Have you taken a moment yet to notice the extra moments we have to notice things?
The long deflating nightmare is finally over and the days are beginning to stretch out, slow and true, like an Abba-Zabba packed away in a pocket.
The long fall into the seemingly bottomless void has come to merciful end and we are now rebounding like a bouncy ball tossed to the bottom of an empty wishing well. It’s our time down here!
The days are still all cold, and wet and windy, but the sun is hanging in the sky just a little while longer every time we turn around. It’s not much to perceive all at once, but almost imperceptibly over long form time, the scales are beginning to tilt back toward the light.
The honking white breasted geese still cut a cursive V through the ink black night and navigate by the light of the moon. Paranoid deer still slink under the cover of lingering morning fog in order to snag scab apples from forgotten orchards and then prowl the depths of the darkest hour in order to decapitate perennials tucked in pots close to the house.
After all, they says it’s always darkest just before the light. The deer, and the rest of the wild critters surely know this and take full advantage while humans with cottage fever pull covers high and roll over for another wink of precious shuteye while windshields freeze.
Raccoons tip over garbage cans and scramble up slick tree trunks when they hear approaching voices. Their freezer burned faces of those bandits reflect the fleeting moon beams with a guilty glare.
Hawks hang still on low branches and wait for their chance to swoop on voles and mountain beavers in the day’s first light. A heron stands on a submerged stump, only his toes are wet but he seems annoyed by the high water and the hideaway steelhead. A pair of eagles soar on fickle midday thermals that rise like smoke rings from Bilbo’s cobblestone chimney.
Squirrels and chipmunks grow lean and nervous. They start to count their stash and ponder rationing their cache of gleaned and stolen nuts. Mice continue to search for cracks in the foundation where they can gain access to the drafty old farm house. They’ve heard the legend of breadcrumbs beneath the counter and the belch of wood stove heat. All they have to do is find a way in, and then avoid both the cheshire cat’s smile and the farmer’s wife’s butcher knife.
Honey bees cluster in the hive and conserve thimbles of energy. Nurses tend intently to emerging baby bees and the thick queen keeps on laying eggs in concentric circles at the center. The useless drones have all been kicked out the front door and sentenced to a slow death by concert of starvation and exposure.
Hive mind is real, and the results can be brutal.
Still, the winter solstice has come and gone and earth’s rebirth has begun. The globe is once again tilting toward the light as the year executes its annual pivot. Like the pockmarked fruit trees that line the old hedgerow we too are destined to return to bloom so long as we can remain upright through the rest of the cold, rain and snow.
Soon, the sweet nectar will once again flow.
With rivers running wild and turbid as of late anglers are likely to have the best luck whiling away their days casting and retrieving in area lakes and ponds. Those landlocked billabongs are typically sheltered from the worst of the elements and maintain better water visibility through high water events. The average water temperature tends to be higher in those slow churning bodies of water as well, which helps keep the fish hungry.
Stocking efforts by the WDFW have also helped to pique piscatorial prospects in area lakes and ponds. On Dec. 19 Mineral Lake was planted with 672 trout weighing more than one pound each. The previous week the northeast Lewis County landmark received 11 trout weighing roughly 10 pounds each and on Dec. 17 Mineral Lake was planted with 203 trout that tipped the scales at about five pounds each. Even closer to the FishRap command center, Carlisle Lake (aka Old Mill Pond) in Onalaska is teeming with lunkers. On Dec. 17 that lake in the heart of logger town was planted with 25 10-pound trout and 100 five-pound trout.
The WDFW has also been boosting odds in Cowlitz County waters. On Dec. 18 Longview’s Lake Sacajawea received 640 trout that weighed more than a pound each. That same day Horseshoe Lake was planted with 86 trout weighing about five pounds each. Then, between Dec. 3-14, Kress Lake was planted with 22 trout weighing roughly 10 pounds each.
Those waters will likely put more fish on the table than any of the area’s blown out rivers.
Salmon and steelhead fishing remain closed on the mainstem Columbia River until the new year and winter storms have most river systems all out of whack anyway. Creel sampling conducted by the WDFW last week showed muted results for a slim contingent of participating anglers.
On the Elochoman River 29 bank anglers kept five steelhead and released one coho jack, while three rods on two boats released one coho. One bank angler on Abernathy Creek had no catch to show but 25 bank anglers on the East Fork Lewis River released three steelhead and two coho.
Official results from the Cowlitz River weren’t much better. Last week the WDFW sampled two bank rods with no catch in the lower stretches of the river. Likewise, 12 bank rods upriver of the I-5 Bridge had no catch and six boat rods released one Chinook. On Monday river flow just below Mayfield Dam was reported at 8,880 cubic feet per second with water visibility of just eight feet and a water temperature of nearly 47 degrees. By Wednesday that river flow had dropped to just 6,250 cfps.
At the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery last week crews retrieved 516 adult coho, 484 jacks, 13 cutthroat trout, 19 summer-run steelhead and one winter-run steelhead. Those crews also released 101 coho adults and 88 coho jacks into the Cispus River near Randle and deposited 56 coho adults, 131 coho jacks and two cutthroat trout into Lake Scanewa in Randle. Another 65 coho adults and 76 coho jacks were dropped at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood, while 293 coho adults, 206 coho jacks, five cutthroat trout and one winter-run steelhead were plopped into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton.
While steelhead fishing is an option on the mainstem Chehalis River all salmon fishing will remain shuttered until springtime. Steelhead runs are especially bountiful on the Wynoochee and Satsop rivers but high flows have washed out what remains of those fish for the time being. On Wednesday flow on the Wynoochee was reported at 2,710 cfps above Black Creek and 1,160 cfps at Grisdale. Additionally, on Sunday an advisory flood stage alert was issued for the mainstem Chehalis River near Montesano.
Luckily, the bass are probably still biting if you can find them in their hideaway holes near the confluence of creeks, streams and other tributaries.
The impending arrival of 2019 signals time for a shift in the area hunting landscape. Many hunting seasons will come to a clean close when old calendars get replaced while other species will simply see a reduction in areas where they can legally be hunted.
The vast majority of late archery and muzzleloader openings for deer and elk closed earlier this month and nearly all the rest will close on Dec. 31. However, archers and muzzleloaders in Western Washington will still be able to take aim at big game in area 407 until Jan. 20.
Likewise, cougar hunts will likely become restricted in some areas beginning Jan. 1. During the fall and early winter portion of cougar hunts each area remains open no matter how many kills are registered. However, after the New Year that harvest data is crunched regularly and areas where the harvest quota has been met are then shut down until the following fall.
Hunting season for blue, ruffed and spruce forest grouse are also set to close at nightfall on Dec. 31, along with crow season and the final remaining wild turkey openings.
With wet winter weather systems making wetlands grow many hunters have understandably adjusted 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 until Jan. 20. Goose hunting in the inland portion of Area 2 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. A brant hunt will be held in Pacific County beginning Jan. 12.
Meanwhile, duck, coot and snipe seasons will continue statewide through Jan. 27.
Openings for bobcat, fox, raccoons, snowshoe hares and cottontail rabbits will remain open until March 15. 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.
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.
On Wednesday the WDFW approved a five-day razor clam dig that is set to begin on Jan. 2. Those digging dates were approved following marine toxin tests that concluded the shellfish are safe for human consumption.
The upcoming digs have been approved on the following beaches, dates, and evening low tides:
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
As always, WDFW coastal shellfish manager Dan Ayres advises 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.
“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 said 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. 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
Last week’s razor clam tides netted a mixed bag for diggers depending on what day and which beach they hit up. The one-day opening at Long Beach was the most disappointing by a long shot thanks to a nasty bout of stormy weather.
“When the clams are there, they are there, you’ve just got to be able to see them and get them out,” Ayres told the FishRap command center. “I talked to one guy who said the clams were a little farther out and they’d just start to show and then the surf would come in. Oh well, that’s life in PNW.”
He noted that while the long anticipated opening at Long Beach on Saturday was wiped out by unruly weather other beaches offered up plenty of succulent bivalves as the weather allowed.
“Friday people did a lot better. Limits across the board at both Copalis and Twin Harbors. I had a guy call and tell me that it was like night and day. Easy digging,” Ayres said, while noting that Thursday’s digging conditions were nearly as bad as Saturday’s.
He said that the best results during the marginal conditions last week were had at Copalis and Mocrocks.
“When conditions are rough you are always going to do better in the north. Twin Harbors always struggles in rough weather and the southern portion of Long Beach as well,” explained Ayres. “Twin Harbors is a little bit like Long Beach in that it’s a flat beach and when there’s a high tide the water will surge up farther.”
All diggers age 15 and older are required to possess a fishing license in order to dig clams. Each person is allowed up to 15 clams per day and all unearthed clams must be kept regardless of size or condition. Additionally, each person must dig their own clams and carry them in a personal container.
Nearly two weeks since their official opening daily operations continue to roll on at White Pass.
Progression Park is now open along with 14 features on the Ribeye run. The Nordic portion will be running daily through Jan. 6. The tubing section opened for the first time on Wednesday and will also remain open through Jan. 6. Similarly, Night Skiing opened on Wednesday and will run daily through Dec. 31.
On Wednesday morning the temperature at the base of White Pass was reported at about 20 degrees while the thermometer read around 18 degrees at the summit. The ski area had also picked up about one new inch of snow over the previous 24-hours. That accumulation left 60 inches of snow up top and about three feet down by the lodge. However, at least two new inches of snow fell during the day on Wednesday and more snow is forecast to fall throughout the rest of the week.
For powderheads who don’t mind a bit of a travel there is plenty of fluffy white stuff to be enjoyed at Hurricane Ridge near Port Angeles. That unique ski and snowboard area is located within the Olympic National Park.
The Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Area is located 17 miles south of Port Angeles and offers a variety of snow-centric activities including downhill skiing and snowboarding, sledding, tubing, cross country skiing and hiking.
Depending on weather conditions and staffing uphill traffic is typically allowed to travel beginning at 9 a.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Downhill traffic must be past the toll both by 5 p.m. Adventures are permitted from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. each day the area is open.
The road to the ski area is anticipated to remain open Friday-Sunday each week through March 31. Additionally, Hurricane Ridge is expected to be open for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day on Jan. 21 and Feb. 18.
Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Area includes two rope tows and a Poma lift. However, the Poma lift and tubing area will not be operational until later in the season. On Wednesday the ski area had about 45 inches of snow piled up.
There are also ranger-guided snowshoe walks offered at the winter sports area at 2 p.m. on weekends and holiday Mondays. Those walks last about an hour and a half and cover less than a mile. Snowshoes and guidance are provided for paying customers. Other popular hiking trails include the 3.2 mile round-trip trek to Hurricane HIll and the 3.8 mile one-way path to Klahhane Ridge. Easier routes include Cirque Rim, Big Meadow and High Ridge.
The Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Area is currently closed due to the government shutdown. However, the rest of Olympic National Park will remain open with limited access and services.