The thermometer read 19 degrees the last time I had the bright idea to go clam digging in December. To top off my ingenious inspiration I invited a pair of naive city slickers to come along on the excursion for their very first attempt at pulling succulent bivalves from the sand.
I advised everyone before we pulled away from the farm to bundle up against the elements but somehow the rookie razor clam hounds still underestimated how cold a wide open beach can be after dark and in the dead of winter. Spirits were warm on the drive to the coast as the underpowered heater turned exhaust into precious temperature points in the cab. The city slickers rolled smoke in the back seat and passed their kombucha back and forth in a wide mouth mason jar. Neither of them were from the Pacific Northwest originally. They were more familiar with the gritty streets of Philadelphia and the tar-heeled avenues of Charlotte before settling in the low life burg of Olympia for a spell. As I drove and the Chehalis River rolled on by they marveled at the endless acres of flooded farm fields and mocked the myriad shades of charcoal gray that smeared the otherwise endless horizon.
After a couple hours on the wending road we finally reached the access spur to the beach and began to ease down the rutted lane as bent grass whipped and scratched raspy along the sides of the truck. As the obsidian glass plate of the ocean rolled into full view the grasses dissipated and we began to feel the full brunt of the ocean’s unforgiving zephyrs. The glass of the windows seemed brittle in the wind and the metal parts of the truck threatened to freeze exposed fingertips or bulging love handles.
When the tires hit the soft sand things felt different than I’d remembered from my many treks up and down the true coastal highway. As I held my vector toward the hardpack sand near the surfline the difference became clear as ice — The beach was, quite literally, frozen.
Cruising a few hundred yards past gaggles of other, earlier, diggers the truck would casually glide from side to side across the icicle sand at the whims of the wind. It was like taking a zamboni for a joyride to the end of the world.
Once we opened the tin can doors to the world any delusions of lingering comfort were quickly scuttled. The wind ripped through futile cotton layers and banged off piercing ear drums. With any hope of warmth out of the question we quickly booted up and shuffled off toward the water line in hopes of attaining our limits quickly before the last vestiges of sunlight disappeared for good. All we needed was four 15-minute limits and we’d be headed back to some salty tavern to shake off, drink up, and warm up.
Of course, that’s not the way things shook out. Maybe it was the cold that had the clams hiding or maybe it was because we were in an obvious hurry, but the beach did not reveal its bounty to us with any sort of urgency. Instead, we bumbled about the beach in a orbital bunch with a pair of classic propane lanterns holding steady at the center. With a pair of inexperienced clam diggers in the group much of our early effort was spent simply identifying the tell-tale pockmarks created by siphoning razor clams in the tide. Once the newbies had learned how to identify the ring of a razor clam all that was left was to convince the greenhorns to thrust their cold hands into the pulp wet sand in order to grope for unseen shellfish that can slice a prone finger to the bone.
As the fruitless stomping and searching bore on the digging sounded less and less sane. Soon the neighboring lights up and down the beach had all disappeared as our fellow diggers attained their daily limits, or more likely, simply gave up.
There were certainly no quitters in our group but the lot of us were rapidly angling for excuses that would explain why we should be the one holding the lantern. Considering the circumstances the faint residual heat emanating from the metal lid of the glass lantern felt like a shot straight from the sun’s eternal furnace.
While the endless sky above the Pacific Ocean turned black as the attack ink of a squid our collective spirits continued to sink like so many frostbitten clams in the surf. As we sauntered and shivered with our backs to the water, heads hung low and lanterns swaying side to side, someone gasped and pointed into the abyss.
Above the black tar pit of the ocean a fingernail moon the color of a salted goldfish was cutting a crow’s line to the point where the inexhaustible wells of the sea and sky come together. We stood in reverent silence as the scythe curve of the moon raced toward the water’s undulating edge. The tides seemed to shudder under the direct supervision of their greatest influence.
As impact grew imminent the neon glow of the moon reflected off of the ocean’s shimmering surface and set the coast aglow as if the world between Far East and West were set ablaze.
We watched as the moon dipped below the horizon and melted like a marshmallow in hot cocoa across the idyl surface. The concentrated glow raced out as it spread side to side. Big ocean breakers threatened to swamp the remnants of the celestial orb and soon the moon was sunk for good. The light that had captivated our minds disappeared like a match tip into a rain barrel. I think I even heard it sizzle.
While I don’t remember how many clams we dug on that trip I do remember that the heater in the truck was even less useful on the trip home. What I’ll never forget, though, is that we all caught that radiant moonset on an otherwise abandoned beach, and that’s something you can’t find in a city, or even a warm barstool.
Editor’s Note: Chronicle reporter Jordan Nailon will head to Long Beach on Saturday in order to participate in, and observe, the long awaited one-day razor clam opening. Check out next Thursday’s Sports outdoors section for a complete report on the results of the coastal clam dig.
Fishing prospects are all washed up this week with a barrage of heavy storms making waters murky wherever there are fish to find.
The mainstem Chehalis River is closed to all salmon retention but can still be fished for steelhead and bass. However, the Chehalis may be the river that is most severely affected by seasonal downpours and it’s flow is as high and muddy as any in the area. Most traditional fishing holes are completely obscured and bank access is limited in many areas. Early this week the Satsop River was even approaching flood stage, as was the mainstem near Doty. On Wednesday river flow on the Wynoochee River was reported at 5,780 cubic feet per second above Black Creek and 1,440 cfps at Grisdale.
LIkewise, salmon fishing is still shuttered on the mainstem Columbia River from Buoy 10 up to Pasco and river conditions would most likely make any efforts futile anyhow. The good news is that there are numerous tributaries still open to either salmon, and, or steelhead retention. The bad news is that the most recent WDFW creel survey shows that the bite has remained seasonally depressed.
Last week the WDFW found one bank angler and two boat rods with no catch on the Grays River while two bank anglers on Germany Creek had no catch. Likewise, two bank anglers on Abernathy Creek had no catch. The Elochoman was an outlier with 65 sampled bank anglers showing five keeper steelhead and three coho jacks released. Another five boat rods kept one steelhead. On the East Fork Lewis River six bank anglers released one coho while one boat rod had no catch.
Anglers were mostly left disappointed on the Cowlitz River again last week. Four bank rods downriver of the I-5 Bridge reported no catch but their counterparts up toward Blue Creek and the Barrier Dam were at least able to land a few fish. Nine bank rods released one adult Chinook and three coho jacks, while four boat rods released one adult coho. River flow has stayed constant so far this week at about 10,300 cfps with visibility down to 10 feet and water temperature down to 47.5 degrees.
Returning fish data from the Cowlitz River Salmon Hatchery helps to paint a more complete picture of the Cowlitz River’s contents these days. Last week employees retrieved 481 coho adults, 504 coho jacks, 32 cutthroat trout, 15 summer-run steelhead and one steelhead jack. Those crews also relocated 65 coho adults and 153 coho jacks into the Cispus River near Randle, while releasing 90 coho adults, 96 coho jacks and five cutthroat trout into Lake Scanewa in Randle. Another 75 coho adults and 60 coho jacks were dumped at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood and 202 coho adults, 188 coho jacks and eight cutthroat trout were dropped into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton.
The end is near for hunters who still harbor hopes of packing away a deer or elk this year.
Most late archery and muzzleloader openings for deer and elk expired on Dec. 15 and nearly all of the rest will close on Dec. 31. However, bowman and musket toters in Western Washington will be able to take aim at big game in area 407 until Jan. 20.
Opportunities for black-tailed deer will remain open through the end of the year in GMUs 407, 410-417, 419-422, 454, 505, 564a*, 624, 627, 636, 648, 652, 654, 655, and 660-672.
With big winter storms lingering and backwaters starting to expand hunters have predictably shifted their sights to the wild world of waterfowl. Hunters in Goose Management Area 2 (Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties) are required to obtain a special permit and Dusky Canada geese are also off-limits in that area. Goose hunting will be allowed in that coastal area on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays only from Dec. 22-Jan. 20. Goose hunting in the inland portion will be allowed Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays only through Jan. 13. At the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge goose hunting is allowed Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays only through Jan. 12. Goose hunting will remain open in Areas 1 and 3 through Jan. 27. Duck season will continue statewide through Jan. 27.
Pheasant hunting came to an end on Dec. 15 at the Skookumchuck, Fort Lewis, Kiosmos, Scatter Creek, Belfair, Whidbey Island, and Lincoln Creek release sites. However, forest grouse of the blue, ruffed and spruce variety will remain fair game until the end of the year. Old crow season will stay open until the end of the year along with wild turkeys in GMUs 101-154 and 162-186. Coot and snipe seasons will close statewise on Jan. 27 and brant hunts will take place in Pacific County on Jan. 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26 and 27.
As per usual, cougar hunting will remain open in all applicable areas until the end of the year. At that time the WDFW will evaluate harvest numbers and determine which area will remain open into the new year. Opportunities to take bobcat, fox, raccoons, rabbits and hares will stay open through the Ides of March while coyotes are legal fodder all year round. However, coyotes can’t be targeted at night in areas where big game seasons are open.
Trapping season for beaver, badger, weasel, marten, mink, muskrat and river otter began on Nov. 1 and will run through the end of March. And, as always, most roadkill salvage is legal in Washington with the use of an emergency permit provided by the WDFW.
A set of razor clam digs which includes the first opening of the season at Long Beach have been approved by the WDFW. That approval was announced late last week following marine toxin testing that showed the succulent bivalves are prime for consumption.
Along with that announcement, the WDFW released a set of proposed razor clam digs that would take place in January and February. Those proposed digging tides do not yet include any opening at Long Beach. The results of Saturday’s one-day opening at Long Beach will be used as a barometer for future openings.
The upcoming four day razor clam dig will take place on the following dates, tides and beaches:
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
No digging will be allowed on any beach before noon. As always, WDFW coastal shellfish manager Dan Ayres notes that the best digging results are typically had about one or two hours prior to low tide. Because all of the digs will be evening tides diggers should be sure to bring a good light source. Ayres insists that classic lanterns work better than LED bulbs since they cause a more even light for spotting clam depressions.
Long Beach has been deprived of its normal slate of digging dates in recent years due to the confluence of several sets of unfortunate circumstances. First a wave of domoic acid settled on the peninsula and caused a bout of toxicity that closed the beach to razor clam digging for parts of multiple seasons. Then, beginning in the spring of 2017, a rash of low salinity caused a depression on the overall size and tally of the resident razor clam population. The beach has been closed regularly since then in order to allow juvenile clams to grow.
“We are opening Long Beach to give visitors a chance at some clams for the holidays, but diggers should expect some smaller clams in their catch,” Ayres said, in a press release.
With the clam digging opportunities coming just in time for the holiday season Ayres was kind enough to share his family’s festive shellfish preferences.
“For as long as I can remember, my family’s traditional Christmas Eve dinner has been Dungeness crab. We just sit around and crack crab and then eat till we are full, not much of a recipe for that!” wrote Ayres in an email to the FishRap command center. “However, sometime during the holiday period as the family cooks I usually make a big pot of razor clam chowder. My recipe for that is on our web site (along with a bunch of razor clam recipes) at: https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/recipes.html”
The next batch of proposed razor clam digs would start just after the new year, if approved. The digs tentatively scheduled for January include the following dates, tides and beaches:
Jan. 2, Wednesday; 4:22 p.m.; 0.2 feet; Twin Harbors
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
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
Jan. 20, Sunday; 6:05 p.m.; -1.6 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis
Jan. 21, Monday; 6:51 p.m.; -1.8 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks (Martin Luther King Holiday)
A complete list of approved and proposed razor clam digs can be viewed online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/current.html.
All clam diggers age 15 and older must purchase a fishing license. The daily limit is 15 clams and diggers must keep all clams regardless of size or condition. Additionally, each person must dig and carry their own harvest.
A recent power outage at the Minter Creek Hatchery in Pierce County resulted in the death of as many as 6.2 million Chinook salmon fry.
The power outage last weekend was compounded when the backup generator failed and their incubators ceased operation. Specifically, the pump that provides water to the incubators was inoperable.
“This is a devastating loss,” said Eric Kinne, WDFW hatchery division manager, in a press release. “The department is conducting an analysis to determine the root cause of what went wrong so that we can improve procedures at Minter Creek and our other hatcheries to help ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
An inventory of the dead fish provided by the WDFW included:
4.2 million Deschutes fall chinook fry
1.5 million Minter Creek fall chinook fry
507,000 White River spring chinook fry
Kinne noted that the WDFW was raising the White River fry as part of the state’s stated intent to provide more foot for starving southern resident orcas. Those whales are listed as endangered both federally and at the state level and they've seen their population plumet in recent decades.
The press release noted that some 4.2 million chum salmon and two million coho salmon at the facility were able to survive the outage.
The WDFW operates 80 hatcheries across Washington and rears around 68 million Chinook salmon smolts annually. The department is currently trying to determine if stocks from other facilities can be used to replace the losses at the Minter Creek facility in Gig Harbor.
Chinook usually return to their streams of origin between three and five years after their outmigration.
Powder heads rejoice!
Thanks to a series of storms that have dumped fresh snow in the mountains White pass is finally open for dependable daily operation. The resort opened up last Friday for the first time and has remained open, and under wintery deluge, since then.
The total snowpack above 5,800 feet is up about 20 inches sine the same time last week and is now sitting around 60 inches. That new snow includes a full foot of powder on Wednesday, with air temperatures around 27 degrees all over the mountain. The accumulation at the base has also increased nearly two feet up to 37 inches.
Additionally, the Nordic area is set to open for the season on Friday.
Last Saturday Matt Kurzeika of Onalaska and Rural Baseball Inc. fame decided to try out his snowboard for the first time ever. Despite eating a face full of snow all day Kurzeika said he’d caught the snow bug and intended to return to the slopes as often as possible.
However, he did have some hard earned advice for other greenhorns who are getting excited by all the white stuff.
“You definitely need a teacher to help you,” he said. “You’ve got to bend your knees. If you stay straight up you’re going to fall on your face.”
White Pass ski instructor Katie Moss told The Chronicle that the first couple of days of operation offered everything snow lovers could have asked for.
“It was good but it wasn’t annoyingly busy like on a powder day when you’re always bumping elbows with people,” said Moss. “I feel like it’s pretty standard for an opening weekend. I mean, we’ve all been praying for snow. I think the snow has come and we are grateful for that.”
An up-to-date snow report for White Pass can be viewed online at https://skiwhitepass.com/snow-report. Updates can also be obtained by via phone by calling 509-672-3100.