My father is a really good guy. He sings and plays guitar at hospice in his spare time. Once when I was a boy he got a speeding ticket and apologized to me for setting a poor example. Another time he ran his thumb most of the way through a table saw and let slip a choice curse word while driving himself to the hospital and holding this hand together with a dirty hankie. As the blood curdled on the floorboards he apologized for that rare slip of the tongue as well.

To top it all off, he was literally a boy scout who I’m quite certain has a merit badge for helping a little old lady across the street.

But sometimes when my dad and I get off by ourselves he lets his childlike excitement get the best of him and he makes what could be generously referred to as “questionable decisions”. 

Take, for instance, this time we were plying one of the old power channel canals along the muddy cornfield shores of Nebreska. We were trolling shad guts for catfish in his silver water sled and otherwise enjoying the flatland breeze while the sun cast short shadows overhead. The bite was slow that day for some reason, right up until we’d suddenly snagged significantly more than we could chew.

When the rod tip doubled over we rocked the boat with excitement and worked to bring in what promised to be a lunker. I don’t remember who exactly had it on the line but I remember precisely the moment that I made out the pattern on its shell and realized we were reeling in a massive turtle instead of a bottom feeding fish. As we brought the reptile in closer the age of the slough monster became obvious. The rings of its shell were layered and flaking in parts. Other bits of his shell were chipped off at odd angles but the thick mat of slime green moss that grew from his back seemed to hold it all together better than superglue and baling twine.

When he reached the edge of the boat we netted the turtle and brought him on board and that’s when the fun really began. Quickly we realized that the turtle’s arms were rippled with muscles and his feet featured sharp dagger claws. Making matters even more hair raising was the fact that the water beast had a razor sharp maw that snarled and hissed as we held him aloft for inspection.

Indeed, it was a live snapping turtle and it was pissed.

With adrenaline kicking in my father quickly pulled out his small fish bonking bat he kept on his boat, The Gertrude, and began attempting to smash the turtle in its intimidating face.

“This would make a great drum, or a soup bowl. We could make turtle soup!” my father exclaimed.

However, each successive blow only served to reveal how perilously overmatched we were as the turtle simply withdrew his head inside his home while the wooden club splintered on the rim of the shell.

Flummoxed, my dad suddenly realized that he hadn’t stopped to check to see if harvesting snapping turtles was even legal in Nebraska. So, holding an actively snapping turtle in one hand he reached for his state issued fishing regulation book and began searching for any applicable laws. With each turn of the page the turtle seemed to get closer to his guitar picking fingers until my dad slammed shut the pamphlet and exhaled in relief. 

As it turned out, we were totally within our rights to kill that turtle. Were we actually capable of it, though? That proved to be another story entirely.

Having put away his overmatched billy club my dad turned to his sharpest pocket knife and began engaging in a pirate battle with the turtle. He tried to stab it in the neck, or any other fleshy part that would stay exposed but the turtle continued to withdraw to the safety of its shell each time the blade came its way. Then, sick of the game, the turtle took matters into its own hands, well, it’s jaws actually, and snapped its mouth down tight around the sharp edge of the knife and pulled it out of my father’s hand.

That turtle’s grip proved to be a vice that we could not conquer no matter how we combined our efforts. At our most desperate I held the turtle from its rear end while my father pulled hard on his knife trying to slip it from the turtles mouth with both hands.

When that failed we finally looked at each other with a look that silently communicated what we both knew to be true — We were no match for that wrecking ball of a turtle. In fact, we were probably just lucky at that point to still have all of our fingers attached.

Defeated, we changed course and began removing the hook from the turtle and preparing it for a return to the waters from which it came.

As we slid the turtle to the edge of the boat and counted down the time to its inevitable release the turtle seemed to look at us cockeyed in disgust and unceremoniously spit out the knife so that it landed in the bottom of the boat. It seemed that the ancient being had taken pity on our incompetence.

As the turtle bobbed away in the murky water we laughed like rum drunk pirates as we reflected on our misadventure and unreasonably good luck. It’s just what happens when you’re dad is part boy scout and part lost boy at heart.

FISHIN’

Piscatorial prospects took another hit this week when fish officials shuttered the Chinook salmon fishery between Warrior Rock and Bonneville. Originally slated to remain open through Sunday the popular fishery was closed on Friday in response to an accelerated catch rate by sport anglers that pushed the harvest past the preseason quota.

The daily limit on the lower Columbia River is capped at two adult hatchery coho salmon or one hatchery coho and one hatchery steelhead. Up to six fish may be kept in total so long as they are at least one foot in length. The preseason forecast called for 611,400 coho this fall which is four times larger than last year’s return. Last Tuesday the WDFW sampled 606 salmon boats and 124 Washington side bank anglers between the mouth of the Cowlitz River and Bonneville.

Anglers will soon be able to catch-and-keep sturgeon on the Columbia River between

the Wauna Powerlines and Bonneville, as well as the Cowlitz River, on the Saturdays of Sept. 21 and Sept. 28. Keeper sturgeon must measure between 44 and 50 inches. There is a total quota of 1,230 white sturgeon with an annual harvest limit of one fish per angler.

Helping to buoy odds of a successful fishing trip was the reopening of the Lewis River last Sunday for hatchery Chinook retention. That fishery is now open from Johnson Creek to the overhead power lines below Merwin Dam. That change was implemented since spring Chinook are no longer present in the system after Aug. 31. The daily limit is six fish, of which four may be adults. Of those four adults, though, only two may be hatchery Chinook. All salmon other than hatchery Chinook and hatchery coho must be released.

On the Cowlitz River last week the WDFW sampled 16 bank anglers below the I-5 Bridge with no catch at all while 13 rods on five boats kept one coho and released two Chinook jacks and two steelhead. Between the freeway and the Barrier Dam another 14 bank rods released two Chinook, six Chinook jacks and one steelhead while 19 boat rods kept 21 steelhead.

Looking around the region there are still angling opportunities on the lower Chehalis, Naselle, North Nemah, and Willapa rivers. The Chehalis is currently closed to all fishing above the South Elma Bridge but will reopen between Elma and the Black River beginning Sept. 16. Until then anglers can keep up to six salmon per day on the lower river. That catch can include one wild coho. Wild Chinook must be released.

The Nisqually and Puyallup rivers are also providing anglers a place to plunk or troll. Both rivers have a daily limit of six salmon, including two adults but chum and wild Chinook must be released. The Nisqually River is closed to all fishing on Sundays.

Anglers with an interest in Willapa Bay should mark down a pair of meetings set for Sept. 10 and 18 in Montesano.

On those days the WDFW Willapa Bay Salmon Advisory Group will discuss the outcomes of the current management policy with time reserved for public comment.

“These salmon fisheries are incredibly important to the Willapa Bay community,” said Chad Herring, WDFW fish policy lead for the south coast, in a press release. “We want to hear what the public has to say about the implementation and performance of the policy.”

The meetings will take place at 48 Devonshire Road in Montesano from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. Additional information is available at wdfw.wa.gov/about/advisory/wbsag/.

Out in the ocean anglers can still find a few fish biting. Anglers are currently allowed two salmon, including one Chinook, per day in Marine Area 1 (Ilwaco). In Marine Area 2 (Westport) anglers can keep two Chinook as part of their two salmon daily limit. All four marine areas are scheduled to close to salmon fishing by Sept. 30.

Last week at Ilwaco there were 2,220 anglers sampled with 138 Chinook and 1,690 coho brought on board. That catch brought the cumulative total to 3,884 Chinook (54 percent of the guideline), and 51,789 coho (65 percent of the sub-quota). Off of Westport last week 1,589 anglers kept 221 Chinook and 1,310 coho. That catch brought the total catch of Chinook up to 2,216 (17 percent of the guideline), and 19,145 coho (32 percent of the sub-quota).

Salmon fishing is also open in Puget Sound where coho are coursing through the various channels and canals. In Hood Canal (Marine Area 12) anglers can retain four salmon per day but must release chum and sockeye. Additionally, anyone north of Ayock Point must release all Chinook while those south of the point must release wild Chinook. In Marine Area 13 (South Sound) anglers are limited to two salmon per day while releasing wild Chinook and wild coho.

For those who prefer a smaller shoreline to deal with there are plenty of options at area lakes and ponds. Another 5,000 rainbow trout were stocked in Lake Mayfield at the beginning of August to boost an already impressive deposit and tiger muskie continue to stay hungry in the weeds. Mineral Lake has also been putting trout on the line while South Lewis County Park Pond has been hot for panfish and Carlisle Lake has been producing plenty of big mouth bass.

HUNTIN’

Although we are out of the hottest stretch of the summer land managers are still reminding out of door recreationists to check fire conditions before heading out. That includes double checking for land closures and following fire-safe practices while out in the field.

Bow hunts for black-tailed deer began on Sept. 1 and will run through Sept. 27. Muzzloader season for deer opens in most areas on Sept. 28.

Archery hunts for elk will begin on Saturday, Sept. 7 and continue through Sept. 19. According to WDFW stats some of the most successful areas for elk in southwest Washington include GMU 520 (Winston), 506 (Willapa Hills), 530 (Ryderwood), 550 (Coweeman), and 560 (Lewis River).

However, those areas are also ground zero for some of the worst cases of elk hoof disease which causes the hard hooves of elk to rot and deform. In order to help limit the spread and impact of the affliction officials are asking the public to sever and leave behind the lower leg portion of any harvested animal at the kill site. Additionally, any elk with hoof deformities should be reported to the WDFW and any harvested elk with a neck collar should also be reported.

Muzzloader season will begin in most areas on Oct. 5. Mature bulls are also prevalent in GMUs 638 (Quinault Ridge), 618 (Matheny), and 615 (Clearwater). In particular, Quinault Ridge and Matheny produce the most five-point or better bulls. 

Hunters young and old, but not in between, will get first shot at pheasants later this month. Hunters age 16 or younger will be allowed in the field from Sept. 21-22 and hunters age 65 and older, or those with documented disabilities, will be able to target the birds from Sept. 23-27. The general season will begin on Sept. 28 with hunting hours limited between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Forest grouse season opened on Sept. 1 and will run through the end of the year. The timberland of Mason County are the best place to find grouse for those who don’t mind a bit of travel. Hunters should try to focus on locations below 2,500 feet with young forests for ruffed grouse in Pierce and Thurston counties. Some of the best units include Joint Base Lewis-McChord (GMU 652), Elbe Hills and Tahoma State Forests (GMU 654), Weyerhaeuser’s Vail Tree Farm (GMU 667), and Capitol State Forest (GMU 663).

Anyone who harvests grouse is asked to submit the wings and tails of their kill to the WDFW in order to facilitate an ongoing study. Samples are sought for ruffed, dusky, and sooty grouse and collection barrel locations can be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/requirements/upland-birds/grouse-wing-tail-collection. Any samples that can’t be submitted on the day of the kill should be frozen and brought to a collection barrel or WDFW office at a later date.

Canada goose season opens on Saturday and continues through the following Sunday in goose management areas 2. That area includes all of Pacific County as well as the slab of Grays Harbor County that lies west of Highway 101. Canada geese will be fair game from Sept. 7-12 in goose management areas 1 and 3.

The general fall turkey season also begins on Sept. 28 in Unit 5. The general season began on Sept. 1 in GMUs 101-154 and 162-186 with a limit of two beardless turkeys and two of either sex. GMUs 382, 388, and 568-578 will open up Sept. 28 with a limit of one turkey of either sex.

Cougar season began on Sept. 1 and will continue through at least the end of the year. Cougars are most common in the remote timberlands of eastern Thurston and Lewis counties due to large deer and elk populations. The Skookumchuck unite (667) has the highest cougar harvest in the district year after year. Bear hunts are also underway with an end date of Nov. 15.  

CLAMMIN’

A recent clam survey by the WDFW has provided ample reason for succulent bivalve enthusiasts who frequent “The World’s Longest Beach” to be optimistic as we approach digging season. The promising survey has resulted in a healthy quota of 5.2 million harvestable razor clams.

“Long Beach is looking really strong and there will be some super digging in the months ahead,” WDFW Coastal Shellfish Manager Dan Ayres told The Chinook Observer. “We had a lot of little guys last year and not a lot of big clams. We gave them a break to let them grow and that’s exactly what happened. We have a great population of harvestable clams. We’re going to get back this year what we lost last year.”

That report stands in stark contrast to last season when only four digging days were offered on the entire Long Beach Peninsula. Early indications are that there could be upward of 100 digs between this fall and next spring.

Ayres added that the average clam size measured out to 3.7 inches and compared the outlook to that of the bountiful 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. He estimated the total razor clam population at Long Beach to be around 13 million.

The resident clam population at Long Beach took a big hit over the last several years due to an influx of freshwater coming out of the Columbia River and diluting the waters coming up from the south end of the peninsula. As a result the clams have been more dense and larger on the north end and east ends of the peninsula. Ayres expects the returns to be more even all over the peninsula this year. 

However, ongoing issues with domoic acid still threaten to derail digging season if ocean conditions don’t cooperate. 

ATTENDIN’

The annual Columbia River Sturgeon Festival will take place on Saturday, Sept. 21 in Vancouver. That free celebration of the river monsters who are close relatives of the dinosaurs will run from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the Water Resource Education Center.

The event will include an assortment of all-ages entertainment including a live reptile show, two live bird shows, a clown, and a group walk to the Columbia River. Biologists will also dissect a few fish in order to let visitors see what’s going on inside the river monsters.

The Water Resources Education Center is located at 4600 S.E. Columbia Way, Vancouver.

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