When the gnarled rack bull came to its final resting place across the river it ensured that the good ol’ boys wouldn’t be getting back home before nightfall. Not that they cared, although their significant others likely did.

The group had been cloistered up behind some bushes on high edge of an outwash bank of the high mountain stream. Boulders the size of bank vaults and dinosaur eggs littered the alluvial flats. Snowberries sprouted in the areas where the water rarely pooled.

They’d been laying there for hours, ever since they first heard the bellowing bugle careening down the stony drainage. Utilizing a cacophonous vibration of their collective vocal cords they took turns casting their own amateur bugle calls into the wild air. With scavenged sheds in calloused hands they rasped the old antlers together feverishly in hopes of drawing the big bull near.

There were times, plenty of them, when the prone hunters contemplated giving up. It was in those times, when the bull fell silent and lingered out of sight, that they allowed their thoughts to drift to the recesses of their mind where fond memories of family and fortuitous endeavors reside. In those spaces they were warm and content and their recollections allowed them to steel themselves against the cold, quiet, boredom that permeated the timeless backcountry if you let it.

When the final condensation of hope seemed to evaporate into the mists above the river channel, when their hands grew too cold to clasp and their bladders became ready to burst, their prayers to the hunting gods were finally answered. With their heads ducked down behind nature’s berm they heard the telltale scattering of rocks before they saw anything at all. One by one they slowly took turns peeking over the edge to see what they could see.

There, on the other side of the nascent river was a majestic elk like no one in their party had ever seen before. It’s shoulders seemed to ripple with muscles that coursed in intertwining braids down to the tendons above its square block hooves. Steam poured from the spouts of its nostrils and the dark brown of its neck beard shone resplendent like high gloss mahogany. Its mighty rack stacked high over its head with alternating girthy branches seemingly strong enough to topple the tallest of timbers.

With the backwoods beast finally within eye shot the group, all at once, lost track of their hunger, and their boredom, and their aching cold hands. With dramatic eye movements they signaled to one another what the next move would be. Accordingly, the best bugler in the bunch began to unleash his siren’s call while a spotter assumed a hidden lookout from the edge of the brush.

There was no question who the shooter was going to be. He had always had the most deft hands and the quietest breath of the bunch. And after all, it was his idea to scout the pumice plains for trophy elk in the first place. So he reached for his quiver, loaded his bow, and waited.

The efforts of the rest of the group were paying off slowly but surely as the elk continued down the slope toward the river. It slowly scanned left and right, up and down, searching stoically for the genesis of the mysterious bugle. When those efforts went unrewarded the animal began to pace frantically up and down the river bank and soon began to contemplate fording the mountain’s off flow in order to reach the other side.

As it entered the water the anticipation began to rise from the collective stomach of the men and they swallowed hard to keep their nerves at bay. One final bugle, short and perfect in its tone, finally drew the bull into the water and it kicked rocks and water until it had reached midstream. There, it stopped in a fit of contemplation.

(To be continued…)

FISHIN’

“Hi-ho silvers!”

That’s the word coming off of the Chehalis River this week now that the mainstem has been opened to fishing all the way up to its headwaters. That change happened on Oct. 1 following a series of incremental openings that crept their way upriver. Bank anglers near Independence have reported sparkling coho biting on spinners and similar setups. On Oct. 16 the Skookumchuck and Newaukum rivers, including the South and North forks, will also be open to sport fisheries.

The lower Chehalis River has been open for months now and anglers have been finding success on several tributaries. The Hoquiam, Wishkah, Wynoochee, Satsop and Black Rivers are all options for finding early returning coho. Anglers are currently allowed to keep two adult salmon as part of their six-fish daily limit. However, all adult Chinook must be released.

Salmon management in Willapa Bay will be the topic of discussion at a set of public meetings scheduled in Raymond. Those meetings will take place from 6-8 p.m. on Oct. 24 and Nov. 21 at the Raymond Elks Lodge and public comment will be taken at the end of each session.

A press release from the WDFW noted that, “The Willapa Bay policy is meant to help restore natural salmon runs, reduce conflicts between commercial and recreational fisheries in Willapa Bay, and enhance the economic well-being and stability of the recreational and commercial fishing industry in the state.”

That plan was approved in 2015 and the WDFW is in the midst of a review of the policy with input from various stakeholders.

“We know how important these salmon fisheries are to the Willapa Bay community,” said Chad Herring, WDFW fish policy lead for the south coast, in the release. “We hope that the public will come out to share their thoughts on the effectiveness and future direction of the policy.”

The Raymond Elks Lodge, is located at 326 3rd St., in Raymond.

The lower Columbia River is currently shutdown to all recreational salmon and steelhead fishing in order to allow a depleted run of upriver bright kings to pass through with fewer impediments. That closure extends from Rocky Point on the Washington bank, through the Red Buoy 44 and onto marker two at Tongue Point on the Oregon bank and then continues upstream all the way to Pasco. However, Buoy 10 is still open for coho with a daily limit of six fish, two of which may be adults. All salmon other than adult coho must be released.

However, there are still salmon angling options open on several lower Columbia River tributaries. The Green River, Toutle River, and North Fork Toutle River all opened to hatchery Chinook retention on Sept. 21. Anglers on those waters are allowed up to six salmon per day, of which four may be adults, and one may be a Chinook. However, all salmon other than hatchery Chinook and hatchery coho must be tossed back.

Last week on the Cowlitz River, where Chinook retention is off limits, the WDFW sampled 56 bank rods below the I-5 Bridge with one Chinook and one coho jacks tossed back. Another 65 boats with 159 rods in that area kept 41 coho and nine coho jacks while releasing 49 Chinook, four jacks, 39 coho, 13 coho jacks, and one steelhead. Between the freeway and the Barrier Dam the WDFW talked to another 36 bank rods with five keeper coho and 16 Chinook released. Another 14 rods on four boats kept one coho and six steelhead while releasing five Chinook, two coho, and ten coho jacks.

At the Cowlitz salmon hatchery separator last week crews retrieved 1,360 coho adults, 240 jacks, 333 fall Chinook adults, 41 fall Chinook jacks, 54 summer steelhead, 35 cutthroat trout, and 14 spring Chinook adults. Fish handlers then released 299 coho adults, 53 coho jacks, and 10 spring Chinook adults into the Cispus River located near Randle. Another 234 coho adults, 27 coho jacks, four spring Chinook adults and three cutthroat trout were deposited at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood. Additionally, 706 coho adults, 146 coho jacks, 83 fall Chinook adults, three fall Chinook jacks, and two cutthroat trout were dropped into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton. River flow below Mayfield Dam on Monday was reported at 2,480 cubic feet per second with water visibility of ten feet and a temperature of 51.3 degrees.

Elsewhere on the tributary scene, six bank anglers on the Kalama River had no catch to show last week while one boat angler was also skunked. On the Lewis River, 75 bank anglers told the WDFW they released two Chinook, one Chinook jack and one coho. Another five boats with 11 rods kept three coho and one coho jack.

Anglers who like to try their luck in Puget Sound will be sad to note that salmon fishing has come to a close in most areas. Luckily, the southern reaches of the old Salish Sea mostly remain open. In Marine Area 12 (Hood Canal) anglers can keep up to four salmon per day, two of which may be hatchery Chinook. In Marine Area 13 (South Sound) anglers are limited to two salmon per day, including one hatchery coho. That fishery typically remains open all year round.  Out in deeper salted waters anglers will be able to target bottomfish through Oct. 20 in all four coastal marine areas.

Looking back inland, lake and reservoir fishing is still a viable option as we wade into autumn. Goose Lake was recently planted with 1,000 cutthroat trout averaging roughly one pound each and fishing there was reported by the WDFW to be “phenomenal throughout the summer.” The tiger muskie bite continues to titillate at Merwin Reservoir and Lake Mayfield, and Carlisle Lake (Ol’ Mill Pond) in Onalaska has been busy putting largemouth bass and bluegill on anglers lines. Meanwhile, South Lewis County Park Pond (Ol’ Wallace Pond) in Toledo has been an excellent option for panfish and Silver Lake in between Toutle and Castle Rock has been outstanding for yellow perch. 

HUNTIN’

Muzzleloader toters will be able to continue tracking deer in this neck of the woods through Oct. 6. The harvest totals for black-tails in 2018 from GMUs 530 (Ryderwood), 501 (Lincoln), 520 (Winston), 505 (Mossyrock) and 550 (Coweeman) ranked among the best in Washington.

Then, from Oct. 12-31 hunters with modern rifles will be able to pick up the pursuit of black-tailed deer. Other units that typically provide a good return on investment include GMUs 621, 627, 633, and 636. Additionally, GMU 651 is popular with deer hunters but access can be a problem due to restrictions by the landowner, Green Diamond Resources.

Elk seasons will reopen from Oct. 5-11 for hunters with muzzleloaders in the area. In District 11, which includes Pierce and Thurston counties, hunters would be wise to search for elk on the fringes of Mt. Rainier National Park. A little closer to home the swatch of timberlands between the Skookumchuck Wildlife Area and the Centralia Coal Mine are promising locations for bagging elk. The Willapa Hills and Mt. St. Helens elk herds can also be found traipsing about the woodlands of Southwest Washington. In an effort to reduce the spread of elk hoof disease, the WDFW is requesting that hunters sever the lower leg portion of any harvested animal and leave it at the kill site. Additionally, anyone who observes elk displaying symptoms of hoof disease, such as severe limping, should contact the WDFW with information on the animal.

Black bear hunts are set to continue through Nov. 15 and cougar hunts will ramble on until at least the end of the year.

Forest grouse hunts are also set to continue through the end of the year, and hunts for pheasant, quail, and bobwhite are also ongoing. Hunters should note that the traditional Woodland Bottoms pheasant hunt has been cancelled this year due to a disagreement over land use between the WDFW and the Port of Woodland. Hunters can still find pheasants at release sites such as Lincoln Creek and Kosmos in Lewis County. The WDFW is set to release 2,000 pheasants at the Skookumchuck Wildlife Area and another 3,900 pheasants at the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area. An additional 4,000 pheasants are set for release at Joint Base Lewis-McCord.

A mass of bird blasting seasons will take wing from Oct. 12-30 when ducks, coots, and snipes all become fair game. As we wait for the big rain to begin to fall consistently hunters will have the best odds at bagging water birds near the shores of the Columbia, Willapa, and Chehalis rivers as well as the bays of South Puget Sound. Once the seasonal deluge begins for good flooded pasturelands will harbor plenty of birds. Until then, the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, as well as Henderson, Budd, and Eld inlets may provide the best odds for finding water birds.

Goose hunting will also have the green light in the region between Oct. 12-26. Geese can be found in similar areas to ducks, including Grays Harbor, Willapa Harbor, and the backwaters of the Columbia River. In Pacific and Grays Harbor counties goose hunting is permitted Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays, with ducky geese off limits entirely.

Bobcat, fox, raccoon, rabbit, and hare hunting will all be options through the middle of March. And, of course, coyote hunting is an evergreen option across the Evergreen State.

Additionally, with deer and elk in rut this time of year it’s important to remember that 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 an effort 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. Permit applications, and additional roadkill salvage regulations, can now be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/roadkill-salvage.

CLAMMIN’

Last weekend’s season opening clam digs at Long Beach were a smashing success by all accounts. The WDFW estimates that 18,900 digging excursions took place with an estimated harvest of 281,800 razor clams. That total includes 19,700 poor clams that are believed to have been dug but not kept.

The average harvest was just shy of the daily limit at 14.9 clams per person, with an average length of 3.8 inches per succulent bivalve.

“The average size was on the small side, as we expected. These clams will continue to grow and that will be noticeable in the months ahead,” Ayres told the Chinook Observer earlier this week. “I worked with my crew collecting catch and effort data on Saturday and was impressed with how many people thanked us for the chance to get out and dig and surprisingly there were actually very few complaints about the small size of the clams.”

Ayres attributed the high level of wastage to the relatively small size of the clams. He noted that the clams will continue to grow throughout the digging season. However, he was even more adamant in his reminder that the public is required to keep the first 15 clams they dig, regardless of size or condition. No high grading allowed!

The next batch of proposed razor clam digs would take place on the following dates, beaches, and tides:

  • Oct. 26, Saturday, 5:59 pm, 0.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

  • Oct. 27, Sunday, 6:47 pm, -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • Oct. 28, Monday, 7:33 pm, -1.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

  • Oct. 29, Tuesday, 8:18 pm, -1.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • Oct. 30, Wednesday, 9:03 pm, -1.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

  • Oct. 31, Thursday, 9:50 pm, -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • Nov. 1, Friday, 10:38 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

Approval of those digs will be contingent upon marine toxin testing conducted closer to the digging dates. All diggers age 15 and older are required to possess a valid fishing license.

CRABBIN’

Earlier this week the WDFW reopened several areas of Puget Sound for some late season recreational crabbing.

Waters that reopened to sport crabbing on Oct. 1 include marine areas 4 (Neah Bay, east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line), 5 (Sekiu), 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island, and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardiner), and 9 (Admiralty Inlet), except for waters south of a line from Olele Point to Foulweather Bluff.

Those crab fisheries are slated to stay open seven days a week through the end of the year. However, sport crabbing will not reopen this year in marine areas 10 (Seattle Bremerton), 11 (Vashon Island), and 13 (South Puget Sound). 

The daily limit in Puget Sound is five male Dungeness crab in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace measurement of 6 ¼ inches. Crabbers can also keep six red rock crabs and six Tanner crabs.

VIEWIN’

Nature enthusiasts have plenty of options at hand this time of year as animals of all stripes are on the move.

First and foremost, this month migrating chum salmon are beginning to arrive at the Kennedy Creek Natural Area Preserve just north of Olympia off of Highway 101 near Totten Inlet. That creek is one of the most productive salmon streams in Washington and a walking path (Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail) takes visitors right alongside the dogged fish as they power through the final miles of their long adventure from wooded hills, out to the ocean, and back. Tumwater Falls on the Deschutes River is another place to catch an up-close glimpse of returning salmon. The 15-acre Tumwater Falls Park is located near the old Olympia beer brewery.

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