He didn’t think there would be anyone out there to bump into. That’s precisely why he’d chosen to go at that time of night even though he knew full well that it was illegal.
In the light of the day there were crowds and distractions. Sometimes the marshal even found time to carve out of his busy schedule sitting at the cafe lunch counter in order to roll his wagon around and see what was shaking.
Even as a boy he’d never liked to work in those types of conditions. His hands, normally as nimble and adept at their task as a locksmith, would grow awkward and clumsy under the collective gaze of crowds and combat fishermen. His heart would race and a cold sweat would break out across his brow like an iced down six pack left out on the counter too long. It was not his preferred environment to say the absolute least.
At night, though, the pond came alive with a different cast of characters who were wholly unconcerned with his pursuits. Crickets chirped in concert from their spot tucked in amongst the reeds. Frogs bellowed like barbershop baritones from their half sunken station over by the lily pads.Two geese, one drake and one hen, both red masked and ferocious in their natural appearance lounged lazily on the dock in the comforting drape of the night.
He had a five horse kicker mounted on the back of that old aluminum boat his father had given to him before he had moved away. In time like these though he used the old wooden oars to maneuver about the pond. It helped him to blend in with his surroundings and allowed the world around him to go on just as it had before he arrived. As he drifted, like a long lost bobber on the breeze, he became entranced by the pacifying clap of the water against the hull.
In the bottom of the old dingy, tucked away with the care of a musician toward their favorite instrument, was his trusty old rod and reel. His intention had been to find a flat spot of water and start to cast his newest round of hand-twisted rooster tailed flies without interruption. He knew that the pond had been stocked with a truck full of lunkers from the hatchery and he wanted to hook into them so that they could take him for a midnight spin by moonlight.
He knew it was illegal, that night fishing that he so loved, but the siren call of the water was too loud for him to ignore. The simple truth was that as an angler he knew the rules but his decisions were constantly manipulated by the odds as he saw them.
When he’d managed to reach the spot he’d had his eyes set on he pulled the oars silently from the water and became instantly mesmerized by the liquid pearls that beaded on the blades before they fell back into the water. As their ripples reverberated off of one another he was finally able to see the reflected image of the night sky as it wobbled on the water’s wonky surface.
Distracted by the night jewels overhead he let himself lie down between the seats and allowed his focus to soften so that he might more easily see the shooting stars overhead. As he attached his wishes to each blazing star cutting a course across the night sky the constellations in the background began to come alive. He could see Orion tightening his belt before a great hunt. He could see Ursa Major rising sleepy headed from her den once again to growl across the infinite expanse of the heavens. And he could see Virgo, the maiden of the night, who would now be responsible for keeping him out past his bedtime. He figured he might grow to regret it in the morning but he was so content looking up at the stars that he imagined he might never leave.
That’s when the floodlight washed over his boat and the stern voice of the marshall came washing loud and clear over the boat like a rogue wave of disapproval. Startled, he lurched up from his prone position and instantly felt the clammy sweat begin to pool on his palms while his guts twisted like those Folgers cans full of worms that he held in such great contempt.
The mechanical voice called out for him to row to shore and so he did, although he did not feel the need to hurry since they were the only ones around. He tried to keep his worry at bay as he caught a few final glimpses of the cloud shrouded moon hanging just over the tree tops and the stale constellations coming alive like sea monkeys overhead.
When he reached the dock the long arm of the law pulled him in with an angry tug and lashed the boat to the dock as he began admonishing the young man for being out on the water so late. “You can’t be out here this time of night,” he said, “There’s no fishing after dark and you know that.”
The young man initially felt the need to defend himself in the face of the accusation but he was positive this time that he was innocent so he simply let the marshal rant in his direction while celestial pinholes burned permanently into the negative of his mind's’ eye for savoring later on.
When the Marshal finally ran out of wind he sputtered and asked, “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”
That’s when he reached slowly for his bone dry rod and reel and placed it carefully in the Marshal’s hands. He knew it was all the defense he would need since he’d never actually gotten around to fishing that night. It was the first time in his life that he’d considered himself lucky for not fishing.
Luck was on his side, he thought. Maybe he’d even come back later and try his odds in the daylight. He’d just have to get used to the people.
It’s not even summer yet and the bad news for our watersheds is already rolling in from the mountain tops. This week Gov. Jay Inslee expanded an emergency drought declaration that now covers nearly half of Washington, including Lewis County.
The snowpack for most peaks in the state are currently at 50 percent of their average for this time of year. On White Pass near the summit of the ski area all of the snow accumulated over the winter and early spring has completely melted away. With summer right around the corner the conditions for regional watersheds are only expected to worsen over the next few months.
The emergency declaration applies to 24 watersheds around the state including: Willapa, Cowlitz, Lower Chehalis, Chelan, Colville, Deschutes, Elwha-Dungeness, Entiat, Grays-Elochoman, Kennedy-Goldsborough, Kettle, Lower Skagit-Samish, Lower Yakima, Lyre-Hoko, Naches, Nooksack, Queets-Quinault, Quilcene-Snow, Skokomish-Dosewallips, Soleduc, Stillaguamish, Upper Chehalis, Upper Skagit, and Wenatchee.
With water already running low and temperatures expected to rise while precipitation falls off the outlook for area fisheries is not promising. The drought conditions are likely to result in reduced or eliminated openings.
On the Chehalis River there’s nothing for anglers to worry about at the moment. That’s because when you don’t have anything you can’t have anything taken away. The Chehalis River, along with the South Fork Chehalis, North Fork Newaukum, South Fork Newaukum, and Skookumchuck rivers have all be shuttered to all sport angling for the past two weeks. The river was previously closed to hatchery Chinook harvest but a paltry run of kings has prompted the WDFW to expand the restrictions to cover all fishing, even catch-and-release. The current closure is set to extend through at least June 30.
For a little insight into that out of the ordinary closure we’ll check in with Andy Coleman, captain and proprietor of Andy’s Angling Adventures based out of Lewis County.
“I think the reason for the tight closer on the chehalis is to keep people from catching kings and retaining them will fishing for smaller fish,” postulated Coleman. “Game department is getting a little smarter these days.... lol.”
Out on the lower Columbia River system the news is slightly more encouraging but only by a matter of degree. In a fresh dispatch to the FishRap Command center Coleman noted that the, “Lower Columbia will open for king(s) for a short period of time (and) then remain open for coho. Forecast for coho are around one million with (Chinook) coming in at 320,000. (It) will be a solid season but definitely not comparable to our glory days the a few seasons back.”
For now the biggest draw to the lower Columbia River for big fish anglers is the on-again off-again sturgeon fishery. Anglers will be able to catch-and-keep sturgeon between the Wauna Power lines and Buoy 10 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays through June 5. The minimum retention size is 44 inches while the maximum length is 50 inches with a daily limit of one. The fishery will close at 2 p.m. each day, even on that are only open for catch-and-release.
Coleman says the perfect conditions for sturgeon fishing have yet to arrive just yet.
“Things are a little slow at the start like usual.. Water temps need to come up to bring bait fish into the lower river. Another week and hoping for a change,” Coleman explained.
The most recent reports rolling off of the Cowlitz River from the WDFW show that the bite is on a bit of a hiatus until the summer steelhead run really takes hold. Downstream of the i-5 Bridge there were 21 bank rods that showed no catch. Another nine bank rods between the freeway and the Barrier Dam were also skunked while 14 rods on seven boats were able to keep three steelhead.
Those numbers seem to match up with what Coleman has been hearing from anglers who are putting in their time on the Cowlitz.
“Hear(ing) of scattered summer steelhead in the Cowlitz the last few weeks and people are catching them in the Big C that are targeting them,” noted Coleman. “Should see solid numbers by June 1.”
At the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery Separator last week crews retrieved 165 spring Chinook adults, 10 spring jacks, 25 summer-run steelhead, and 14 winter steelhead. Employees then relocated 20 spring Chinook adults, three jacks, and three winter steelhead into Lake Scanewa near Randle and dropped one winter steelie into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton. Another 20 summer steelhead were trucked back down river to the I-5 boat launch and released in order to give anglers one more shot to catch them. River flow below Mayfield Dam was recorded at 2,960 cubic feet per second on Tuesday. That flow increased to around 3,500 cfps on Wednesday morning but was set to drop below 3,000 cfps by Thursday morning and through the weekend. Water visibility was about eight feet with water temperature just below 50 degrees.
On the Kalama River last week the WDFW found five bank anglers with no catch while nine rods on four boats were also skunked. As of May 20 348 adult spring kings had returned to the hatchery, including 16 wild fish. The escapement goal is 500 fish. The daily limit on the Kalama is six fish, of which one may be an adult.
One bank anglers on the Lewis River last week had no catch to show to checkers. As of May 20 a total of 472 spring Chinook adults had returned to the hatchery, including eight wild fish. The escapement goal is 1,350 adults kings.
Out on the Elochoman River five bank anglers were able to show WDFW creek counters two steelhead on their stringers.
Fishing was hot on the Wind River and Drano Lake last week but that doesn’t matter anymore. That’s because most of those waters were closed to salmon and steelhead angling beginning on May 20. Those closures will extend until further notice.
Anglers who prefer to target trout and other smaller game fish have plenty of options around the area. On May 16 Mayfield Lake was planted with 5,400 rainbow trout fingerlings that will grow right alongside the 5,600 fingerling rainbows that were deposited on May 2. On May 9 South Lewis County Park Pond was planted with 50 trout weighing an average of 8.33 pounds each along with another 50 trout that tipped the scales at just over three pounds each. On that same day SoCo Pond was planted with 5,400 rainbow fingerlings for catching later.
The youngest anglers among us will soon get their shot to troll Lake Scanewa without adult interference. On June 8 the Lewis County PUD will host their annual Kids Fishing Derby.
Anglers who prefer bigger fish out in the big salted pond will be happy to know that the WDFW recently added dates to the sport halibut season. The changes mean that Marine Area 2 will now be open on Thursday, June 6.
Sport halibut fishing will also be open for six extra days in Marine Areas 5-10. Those extra dates are Thursday, May 30; Saturday June 1; Thursday, June 13; Saturday, June 15; Thursday, June 27; and, Saturday, June 29. In Marine Area 1 the all-depth fishery will continue on May 24 and May 26. The nearshore area will be open Mondays through Wednesdays until the catch quota has been reached. Anglers should note that it is legal to keep lingcod when halibut are on the boat north of the Washington-Oregon border on open days.
Nearby halibut season are set to unfold as follows:
Marine Area 1
All-depth: Open Thursday, May 2; Sunday, May 5; Thursday, May 9; Sunday, May 12; Friday, May 24; Sunday, May 26.
Nearshore: Open Monday’s through Wednesdays since May 6.
Marine Area 2 Open Thursday, May 2; Sunday, May 5; Thursday, May 9; Sunday, May 12; Friday, May 24; and Thursday, June 6.
Whelp, time ran out on the countdown to the special permit application deadline on Wednesday. That means if you haven’t already submitted your paperwork there won’t be any special privileges coming your way next hunting season.
With that bit of news out of the way it’s worth mentioning that there is still about a week left in the statewide spring general turkey hunt. That hunt is set to close with the end of May. Chances for bagging a gobbler are always best in the northeastern portion of the state but some mossbacked wild turkeys can also be found west of the Cascades. Of course, it always helps to know where to look and a person could do worse than the shrub covered prairies between Bucoda and Yelm.
For hunters who can’t stand to see a day go by without an opportunity to put another notch on their belt there is even better news still. Namely, the sun never sets on coyote season in Washington.
Best of all, 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
The WDFW has cooked up a new set of official regulations and recommendations as they pertain to culvert management on fish bearing streams. Out of date and failing culverts are a known impediment to salmon and steelhead species as they attempt to navigate upstream to their spawning area of choice.
“Our updated guidance manual uses newer technologies and is more accessible to non-engineers,” said Dan Barrett, WDFW fish passage training manager, in a press release “We’ve simplified the user experience which should result in more accurate data from more people, allowing for better prioritization of projects for salmon restoration.”
In order to qualify for grant funding to repair or replace faulty culverts landowners must first make sure that they meet the requirements laid out by the WDFW. The agency even offers free training on culvert assessment.
“We’ve also made it easier for the public to get involved,” added Barrett. “We encourage people to use our new Washington State Fish Passage web application, which is a convenient archive of fish passage data from across the state.”
Additional information can be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/habitat-recovery/fish-passage/training. The WDFW fish passage application can be acccessed online at geodataservices.wdfw.wa.gov/hp/fishpassage/index.html.