Beneath a clipped toenail moon, the sounds of the day fell away until he was drenched in a sheet of silence. He pondered how many moons just like this he’d forgotten to notice over the years and he wondered how many more he’d have the opportunity to witness.
The way the moonlight refracted through the light shawl of clouds cast the sky in a million shades of princely purple. Invisible, but hardly imperceptible, careening bats cut sonar courses through the cloak of night, picking off unsuspecting insects and flashing like spirits before his unblinking eyes.
Nighttime has always had a bad reputation as a simpleton’s time of rest and inaction but he knew the truth. As the hours in the day began to equalize near the solstice he knew that those blank slates when the sun went on hiatus were equally important as the days spent baking beneath solar rays. That’s when the grass would grow tall and fat and tree branches stretched out wide like spandex barked giants protruding from yoga mat earth.
Flighty woodland critters and nervous scavengers on nature’s cleanup crew use the cover of night to move about freely. Raccoons and bears rummage through garbage cans before retreating safely back into the recesses of the wild in order to nap away the bright sunrise. Earthworms, so aptly nicknamed nightcrawlers, are called to the surface as beads of dew penetrate pin head cracks in the topsoil. They munch their way to the top and lay fat on the cool surface before slinking away again before the early birds arrive. Somewhere, songbirds slumber in a wood thatch nest. The air all around them is silent but the landscape of their birdbrain dreams are where they compose the next morning’s chorus.
Fish run the rivers by scent and dodge shadows cast by moon beams. Deer lope through the underbrush and pick off tender shoots from the fringes of the farmer’s fenced orchard. Rabbits filled with wanderlust venture away from the drab confines of their warren in search of adventure in the great wide world. They congregate in heavy brush along the barbwire and hog panel hedgerow and gossip about what lies beyond the great expanse of tilled earth to the north. They spread rabbit tales of quick strike hawks and how the last bunnies to venture this far never made it home again.
Overhead, owls listen and laugh. The only thing that makes them forget about their hunger is the intoxicating scent of fear riding high on waves of the night. Voles, and mice, and moles were all working on their night moves, too. They burrow and scamper and cower, letting their instincts be their guide. If all goes to plan, only the crumbs on the counter and fresh mounds of soil in the field will give away the location of their evening activities.
While a band of coyotes prowled the country fence lines and howled at the moon he began to tune into the sound of water flowing in the trees. He could feel their twisting tap roots siphoning up from the underground reservoir that snaked beneath it all. He could sense the rhythm of their sylvan exhale as those gulps quenched an age old thirst.
As the glamour of the night settled heavy on waxy leaves he could hear the pools of condensation gather. Slowly they would brim at curled edges, tilt forward toward a pointed tip, and then pour smooth like wine from a decanter.
The build up and release reminded him of communion prayers and confessions. The swelling, and overflow, and ultimate emptying of a vast well of concerns. But like flowing wine falling into a cup, or pools of rain from leaf to leaf, the pain never really went away. It simply shifted vessels.
While the curtain of night still hung heavy the first birds began to chirp the familiar chorus of their new morning tune. He let the sounds ring in his ears and hoped that the slow drip of night would help to recharge his own roots. Like an evergreen tree mired in drought, he had every intention to keep growing.
There may not be a whole lot to catch on the lower Columbia River these days but at least anglers won’t have to pay extra for the privilege any longer.
Since 2010 the WDFW has required anglers on the big river to purchase a Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead endorsement in addition to their regular freshwater fishing license. However, beginning July 1 that regulation will be stricken from the books at a savings of $8.75 per angler.
The endorsement requirement was implemented ostensibly to pay for fish monitoring and fishery enforcement on the Columbia River. The legislation that granted the WDFW the authority to charge the fee will expire on June 30. No refunds will be offered, and it’s likely that anglers will soon be presented a baited hook by the WDFW — Fish up some more money or prepare for a loss of services and, or angling opportunity.
“The endorsement provided needed funding for monitoring and enforcement activities,” said WDFW director, Kelly Susewind, in a press release. “We’re evaluating our path forward with these fisheries, which not only provide good opportunities for anglers but also significant economic benefits to communities in the Columbia River Basin.”
A previous request to the Legislature by the WDFW to extend the endorsement through 2023 was not granted.
Out on the lower bends of the Columbia River last week salmon and steelhead fishing wasn’t even an option. The same remains true this week. The WDFW has said that they will begin to explore the possibility of opening limited salmonid fisheries by the end of next week.
Sturgeon retention is also currently closed in the lower Columbia River but a series of harvest opportunities will begin on Monday, May 13. Waters between Buoy 10 and the Wauna powerlines, including all adjacent tributaries and Young’s Bay, will be open for catch-and-keep sturgeon fishing on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays through June 5. The fishery will close at 2 p.m. each day, even for catch-and-release efforts. The minimum harvest size is 44 inches with a maximum measurement of 50 inches with a daily limit of one fish. Catch-and-release sturgeon fishing is already open.
For those who can’t wait a moment longer to cast a line on a sunny shore there are several lower Columbia tributaries that are open, primarily for steelhead.
Last week in limited creel sampling the WDFW found one bank angler on the Elochoman with one steelhead tossed back. On the Kalama River 67 bank anglers released four Chinook and three steelhead while 23 rods on 13 boats kept one jack Chinook and released seven steelies. Eight bank anglers on the Lewis River had no catch at all but 172 rods on 65 boats in the Wind River kept 46 Chinook and released two others. Over in Drano Lake 20 bank rods had no catch to show or tell but a whopping 594 rods on 215 boats kept 148 kings and released a dozen more.
Those stats show that the bulk of the late-winter run has bypassed Longview but there’s still a modicum of action on the Cowlitz River. Last week 26 bank rods on the lower river kept three steelhead and four boat rods released one Chinook. Between the I-5 Bridge and the barrier dam 14 bank rods had no catch and 13 boat rods on five boats were also skunked.
At the Cowlitz salmon hatchery separator last week crews retrieved 161 steelhead, two jacks, 118 spring Chinook, five jacks, and one cutthroat trout. Crews redistributed 17 steelhead and one cutthroat trout into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton and they deposited 22 steelhead, 17 spring Chinook adults and one jack into Lake Scanewa. River flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at 2,990 cubic feet per second on Monday with water visibility of 10 feet and a temperature of 50 degrees.
Looking elsewhere around the region, river flow was 1,060 cubic feet per second below LaGrande Dam on the Nisqually River on Wednesday. That’s not nearly as interesting as the the announcement the WDFW made regarding summer steelhead in Puget Sound.
In a press release the WDFW noted that they reached an agreement with the Wild Fish Conservancy regarding the use of Columbia River (Skamania) steelhead hatchery stock in Puget Sound rivers. The agreement will require the WDFW to eliminate its use of Columbia River stock on the Skykomish River over three years beginning in 2020.
“We know that transitioning to a local stock is better for fish, and that the Skykomish is a tremendously popular steelhead river,” conceded WDFW Director Kelly Susewind, in a press release. “People will be able to continue enjoying the experience here much as they have in the past.”
Additionally, the agreement requires the WDFW to cease planting Skamania hatchery fish on the Stillaguamish River by 2020. The Stillaguamish River has turned up fewer than 20 hatchery-origin summer steelhead each of the last four summers.That dearth of returning fish has made it difficult to reach broodstock needs.
“We share anglers’ disappointment over the lack of fishing opportunities in the Stillaguamish River,” added Susewind. “We want to work with the tribal co-managers and stakeholders to improve the Stillaguamish River situation, better meet conservation objectives, and explore alternative fishing opportunities.”
Out in the old Salish Sea, Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound) remains open for salmon fishing. Anglers in that area are limited to two fish per day with a requirement that they release all wild coho and wild Chinook.
Additionally, the Chehalis River is set to remain closed to salmon fishing through at least the end of May due to a low projection for returning spring Chinook. On Wednesday river flow on the Wynoochee River was reported at 367 cfps above Black Creek and at 209 cfps at Grisdale. With the weather and water clearing out and heating up over the couple of weeks the prospects for biting bass have likewise been on the rise. Soon they might even start chasing lures instead of just gobbling up whatever you can bump into them.
On Saturday South Lewis County Park Pond in Toledo will be home to a yearly youth fishing derby. The old quarry along the banks of Cowlitz River will close to the general public on May 9 until 2 p.m. on May 11. Derby fishing will begin at 8 a.m. on May 11 for anglers age 14 and younger. Registration can be taken care of on site and young anglers will have exclusive access until 1 p.m. Additional information can be had by emailing Kelli Stover at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plenty of other lakes in the area have been primed for success in recent weeks as well. Klineline Pond and Battle Ground Lake in Clark County received a total of 5,110 fingerling cutthroat trout between them back on April 24. Horseshoe Lake and Lake Sacajawea in Cowlitz County were planted with 6,360 fingerling rainbow trout, collectively, between April 22 and April 26, respectively. And, in Lewis County, Carlisle Lake was planted with 10,000 half pound rainbow trout on April 16. Another 2,875 fingerling rainbow trout were planted in Mineral Lake on April 23.
The WDFW will continue to operate its free trout derby until Oct. 31. Hundreds of tagged fish have been planted around the state and those tags can be turned in for various prizes. A complete list of lakes and ponds with prize winning fish can be found online at fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/Home/FishingDerby.
The Columbia River pikeminnow reward program is also up and running. That pay to slay program runs from May 1 through Sept. 30 from the mouth of the big river up to Priest Rapids Dam. So far there have been seven fish caught and returned with special tags worth $500 to those lucky anglers. Additional information can be found online at www.pikeminnow.org/
There’s less than two weeks remaining for prospective hunters to turn in thier applications for special hunt permits.
That paperwork is due by May 22 for anyone hoping to extend their opportunity for deer, elk, mountain goat, moose, bighorn sheep, or turkeys beyond the general seasons. Approved applications will be entered into a random drawing conducted by the WDFW in June. Hunters who beat the odds will be notified by the end of June. Applications can be handled online at fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, or by phone at 1-877-945-3492.
The majority of special hunt permit applications cost $7.10 for Washington residents and $110.50 for out of staters. The cost is just $3.80 for hunters under the age of 16. Applications for residents hoping to bag a mountain goat, bighorn ram, moose, or “quality” deer and elk will cost $13.70.
Wild turkey hunters continue to beat the brush and scratch their boxes in search of roosting trees in search of big swaggering toms. That statewide spring turkey hunt will continue through the end of May. Odds of bagging a tom are best in the northeastern portion of the state but some random gobblers can be found in these here timber thickets and mounded prairies as well.
Coyotes are only beginning to venture farther from their dens so they are harder to find. Still, the sun never sets on coyote hunting season in Washington.
Of course, roadkill salvage is legal in Washington in almost all instances. State law allows for the harvest of most road rashed 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 order 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
Word has yet to come down the pipeline from the WDFW regarding approval for a proposed three day razor clam dig at Mocrocks that would begin May 18. Those digs are currently awaiting final approval pending marine toxin testing.
The dig is proposed for the following dates, low tides and beaches:
• May 18, Saturday, 6:58 a.m.; -1.4 feet; Mocrocks
• May 19, Sunday, 7:41 a.m.; -1.6 feet; Mocrocks
• May 20, Monday, 8:23 a.m.; -1.6 feet; Mocrocks
“After careful evaluation of the season’s clam harvest, we are happy to announce that healthy clam populations on Mocrocks beach support another dig,” explained WDFW coastal shellfish manager, Dan Ayres, in a press release.
All diggers age 15 and older are required to possess a license and state law limits each digger to 15 clams per day, regardless of size or condition. Additionally, each digger must procure their own clams and carry them in a personal container.
On Monday, May 13, anyone who has an inkling to do so can participate in a “virtual open house” in order to learn more about the way the WDFW operates. The public will be provided opportunities to ask questions of the WDFW regarding their policies and plans for the future.
“I want to share some updates on the agency, but the main purpose is to have a two-way conversation with those who aren’t always able to attend our in-person events,” explained WDFW director, Kelly Susewind, in a press release. “People care deeply about the work we do and we want to make it easier for them to tell us what’s on their mind and what’s important to them in their everyday lives.”
The “open house” will be held online. According to the release, information will be provided on topics ranging from “an overview of the department’s work, a summary of legislative session actions that affect WDFW, and how the department is working to address long-term challenges affecting fish and wildlife in Washington.”
The forum will begin at 7 p.m. To participate the public an log in online at https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019051001. A reviewable video of the open house will remain posted on the WDFW website afterward.
May 11 is International Migratory Bird Day and flocks of fine feathered friends will be taking notes on their avian allies who are currently on the wing.
A note by the WDFW pointed out that nearly 350 bird species are in the midst of their migration from wintering grounds south of the U.S./Mexico border to their nesting habitats in the upper reaches of North America.
Additional information can be found online at www.birdday.org.
On Saturday, May 11, the power of glaciers and the grace of wildflowers and their favorite pollinators will be celebrated in the South Sound prairies.
The annual Prairie Appreciation day is hosted at Thurston County’s Glacial Heritage Preserve in between Gate and Littlerock. Activities will also be held at the Mima Mounds Natural Area, although those might have been created by giant gophers. The preserve area is typically closed to the public.
The events are family friendly with activities suitable for all ages. Endeavors will include wildflower walks, bird talks, butterfly banter, along with information about the creation of the prairies and ongoing efforts to preserve them.
Additional information can be found online at prairieappreciationday.org/.