Over the years, he’d met all sorts of fishermen through his assorted angling adventures.
There were the curmudgeon combat types with their camouflage cloaks, their stubble-encrusted cheeks and chins, and their gruff overtures toward anyone who dared get too close. In those seemingly joyless lineups it seemed there was no less fortunate turn of events than to wind up tangled in one of their lines while playing a fish of your own. A fish that, if you asked anyone of the army along the bank, they surely would have hooked had you not been there. He was never one to want to pick a fight but he never did back down when they tried to force him out. Instead, he just laughed and kept toiling away at untangling his perennial crows nest. Some folks say it’s simply what insanity does under pressure.
He’d taken trips down all the area drainages with his good ol’ buddies who just so happened to have their own boats. By now he knew how to be a good first mate without coming off as a wannabe captain. Nothing will wear out your welcome faster on a boat than being a know-it-all who’s just along for a ride. So instead of stressing about where they were headed or how fast they were getting there, he preferred to focus on more pertinent matters, like making sure there were no bananas on the boat (since they are known to scare away fish), and refreshing the cans in the cooler one by one as he pulled them out and drank them. Sure, he could be pretty handy with a net if need be, and he knew how to get his fingers pink by stringing up his own brine dripping coonshrimp. But, he never did so without asking, or better yet, being asked to do so first. Maybe it cost him a little bit of time with his line in the water, but it sure was preferable to a preventable battle of wills out on the river wild.
He’d even been out on big boats on the salted waters of the Pacific more times than he cared to count. There were always plenty of coho and kings waiting out in the big pond, but he never had developed the sea legs that his father had hoped for when he was just a wee little puddle jumper. He used to preload on Fisherman’s Friend and dramamine before shoving off. Then he’d work hard to keep his eyes on the unchanging horizon, but it never did make much of a difference. He always wound up hanging over the railing like some half-dead creature caught out of its habitat while chum baiting the water with what was left of last night’s dinner and the morning’s breakfast. Eventually he quit trying to beat the ocean all together and embraced the suck. From the moment he stepped on board one of those trollers he’d set out to make his own conditions by eating tuna fish sandwiches and washing them down with increasingly warm Rainier beers. The end result was always the same but it sure was a lot more fun getting to that point on purpose.
One day, after putting in his time on the river and retiring to his favorite barstool, he began to regale the salty barmaid and anyone else within earshot with the odyssey of the latest one to get away. The chatter was unsolicited, as always, but that never seemed to phase him. He just needed new ears to tickle with his stories that always seemed to morph slightly over the years.
It was huge, of course. The fish, that is. Perhaps the biggest one he’d ever hooked on that particular section of the river. There was really no way to tell, of course, but that would never keep a real angler from postulating wildly, though. He insisted he’d sung three songs while he played the lunker patiently. He promised that he’d kept the line tight and the tip pointed at the sky, especially when the big broad backed king launched itself from the water and began to writhe in dramatic gesticulations as it hurtled through the morning air.
He was just getting around to telling the good part when a voice spoke up from the darkest corner of the juke joint that still featured a long-outlawed cigarette machine and a consortium of cobwebbed antler mounts on the wood paneled walls. The man who the voice belonged to was like an old family photo back home — you knew he was there but mostly forgot to look. It had always seemed like he simply came with the bar, but over all the years he’d been drinking there hardly anyone had ever heard him talk. The drinks just kept showing up and he kept knocking them back.
“You sure seem to think highly of yourself,” shouted the old timer through the column of phlegm in his throat.
In his torn flannel jacket, greasy jeans and busted boots, he stayed seated in his corner and never broke eye contact with the peeled label on his nearly empty bottle of beer as he continued.
“I’ve heard you spin more stories in this place than the game warden could shake a stick at. The fish are always the biggest and your luck is always the worst. Yet after all these years you’ve never produced a photo or even had one shimmering scale stuck to your fingers. I think you’re a fraud at best, and a lousy fisherman at worst,” said the grumpy regular. “It’s just a shame you never took the craft seriously. Who knows what could have been.”
The angler let out a buck snort of a laugh as he spun on his stool to see the shadow of a man who had interrupted him. As was his custom he didn’t engage in a tit for tat showdown. He’d learned that lesson long ago on the combat banks of the Cowlitz River. Instead, he took a long, thoughtful schwill from his Big Tuna tonic, and rolled his reply around on his tongue like so many melting ice cubes before he caught hold of the idea he was grasping for and then released it on his lonely critic.
“A fish is a fish, is a fish, is a fish. You catch ‘em and you release ‘em. Or you bonk ‘em and you eat ‘em. Either way, they’re here today and gone tomorrow,” said the affable angler. “It’s the stories that I’m really after. If they’re good enough they can sustain a man for a lifetime.”
The bite at Buoy 10 has left some anglers wondering what all the fuss is about during the first week of salmon season. However, return on investment seems to be improving slowly but surely.
The first two days of fishing on the lowest stretch of the Columbia River saw 185 anglers on 75 boats with just 10 coho and 10 Chinook kept. The third day, Aug. 3, saw a massive increase in effort with 505 anglers patrolling 192 boats, but only 45 kings and 34 silvers made it back to shore. The most recent data was recorded Aug. 5-6 and those returns are slightly more promising. On Aug. 5, 180 anglers on 73 boats kept 47 Chinook and 30 coho, while 212 anglers on 86 boats kept 85 kings and 45 silvers on Aug. 6.
Buoy 10 salmon fishing opened on Aug. 1 and is set to remain open through April 1, 2020. One estimate by an area guide put 200 to 300 boats on the water again on Wednesday. According to Ryan Lothrop, a fishery manager with the WDFW, catch rates so far this year are on par with last season. However, the bite should wind up being somewhat better with 340,000 kings expected to return to the mighty Columbia this year compared to the 293,400 Chinook that returned last year. The coho return is even better with some 905,000 silvers forecast to run the lower river.
This year, Buoy 10 has a daily limit of two salmon per day through October. Last year, anglers could only keep one salmon per day in the early season. Kings must measure 24 inches in length while coho must be at least 16 inches long. Only kings and hatchery coho may be retained in the early going. After Aug. 20, only hatchery coho will be eligible for bonking.
In a prospect report on his website, Lance Fisher, a professional guide who frequents the lower Columbia River, said that success is all about where, and when, you look and what you use.
“The (season opened) last Thursday, with huge tides and some beautiful Chinook being landed. As expected, we had some good fishing above the Astoria bridge and some good bites from Hammond to Astoria. We’ve been trolling with anchovies, herring and spinners, giving the fish some options to chase, but anchovies have been the go-to bait. This being said, the trend will change! It always does,” wrote Fisher. “Softer tides start rolling in this week, which should give us an even better shot at the Chinook. We’re also looking at a much nicer ocean which will give us even more opportunities.”
Just upstream from Buoy 10 on the Elochoman River, anglers have been skunked as of late. The WDFW sampled eight bank anglers between Aug. 1-4 and found no catch to report.
The Cowlitz River has been better by a considerable degree. Late last week, the WDFW sampled one bank angler below the I-5 Bridge with no catch to show. However, between July 29-31 seven bank anglers between I-5 and the Barrier Dam kept one Chinook jack and one steelhead while 25 rods on 11 boats kept 15 steelhead. Then, from Aug. 1-4, another 32 bank anglers kept two steelhead while releasing eight Chinook jacks. Another 79 rods on 27 boats kept 35 steelhead. Anglers are also busy on the North Fork Toutle River where there is a six-salmon daily limit. Up to four of those fish may be adult salmon but only hatchery coho are legal to keep.
Last week, Tacoma Power crews retrieved 228 summer steelhead, 67 spring Chinook, six jacks, 84 mini-jacks, and one fall Chinook at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator. Crews also deposited nine spring Chinook in the Cispus River near Randle, one spring Chinook and one jack near the Franklin Bridge in Packwood, and one fall Chinook at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton. Additionally, last week fish handlers trucked 137 steelhead back downriver to the I-5 Bridge in order to provide anglers another shot at catching them. So far this summer, 579 steelhead have been recycled. On Monday, river flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at 3,110 cubic feet per second with water visibility of 15 feet and a relatively cool temperature of 45.9 degrees.
If the Cowlitz River is important to you, then you might consider attending a public meeting hosted by Tacoma Power on Aug. 14. The Cowlitz River Annual Project Review will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Museum, located at 100 SW Veterans Way, Chehalis. The power company says it will be “seeking your feedback on proposed 2020 fisheries.” Food will be provided for those in attendance. Additional information can be found online at MyTPU.org/Cowlitz by searching “Public Meetings.” In order to RSVP send an email to email@example.com.
Anglers on the Kalama River haven’t had such a prosperous time as of late according to state data. Late last week, the WDFW sampled two bank anglers and three boat rods with no catch to note. The Lewis River has been slightly better lately. Between July 29-31, the WDFW sampled five bank rods and one boat rod with no catch at all. However, from Aug. 1-4, creel checkers found seven bank rods with two keeper steelhead and one Chinook released while two boat rods released one steelhead. Currently, anglers on the Lewis River must release all salmon besides hatchery coho from Johnson Creek to the power lines below Merwin Dam.
If trout are more to your liking, then Mayfield Lake is probably the best bet in these parts. A prolonged stocking effort continued on July 24 and July 28 when the reservoir received 2,648 chub rainbow trout, and 2,786 chub rainbows, respectively. On July 17, the dam pool received another 2,800 fingerling rainbows. Tiger muskies are also biting at Mayfield in the shallows.
Or, if you’d rather try your luck in the ocean, there are purportedly plenty of fish in the sea. Marine Areas 1 (Ilwaco), 2 (Westport) and 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 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 are allowed one salmon per day but all wild coho and wild Chinook must be released.
Deer hunters have less than a week to submit their applications 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 18 hunters again 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 north central 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 Sept. 1-27 while bow hunters will have run of the area from Sept. 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.
Black bear hunts opened up earlier this month in one fell swoop whereas previously different areas had opened up at different times. In this region, the Coastal, Puget Sound and South Cascades areas are all open. Each applicable GMU is set to stay open through Nov. 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 grizzly 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.
Many more popular hunting seasons will open in the coming weeks and months, and hunters are getting anxious to beat the brush and start scouting both their hunting and camping grounds.
"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."
Of course, coyote hunting season never closes in Washington. Additionally, anyone caravanning across Washington should remember that Evergreen state law allows for the harvest of most roadkill deer and elk with the use of an emergency permit provided by the WDFW. However, deer are not legal for salvage in Clark, Cowlitz or Wahkiakum counties in an effort to protect endangered populations of Columbia white-tailed deer. Permits are available online and must be obtained within 24-hours of any deer or elk salvage. Permits can be found at wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/game_salvaging/application.html.
Clam diggers won’t be released on coastal beaches until October but the WDFW has been meticulously calculating resident razor clam populations. Those tallies will help fishery managers determine how many digging days will be offered for each beach during the winter and spring seasons.
“In general the Long Beach population is strong, although most clams are on the small side, with the recruit-sized clams (those over 3 inches) averaging 3.6 inches with only 25 percent of the clams measuring over 4 inches,” said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager, in the Chinook Observer.
Last season, Long Beach was nearly shut out from the succulent bivalve hunt due to a population that lacked both size and numbers. This year’s survey indicates that some 10 million “recruits” are on track to reach a length of up to 4.5 inches this season.
One more survey is scheduled to take place on the southern portion of Long Beach on Aug. 30. Those numbers will help to set the final quota for diggers.
According to Ayres, “I expect the final numbers will be very good news.”
Meanwhile, crews from the WDFW wrapped up their work at Twin Harbors on Aug. 3. Last year 1.37 million “harvestable” clams were tallied between Willapa Bay and Westport and diggers took home about 1.2 million of them. This season there are an estimated 1.84 million harvestable clams at Twin Harbors alone.
Lovers of the outdoors will find a concert of similarly inclined folks at Seminary Hill on Saturday. That’s because the annual “Music on the Hill” event is slated to strike up a chord beginning at 10 a.m. in Centralia.
The event is free to the public and music makers and dancing nancies of all stripes are welcome. A short group sing-along will be held, with birds presumably joining in the festivities. Local performers, including acoustic instruments and even bagpipes,will then take over the entertainment reigns.
The event is hosted by the Friends of the Seminary Hill Natural Area. Visitors will be ushered along a nature trail in order to visit various nooks in the forest where musicians will be set up and playing for the birds, bees and butterflies that happen by. Cookies and other refreshments will be provided free of charge at the all-ages event.
The happenings will begin at the Barner Drive entrance to the natural area on the east end of Locust Street in Centralia. Additional information can be found online at facebook.com/SeminaryHill.