A single snowflake melts away in absolute anonymity on the southern flank of a far off mountain range. That’s how this story begins.

A drop of water rolls downhill and picks up other droplets along the way. As soon as they meet they cease to be individuals on separate journeys. Instead they are one, and they are always looking for more of their kind to join them on their adventure. While they do not know where they are going they are sure it is the right way. Water does not flow uphill and a destiny can never be escaped.

Sometimes the flow disappears below ground, but just because it is out of sight doesn’t mean it has disappeared outright. Water always seeks out its intended path and even detours through caverns and pocket gopher portals will not distract it from its goal. Eventually, groundwater emerges from the darkness and joins forces with a babbling brooks or a surging stream.

Along the way, trout and crawdads revel in the life-giving sustenance of the collective waters. Shorebirds flock in sand and mudflats and eagles perch on overhanging limbs as they survey all the motion swirling around them like vapors in the clouds.

Those vapors, too, were once water in a stream before ascending to their fleeting lofty heights. But a great fall awaits us all and one day they will return to their earthly station with a splash quite imperceptible from all the rest.

Beneath the shade of cathedral cedars, braided streams combine and separate and come together again even bigger and wetter than before. At some time or another all creeks will rise. Likewise, all creeks will one day reach their confluence with the inescapable rush of a river that’s singularly focused on cutting a corner to every bend and oxbow downstream.

In the shallow reeds of alluvial flats, all strewn with pea gravel and deadwood debris, salmon and steelhead mingle to confirm their maturity. Otters and beavers hop in and out of the current searching for snacks of hardshell muscles and the sap soaked pulp of aged alders.

Like all things, every river has a terminus. The fact that the beginning is colloquially known as the head and the end is curiously called the mouth does not change that fact. Still, when an expired snowflake is ultimately belched into the salted waters of the sea it does not necessarily signal the end. 

Instead it is merely an uncharted beginning with no way of knowing which way the currents will converge to carry the old meltwater away. The future could be bright as a foamy wave crashing on a beach or as dark as the trenches of an octopus's garden in the shade. In this life there are no guarantees, only the hope that one day the sun will call the water back to the heavens once again.

That’s why when you see a rainbow you should always stop to soak it in. After all, soon it will just look like rain.

FISHIN’

Following a successful opening on Valentine’s Day, the Cowlitz River will open for another half-day smelt dip next week. That opening, set for Feb. 26 from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., was announced by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife earlier this week.

Dip netters will be able to try their luck from the Highway 432 bridge near the mouth of the river up to the Al Helenberg Memorial Boat Ramp in Castle Rock.

While this will be the second smelt opportunity on the Cowlitz in 2020 this is the first year since 2017 that any recreational smelt dipping has been allowed at all. The previous opening provided a writhing ration of small fish for those who could make it to the river on a weekday that was also reserved for lovers. According to WDFW stats, approximately 35,000 pounds of smelt, or 400,000 fish, were pulled from the river during that five-hour opening.

No fishing license is required in order to harvest smelt but individuals are limited to ten pounds of fish per day. For the uninitiated, ten pounds of smelt is equivalent to about a quarter of a five-gallon bucket. During the Valentine’s Day dip WDFW police confiscated around 500 pounds of smelt from dippers who exceeded the personal limit.

Columbia River smelt, also referred to as Eulachon, have been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 2010.

“We work with our federal partners to ensure that opening any fishery for an ESA-listed species won’t affect our ability to meet conservation goals,” said Laura Heironimus, the smelt, sturgeon, and lamprey lead for WDFW, in a press release. “We’re pleased to see the run is strong enough to support these recreational fisheries this year, and we want to make sure we can continue to offer this fishery in the future.”

On Friday afternoon the WDFW announced a string of fishing closures and restrictions on lower Columbia River tributaries, including the Cowlitz River, that are set to take effect March 1. Those closures were based on the recent release of projected salmon returns on the Columbia River system. It would be suffice to say that the outlook is not promising.

With the turn of the calendar page the Cowlitz River, Cispus River, and Lake Scanewa will all be closed to sport fishing for spring king salmon. Meanwhile the Lewis River will close to all salmon fishing and anglers on the Kalama River will be limited to just one adult Chinook salmon per day. However, the Kalama will remain open for steelhead with a daily limit of three fish.

The steelhead bite on the Cowlitz River moved upstream last week with no action at all to report below the I-5 Bridge. However, between the freeway and the Barrier Dam 20 rods on five boats managed to catch and keep eleven steelhead while tossing one back. At the salmon hatchery crews recovered 48 steelhead last week and then released one winter-run steelhead adult into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton, along with seven winter-run steelhead adults into the Cispus River near Yellow Jacket Creek. This week’s river report from Tacoma Power estimated flow below Mayfield Dam at 17,700 cubic feet per second with three feet of visibility and a temperature of 42.4 degrees.

On the mainstem Columbia River last week the return on time invested was minimal. According to the WDFW six bank anglers near Woodland kept one steelhead while a pair of bank anglers split between Kalama and Longview were both skunked. Eight more bank anglers who tried the Grays River also went home empty handed. However, a dozen bank anglers on the Elochoman River released two steelhead and two rods on a boat tossed back two more.

The Chehalis River has been closed to steelhead and salmon fishing since the clock struck midnight last Sunday. The WDFW put the blame on a low return of wild steelhead but anglers in the know argue that the fishing has been as hot in recent weeks as they can recall in recent memory.

According to the WDFW returns are slated to fall about 2,000 fish short of the 8,600 fish escapement goal for Chehalis Basin steelhead this year. That would mark the fourth year in a row that the run has failed to meet the target.

“There are many factors affecting steelhead in the Chehalis,” said Mike Scharpf, a WDFW biologist, in a press release. “Given that steelhead populations are returning in low numbers statewide this year, poor ocean conditions are likely one of those factors.”

The closure extends the length of the Chehalis River and all of its tributaries, including but not limited to Elk, Johns, Hoquiam, Newaukum, Satsop, Skookumchuck, Wishkah, and Wynoochee rivers.

The news is much better for warmwater anglers since a new set of increased limits for bass, walleye, and channel catfish went into effect on Feb. 17. The new rules were born from legislation intended to help the endangered Southern Resident Orcas in Puget Sound by allowing anglers to remove more fish that are known to predate juvenile salmon.

“These measures were implemented in part to help meet the recommendations of the governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force, and we presented commissioners with a range of options to choose from,” said Steve Caromile, inland fish program manager with the WDFW, in a press release. “We believe we landed on a set of rules that address those recommendations, while still allowing for robust fishing opportunities for these popular species.”

The rule changes to size and daily limits on 77 lakes in Washington include:

  • Largemouth bass: Change from 5 to a 10-fish daily limit; anglers must release fish between 12 and 17 inches, and only one fish may be over 17 inches.

  • Smallmouth bass: Change from 10 to a 15-fish daily limit; only one fish may be over 14 inches.

  • Channel catfish: Change from 5 to a 10-fish daily limit. No minimum size.

  • Walleye: Change from 8 to a 16-fish daily limit; only one fish may be over 22 inches.

What’s more, all size restrictions and daily limits have been removed for those species on all rivers, streams, and beaver ponds across the state. In Thurston County, the size limit for cutthroats and other trout was eliminated on Black Lake. A complete list of waters effected by the rule changes can be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2020-02/2shb1579-lake-list.pdf.

HUNTIN’

While it’s well known to anyone who reads this column that hunting season for coyotes never ends in Washington, there is chatter that some regulatory protections may be in the works for the wily dogs.

State wildlife managers are currently pondering the elimination of hunting competitions due to objections that have been raised over perceived ethical and social conflicts.

“Sometimes we have to do something for social reasons and this is one of them, in my mind,” said Barbara Baker, the Thurston County commissioner who requested the commission consider the changes. “This is the kind of thing that gives hunters a bad name.”

Although changes are not imminent, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, a 9-person panel that handles rule changes for the WDFW, has begun to dig into the issue by announcing its intent to review or write new rules. In the last two years at least eight states have banned or restricted hunting competitions and Oregon lawmakers are currently considering a similar regulation change.

Currently the WDFW issues permits for hunting competitions with prizes that can reach up to $2,000. In 2019 there were two permits issued. The most the WDFW has issued in a single year was six.

“It seems like the way society is progressing, these things are probably not as accepted as they once (were),” said WDFW game division manager, Anis Aoude, in a Spokesman Review story. “But from our perspective, biologically, it’s not an issue. But we do consider the social parts of it as well.”

While it’s unclear if changes are in store for coyote hunting protocol, what’s certain is that the WDFW is still soliciting feedback from the public on a different set of proposed hunting regulation changes. Comments will be accepted through Feb. 26 and a full list of proposals can be viewed online at wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2020-02/wsr_20-04-091.pdf.

Written comments can be sent by email to wildthing@dfw.wa.gov, or by standard mail to WDFW Wildlife Program, PO Box 43200 Olympia, WA 98504.

With the last of the winter waterfowl seasons finally closed for good hunters are now operating on short time in order to get their spring options in order. The deadline for applications for spring black bear hunting permits is midnight on Feb. 28.

Hunters who successfully apply will be entered into a drawing set to take place in March. Winners will be notified by the WDFW before April. In order to apply, prospective bear hunters must first purchase a special permit application and a 2020 hunting license that includes bear as a species option, as well as a bear transport tag. Additionally, hunters planning on heading to GMUs 101,105, 108, 111, 113, 117, 203, 204, 209, 215, 418, 426 must complete a black bear identification course in order to prevent the accidental and unlawful take of grizzly bears.

Permit applications can be submitted online at fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or by calling (866) 246-9453. Additional information is available online at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/special-hunts/bear.

Back in the here and now cougar hunts will remain open through April 30 in all areas where harvest limits have not yet been reached. Small game hunts for bobcats, foxes, raccoons, cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares will all remain open until the Ides of March. Trapping season for beavers, badgers, weasels, martens, minks, muskrats and river otters will continue through the end of March, and of course, hunting season for coyotes is a never ending story.

Additionally, roadkill salvage is legal in Washington 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 Columbian white-tailed deer. Permits are available online and must be obtained within 24-hours of any deer or elk salvage. Permit applications, and additional roadkill salvage regulations, can now be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/roadkill-salvage.

CLAMMIN’

Succulent bivalve hounds have returned to coastal beaches this week to take advantage of a four-day razor clam opening that began on Thursday.

Those digs were approved following marine toxin testing conducted by the Department of Health that confirmed the meaty mollusks are safe for human consumption.

“The Clam Shack is open this weekend!” noted the Long Beach Peninsula’s resident Clam Hound, and friend of the FishRap, after pulling a limit of beach carrots on Thursday. “Crap tides but plentiful bivalves!”

The remaining digs are set for the following beaches, dates and low tides:

  • February 22, Saturday, 6:11 pm -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

  • February 23, Sunday, 6:44 pm -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

No digging is allowed before noon for digs when low tide occurs in the evening. Additionally, a sewage spill has forced the closure of a section of Mocrocks Beach through the end of February. Access to Mocrocks can still be found north and south of the 1,500 foot shoreline closure.

“Diggers who brave the elements are being rewarded with quiet beaches and abundant clams,” said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager, in a press release. “Spring is on the horizon, but late winter can be a great time to avoid the crowds and take advantage of ongoing razor clam opportunities along the Washington coast.”

Additional razor clam digs have been proposed by the WDFW for March and April. Those digs are dependent upon additional marine toxin testing. The next round of tentative razor clam digs are proposed for the following dates, beaches, and tides:

  • March 6, Friday, 4:11 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • March 7, Saturday, 4:59 pm, -0.7 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

  • March 8, Sunday, 6:43 pm, -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • March 9, Monday, 7:25 pm, -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

  • March 10, Tuesday, 8:06 pm, -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • March 11, Wednesday, 8:46 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

With night digs still in effect and sometimes rough surf conditions pounding the sand, it’s important for diggers to prepare for the elements and keep safety in mind even when they go clam crazy.

“Diggers have encountered rough surf and high winds this month and we encourage people to prepare for adverse conditions,” noted Ayres. “Check the weather and bring a good light source, especially when low tide occurs later in the evening—diggers who arrive an hour or two before the tide may be able to bag the limit before dark.”

COMMENTIN’

The WDFW is asking the public to submit input for consideration during the salmon season-setting process for 2020.

The first in a series of opportunities will take place at a statewide forecast meeting on Feb. 28 in Olympia from 9:30 a.m. until noon. That public meeting will be held in the Department of Social and Health Services Office Building 2 Auditorium located at 1115 Washington St. SE.

“We hear from recreational anglers, commercial fishers, and other stakeholders year-round, but these meetings really allow for in-depth discussion before seasons are set,” said Kelly Cunningham, head of the WDFW fish program, in a press release. “We want to make sure everyone has a chance to be a part of this process and have their voice heard.”

Beginning in mid-March comments can also be submitted online at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/management/north-falcon. Salmon seasons are expected to be finalized by April 10.

SHREDDIN’

Winter conditions are holding up well up at White Pass thanks to a rush of cold this week.

Before the sun came up on Friday the temperature on the slopes of East Lewis County was reported at 23 degrees. The White Pass Ski Area conditions report added that there were “Clear skies, corduroy for days.”

Although there was no new snow to report over the previous 36 hours because of those bluebird conditions the forecast is calling for more powpow to fall over the weekend. The total snow pack on Friday stood at 129 inches at the summit and 76 inches closer to the base.

White Pass Ski Area is currently open daily from 8:45 a.m. until 4 p.m. The 36th annual White Pass Winter Carnival will take place from Feb. 29 through March 1.