They crept low and slow beneath the final fog before summer’s inevitable wave washed it all away. He led the way since it was his idea. She followed along blindly because she knew he knew the tree well.
He could even recognize it by the light of a watermelon moon. That’s what he’d said.
The path was narrow, and uneven, and overgrown, and just different than he remembered from his autumn hunting trips with his old man and all of his uncles.
But it was the right path, he thought. He told her he was sure.
Back home, her dahlia patch promised to unveil the secrets of the stars within the origami folds that were just begging to bloom. Out there, wherever the labyrinth of branches parted overhead, the intergalactic geometry unfolded in real time and space. A flood of semi-automatic shooting stars pointed the way.
He pointed out the big dipper. “Ya,” she said. “I already knew that one.”
“That one there is Nimrod. A mighty hunter before the Lord,” he said.
“If you say so,” she said. She couldn’t see it, but neither could he.
Back home, curling catkins hung heavy like bananas on the old walnut tree while fragile pink petals on renegade hawthorne trees frayed in the rain. Over yonder it appeared there were some silver scale fish rolling in the moon lit ripples of the brook.
He knew they needed to settle in to the spot before the little brown birds began scratching for bugs in the brush. He didn’t tell her he was beginning to doubt himself. It was OK, though. She already knew. She doubted him too.
She still felt silly carrying a shotgun. She’d never done that before, but he said that’s what you do when you do what they were doing, so she did. She did, however, enjoy the face painting. And all the accessorizing one can do with camouflage and head scarves.
With anxiety beginning to pool in his stomach, he began to walk faster as if trying to outpace his uncertainty. He certainly managed to leave her behind. He almost felt bad, but he figured she’d be able to follow the trail. She didn’t mind. It was nice to finally watch the path unwind at her own pace.
With sweat on his brow at the top of a hill, he stopped in his tracks and struggled to recognize the old white oak. Its fluttering array of full spring leaves cast a far more robust silhouette than he had ever seen before. He stopped there. This is where they’d wait.
When she finally reached the top of the hill he was silent. She was not. She was huffing hard. She tried to tell him everything she’d seen in a series of compressed breaths.
“Shhhhhhhh!” he said. “You’ll scare the turkeys.”
And so they sat quiet and still in the tall grass. The black of night lost its luster until they were watching the sun rise up over the mountains. The first minutes of the morning spectacle shine the brightest every time before the hues recede gradually into high noon.
When nothing began to stir on its own, he began to work his turkey call. She’d heard it before. He loved to do his turkey call. You didn’t even need to ask. But this was the first time she’d seen him try to call in turkeys. Maybe it was the first time he’d used his turkey call to call in turkeys. She really couldn’t tell.
When the sun was all the way up he grew tired of trying. He figured she’d grown tired of waiting, but he was wrong. She was listening to the birds sing to one another. She’d never been waiting.
When they walked up to the tree, she noted that it was a magnificent tree. So strong, and tall, and uneven in the most charming of ways. She didn’t say anything about the decided lack of turkeys.
“I don’t know where they are,” he muttered through furious teeth, just to state the obvious. “They’re always here when I’m here looking for elk. We can’t even get them to shut up.”
“That’s funny,” she said. “Why?” he asked..
“Because the elk never seem to be here when you look, either,” she said.
They walked the path back together silently. The only thing he said was, “This was a waste of time.”
She laughed, but only a little this time. She thought it had been a good trip.
Do not go fishing on the Chehalis River. For anything. At all.
That’s the dire message from the WDFW as of May 13 when they enacted an emergency regulation to shutter all sport fishing on the state’s second largest watershed. The closure has been implemented with the stated goal of protecting spring Chinook that have been forecast to return in limited numbers.
“Any incidental encounters of spring Chinook during game fishing could subject this fish to stress, injury, or death, which during a year of low predicted returns could harm future runs,” read a press release from the WDFW.
The startling closure will last through June 30 and covers the mainstem Chehalis River as well as the South Fork Chehalis River, North Fork Newaukum River, South Fork Newaukum River and Skookumchuck River.
There’s not a lot of good news coming off of the state’s number one watershed, either. On Tuesday fishery managers from Washington and Oregon announced that the Columbia River will be subject to sweeping restrictions that will limit salmon angling opportunity the rest of the year, including closures for Chinook. Anglers can expect reductions in both the length of seasons and bag limits for all species but coho. Spring chinook, fall chinook, sockeye, and summer steelhead are all forecast to have below average returns this year.
While salmon fishing is currently shuttered on the lower Columbia River anglers do have opportunities to catch-and-keep white sturgeon between Wauna and Buoy 10. Those openings are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays until June 5. Anglers are allowed to keep one sturgeon per day with a minimum length of 44 inches and a maximum length of 50 inches. Waters close at 2 p.m. each day, even on catch-and-release days.
Anglers can still find a few spots to wet a line for salmonids if they are willing to head up tributaries of the lower Columbia River. Last week the WDFW sampled six anglers with three steelhead kept and another released on the Elochoman River. On the Kalama River 42 bank anglers showed two Chinook on the string while 13 rods on five boats kept one king. One bank angler and two boat rods on the Lewis River had no catch to show or talk about.
The Cowlitz River drew a bit of attention last week during the warm weather but WDFW checkers weren’t able to find anyone with anything to show for their efforts. In the lower river 16 bank rods had no catch. From the Barrier Dam to I-5 three bank rods and 10 boat rods were also skunked. At the salmon hatchery separator last week crews retrieved 49 winter steelhead, one jack, 140 spring Chinook, four jacks, and 20 summer steelhead. Fish handlers then deposited eight winter steelies into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton while releasing 22 springers, one jack, and six winter steelies into Lake Scanewa. Another 20 summer-run steelhead were trucked back down river to the I-5 boat launch in order to give anglers another shot at hooking them. River flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at 2,960 cubic feet per second on Tuesday. A note from Tacoma Power stated that flow is set to increase to 3,500 cfps Friday morning before dropping back down below 3,000 cfps by Friday night and through the weekend. Water visibility has been about 10 feet with a temperature of 51 degrees.
Anyone keen on casting a line for salmon in Puget Sound will be happy to know that Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound) is open, as always. There is a two fish per day limit and all wild coho and Chinook must be released. River flow on the Nisqually River, a tributary to the old Salish Sea, was flowing at 1,090 cfps below LaGrande Dam on Tuesday.
The WDFW began its annual hatchery trout fishing derby in late April and will continue to accept tags in return for prizes through Oct. 31. Out beyond the stocked ponds and lakes where hatchery trucks can back up and dump, there is another kind of derby underway. The Western Native Trout Challenge has been put together in concert by the fish and wildlife managers of 12 western states along with the U.S. Forest Service, the federal Bureau of Land Management, and Trout Unlimited. The goal of the piscatorial pursuit is to catch each of 18 designated native trout species spread naturally across brooks and creeks in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
“We’ve been working for decades with our partners to conserve and rebuild native trout species across the West,” said Ed Schriever, Director of Idaho Fish and Game Department and Chairman of the National Fish Habitat Partnership Board of Directors, in a press release. “The Western Native Trout Challenge is a great way to promote angling for these beautiful fish, keep people connected to native fish and their habitat while raising awareness and support for the need to conserve them.”
Information on where to find each of the designated species will be provided to participating anglers upon registration. Adults will be charged a $25 fee while minors may register for free. Money gathered through fee collection will be put toward the conservation of 21 different native trout species.
“We’re thrilled to be launching this fun way to support native trout conservation across the West,” said WNTI Coordinator Therese Thompson, in the press release. “For every $25 program registration fee, $23 will go directly back to conservation projects that are helping native trout populations thrive. We want anglers to learn about these unique species and where they can go to catch them. In addition, catching the selected species helps conserve them by promoting angling and fishing license sales for native trout species, which also supports conservation efforts. It’s a wonderful way to help conserve these beautiful species, in beautiful places, at your own pace.”
Additional information can be found online at WesternNativeTroutChallenge.org.
If you don’t know by now you haven’t been paying attention. In any case, paperwork for special hunt permit applications in Washington needs to be turned in no later than May 22.
Anyone intent on extending their opportunity for deer, elk, mountain goat, moose, bighorn sheep, or turkeys beyond the general seasons will need to put the pen to paper sooner than later. Eligible 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.
Time is also growing short for wild turkey stalkers across the Evergreen State. That statewide general hunt will come to an end with the close of May and hunters are sure to use every one of those remaining sunrises to catch a randy tom hopping out of his hen tree. Chances for tagging a tom are always best in the northeastern portion of the state but some sporadic wild turkeys can also be found on the wet side of the mountains. You just have to know where to look.
Even when that season closes coyotes will still be fair game.
Even better, 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
It’s go time for succulent bivalve seekers. The WDFW has given the go ahead to what they are calling a “bonus” set of razor clam digs that will begin Saturday at Mocrocks.
“We are happy to announce that healthy clam populations on Mocrocks beach support another dig,” noted WDFW resident clam man, Dan Ayres, in the breaking news press release.
The upcoming digs are approved on the following beaches, dates, and morning low tides:
• 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
No digging will be allowed on any beach after noon.
In a follow up consultation with the FishRap command center Ayres advised that access to Mocrocks Beach is limited and there will likely be a large turnout for the weekend openings. He said that traffic jams are inevitable on the busiest stretches of road leading to the prime digging spots. Mocrocks stretches from the northern edge of the Copalis River up to the southern end of the Quinault Indian Reservation on the south side of the Moclips River. Roosevelt Beach, Seabrook, Pacific Beach and Moclips Beach are all within the Mocrocks area.
“I always tell folks to try to get an early start,” said Ayres, who pointed out that there are several routes to arrive at Mocrocks after heading north out of Hoquiam. Most folks will head toward Ocean Shores and then turn onto Highway 109. However, Ayres suggested continuing a few more miles north before taking the second ocean beach cut off. If you miss that turn just head west from Humptulips and enjoy the scenery.
“That’s the way we go on busy days for sure. If folks want to give that a shot it’s a little windy but it will be faster. It gets you right out there,” noted Ayres.
Ayres pointed out that the most recent digs held at the end of April were record setters, with 19,000 diggers in Long Beach during their Saturday razor clam festival alone.
“That last April dig was a little mind blowing, frankly, with the number of diggers who showed up. And it wasn’t just on Long Beach where we had record crowds. I wasn’t altogether surprised by that just because of some pent up desire to dig. There were lots of limits and lots of happy diggers,” said Ayres. He noted that Twin Harbors and Copalis were also open that day and a whopping total of 38,000 diggers descended on the trio of beaches in total.
“By any standard that is pretty amazing. My previous record in my mind, and I dug back through our records, I couldn’t find anything more than 33,000 people,” Ayres said. “That should give you an idea of just how much people like the fishery.”
Ayres said that ocean conditions should be prime for successful digging, the weather shouldn’t be too bad, and the clams ought to be husky.
“Obviously, in May the other nice thing is these clams are nice and fat. They’re just about ready to spawn in the next couple of weeks so we’re getting them in their peak condition,” beamed Ayres. “This is the best time to go razor clam digging because they are big, and fat, and juicy.”
All diggers age 15 and older must have a license and each digger is limited to 15 clams per day. All diggers must dig and carry their own clams. No high grading is allowed.
Dungeness crab seasons are currently open in the Columbia River, Puget Sound, and Willapa Bay.
“Sport season is perking along. We don’t follow it too closely on the coast unless like Puget Sound where it’s very heavily managed,” said WDFW coastal crab overseer, Dan Ayres.
Ayres noted that typically Willapa Bay closes to sport crabbing with pots from September through December. This year, though, there will be a big change.
“The one thing that folks will want to keep in their minds for the coast for next season is that it will be just the second time that we’ve opened Willapa Bay early for crab,” noted Ayres. “We had some fishermen suggest that we open it up to pots all year round and after much discussion we came up with Nov. 15 as the new opener. “
Ayres said the change should be a boon for sport fishers who like to make the most of their time on the coast.
“Willapa Bay has really become a hot spot for guys who like to fish for crab and that extra month opening should really add to their catch,” Ayres said. “If I were a sport crabber on the coast I’d be thinking about WIllapa Bay. It’s a super popular fishery but I don’t think that change has made it on a lot of people’s radars yet.”
The WDFW is putting out a call for public input on the future management of pronghorn antelope in central Washington.
“Pronghorn are some of the rarest and least-known large mammals in Washington. Historically, they’ve been a natural part of our ecosystems across the flat grassland areas of eastern Washington, though loss of habitat and changes in climate have made it difficult for a sustainable population to survive,” said Rich Harris, game division section manager, in a press release. “I think they’re great to have on the landscape, and we’re working with local communities to produce an effective plan to manage them.”
The first meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on June 3 at Pioneer Hall in Mansfield. The second meeting is slated for 7 p.m. on June 4 at the Benton Rural Electric Association, 402 7th St, Prosser.
Pronghorn antelope weigh between 70 and 150 pounds and forage on small flowering flora. They are not considered a problem for livestock operations but are known to cause damage to farm crops. Populations of pronghorns in Washington were decimated prior to the 19th century and reintroduction efforts were made several times in the 1900s.
In 2011 the Yakama Tribe brought 99 pronghorns onto their reservation and between 2016-17 the Colville Confederated Tribes reintroduced 150 of the animals on their lands. In the interim those animals have wandered off of the reservation lands and taken up residence on state lands.
In addition to providing public commentary at the WDFW meetings individuals are encouraged to participate in an online survey in order to log their opinions. That survey can be found online at, wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/at-risk/species-recovery/pronghorn-antelope-management.
Last week Lewis County implemented an emergency burn ban in response to a wave of hot, dry weather. On Wednesday those rural restrictions were lifted in response to a rash of ground saturating rain.
Outdoor burning of materials within city limits or urban growth areas is still prohibited.
A press release read, “After careful review of current and extended weather forecast, the Lewis County Commissioners, Community Development Director and Fire Marshal have determined that current weather conditions have improved enough to lift current burning restrictions.”
Burn permits are required for all fire measuring more than 18 square feet. Permits may be obtained in person at your local fire station or online at https://burnpermit.lewiscountywa.gov/.
The press release included the following advice for safe burning practices: “Keep sufficient water and tools available. Have a charged garden hose long enough to reach around the fire and a shovel or rake on site. Burn only when winds are calm or light and do not exceed 10 miles per hour. Keep a fire break clear of grass and debris. The rule of thumb is 1.5 times the height of the fire. Burn piles should be a minimum 25 feet away from any structures or standing timber. Never leave a fire unattended, even a small breeze can cause the fire to spread quickly. There should always be at least one person 16 years or older capable of putting out the fire on site. Completely extinguish the fire with water to the point where coals are cool to the touch.”