A gangly mob of sandhill cranes cut a witch’s course across the midnight sky and look for the perfect mist shrouded field to stretch and rest their wings. In the cosmic backdrop a super worm moon rises slowly over the silhouetted shark’s tooth horizon of the Cascades. Cheddar orange at first, then shining clean white and bright like the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, the orbiting orb signals the official shift from the depths of winter to the first shot of spring.

Bone dry wood piles grow shorter by the day while greening grasses grow longer by the hour. The compost pile, sleepy for so long, now steams like a locomotive caught idling in the water color filter of another sunrise to remember. When the coffee finishes percolating it’s finally time to pull out from the station for another day rattling down the tracks to destinations both familiar and unexpected. At once, comforting and invigorating. A graveyard of old memories and a nursery of new ones.

Roosters crow early to chase the darkness from the sky and the sun stays out later every day. Bones of a once beloved snowmen, now forgotten, lay like a continental soldier lost long ago in a field with no name. Life goes on. The earth spins round. The sun rises only to melt like a marshmallow into the primordial sea once again. Even in the darkness all that has been forgotten still remains.

Baby bears bumble about before emerging from the dank of their dens alongside chicken haired mammas who are hungry after heavy headed naps. Spotted fawns and calves will soon be born in tall grass and instructed to stay still and silent until it is safe to move. Is it every safe to move, they’ll wonder, or is it just the choice that must be made?

Soon enough they will shed their spots and begin to bound across the countryside. All at once overcome with excitement to explore and terrified that something steely eyed and cold hearted is gaining on them. That’s why they never look back where they came from but never cease to scan the peripheral. The future that matters is in front of us all.

Motion creates opportunity and stagnation turns everything young into another thing that’s old and dusty. We all grow until we die so long as we don’t forget to move and shake while we are awake. We all live so long as we remember to dance while the music plays, and every memory we make is one more to be lost to the sediment of time.

But even buried things are not really lost. They are merely hidden away to be discovered again in their own time.

 

FISHIN’

Visions of winter steelhead on the line keep luring area anglers out to the assorted riversheds in order to try their luck. The lingering late-winter and early-spring dry spell has river levels low for the season but a run of summer-like weather has effort on the rise.

“They’re starting to pick up a few more. Most of it of course is Blue Creek on down but everyone I talked to today had one to three fish. So that was good,” said Karen Glaser at the Barrier Creek Campground along the Cowlitz River on Wednesday. “I also heard that down there on the lower river by Olequa and Castle Rock the plunkers are starting to pick some up.”

Last week the WDFW sampled 42 along the bank of the lower Cowlitz River with one steelhead to show for their efforts. Upriver, between the I-5 Bridge and the Barrier Dam, 38 bank anglers released three steelhead while 156 rods on 48 boats reportedly kept 26 steelhead while releasing eight others.

At the Cowlitz salmon hatchery last week crews retrieved 20 winter-run steelhead. Two steelhead were transported to the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton and three steelhead were put in the Cispus River in Randle. The remaining steelhead were retained for broodstock operations.

On Tuesday river flow was reported at 6,240 cubic feet per second with a water temperature creeping up slightly to 42.1 degrees and visibility of 10 feet.

Glaser says anglers tend to choose their bait in a cyclical pattern depending on the season and the luck of those around them.

“It’s kind of been a variety. Lately they’ve been buying a lot of beads. Before I was selling a lot of sand shrimp,” she explained.

Anticipating the arrival of new runs of fish is another facet of the Cowlitz River fishing experience that always seems to be shifting like the stones of a sandbar.

“Anymore with these fish runs I don’t have any idea. Of course they’ve got it closed already (for Spring Chinook) but I haven’t seen any show up at the hatchery yet,” Glaser said.

There was plenty of success had on other tributaries to the lower Columbia River last week as well. Six bank anglers on the Elochoman River caught and released two steelhead while 29 bank anglers on the Kalama River released one steelhead and 11 rods on four boats kept two steelies and released another. However, a contingent of anglers on the Grays River, Lewis River, East Fork Lewis River and Germany Creek were all skunked.

Effort on the mainstem Columbia River hasn’t increased much recently despite the lure of a sunny day on the water. Currently fishing for hatchery salmon and steelhead is open from Warrior Rock to Beacon Rock, with bank anglers allowed to continue up to the Bonneville Dam deadline. All salmon, steelhead, and shad fishing is currently closed from Warrior Rock on

Down. Last Saturday the WDFW counted 129 boats targeting salmon in that stretch with another 15 anglers dispersed along the Washington bank.

Sturgeon, walleye and bass are also hitting hooks in the dam pools of the Columbia River. In the Bonneville Pool last week 12 rods on six boats kept nine walleye. In the John Day Pool 152 rods on 63 boats kept 75 walleye and released 68 more. Meanwhile, two rods on one boat kept one bass and released another.

Sturgeon harvest is currently off limits in the lower Columbia River, as well as The Dalles Pool, but Bonneville and John Day are open for catch-and-keep angling efforts. Last week eight bank anglers at Bonneville released two sublegal sturgeon while 17 rods on six boats kept three legal sturgeon and released 26 more that were too small for bonking. At John Day 15 bank anglers released one sublegal sturgeon and 13 rods on seven boats had no catch to show or tell.

In other river monster related news, a rapid recession in water level late last week left around 200 sturgeon stranded on Sauvie Island. The strandings were first reported on Monday after a resident noticed the large mass of sturgeon cut off from the main body of water, known as Sturgeon Lake, by an emergent mud flat.

The Oregonian noted that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife set up pumps to increase both water level and oxygen levels in the shallow pool holding the fish. Additional action had not been taken or announced as of press time.

“They need some help,” Swart told The Oregonian. “Whether it’s from mother nature or us, I’m not sure, but they need some help.”

Efforts for steelhead on the middle section of the Chehalis River has increased recently despite the dip in water level. Jet sleds can be heard running the straights from Borst Park down past Independence and a steady presence has been kept by both bank anglers and boaters near Porter and Malone. A few bass anglers have even been spotted casting near the inlets of creeks and streams as the weather begins to turn toward spring. On Tuesday river flow on the Wynoochee River was reported at 795 cfps above Black Creek and 268 cfps at Grisdale.

Many lowland lakes are already teeming with piscatorial prospects thanks to hatchery trout stocking efforts by the WDFW.

On March 7, SoCo Pond in Toledo was planted with 2,000 fingerling rainbow trout. One week later Swofford Pond received 2,750 fingerling rainbows and another 3,000 rainbows that were even smaller. We’ll call them toeling trout, weighing about ⅓ of a pound each.

Thurston County had a more diverse mix of trout dumped in its assorted waters. Black Lake received 7,545 fingerling rainbows on March 13 and Long Lake was planted with 7,206 fingerlings the previous day. Looking back a bit further the prospects grow even more enticing. At the end of February, Lake Lawrence was planted with 402 rainbow trout tipping the scales at about five pounds each and Offut Lake received 200 rainbows of the same size about a week earlier. What’s more, Long Lake was planted with 80 trout weighing five pounds each on Feb. 15.

Looking back toward future prospects, Longview’s crown jewel, Lake Sacajawea, received 3,001 fingerling rainbow trout on March 15.

 

SMELTIN’

The late arrival of smelt on the Cowlitz River has done nothing to sway the WDFW on their decision to eliminate any harvest opportunities for the tiny and tasty fish.

The decision to can any prospective openings for smelt was announced earlier this year when fish officials projected a poor run. According to the WDFW this later-than-normal arrival of the eulachon smelt was not enough to undo their earlier action.

“The delayed run, which didn’t begin entering the river until early March, has not changed the assessment,” said Laura Heironimus, a WDFW fish manager, in a press release. “People get excited when they see fish running up the river, but the monitoring data we have indicates the run is not strong enough to support harvest.”

Pacific smelt were designated as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2010. Since then limited recreational smelt dips have been allowed in four different years.

“Though still a low run, more fish are returning than did last year, which may indicate a positive shift in ocean conditions for smelt” Heironimus added. “This may bode well for future years.”

 

HUNTIN’

Last week hunts for bobcats, fox, raccoons, snowshoe hare, and cottontail rabbits all joined the likes of waterfowl, elk, deer, snipe, and coot as species who have received a reprieve from the general hunting season.

That seasonal regulation change leaves cougars as the only species currently under general hunting season stress. However, hunters should be sure to check with the WDFW before heading out. That extra effort has been recommended since the New Year when cougar areas became subject to restrictions based on cumulative harvest numbers from the fall and winter season. In areas where the take remains below the quota hunting will continue through April 30.

Out on the trapline seasons for beaver, badger, weasel, marten, mink, muskrat and river otter are all set to continue through the end of March. And, of course, hunting season never sets on the ornery old coyote.

If the freezer begins to run low during the long offseason Washingtonians can take solace knowing that roadkill salvage is also legal in the Evergreen state. The harvest of most deer and elk is allowed with the use of an emergency permit provided by the WDFW, although deer are not eligible for harvest in Clark, Cowlitz or Wahkiakum counties. 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.

In April a run of special permit hunts for black bears will get underway along with the spring general hunt for turkeys.

Additionally, any hunters who wish to obtain a multiple-season hunting tag for next fall and winter have through the end of March to submit their applications. Successful entries will be entered into a drawing for a limited supply of multiple-season tags. Those drawings will be used to award 8,500 extended tags for deer and 1,000 bonus tags for elk.

Those hunters who are selected will be able to purchase a special tag that would allow them to hunt during archery, muzzleloader, and modern firearm general seasons for their allotted animal. Additional information can be found on the WDFW website or by calling 360-902-2464.

 

CLAMMIN’

On Tuesday the WDFW approved a four-day razor clam dig opening that will begin Thursday at Mocrocks. Those digs will then expand to include Twin Harbors, Copalis, and three rare days in a row at Kalaloch Beach on the remote stretches of the western Olympic Peninsula.

The Thursday dig will be the final evening tide of the season. Beginning Friday no digging will be allowed on any beach after noon.

This round of razor clam harvest opportunities was approved after marine toxin testing confirmed that the succulent bivalves are safe for human consumption. The upcoming dig is approved on the following beaches, dates, and low tides:

Evening tide, no digging is allowed before noon:

·       March 21, Thursday, 7:48 p.m.; -0.5 feet; Mocrocks

Switch to a.m. tides, no digging is allowed after noon:

·       March 22, Friday, 8:14 a.m.; -0.2 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Kalaloch

·       March 23, Saturday, 9:01 a.m.; -0.3 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis, Kalaloch

·       March 24, Sunday, 9:49 a.m.; -0.3 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Kalaloch

 

WDFW coastal shellfish manager, Dan Ayres, always suggests that diggers begin scouring the beach about an hour or two before low tide for best results.

“While diggers should be prepared for both rain and sunshine, spring is a great time to gather clams and share a fun experience on the beach with friends and family,” said Ayres, in a press release.

Harvest data from the round of razor clam digs that closed out February shows that Mocrocks offered the best return on investment. Averages from those digs showed that 8,344 diggers average 13.2 clams per person at Long Beach during a one day opening. At Twin Harbors an average of 9,108 diggers averaged 12 clams per day and 8,542 diggers at Copalis pulled an average of 13.9 clams from the sand per day. Meanwhile, at Mocrocks an average of 5,743 diggers averaged a haul of 14.1 clams per person.

Everyone age 15 or older is required to possess a saltwater fishing license in order to harvest razor clams. All diggers are held to a 15 clam limit. All diggers must harvest and hold their own clams and no high grading is allowed.

 

FEEDIN’

With winter still clinging in the highlands the WDFW is reminding the public that efforts to feed wild animals may unintentionally put them at even greater risk for harm later on.

“People may want to feed deer, elk, moose and other animals to help during these leaner times,” said Kristin Mansfield, a veterinarian with WDFW, in a press release.“But artificial feeding can actually do more harm than good.”

The recent failed attempt to graft an orphaned elk back into a wild herd only added more ammunition to the WDFW’s insistence that Good Samaritans let the wild things fend for themselves. Buttons the Elk came to fame after being orphaned by a wildfire near Cle Elum. Prior to that though Buttons had grown popular with local residents, and they grew popular with the elk by feeding it regularly.

The WDFW says that while the stories of the “kissing elk” were cute, Buttons also caused thousands of dollars of property damage over the years due to a propensity to go where he shouldn’t. After failing to acclimate to the wild Buttons was relocated to the Woodland Park Zoo.

A press release from the WDFW noted that it takes several weeks for wild animals to adjust to a new diet, such as hay. That means they can starve even with full bellies of new foodstuffs they are not prepared to digest. Another danger is that feed stations can draw animals into areas they are not used to. That can lead to increased road crossings by animals and other dangers such as poachers, predators and disease caused by the concentration of the animals. Additionally, the WDFW warns that being too nice to wild animals can make them “too comfortable around humans and, in some cases, aggressive.”

This logic was used as rationale to kill numerous animals under the care of For Heaven’s Sake Wildlife Rescue in Rochester in late 2017. After mass public outcry the WDFW allowed the remaining deer to be released at a secret location.

The press release noted that the WDFW conducts feeding operations at three Wildlife Areas in south-central Washington in order to prevent damage by elk and bighorn sheep to nearby private property during the winter. However, they noted that those feed stations are strategically located and fenced in order to limit any unintended consequence.

“We feed in select cases for specific reasons,” Mansfield noted. “But it’s neither effective nor desirable to feed wildlife on a broad scale.”

In the press release Mansfield added that death due to the elements is simply a cold hard fact of life for animals in the wild.

“Winter is the season of greatest stress for wildlife populations, especially animals experiencing their first winter,” she explained in the press release. “People can’t change that, and it can create problems when they try to do so.”

 

SNOWIN’

The arrival of spring and an accompanying surprise heatwave has been bad news for the powderheads hoping that the fluffy stuff would never go away.

The snowpack at summit of White Pass fell by nearly half from last week and now sits at just 69 inches. Strangely, there is actually one more inch of snow accumulated at the base. Temperature at 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday were reported between 30-32 degrees and there had been no new snow for several days.

Despite the change in the weather the slopes are still open for daily operation. Currently the Ribeye Run and Progression Park are still open. The Nordic area is open Thursday through Sunday and the tubing area is open on weekends only.

Snow shredders can still catch a lift up to the slopes via the White Pass Shuttle which will continue operating seven days a week through April 22. The shuttle picks up riders in Olympia at 6:30 a.m., and at the Grand Mound Park and Ride off of Tenino-Grand Mound Road at 6:50 a.m. The shuttle arrives at the Safeway parking lot in Centralia at 7 a.m., with the flag pole as the designated pick up spot, and then stops at the Chehalis park-and-ride on West Main Street at 7:10 a.m. The final stop is at Packwood around 8:30 a.m.

The shuttle typically arrives at White Pass at 9 a.m. and leaves a 3:30 p.m. A round trip ticket costs $40, or $95 with the addition of a lift ticket. To find out additional information or to confirm pick up times call 360-970-9619.

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