The idea from the outset was to reach a waterfall. It had a weird name and wasn’t in any of the guidebooks. There weren’t any social media threads devoted to it and there weren’t any photos emblazoned on postcards or coffee mugs.
It was just the idea that sounded good when a salted local down local at the only watering hole muttered about it over another triple sailboat on the rocks. He didn’t seem like he talked much but the bartender had brought it up. He wasn’t much of a wordsmith but one word stood out all on its own — waterfall.
The couple was just passing through and they couldn’t tell manure from apple butter. At least that’s what the lady at the checkout stand said when they stopped off for a new bag of beef jerky and a fancy six-pack..
They were looking to get off the road but didn’t want to become squatters at the pub. Not yet at least. The sun had yet to set so they still had energy to burn.
The trail forced a quick ascent with a geologic heave almost as soon as it started forward.
Tiny streams ran perpendicular to the path and cedars sprouted in succession along the carved creek sides. Rows and columns of pillar firs filled in the patches between and sprouted at pistol butt angles from the tumbling slopes.
The chafing started nearly as quickly. Neither of them had dressed for the occasion. Flip flops and jeans would have drawn a no-dress demerit back in middle school P.E. Not that either of them had bothered to ask but the trail seemed shorter in their mind. And definitely flatter. Each new turn in the trail proved to be another disappointment when it didn’t reveal a glimpse of what they had come for.
The driver started to ponder aloud if the trek would be worth it. To be honest, waterfalls had always seemed a little bit sad. If you managed to peer beyond the watercolor scenery it was simply a roaring terminus. The end. The point of no return where dogged fish could no longer continue upstream in their existential quest of self actualization.
Pretty sad, all things considered.
When the trail pitch peaked and the course began downhill they could sense that they were drawing nearer. The cedars increased in both frequency and girth as the soil grew more and more moist. Peering through the webwork of undulating valleys the mountains showed themselves off in jagged glimpses. Even in the summer snow still remained on the tips of their teeth and in the craggy northern crevices. The sun was sitting on the tops of the trees and the far side of the forest was bathed in an orange glow.
On the trail their shins and feet ached as they pounded onward toward a sight still unseen. It wasn’t that the hike was particularly hard. They just weren’t ready for it. They weren’t like the steelhead. Armored for Poseidon’s army and hardened by their journey from the mountains to the sea. They were just sightseers unafraid of winding up at least a little over their heads.
When the trail all of a sudden began to switchback rapidly the sound in the air was the first thing to change. A mist filled the air and dappled the moss on the trees. The hikers didn’t even notice that they’d ceased their superfluous sweating as a familiar din filtered through the forest and foretold what lay ahead. Their annoying aches and pains dissipated and so did their volley of conversation as their focus concentrated.
When they reached the bottom the trail led into a shadowy bowl in the crook of the overhanging hills. The bleached bones of age old timbers lay strewn like matchstick bridges across the veins of the stream. Broad leaf ferns sprouted from their seams as water more clear than mountain air pooled and magnified the round stone bottom as the rest rolled on by. The crushing cascade of braided streams was the only sound and it left lots of room to think.
The passenger thought of the mountain caps that trickled their melting ice in time lapse rations. The headwaters are above the clouds where only mountain goats and cougars and the thunder gods roam. The soil, and moss, and stones scrubbed and filtered the seeping groundswell until it ran clear as midnight dreams in slow moving streams.
Then it all falls, in a peaceful ballet before shattering in violence, on its way to the ocean.
The driver crouched behind a sheeted wall of the crashing mountain water and breathed deeply. There was no way another place that could be better than this.
“Maybe I’ve been thinking about waterfalls all wrong,” said the driver to the passenger who stood on the other side. “Maybe they should be celebrated because they represent the finish line for fish who’ve endured a long and trying journey. We’re not always lucky enough to know when we’ve achieved what we set out to do. For the fish though, it’s mission accomplished.”
The passenger pondered the thought for a moment before stepping behind the water’s curtain.
“A waterfall only represents the end when you’re headed upstream,” the passenger said with an echo inside the hollow while the sun raced toward an unseen ocean. “But when you’re headed downstream this is only half way there.”
Steelhead anglers saw their world shrink significantly when the calendar flipped to August. The new month brings new steelhead angling restrictions to a wide swath of the lower Columbia River system. Those closures for the month of August include the mainstem Columbia, Cowlitz, Lewis, Wind, White Salmon, and Klickitat rivers, as well as Drano Lake.
The lower Columbia River is now closed to steelhead fishing from the mouth to The Dalles dam. The Cowlitz River is closed from the Lexington Bridge to the mouth and the Lewis River is closed from the East Fork confluence down to the mouth.
The good news for area anglers is that options for hooking salmon should be vast and enticing over the next few weeks. Out at Buoy 10 anglers are held to a limit of two adult salmon per day, one of which may be a Chinook. From Rocky Point to Bonneville Dam the daily limit is one adult salmon.
The Buoy 10 salmon fishery is one of the most popular openings of the year with thousands of anglers turning out to the mouth of the Columbia River. This year though piscatorial prospects are dimmed somewhat by another diminished forecast for returning fall Chinook. In turn, regulations have been crafted in order to take pressure off the Chinook run by redirecting efforts toward coho. The overall fall Chinook run is expected to consist of 349,700 fish which is just 47 percent of the 10-year average. Meanwhile, 611,300 coho are expected to return, which would be 162 percent of the 10-year average.
A prospect report from the WDFW states that the best way to hook Chinook in the mainstem is by using weighted wobblers. They advise casting into waters between 40 and 60 feet in depth, reasoning that kings prefer the cooler temperatures of the deeper water. For coho, on the other hand, the state tells us that herring and spinners are the best bet at Buoy 10. Conversely, the powers that be suggest using spinners and bait techniques on the tributaries. Periodical catch sampling results can be viewed online at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/reports/creel/buoy10.
On the Cowlitz River, where steelhead fishing is still a serviceable option between the Barrier Dam and Lexington, crews continue to be busy pulling returning fish from the collection chutes. Last week crews retrieved 213 summer steelhead, 26 spring Chinook adults, seven jacks, 137 mini-jacks, and four cutthroat trout. Crews also released two spring Chinook adults and two jacks into the Cispus River near Randle while dropping three spring Chinook adults, one jack, and three cutthroat trout in at the release site in Packwood. Continued recycling of summer steelhead back downriver last week brought the season tally up to 442 fish.
River flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at 2,430 cubic feet per second on Monday. Water visibility was 15 feet with a temperature of 54.7 degrees. Last week the WDFW sampled one boat downriver of the I-5 Bridge. Two rods on board had one steelhead keeper to show. Between the Barrier Dam and the I-5 Bridge there were 19 bank rods with six steelhead kept. Another 80 rods on 34 boats kept 74 steelhead while releasing one steelhead and a Chinook jack.
If you prefer to head up the Toutle River to fish for salmon in the silted waters note that on Aug. 1 the daily limit increased to six salmon. As many as four adult salmon can be kept each day. However, only hatchery coho salmon are eligible for harvest.
There were no new regulations imposed on the Kalama River this week. Last week the WDFW sampled 18 bank anglers with no catch to show.
The Lewis River was busy last week with 38 bank anglers releasing two Chinook and two jacks. Another six boats with 19 roads kept six steelhead while releasing four Chinook.
A wave of good news finally washed over our coastal rivers south of Puget Sound. This week sections of the Chehalis, Naselle, Willapa, and North Nemah rivers all opened for salmon fishing after closures that have kept things slow thus far this summer. However, those openings are only incremental. For instance, the Chehalis River is still closed to all fishing above the South Elma Bridge. In the open waters on the home stretch of the Chehalis anglers are allowed to keep six juvenile salmon per day but all adults must be released. In the Naselle, North Nemah, and Willapa Rivers anglers can keep up to six salmon per day, of which four may be adults and one may be a wild coho. All wild Chinook must be released.
The Nisqually River is also open and the Puyallup River is set to open for salmon fishing on Aug. 15. Those rivers have a daily limit of six salmon, two of which may be adults. On the Nisqually anglers are required to release all chum and wild Chinook. On the Puyallup anglers must release wild coho and wild Chinook. Both rivers are subject to night and Sunday closures.
While there are a load of regulation changes to digest on area rivers this month its the ocean areas that will draw the most attention. Marine Areas 1 (Ilwaco), 2 (Westport), 3 (La Push) all have a daily limit of two salmon, of which one may be a Chinook. In Marine Area 4 (Neah Bay) anglers can also keep two salmon per day but they must release all Chinook. All ocean anglers must release wild coho. All four marine areas are set to close on Sep. 30, if not earlier depending on catch quota.
Additionally, both Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor are open for salmon fishing in August. In Willapa Bay (2-1) anglers can keep two adult fish per day as part of their six salmon limit. All wild Chinook must be tossed back, however. In Grays Harbor (2-2) anglers can fish west of Buoy 13 until Aug. 13 when that area is set to close. That area has a two salmon daily limit with a limit of one Chinook per day. All wild coho must be released. In the Humptulips North Bay section east of the Buoy 13 line anglers area allowed one salmon per day but all wild coho and wild Chinook must be released.
Trout fishing continues to offer options for anglers who prefer to stay a little closer to home thanks to ongoing stocking efforts by the WDFW. Mayfield and Merwin reservoirs have both received loads of hatchery trout in recent months while South Lewis County Park Pond, Goose Lake and Takhlakh Lake are also teeming with fish primed for the stringer. Mayfield in particular was planted with 5,000 fingerling rainbow trout in a pair of deposits on July 24 and 28. Kokanee fishing has been productive at Merwin and Yale reservoirs.
Bass fishing received a boost with the opening of the lower section of the Chehalis River but the best odds and opportunities continue to be found in the smaller ponds and puddles in between hay pastures. Big ugly tiger muskies continue to tempt anglers at Mayfield and Merwin while bass have been biting at Swofford Pond and Lake Carlisle. Swofford Pond can also offer up some channel catfish if you've got your shad guts cured and ready for the hook.
The majority of black bear hunts opened up on Aug. 1 and the rest will follow in those sizeable footsteps in less than two weeks. All of the Coastal, Puget Sound, North and East Cascade hunting zones opened for black bears with the new month while the South Cascades and Okanogan zones are set to open on Aug. 15.
This year hunters are allowed to keep two bears during the general season. However, only one bear may be harvested from eastern Washington. Additionally, hunters are encouraged to refrain from shooting sows and cubs.
In the North Cascade Zone, particularly in GMUs 418 and 426, hunters should remember that it's possible to encounter grizzle bears. Those bears are a protected species so proper identification is important. Hunters in those areas are required to complete an online bear identification program before taking aim in those areas as well as some eastern Washington units. The course can be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/requirements/bear-identification-testing.
With hunters beginning to take the field this month, and many more to follow in the months to come, it's important for new and prospective hunters to take care of their hunters education homework. Even veteran hunters should take time to recalculate themselves to the lay of the land while reestablishing best safety practices.
"This is a good time to locate game animals and get the lay of the land, particularly if you're planning to hunt a new area," said Mick Cope, WDFW deputy assistant wildlife director, in a press release. "But it can get hot out there in August, so it's important to stay hydrated and be aware of fire danger."
Deer hunters have less than a fortnight to enter their name for a "limited entry" hunt in Okanogan County. That hunt, in the 6,000 acre Charles and Mary Eder unit of the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area, will be opened up to just eighteen hunters this year. Applications are due by midnight on Aug. 14 and winners will be chosen by random drawing in late August.
"This is part of our effort to provide quality hunting opportunities in Washington," said Matt Monday, WDFW Northcentral Regional Wildlife Manager, in a press release. "This drawing is open to the general public without any additional fees beyond the cost of a hunting license and the standard tags."
Permits will be divided evenly between bows, muzzleloaders, and modern firearms. The hunt area is within GMU 204. Muzzleloader season in that area is set for Sep. 1-27 while bow hunters will have run of the area from Sep. 28 through Oct. 6, and modern firearms will be allowed from Oct. 12-22. Additional information can be obtained online at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/special-hunts/scotch-creek or by calling 360-902-2515.
With fall now on the event horizon it's time to take a moment for a bird note. Shorebirds are beginning to change course these days as they start to set their sights on sunnier southern locales. Tens of thousands of sandpipers, yellowlegs, dowitchers and other seabirds will be winging through Washington's coastal areas as they leave their Artic breeding grounds in the rearview mirror. Sandpipers, in particular, have already been showing up in large plumes from Ilwaco to Ocean Shores.
Experts have noted that the fall migration is a disorganized event compared to the spring exodus. Adults regularly take off from breeding grounds before their chicks are fully fledged. That means that different groups will leave at different times and will often add different species to their ranks as they progress.
Last week Gov. Jay Inslee moved to appoint two new members to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. That entity is charged with setting regulations for Washington's fisheries, hunting seasons, and other wildlife matters.
James Anderson, one of the new appointees, is sportsman from Pierce County. His resume includes habitat restoration and policy experience over the past 20 years.
"Jim brings with him knowledge around salmon and Washington's fishery management complexities. These topics are some of the commission's highest priorities and his expertise will be a welcome addition as we consider some near- and long-term challenges," said Commission Chair Larry Carpenter, in a press release.
Meanwhile, Molly Linville is a beef rancher from Douglas County. A member of Washington's Cattlemen's Association, Linville also has experience hunting and fishing. She has been active for years with the WDFW Wolf Advisory group and formerly served as a wildlife biologist.
"We have valued Molly's service to our Department for her measured, rational voice," Carpenter added. "She's engaged and works to connect with citizens and her communities. These are all characteristics that will be assets in her role as a Commissioner and I work forward to working with her."
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is made up of nine citizen members appointed by the governor.
Washington's Fish and Wildlife Commission is conducting a public hearing this week on several fishing issues, including logbook requirements for guides, hatchery reforms, and decisions regarding legislative proposals and budget requests for 2020.
The commission began meeting on Friday in Olympia and will meet Saturday as well. Saturday's meeting will begin at 8 a.m. at the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington Street SE in Olympia. Public comment will be accepted following the legislative discussion.
August presents many opportunities to get out and observe wildlife as they make their natural rounds.
Salmon heading for their spawning grounds can be seen on the Deschutes River near Olympia. Prime vantage points can be found from the Fifth Avenue Bridge in downtown Olympia where they enter Capitol Lake, as well as closer to Tumwater Falls Hatchery at the fish ladders.
On Mondays through Aug. 20 the Olympia-Thurston County Stream Team will conduct weekly lessons. Twice a day biologists at Boston Harbor Marina will teach visitors about various marine creatures and their environments.
Additionally, a summer lecture series at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge will continue this month. Weekly sessions include talks on wolves, wolverines, and wildlife rehabilitation. Guided walks are also offered at the refuge on weekends. This month the talks will focus on raptors, bats, birds, and beavers.
Rangers are offering guided walks in the Olympic National park at locations like Hurricane Ridge, Kalaloch Beach, the Hoh Rain Forest, and Staircase. At Mt. Rainier rangers are leading walks and educational programs from Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise (White River Campground) and Longmire (Cougar Rock).
Anyone hoping to visit a state park on the cheap should circle Aug. 25 on their calendar. That day is set aside as a "Free Day" in recognition of the 103 anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service.
It's imperative to remember that Lewis County and most surrounding areas are currently in the midst of a burn ban.
On July 23 a wildfire took hold in Yakima County and since that time it has resulted in the closure of 50,000 acres of the Wenas Wildlife Area near Selah. Access to the eastern portion of the wildlife area is expected to be cut off until at least Aug. 25.
The Pipeline Fire, as it has been dubbed, was calculated at 7,100 acres as of July 26. The cause of the fire is believed to be lightning.
With nature working to set itself on fire these days officials are pleading with people to make smart decisions during the dog days of summer. A press release from the WDFW advises that out of doors recreators follow these fire wise tips:
Make sure camp fires are dead out and keep a bucket of water and shovel handy.
Make sure there is no vegetation leaning over your fire pit area and that needles, grass, and brush are far enough away not to ignite.
Be careful where you park. The hot exhaust system from your vehicle can also ignite vegetation if it comes in contact with a hot muffler or exhaust pipe.
Park in a clear area.
Additionally, fireworks are always prohibited at all 33 WDFW wildlife areas and 700-plus water access sites around the state.