My first thought as I snuck up on the group of agitated anglers was to break the bad news over them all at once. As I followed their footsteps through the sand I rolled the words around in my mouth like oblong marbles trying to find the perfect combination of letters to let them know in no uncertain terms that the river was closed to fishing, and had been for quite some time.
I could hear the boys a hootin’ and a hollerin’ along the river bank all the way from the road. As I followed the meandering path through a grove of knotted firs and cedars, and past towering hedges of ominous knotweed their boisterous cries only became louder and more precise. While I walked along the river’s edge I honed in on their hideaway hole with hardly any trouble at all. Their four-lettered outbursts and elated shrieks served in the stead of GPS directions for an inquisitive type with a keen interest in all things field and stream.
The group’s incessant rabble rousing provided nearly all the cover a novice ninja needed. The sprawling frock of summertime vegetation growing wild and free by the riverside did the rest of the obfuscating for me. The brush was so thick that I was able to nearly grab a spinner from their half-cocked tackle box before anyone in their piscatorial party saw me.
As I peered through the bushes and matched the sounds I’d been hearing with the sights I was now seeing I found myself cast in a spell of silence. I was mesmerized. Or paralyzed. It’s hard to say which.
With rod tips bent and reels cranking like sparking railroad wheels the half dozen fishermen took turns craning their necks to see what the commotion was behind the bushes, but not one of them cared enough to stop what they were doing.
Soon enough I witnessed the first catch land amidst the irritating glass shards of the sandy shore. Its glossy skin glistened like mud in the sun as it flopped on the beach. Its sphincter lips pulsed rapidly as its gills flapped uselessly in the ocean of suffocating air. Without pause the fisherman reverse threaded the hook out of the sucker’s mouth and tossed it over his shoulder.
Curious, I walked around behind the short berm the fish had cleared and that’s when the whole picture became clear. There, in a bone dry back channel that had been drained by the relentless sun, was the entirety of their day’s catch. The half writhing, half rotting mass of more than 50 fish was disconcerting at first. It was still disconcerting at second and third glance too. By then another sucker had been hauled in an unceremoniously chucked into the pile.
As I searched for the words to express my feelings about the stinking pile of flesh the group continued to cast, and laugh, and reel, and curse, and mindlessly lay waste to the hapless school of suckers they’d happened upon. That’s when I first noticed the eagles.
The birds had no doubt noticed me long ago but neither I, nor the anglers, were their first concern. They had their laser eyes focused on the ghastly heap of sucker fish still suffocating in the sand. They clutched at the tinder tips of tall evergreens that lined the river’s course and waved their wings haphazardly in order to maintain their balance against the wind, gravity, and greed.
There must have been at least eight eagles all lined up with a perfect view of the rowdy group’s carrion catch. The fishermen were so enthralled by the bite underwater that they hadn’t yet spied their visitors overhead. Each bird tilted its head and incrementally lurched forward like a small child angling for another piece of candy. They were overcome with a desire to clean up the mess on the beach but simultaneously restrained by an inherent, and well-founded, fear of humans. The dichotomy threatened to tear them apart at the seams, beak from wings and sinew from feathers.
As the sucker fish continued to stack up on the beach the temptation suddenly became too much for one of the younger birds in the flock. The bounce of branches gave its position away as it tumbled forward from the tree top, except this time it did not fight and flap to regain its balance. Instead, it allowed its desires to take hold as it morphed from ungainly free fall into a torpedo like death strike.
In an instant it landed talons first in the pile of fish and absconded to the relative safety of a nearby dune with a slimy limp body in its grasp. You could literally hear the jealousy inspired by that first eagle’s audacity as the rest of the group gasped and flapped in disbelief. The humans were so close to the pile, it made them nervous, but the prospective payoff proved too great to ignore. That’s when the rest of the birds untethered from the treetops and descended like meat eating locusts on the mass of dead and dying sucker fish.
When the anglers finally noticed the invasion of eagles upon their castaway catch they turned to watch the show. They grabbed their phones to take video and photos of the scene and volleyed foul mouthed compliments and insults at each other in succession.
The eagles, satiated by their neverending meal, did not blink in the face of the humans. They just tore guts from scales and picked bones from meat. When I eventually turned away to begin my walk back to the road I was speechless, which was fine. It’s unlikely that those fishermen would have heard me anyway.
Piscatorial prospects at Buoy 10 continue to fluctuate like a bobber in the current but that’s not keeping eager anglers from casting a line in search of salmon near the mouth of the Columbia River.
“It seems as though the bigger tides have brought the best fishing, but historically that’s not always the case. Fishing the last few days have been spotty, but today, with increasing tides, it seemed to be a lot more productive,” wrote Lance Fisher, a regional fishing guide, in a prospect report online.
Fisher added that plenty of fish are also finding their way onto boats out past the breakers as the summer’s ocean salmon fishing season continues to troll on.
“While the (Columbia) river has been the focus for many, the ocean has had some good days as well. The ocean saw some pretty good winds this past week, and there were some days we couldn’t get out and the fish got blown around a bit,” noted Fisher. “The Coho are starting to get big and we are still a week or two from a bulk of the Coho run entering the river. Right now they are averaging about 10 lbs and I’m looking forward to the 12-14 pound fish that will arrive soon.
The first wave of salmon who made it past the gang at Buoy 10 have largely been sticking to the mainstem of the Columbia River thus far. WDFW creel sampling on area tributaries showed limited action, and effort, on most feeder rivers last week. One bank angler on the Elochoman River had no catch to show. Likewise, another 23 bank anglers had no catch last week on the Kalama.
The bite was better, by default, on the Cowlitz River. In the short stretch that’s still open below the I-5 Bridge four rods in one boat had no catch to speak of. However, between the freeway and the Barrier Dam 31 bank rods kept 25 steelhead while 73 rods on 27 boats kept 37 steelhead and released three more.
Those returns have been enough to entice Andy Coleman, proprietor of Andy’s Angling Adventures, to pick the Cowlitz over other waterways when trying to hook customers up with a fish.
“I have been spending my time in the Cowlitz chasing steelhead. Been hooking four to five a day... not great but getting by,” wrote Coleman in an email to the FishRap command center. “The lower river has a few kings and some dipper fish that come In for the cooler water this time of year on (their) journey to Idaho.”
Coleman says he expects a legitimate coho run to reach the Cowlitz by Sept. 20. Last week, though, crews at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery didn’t find any silvers in the collection box. Instead, they retrieved 121 summer steelhead, 68 spring Chinook adults, one jack, 62 mini-jacks, and two cutthroat trout. Those crews then released nine springers into the Cispus River near Randle, and dropped six springers and two cutthroat near the Franklin Bridge in Packwood. Additionally, 27 steelhead were trucked back down river from the hatchery to the I-5 Bridge boat launch in order to give anglers another shot to catch them. That effort brings the total number of recycled summer steelhead to 606 this season.
Coleman noted that next week he will be shifting his efforts from the Cowlitz River to the mouth of the Lewis River. He says he’ll keep on targeting Chinook on the Lewis River until that fishery closes on Sep. 8. Last week the WDFW sampled 26 bank anglers on the Lewis River with three steelhead in the box and one jack Chinook released. Another eight rods on three boats released four Chinook.
Fisher agreed with Coleman’s assessment of the Lewis River as a prime spot to focus your angling efforts. They just disagree about the timing.
“Another great location to chase Fall Chinook and Coho Salmon is the Lewis River,” wrote Fisher. “This is an active and scenic fishery. We start fishing the Lewis toward the end of September and hope to fish it through Thanksgiving. With a limit of four adult salmon, two of which can be Chinook, many people look forward to fishing the Lewis this fall.”
Since Aug. 1, anglers on the Lewis River have been required to release all salmon other than hatchery coho between Johnson Creek and the power lines below Merwin Dam.
Just over the hill and through the woods, Merrill Lake has been putting smaller fish on the line for anglers who’ve been targeting rainbow, cutthroat, and brown trout. Back on the Cowlitz system, Mayfield Lake (reservoir) was planted with 2,680 small rainbow trout on Aug. 6. That deposit buffered more than 5,000 additional rainbow trout that were planted in the last week of July.
Other warmwater options for late summer fishing include Lacamas Lake, where bass and yellow perch have reportedly been affixing themselves to lines. Rumor has it that Rowland Lake has been a good bet for bluegill and pumpkinseed, while East County’s favorite mud hole, Swofford Pond, has been busy with biting bass and channel cats.
Hunters hoping to increase their odds of a successful season received good news this week when the WDFW expanded options for drawing a multi-season permit.
A drawing was previously held in April in order to dole out multi-season tags for deer and elk. However, there are 2,610 tags for deer and 116 tags for elk that were not sold. That means anyone who previously purchased a multi-season application but were not selected are now eligible to simply purchase their preferred tag or tags. The tags will be sold on a “first come, first-served basis,” beginning on the morning of Thursday, Aug. 22.
According to a press release from the WDFW, the elk tags will be offered up first and “are expected to sell out in 5 seconds or less.” Deer tags will go on sale about ten minutes later. Hunters who want to purchase both tags will have to do so in separate transactions.
In order to be eligible for the multi-season tags, hunters must already have a 2019 hunting license. Multi-season deer tags cost $139.10 and multi-season elk tags cost $182.00. Tags can be purchased at sanctioned vendors around the state, regional WDFW offices, or at the WDFW headquarters in Olympia. The WDFW estimates that only one out of every 20 independent vendors will be successful in competing a transaction for the limited elk tags. Any deer tags that remain unsold will remain available until the quota has been reached. Any hunter who successfully obtains a multi-season tag will be permitted to hunt with either modern rifles, muzzlealoaders, or archery equipment, depending on the season and location.
Black bear hunts are still the only game in town for the next couple of weeks. Those hunts opened up on Aug. 15 and are set to remain open through Nov. 15. This year, hunters are allowed to keep two bears during the general season. However, only one bear may be harvested from Eastern Washington. Additionally, hunters are encouraged to refrain from shooting sows and cubs.
In the North Cascade Zone, particularly in GMUs 418 and 426, hunters should remember that it's possible to encounter grizzly bears. Those bears are a protected species so proper identification is important. Hunters in those areas are required to complete an online bear identification program before taking aim in those areas as well as some Eastern Washington units. The course can be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/requirements/bear-identification-testing.
A wave of popular hunting seasons are set to unveil beginning in September. And, of course, coyote hunting season never ends in Washington. Additionally, anyone careening around corners in Washington should remember that Evergreen state law allows for the harvest of most roadkill 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 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.
Last week, an astute and dedicated reader took the time to compose and send in an anonymous letter to the FishRap command center. The reader noted a link to those salvage permits previously provided in this space had expired and was no longer useful. After investigating, it appears the WDFW changed up their website earlier this summer and as a result, many of their old pages have fallen into the blackhole of the internet. Permit applications, and additional roadkill salvage regulations, can now be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/roadkill-salvage.
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A joint effort between Forterra, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and WDFW recently resulted in the state’s acquisition of 4,486 acres of land near Yakima. That land, situated in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, will now become part of the Cowiche Unit of the Oak Creek Wildlife Area.
According to a press release, the area is essential to the migration of numerous wildlife species, including mule deer, elk, neotropical birds, raptors, bats, and more than 70 species of butterflies. The land acquisition will also serve to protect more than seven miles of Cowiche Creek which harbors spawning grounds and habitat for bull trout, coho, and Chinook salmon. Additionally, the property is intended to provide recreational opportunities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing and bird watching.
“This property is an important link to surrounding state, federal, and private conservation lands,” said Mike Livingston, WDFW south central regional director, in a press release. “With the help of our partners RMEF and Forterra, we’re able to permanently protect the area where up to 2,000 Rocky Mountain elk migrate between their summer and winter ranges, and where elk calves are born each year.”
Work to acquire the land began nearly two decades ago when the RMEF began negotiating with the Van Wyk family that had previously owned the land.
“This is the latest example of RMEF’s work with partners to protect a key elk migration route where butterflies are also known to migrate,” said Jennifer Doherty, RMEF’s director of lands, in the release.
Forterra is a non-profit land conservation group that provided funds to help close the sale. In a first of its kind agreement, Forterra has been awarded a stewardship easement on the property in order to facilitate maintenance and restorative efforts in the future.
“The Van Wyk property is more than a stunning stretch of stream, steppe, and forest,” said Michelle Connor, President and CEO of Forterra, in the release. “It’s a puzzle piece that connects all of the protected land surrounding it. In the face of climate change, species like the elk and butterfly found here will rely more and more on un-fragmented ecosystems like this one. We’re thrilled to help secure this special place, and we look forward to working with the state to protect it for generations to come.”
WDFW currently manages about one million acres of land and more than 600 water access sites around the state.
The WDFW is beating the bushes in search of citizens who may want to join a new committee charged with advising the state on matters related to the commercial fishing guide industry.
As many as a dozen people will be selected to serve two-year terms that will begin in September. Applicants who are selected will be able to provide feedback on a new regulation that requires commercial guides to provide monthly logbook reports, as well as other issues.
“Beyond that, we want to work with the guide industry to gain a better understanding of their perspective in an effort to improve opportunity,” said Kelly Cunningham, acting director of the WDFW fish program, in a press release.
Next year commercial fishing guides will be required to provide the state with up to date information regarding the date and location of their trips. The log entries will also include the number of anglers onboard, as well as the number and species of fish caught on each outing.
“We’re looking for advisors who will help us review logbook data and provide the guiding industry’s perspective on fisheries,” Cunningham added. “We’d like to establish a group that includes both part-time and full-time guides and industry representatives from the various fisheries around the state.”
Letters of interest must include the following information:
Candidate’s name, address, telephone number, and email address.
Relevant experience and reasons for wanting to serve as a member of the advisory group.
Effectiveness in communication, including methods the candidate would use to relay information to regional constituents.
Applications are due by 5 p.m. on Aug. 27. Electronic applications can be emailed to Raquel Crosier at Raquel.Crosier@dfw.wa.gov. Written applications can be sent to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Attn: Raquel Crosier, 600 Capitol Way N, Olympia, WA 98501-1091.