be desired.

“I’m gonna say it was okay. It wasn’t as good as the lower river but they caught all of them in the lower river before they could get up here. What can I say?” noted Glaser. “It’s not as nice as we’d like but we’ve still got some steelhead showing up, and some kings, and even some coho… It’s pretty touch-and-go.”

On Monday river flow below Mayfield was reported at about 2,430 cubic feet per second and that number had risen just slightly by midweek. Water temperature has been around 54 degrees with visibility of 14 feet. Meanwhile, two weeks of work at the Barrier Dam and Blue creek boat launches has been completed and both launches are back to normal operation.

Anglers who find themselves pushed off the Cowlitz River will not find respite on the mighty Columbia though. That’s because the lower Columbia River was closed to all salmon and steelhead fishing last week between Buoy 10 and Pasco. Still, anglers who are willing to sacrifice their final day on the Cowlitz could instead try their luck casting lures for lunker sturgeon on the Columbia between the Wauna powerlines and Bonneville Dam. Last week most anglers were finding legal fish to take home so long as they put in their time, and a large contingent of anglers concentrated near the Cowlitz/Wahkiakum county line. That limited catch-and-keep fishery allows anglers to keep one fish between 44-50 inches. The annual limit is two sturgeon and retention of green sturgeon is prohibited.

Beginning Sept. 24 anglers will once again be able to keep Chinook and coho salmon on the Deep River near Cathlamet. That Columbia River tributary was previously shuttered to protect upriver stocks of Chinook brights but, according to a WDFW press release, “Deep River has very little impact on URB stocks, and historically the risk of further impacts to URB stocks is near-zero by late September.” Anglers will be allowed to keep up to six hatchery salmon per day, so long as they are at least one foot long. In Oregon the Youngs Bay and Blind/Knappa slough fisheries are also set to resume.

Angler effort has picked up somewhat in recent weeks on the mainstem Chehalis as persistent rain showers have sent rejuvenating pulses of fresh water out toward Grays Harbor. Boat anglers have been putting in at Borst Park and floating the straits toward Galvin in the early morning fog and the evening clouds. Others have been targeting the mouths of creeks and streams to find hide-away bass coming out for a bite.

Out in Montesano at Dennis Company outfitters on Wednesday, Lloyd the Lunker Hunter was taking a break from fishing to ring up customers and engage in some reel talk with The Chronicle.

“Fishing has been a little slow. Of course we haven’t got too much rain yet so the flows are still pretty low,” he said. “With the rain that we’ve gotten over the last week they are picking up a little.”

River flow on the Wynoochee River was reported at 818 cubic feet per second above Black Creek on Tuesday while the flow was about 459 cubic feet per second at Grisdale.

Since the mainstem of the Chehalis and its tributaries don’t open for adult salmon retention until Oct. 1 this time of year is typically a little slow in the basin. However, Lloyd says there are still a few fish to be found if you have the patience, and more importantly, know where to look.

“I did see some kings coming into the Humptulips last week. I also saw a lot of fish rolling down on the Willapa the week before,” Lloyd said, detailing the first glimpses of fall Chinook runs. “Silvers it’s a little early yet, at least that’s what I’d thought, but that’s what I saw caught the other day and it was pretty dark so it had been in the river for quite awhile. We were all pretty stunned by that.”

Since steelhead are categorized as a trout and not a salmon they are still open to harvest on the Chehalis and its tributaries. However, Lloyd says it might be a waste of time right now.

“As far as steelhead goes they are still holding,” he said. “They are just not as productive this time of year and without a guide, or somebody who really knows where they’re hiding and what they’re doing, it’s like shooting blind.”

If sea salted fish are what you’re after then Puget Sound is the place to focus since coastal waters are now closed. While many marine areas of the Salish Sea are preparing to close, Marine Areas 10-13 in the South Sound will remain open. To the north, Marine Areas 8-2 (Port Susan-Port Gardner) will close at the end of the day Sept. 23, while Marine Areas 5 (Sekiu), 6 (East Juan de Fuca Strait), 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island, Skagit Bay), and 9 (Admiralty Inlet) are all set to close with the end of September.

HUNTIN’

High buck hunts, which are known to offer prime opportunities for trophy deer, will continue through Sept. 25 at Alpine Lakes, Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, and Pasayten, as well as at all Wilderness Areas of the Olympic Peninsula, the Henry Jackson Wilderness Areas and Lake Chelan Recreation Areas. Those big time hunts require a buck to have a minimum of three points to be legal for harvest, and can be conducted with either modern rifles of muskets.

While early archery hunts for elk will close on Thursday, early archery hunts for deer are set to continue through Sept. 23 or Sept. 28, depending on the specific Game Management Unit. Three of the most bountiful units in our neck of the woods are GMU’s 667 Skookumchuck, 505 Mossyrock, and 530 Ryderwood. On the east side of the Cascade Mountains hunters can also find bow openings for mule deer and white-tailed deer right now. Early seasons for all three deer species on the east side will open next week for musket toters.

Youngsters will be able to blast coots and pheasants all across Washington on Sept. 22-23 during a two-day junior hunt. Senior hunters and those with disabilities will then be able to hunt pheasants from Sept. 24-28, with the general season beginning the next day. Additionally, general upland game seasons are ongoing with opportunities to wing forest grouse, cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares. In Thurston and Pierce counties most grouse live below 2,500 feet of elevation with some of the greatest grouse populations found on JBLM (GMU 652), Elbe Hills and Tahoma State Forests (GMU 654), Weyerhaeuser’s Vail Tree Farm (GMU 667), and Capitol State Forest (GMU 663). New this year the WDFW is asking hunters to return the wings and tails of forest grouse for a long-term study. Collection barrels are located around the state and the WDFW asks that hunters freeze any remains that they are not able to return them on the day of harvest.

Band-tailed pigeon hunts will continue through Sept. 23. Those birds are known to congregate near red elderberry and cascara trees as well as wild berry patches which are most abundant in 5-10 year old clear cuts or among deciduous forests. Crow hunting will remain open through the end of the year, as will general turkey hunts in GMUs 101-154 and 162-186. Additionally, a pair of special youth and senior hunts for ducks and geese will take place in western Washington on Sept. 22-23, and then pick back up on Sept. 29-30 in eastern Washington. Mourning dove hunts will be allowed through Oct. 30.

Bear hunts will continue through Nov. 15 in most parts of Washington, including the South Cascades and Coastal areas. Hunters are allowed to take two bears per season, but only one of those bears can be taken in eastern Washington. On this green side of the state prospects are best west of I-5, particularly in the coastal areas. In Clallam and west Jefferson counties bears can be found from the Olympic Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Closer to home bears can be found in the Willapa Hills, as well as the Gifford Pinchot and Mount Rainier National Forests. Cougar hunting is also particularly successful in those rural and sparsely populated counties. Generally, cougars can be found anywhere there are healthy populations of ruminants to eat. Locally, the Skookumchuck area (GMU 667) produces the greatest number of cougar harvests each year.

Small game hunts are also underway for bobcats, fox, and raccoon. Likewise, coyotes are forever legal for the cross hairs in Washington with no annual bag limit and no ban on night hunting. What’s more, horny ruminants are beginning come into rut. That means that more ungulates will be making unwise decisions around roads and wind up meeting the front end of hard charging automobiles. Luckily for the waste-not, want-not crowd, roadkill salvage is legal in Washington, with the exception of deer in Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, and Clark counties.

CHEESIN’

The Chronicle is putting together a big glossy informational insert with the full lowdown on the who’s, what’s, when’s, where’s and why’s of hunting in our area. The special edition tab will include tidbits from the WDFW, as well as insight from locals who are neck deep in the camo-clad world of hunting. There will also be color photos, if you readers can be kind enough to provide them in a timely manner.

As we wade into the second round of fall hunting season it’s time to send out a plea to area rifle raisers, musket toters, and bow benders – Send us photos of your most recent hunting exploits (this year or last year, preferably), along with a description of all the hunt details you are brave enough to provide, and we’ll post your trophy shot in the special edition hunting guide for all to ogle over.

Please send submissions, via email to jnailon@chronline.com, or drop them off in person at The Chronicle office no later than Friday, Sept. 21.

SHOOTIN’

With the arrival of cooler, wetter weather, statewide shooting bans on lands managed by the WDFW or Department of Natural Resources have been lifted. Those bans were implemented earlier this summer in order to help prevent wildfires and were officially lifted on Sept. 15.

"These changes reflect an easing of fire danger, but we still urge anyone heading outdoors this fall to be extremely cautious while participating in any activity that could spark a wildfire," said Cynthia Wilkerson, manager of the WDFW Lands Division, in a press release.

Officials are still urging shooters to remain vigilant of dry grasses and other tinder fuels that could catch fire from a spark. Additionally, there are several restrictions still in place on state lands in eastern Washington. Those regulations include:

Fires or campfires, including those in fire rings, are prohibited. Personal camp stoves and lanterns fueled by propane, liquid petroleum, or liquid petroleum gas are allowed.

Smoking is prohibited, except in an enclosed vehicle.

Welding and operating chainsaws are prohibited. Operating a torch with an open flame and all equipment powered by an internal combustion engine is also prohibited.

Operating a motor vehicle away from developed roads is prohibited. Parking is permitted within designated parking areas, including developed campgrounds and trailheads; and in areas without vegetation that are within 10 feet of roadways.

CLAMMIN’

Last week the WDFW released a tentative list of razor clam digs that are set to begin in October and then run off-and-on through the end of the year, including a planned New Year’s Eve dig. However, final approval for the digs will be dependent upon results of marine toxin testing conducted closer to the actual digging dates.

Surveys by the WDFW indicate that the overall razor clam population has increased significantly across the coast since last season. However, populations are still depressed at Long Beach where low numbers of succulent bivalves caused the closure of that beach for most of the 2017-18 digging seasons. Proposed razor clam digs through the end of October are listed below, along with evening low tides and beaches:

· Oct. 11, Thursday, 8:58 p.m.; -0.6 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

· Oct. 12, Friday, 9:41 p.m.; -0.3 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis

· Oct. 13, Saturday, 10:26 p.m.; +0.1 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

· Oct. 25, Thursday, 7:55 p.m.; -0.5 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis

· Oct. 26, Friday, 8:36 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

· Oct. 27, Saturday, 9:19 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis

· Oct. 28, Sunday, 10:08 p.m.; -0.6 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Additional proposed digging tides can be found on the WDFW website.’

MEETIN’

At a meeting last week in Olympia the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission acted on several recommendations that will impact wildlife and the great out of doors in our area.

One decision made during the two-day meeting was to approve an easement for a trail that will link the WDFW’s Tumwater Falls Hatchery to the mouth of the Deschutes River at Capitol Lake in downtown Olympia.

Additionally, the commission voted to add four game management units to a list of areas where elk hoof disease is known to exist. Those GMUs (568, 572, 574, and 578) are located in Clark, Klickitat, and Skamania counties. Hunters who harvest an elk in those areas, along with others already on the list, are required to sever the hooves and leave them in place in an effort to avoid further spread of the disease..

However, there were three items that the commission pushed down the road to address at later dates, including:

· Consideration of the Columbia River Basin Salmon Management Policy, which was tabled until a special meeting scheduled Oct. 15.

· A proposal to open the recreational crab-fishing season off the Washington coast Nov. 15 rather than Dec.1, which the commission will also consider at its Oct. 15 meeting.

· A discussion about wolf-management planning efforts, which has not yet been rescheduled.

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