WHIDBEY ISLAND – After hours on end of numb-butted puttering through the gore of Seattle area traffic it was a relief to cross through the turnstile and come to a complete, if momentary, standstill.
On this side, the “dark side”, the industrial air was sour like bulldog flatulence and even the emerald cities are overrun by the scourge of overpopulation. A pre-apocalyptic urban chessboard gridlock was criss-crossed only by overflowing septic rivers.
On that side the island acted as a harbor to idyllic breeze sensibilities and soothing sense of pastoral relief. The rain shadow was nice, too, but it was the prevailing pace of life that truly served to whet the whistle of the island’s siren song.
With cars parked in single file lines small groups huddled in hooded sweatshirts and brown boots. Other had windbreakers and shorts flapping in the breeze. Cell phones and coffee. Newspapers and umbrellas. There was a thin veil of mist that floated like fog, only wetter, as a tired sun hung out quitely overhead.
Some seagulls rested on the masts of anchored out sailboats. Others hovered over the idling cars waiting for whatever snacks might wind up left behind. Down on the bufferhead beach bleach-bone seashells lay scattered at the surfline where a man from the midwest gathered tokens of his travels to share with his landlubbing neighbors back home in the nation’s great sea of corn.
Below the boardwalk barnacles wrapped around wooden piers and the raw scent of fish guts mixed with salt filtered air. Aboveboard a foghorn blared and indicated that the cars headed to town were all off and it was time to drive onboard and leave the mainland.
Inside the lookout hall a tow-headed toddler pressed his face to the nautical window. As the dock eased way without warning he oohed-and-awed over all that “waddy”. He watched for whales and other monsters with his papa while waves appeared to move against the current and the fog shrouded sound slapped beneath what had been a stationary ferry.
Running wild onto the observation deck the wind blew through his scarecrow hair and filled him with a burst of spirit as it pushed his itty bitty frame around like a dinghy in a hurricane. He laughed like a drunken sailor as he tumbled and then held tight to the hand rail. He’d heard the warnings of how the floor of the old Salish Sea is littered with the sunken skeletons of schooners and their doomed sailors. He liked to listen hard because the past was still calling out, but the voices were muffled by waves and time.
Once the ferry docked and we rolled onto the island the rhythm of the road change entirely and the distracting vibrations grew quiet. Deer loped about through town and only bow hunters were allowed to stalk the precious woodlands, meadows, and estuaries. Released rabbits from the county fair ran wild and did what rabbits do while shorebirds bobbed in the bay. The northwest coast was fortified with cannons and bunkers. Another site was full of farm raised pheasants that skittered through the inland coastal shrub brush in and effort to stay out of eyesight.
On a wide open shoreline that looked into Canada, over to the Olympic Mountains, and out through the strait toward the Pacific Ocean a humble beach was dotted with hand painted rocks. Locals and visitors bumbled about and a dog frollicked in the suddsy surf. Twice a year the sands would turn to rock and then back again. The beach held secrets, and memories and featured a mounted brass telescope pointed out to sea.
As a grandfather watched his grandson climb among the rocks he told old fishing tales about how it used to be. Like a message in a bottle, he cast his hope that somewhere some salmon were still schooling around and honing in on the right river to call them home again.
One by one the four members of that family peered through the zoom of the looking glass. In those moments they simultaneously forged and remembered age old maritime memories. They all promised they would be back again, but of course it was impossible to tell.
It’s not always easy to get back where you came from.
Piscatorial prospects in our area got a boost late last week when a coastal water balloon popped over Southwest Washington and filled drainages with a rush of cool water. Those rainwater surges are well known to lure lazing salmon upriver from their holdup stations near where the big watersheds reach the ocean.
On the Chehalis River, where the mainstem opened up to adult salmon retention on Oct. 1, early season effort spiked over the weekend while river levels were on the rise. Bank anglers lined up in sporadic bunches from Borst Park on down below Malone, but the best results are still being had down in Grays Harbor before the big bend at Elma. Other anglers have been starting to try their luck near the Skookumchuck Dam but they are outnumbering hungry fish so far. Boat anglers continue to run the lower Chehalis tributaries with increasing frequency but effort still hasn’t reached its seasonal nadir. On Wednesday flow on the Wynoochee River above Black Creek was reported at about 290 cubic feet per second and at Grisdale the ‘Nooch was reportedly flowing at 209 cubic feet per second.
To the south along the Oregon country border salmonid fishing is still heavily restricted on the lower Columbia River. Retention of all salmon and steelhead is currently prohibited between Buoy 10 and Pasco, but several tributaries remain open for anglers who may be tired of twiddling their thumbs.
Creel sampling conducted by the WDFW last week showed 13 bank anglers on the Kalama River released two Chinook while three rods on one boat had no fish tales to share. Effort was greater on the Lewis River but results were just as muted. Forty-seven bank anglers kept one steelhead, one coho and two jacks, while releasing two Chinook, one coho and one coho jack. Another five boat rods kept one coho jack and released one adult coho.
Other area rivers have been subject to recent regulation changes. All coho on the Grays River must be released from the mouth up to the mouth of the South Fork, and the same holds true on the West Fork Grays from the mouth all the way to the headwaters. Meanwhile, Deep River, Youngs Bay, Blind Slough and Knappa Slough all reopened under permanent salmon and steelhead regulations on Sept. 24.
On the Cowlitz River the retention of Chinook is prohibited from the mouth up to the barrier dam but anglers may still keep coho and steelhead. Additionally, as of Oct. 6 the Toutle and North Fork Toutle rivers were both closed to Chinook harvest from the mouth upstream. Creel sampling by the WDFW on the Cowlitz River last week showed a moderate return on angling time. From the I-5 Bridge downstream 29 bank rods showed 10 coho jacks in the box with one jack released, while 47 rods on 23 boats kept three coho adults and one jack, while releasing two Chinook adults, one jack, two coho adults and four jacks. Above the freeway bridge 34 bank rods kept one steelhead and released six Chinook and three coho jacks. One lonely boat angler had no catch.
Reports from the Cowlitz salmon hatchery say fish are in the river, though. Last week employees retrieved 1,100 coho adults, 2,586 jacks, 368 fall Chinook adults, 42 jacks, 96 cutthroat trout, and 49 summer-run steelhead. Over six days those crews also released 152 coho adults and 336 coho jacks into the Cispus River near Randle and dropped 221 coho adults and 401 coho jacks at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood. Another 385 coho adults, 1,336 coho jacks, seven fall Chinook jacks and seven cutthroat trout were deposited into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton, and 149 coho adults, 431 coho jacks and one cutthroat trout were plopped into Lake Scanewa in Randle. On Monday river flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at about 3,540 cubic feet per second and that measurement had risen to 4,260 cubic feet per second by midweek. Water visibility has been hovering around 14 feet with a temperature just under 54 degrees.
Some of the slack in angling effort can rightfully be attributed to the fact that many prime hunting seasons are now in full swing. Muzzleloader seasons for deer and elk had hunters in rut last week and beginning Oct. 13 hunters with modern firearms will be able to take aim at deer and waterfowl as those general seasons going.
The WDFW has issued a promising report card for deer prospects across the state. A run of relatively moderate winters is said to have left deer populations sitting pretty.
“Winter conditions in the past ten years, wildfires, fall green-up and weather during the hunting season are just some of the factors that can influence deer numbers and distribution,” said Jerry Nelson, a deer and elk section manager for the WDFW, in a press release. “That is why we are encouraging hunters to review the Hunting Prospects on WDFW’s website to find location-specific forecasts.”
The general modern firearm season for deer will run through the end of October. Each year some of the best hunting in the state occurs locally in GMUs 530 (Ryderwood), 501 (Lincoln), 520 (Winston) and 550 (Coweeman).
Muzzleloader toters will still be able to hunt elk through Oct. 12. Some local GMUs that had general muzzleloader seasons added to the docket last year include 505 (Mossyrock), 506 (Willapa Hills), 510 (Stormking), 516 (Packwood), 520 (Winston), 550 (Coweeman) and a section of 524 (Margaret). Additionally, the Skookumchuck area (GMU 667) should still have a few nice elk in between the Skookumchuck Wildlife Area and the old Centralia Coal Mine. According to talk around the feed bin, last weekend the lightly snow dusted hills of East Lewis County provided plenty of big bull targets.
Hunters should remain aware that elk in Washington are widely afflicted with a debilitating hoof disease. That disease first popped up in the herds of southwest Washington before spreading north, and then making its way east of the Cascade Mountains near Trout Lake. In an effort to help limit the spread of the disease, hunters are required to leave the lower leg portion of any harvested animal at the kill site in GMUs 507, 418, 437, 454, 501-564, 633, 636 and 642-699.
Bear hunting will also amble on through Nov. 15 but the odds will grow long in coming weeks once bears max out their food stuffs and get fat and sleepy. While black bears can be found from the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean the highest density of bears tends to roam west of I-5.
Cougar seasons will continue through at least the end of the year in all open areas, as will hunts for forest grouse, crows, and turkeys in GMUs 101-154 and 162-186. In GMUs 382, 388, 568-578 wild turkey hunts will come to a close on Oct. 12.
Pheasant hunts are also underway. In western Washington the general season will continue through Nov. 30 from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily. The best odds for pheasants in southwest Washington can be found at the Skookumchuck, Kosmos, Scatter Creek, and Lincoln Creek release sites. The daily bag limit is two birds of either sex. Hunts for quail and northern bobwhite will also continue through Nov. 30 in western Washington. Mourning dove hunts will continue through Oct. 30.
Waterfowl will begin to receive more scatter shot pressure in coming days as duck, goose, coot and snipe hunts are all set to begin on Oct. 13. Ducks, coots and snipe will remain fair game through the end of the month while goose seasons will vary by area. In Goose Management Area 1 the general season will run through Nov. 25, while most of Area 2 will be open daily through Oct. 28. The Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays only while the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is open Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays only. Dusky Canada geese are off limits in Area 2 from October through March. Area 3 will be open from Oct. 13-25.
Last season, nearly 445,000 ducks were harvested in Washington.
“With healthy waterfowl populations, mild temperatures, and some early rainfall, it should be a strong opener,” said Kyle Spragens, WDFW waterfowl manager, in a press release. “Favorable habitat conditions and breeding pair counts from Washington, Alaska, and Canada indicate a strong fall flight.”
Hunts for small game like bobcat, fox, racoon, rabbit, and hare will all continue through March 13 but it is legal to hunt coyotes all year round.
The very first razor clam digs of the seasons will get underway Thursday at the beaches of Twin Harbors and Mocrocks. Those opening digs were confirmed late last week by the WDFW following a round of marine toxin testing meant to ensure that the succulent bivalves are indeed safe to eat.
The three day opener will also include a dig at Copalis on Friday. No digging will be allowed on any beach prior to noon.
The upcoming dig is approved on the following beaches, dates, and evening low tides:
• 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
For best results head to the beach about two hours prior to low tide and start looking for the tell-tale donuts burbling in the wet sand. The night digs will also require lanterns or flashlights. Traditionalists swear lanterns work best but LED bulbs also work well.
“Digging after dark brings with it the spectacle of thousands of small lights representing individual razor clam diggers working their way up and down the beach,” said WDFW coastal shellfish manager, Dan Ayres, in a press release.
Additional razor clam digs that have been proposed for this year are listed below, along with evening low tides and beaches:
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
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
Nov. 22, Thursday, 5:55 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis
Nov. 23, Friday, 6:36 p.m.; -1.1 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
Nov. 24, Saturday, 7:20 p.m.; -1.3 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks
Nov. 25, Sunday, 8:05 p.m.; -1.3 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
Dec. 6, Thursday, 6:01 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis
Dec. 7, Friday, 6:40 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
Dec. 8, Saturday, 7:16 p.m.; -0.6 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis
Dec. 9, Sunday, 7:53 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
Dec. 20, Thursday, 4:51 p.m.; -0.3 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
Dec. 21, Friday, 5:35 p.m.; -1.0 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis
Dec. 22, Saturday, 6:20 p.m.; -1.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
Dec. 23, Sunday, 7:05 p.m.; -1.6 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis
According to Ayres the WDFDW has also been working with staff at Olympic National Park in order to access the possibility of limited openings at Kalaloch Beach. All proposed digs will be dependant upon the results of marine toxin testing conducted closer to those dates.
Washington law requires all diggers age 15 and older to possess a fishing license for razor clams. Each digger is allowed up to dig up to 15 clams per day. All dug clams must be kept regardless of size of condition and they must be kept in a personal container.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is prepared to receive public comment on the Columbia River salmon policy and other fishy topics during a meeting in Olympia on Oct. 15.
The Columbia salmon policy was enacted five years ago and resulted in large scale changes to salmon fisheries on the big river and its tributaries. A new report on the impacts of that policy will be reviewed during the meeting.
According to Bill Tweit, a WDFW special assistant who helped to draft the report, there are no new ideas or significant changes suggested in the report.
“The report is simply a tool to help commissioners evaluate whether the policy has been a success,” Tweit said in the release.
The commission is also set to consider a recommendation to allow recreational crabbers to set out pots two weeks earlier than usual in most areas of Washington’s Pacific Coast.
That meeting is slated to begin at 8:30 a.m. on Monday in the Capitol Room of the Doubletree Hotel, located at 415 Capitol Way N., Olympia.
Late last week Lewis County lifted all remaining burn ban restrictions in the county.
All outdoor burning, including recreational campfires and slash piles, will now be allowed in all applicable areas and with required permits.
The Lewis County Fire Marshall is still encouraging property owners to exercise caution when conducting burns. Preventative measures include the presence of fire extinguishing equipment like water hoses and supervision of fires until they are completely out. Additionally, outdoor burning is restricted natural vegetation from the burn site while burning of garbage, paper or other refuse is strictly prohibited at all times.