An angler awakens early to beat the crowds. The fish are few these days and he doesn’t want to waste a day on the water.

He pulls the pot of coffee off he before it’s finished burbling all the way through and takes a mug to go. The boat is in tow and the cooler is stocked. Plenty of iced down Rainiers and tuna fish sandwiches with fresh garden pickles to ply a piscatorial party of one.

It’s going to be a good day.

A drape of smoke obscures the mountains in the distance but the air is nice on the water in the morning. With no wind the surface copies the colors of the pumpkin guts sunrise in a funhouse mirror.

As he shoves off there are no other anglers around. When he finally passes the point another boat appears and then disappears in the other direction. The two captains nod in stubborn acknowledgment as their wakes merge. Then they go back to ignoring each other, and everyone else.

A snap-pull diver drags underwater as the current of the Salish Sea pushes the sardine can boat into swirling channels. His back hurts from the hard bench seats that he’s always talked about reconditioning.

Hunched over, he tunes in through the static of his pocket radio until the voices are as clear as they can be. The news is not good. The Mariners have lost again. The team’s long reigning king has fallen from grace and their eagle taming ace of the future is sidelined with a bone bruise inflicted by a silver bullet line drive. One refuses to quit. The other is forced to sit.

His back does not hurt as much when he compares it to the pain of professional ballplayers. He is simply fishing. Fishing should not hurt. So he cracks open a Rainier and turns off the radio. His eyes focus on the line. It eases his pain.

As the boat drifts into a shaded cove around a hooked rocky cropped inlet a scatter of white birds bob on the other side of point. Then, a violent blast of water sends them skyward and squawking. They hover, and flap, and squawk and try to settle, but retreat to shore when a long black train of whales begin to breach all at once.

The startled angler gathers himself inside his dinghy and rubs his eyes to make sure he’s really seen what he’s seen. As he watches them move away from the shoreline the muted movements of one whale stood out from the others. She did not lurch from the water, roll on her side or flap her massive flukes. Even the deflated bursts from her blowhole hinted at the depths of her pain.

Stationed at the front of the pod the shadow of her grief grew darker as the tour of grief drew nearer.

As his line lays slack in the water and unsupervised the sullen matriarch at the front of the line disappears into the sea for a moment that stretches into untold minutes. The rest of the procession seems to follow her into the murky depths and the angler sits transfixed as he scans with a furrowed brow for signs of the disappearing wake.

Hunger pangs begin to echo along with the sloshing in his belly but he ignores the temporary discomfort. He can think only of the whales.

Are they hungry? Are they hunting? Are the friendly to windblown sailors?

In time she returns to the surface, much closer than before, and with a sobering surprise – A limp calf slumped across her nose. It’s skin greying. It’s back bowed. The sticky smell of death wafts on a stale red tide breeze. It permeates the anglers pores and greases his nostrils. A lump grows in his throat and he can no longer drink his beer or spare empathy for the fate of ballplayers.

Time lurched to a stop then and the angler paid no more mind to his rod as he watched the funeral procession cut a line toward a destination, and a future, unknown. When he could no longer see the whales the sun was hanging straight down from the ceiling and the angler decided to cut his losses.

His heart was no longer fit for fishing and so he headed for the marina. There, another man with a boat asked him how the fishing was.

Lousy, he replied, as he unwrapped another sandwich. He rubbed a tear from his eye and choked down his lunch with the help of another beer.

He wonders if even grieving whales grow hungry, and if you can hear a whale cry beneath the surface.

FISHIN’

A gush of rain over the weekend sent a pulse of fresh water downstream and helped to entice a few new salmon and steelhead to make their way farther away from the salted waters they only recently left behind.

Anecdotal evidence says anglers experienced an uptick in luck on the Cowlitz River last week, although the timing may have been coincidental. Several anglers reported that rods were bending over near the mouth and up at the barrier dam, although WDFW stats only exist for efforts above the I-5 Bridge. That WDFW creel sampling showed 28 bank rods with two steelhead kept. Meanwhile, 22 boats with 60 rods kept 50 steelhead and one Chinook, while tossing back a king, a jack, and three steelhead. Currently there is a 400 foot boundary line below the barrier dam where fishing is prohibited.

At the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery last week, crews handled 148 summer steelhead, 50 spring Chinook, seven jacks, nine mini-jacks, eight fall Chinook, and one cutthroat trout. Crews then released one springer jack and one cuttie were released into the Cispus River near Randle, and 28 springer adults and six jacks were released at Franklin Bridge in Packwood. Additionally, eight fall Chinook were also released into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton, and the steelhead recycle program brought another truckload down to the I-5 Boat Launch. A total of 543 summer steelhead have now been recycled.

On Monday, river flow was reported at about 2,400 cubic feet per second below Mayfield Dam with visibility of 15 feet and a water temperature of 55 degrees. By Wednesday, that flow had picked up to about 3,490 cubic feet per second.

Behind the dam, in Mayfield Lake, a hulking trout stocking effort was buffered recently when 2,700 rainbows were dropped off on Aug. 8. That delivery reinforced previous deposits of more than 2,800 fish on both Aug. 2 and July 26. Rainey Creek was also stocked with 1,000 rainbow trout at the end of July.

Recreational fishing will continue to be closed on Sundays on the Nisqually River through the end of September. The day of rest on the river extends from the military tank crossing upstream of Muck Creek down to the mouth. On Wednesday river flow below LaGrande Dam was reported at 992 cubic feet per second.

Bass anglers are starting to come up empty on the Chehalis River as warming water temperatures continue to push the scavengers deeper and deeper into their hideaway holes. That’s bad news for angling odds because neither salmon or steelhead have picked up the slack quite yet. The rains over the weekend sent more than a few fishermen into a tizzy and boats were plying lower river tributaries like the Wynoochee for fresh arrivals. Those trips were largely unrewarded though and it appears anglers seeking big fish will have to wait a bit longer for the time being. On Wednesday river flow on the Wynoochee was recorded at 193 cubic feet per second above Black Creek and 227 cubic feet per second at Grisdale.

Ocean salmon fishing closed with the dawn of this week in Marine Areas 1 and 4 but anglers can still target salmon in areas 2 and 3 for the time being. The daily limit off of Westport is two salmon, of which only one may be a Chinook. All wild coho must be released. The Columbia River is also open from Buoy 10 upriver and anglers have been landing summer hogs near the mouth of the Kalama.

HUNTIN’

A paltry huckleberry season is sending black bears bumbling far and wide in search of other food sources. That scarcity of seasonal berries, coupled with numerous closures of timberlands across the region due to wildfire threat, has put the brakes on most black bear hunts here in the early going.

With punky air all about, scorching temperatures, and prey that’s more scattershot than normal, many bear hunters have made the logical choice to wait until conditions change, or at least until September when other hunting seasons open up, before they climb up the tree stand again.

Still, black bear hunting season opened up in new areas on Wednesday, including the South Cascades. That opening piggybacks on the Aug. 1 opening of the East Cascades, Coastal and Puget Sound zones. Hunters who plan on heading to GMUs 418 and 426 in the North Cascades Zone should take note that there is a possibility of encountering grizzly bears, a protected species. This is the first year that hunters are required to complete an online bear identification program in order to hunt bears in those northern units, and other eastern Washington areas. Hunters are allowed to kill two black bears during the general season, of which only one may be from Eastern Washington.

When the calendar rolls over to September there will be numerous other hunting seasons to help sweeten the deal for discouraged bear hunters. Beginning Sept. 1, season for deer archery, cougar, forest grouse, crow, wild turkey, bobcat, fox, raccoon, rabbit, hare, and mourning dove will all begin anew. And, as always, hunters have the option of making like Road Runner and dispatching any wily coyote that they see since that season never ends.

If elk are your preferred game then you might consider providing feedback to the WDFW regarding a draft management plan for the Blue Mountain elk herd. The WDFW will be accepting public comments on that draft management plan through Sep. 15.

The Blue Mountains herd, which is spread around Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, and Walla Walla counties, is one of ten elk herds in the state. The herd is infamous for its high proportion of big, mature elk, and its current population sits somewhere between 4,250 and 4,700 animals. According to Paul Wik, a biologist with the WDFW, the herd has a history of conflicts on agricultural lands that have been exacerbated by changes in their habitat.

“Conditions have changed since the last herd management plan was adopted 2001, requiring an update in our management priorities and direction,” Wik said in a press release.

Key goals of the proposed plan include:

Reducing elk/human conflicts, including minimizing elk damage on private property;

Offering sustainable hunting opportunities, including general season and permit hunts and

Coordinating and cooperating with the Nez Perce Tribe and Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation on herd management.

A full version of the proposed plan can be viewed online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/02010/.

Comments will also be accepted in person during public meetings scheduled for the end of August. Those meetings are set for:

Aug. 29, 6-8 p.m.: CenterPlace, 2426 N. Discovery Place, Spokane Valley, WA. Room 109.

Aug. 30, 6-8 p.m.: Dayton Memorial Library, 111 S. Third St, Dayton, WA, Delany Room.

Written comments can be mailed to Blue Mountains Elk Herd Plan, Wildlife Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2315 North Discovery Place, Spokane Valley, WA 99216-1566, or submitted online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BlueMtns.

SHRIMPIN’

Shrimpers will have two more days to get fodder for the barbee in Hood Canal next week.

The WDFW announced that Marine Area 12 will open again on Aug. 21-22 for a two-day recreational shrimp fishery with waters open between 12-4 p.m. each day. That opening will also feature an increase in the daily limit as shrimpers will be able to keep 100 shrimp as compared to the typical limit of 80.

After seven days of recreational shrimping earlier this year, the WDFW estimates that there are roughly 19,000 pounds remaining from the catch quota.

“This is a great opportunity for shrimp harvesters to enjoy some time on the water,” said Don Rothaus, WDFW shellfish biologist, in a press release. “We don’t typically get many late-season openings in Hood Canal like this.”

According to Rothaus, the northern and southern sections of Hood Canal have produced the best hauls so far this year. The only other areas of Puget Sound open to spot shrimp harvest are Marine Areas 4, east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh Line, and Marine Areas 5 (western Strait of Juan de Fuca).

BUDGETIN’

Last week, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a budget, along with policy proposals, for the 2019 legislative session.

The operating budget includes a request for more than $30 million in order to continue current levels of operation. That budget will also include a request for $28.2 million in order to provide “new or improved services, such as enhanced fishing and hunting opportunities and conservation work,” according to a press release.

If approved, the bulk of those funds would come from the state general fund, along with a five percent increase in recreational hunting and fishing license fees.

A presentation on the policy proposals can be viewed online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings/2018/08/agenda_aug0918.html.

SUMMITIN’

Registration opened on Wednesday for the Outdoors Recreation and Tourism Summit that will take place this fall in East Lewis County. That event, organized by the White Pass Scenic Byway association, will take place at the Lake Mayfield Resort and Marina on Oct. 24 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.

According to an email from the White Pass Scenic Byway group attendees will be able to, “Network with adventure tourism leaders and like minded outdoor enthusiasts to connect and expand relationships in the outdoor recreation and tourism industry for the economic development of the White Pass Scenic Byway corridor. If you are considering expanding or creating an adventure-based tourism business in the area, our team of experts can help you get started.”

The cost to attend is $45 and will include a salmon salad bar lunch with a no-host happy hour from 4-5 p.m. Due to space limitations there are only 60 spaces available.

For additional information, or to register, email Mary Kay Nelson or Trent Richardson at info@whitepassbyway.com.

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