Spring is the season of great expectations. It is the time of king salmon and resurgent bears.

Dormant fields lurch to life. Imperceptible changes mark the final days of winter until the earth’s skin explodes all at once with a shock of green. For now, bald eagles are content to walk among the withered clumps of last year’s sprouts as they search for chilled carrion bits.

Spring is when last year’s disappointments begin to feel far enough away to forget. Into the void we pour intoxicating possibilities for new tomorrows. Soon buds promise to blossom and call out for pollination so that their fruit might one day ripen on the vine.

Across the pastoral expanse of America baseball. diamonds teem with raw talent still trying to thaw out from the deep winter freeze. The inevitability of disappointment gathers no moss at spring training. It is the only place where hope still springs eternal.

Soon the sun will remind the robin to return and coax the cardinal to signal its siren song while warming the mud and calling the worms to rise. For now, though, a nightcrawler slumbers soundly singing spring’s song in the throes of a midwinter’s night dream.

We stoop and gather worn out tools from their hideaway places and stake out big plans for the long days that lie ahead. We clean out tackle boxes and spin fresh spools of fluorescent monofilament line onto creaking rods and reels.

Down by the lakeshore the weeds are still asleep and the brush stands naked and spindly as the great blue heron that stalks the shriveled lily pads. The State spreads fish tales of manmade lakes brimming with lab spawned trout. With their cornfed bellies running empty an optimistic father figures they’ll be hungry enough to bite even if the water molecules are slow enough to flirt with ice.

Casting toward the shoreline he puts his faith in word of mouth rumors and all sights unseen. There is no reward for nonbelievers and so even when his hands begin to burn from the cold he continues to sling his bait with sincere intent.

As beads of slurry lake water slide like tear drops down the line he loses himself in the rainbow of their refracted radiance. Spiraling thoughts in a tie dye mind pulse with the current and wile away the time.

That’s the instant when something finally takes hold from the darkness beneath the surface. It snags at first and then seems to roll before holding up and resting in a tangled rush of reeds. For a moment he wonders if it will ever come loose or if he has become fated to an eternal standoff between fisherman and foe.

With a rod bent over like the back of a crescent moon the angler exerts one last calculated snap of the wrist. He knows it could mean the end with nothing to show but busted line and lost gear but he is determined to prove that his will to fight is greater than any fish.

As he whips the line sparkling beads of water launch from the line and create a mosaic of colliding ripples in still water. Simultaneously, his stubborn catch finally comes free. He cranks the reel to gobble up newfound slack and flexes as a flash of silver breaches the chaotic surface.

As the catch comes into clear view the fisherman begins to laugh like the madman across the water that he has always been at heart. He can tell his haul is bulbous at one end but skinny at the other and estimates the lunker to be over two feet long, weighing perhaps a couple pounds soaking wet. Across the fat spot, in faded flaky red scales, are painted letters that read “T-Ball”. Instead of a fish the mysterious catch is an aluminum baseball bat.

After netting his day’s prize the fisherman took his catch home and cleaned it before phoning the number written in ink near the slick rubber handle grip. On the other end the voice says they haven’t seen the bat in years and no longer need it. Their boys are all grown up now. Somebody else must have tossed it back.

A few weeks later the last of the snow finally dissipated and the cherry blossoms began to erupt along the boulevard. That’s when the fisherman’s son took his first steps on a baseball field, proudly toting the bat his father had snagged him.

Betwixt the divergent chalk lines that seemed to stretch forever that young baseball man allowed his dreams to grow wild like the weeds in right field. With each practice his cleats turned the earth and he planted seeds of faith in a transcendent future still unborn. His fate forever turned over to the baseball gods.

As seasons pile up on the chattering bones of faded youth those memories faithfully rise like ghosts from rows of corn. Like a dust bowl farmer praying for rain, or a cold fingered fisherman casting into the fog, he still harbors hope that this will finally be the year he doesn’t have to wait until next year to bring home the big one.

FISHIN’

It’s possible that some good news leaked out of the WDFW this week when projections for returning coho indicated that 2019 could end up as a rebound year for the savory silver salmon. However, like any underwater forecast, the results are prone to be a bit murky.

Those new numbers from fish officials were released at a recent meeting in Olympia. They cover anticipated returns for Chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, and pink salmon. Those numbers will be used by state and tribal authorities to set both commercial and sport fishing seasons for the upcoming year. This year those calculations will also include considerations for conserving certain salmon stocks to help feed struggling southern resident orca population.

“In the coming weeks, we’ll be working with tribal co-managers and constituents to make sure that we meet our conservation objectives while providing fishing opportunities where possible,” explained Kelly Susewind, WDFW director, in a press release. “It’s complicated, but important work.”

In the Columbia River some 218,200 “upriver bright” kings are anticipated to journey back beyond Bonneville Dam. That kind of return would be roughly equal to last year but down about half from the average over the last decade. At the same time the anticipated return of hatchery Chinook to the lower Columbia River is down about 12,000 fish from last year to about 100,500. As for coho, nearly 906,000 silvers are expected to seek out fresh water upriver from Buoy 10. However, it’s important to remember that last year 619,000 coho were projected to return to the Columbia River but only 147,000 actually showed up.

Out beyond the breakers the odds look like they might be trending in the right direction this year. With a relatively stable return of Chinook set to congregate off the mouth of the Columbia River anglers should have a fine time trolling for tules in Marine Area 1. For Puget Sound, meanwhile, the best returns could be headed for the middle and southern reaches of the old Salish Sea. About 670,200 wild and hatchery coho are expected to shoot the Strait of Juan de Fuca this year, which would mark a 15 percent increase over the recent ten year average. On the flip side the return for Chinook is expected to be slightly depressed from last year.

“We’re again expecting extremely low returns in key stocks such as Stillaguamish and mid-Hood Canal chinook, which will again limit salmon fishing opportunities,” noted Kyle Adicks, WDFW salmon fisheries policy lead, in a press release.

Out on the mighty river in real time there are slowly but surely more and more anglers showing up to put in reel time. Currently it is legal to target and retain both hatchery steelhead and hatchery Chinook salmon from Buoy 10 up to Bonneville Dam. However, beginning March 1 anglers will be restricted from fishing for steelhead, salmon, or shad between Warrior Rock and Buoy 10. From March 1 through April 10 both boat and bank anglers will still be able to keep hatchery Chinook, coho and steelhead between Warrior Rock and Beacon Rock, while bank anglers will be allowed to continue on up to the Bonneville drop-deadline.

Sturgeon harvest is still open in two of the three dam pools. Last week the WDFW sampled eight anglers on four boats in the Bonneville Pool and came up with one legal sturgeon on a stringer while another 29 sublegal sturgeon were reportedly released. In the John Day Pool a dozen bank anglers had no catch but 22 anglers on 10 boats managed to keep one legal sized river monster. Between Buoy 10 an Bonneville Dam anglers are restricted to catch-and-release fishing for sturgeon.

On the mainstem of the lower Columbia River last week the WDFW found hardly any action at all to tally. A prospect report from the WDFW noted that the water from the I-5 Bridge downstream “looks good for salmon fishing but only 31 boats and 68 bank rods were tallied during last Saturdays (sic) boat count.” Specifically, nine bank anglers near Vancouver, nine bank anglers and one boat angler near Woodland were all skunked. Near Kalama another two bank anglers also had no catch to show or tell about.

The creel sampling didn’t reveal much more favorable odds on the various tributaries to the lower Columbia River. Specifically, six bank anglers on the Grays River, three bank anglers on the Elochoman River, and one bank angler on each of Abernathy and Germany creeks were all shut out. On the East Fork Lewis River 24 bank anglers did manage to land four steelhead but they were all subsequently set free.

By those measures the Cowlitz River had the hottest bite around by default. The WDFW sampled 65 bank anglers between the mouth and the I-5 Bridge near Vader and found three keeper steelhead but six boat rods had no catch at all. Between the I-5 Bridge and the Barrier Dam 21 bank rods kept one steelhead but 53 rods on 19 boats managed to bonk a dozen steelhead while releasing another.

At the Cowlitz salmon hatchery last week crews retrieved seven winter-run steelhead adults. All of those fish were retained for broodstock operations. Flows early in the week were hovering around 8,900 cubic feet per second with nine feet of visibility and a steady water temperature of just under 42 degrees.

With limited water entering the Chehalis River system the bite has been reserved for weeks on end now. The typically turbid and chocolaty waters have continued to drop since the last sizeable deposit of rain and the bite has continued to dwindle in response. However, the dry weather has enticed a fair number of anticipatory anglers to test their odds so some steelhead have still managed to find their way ashore.

Fishheads all agree that the odds are sure to pick up again when the rains return. On Tuesday the flow above Black Creek on the Wynoochee River was reported at only 895 cfps while flow at Grisdale was just 288 cfps.

Hatchery fish stocking efforts by the WDFW continued to come out at a trickle over the last week. The most recent deposits were made in Thurston County with Longs Pond receiving 70 rainbow trout weighing about five pounds each on Feb. 15. That same day Munn Lake was planted with ten rainbows of the same caliber.

HUNTIN’

Time has nearly expired for spring black bear hunt applications to be filed with the state. That window of opportunity will come to a close at midnight on Thursday.

Hunters who manage to submit qualifying applications will be entered into a drawing for 272 permits in western Washington and 509 permits in eastern Washington. The drawing is expected to take place in the middle of March with winners notified before April. The hunts are scheduled to take place from April 1 through May 31 or June 15, depending on the area.

Any weapon that can be used for big game seasons can also be used for spring black bear hunts. However, bait stations and hunting dogs are illegal. Anyone selected for a hunt in GMUs 101, 105, 108, 111, 117, and 418 will have to complete a bear identification test in order to prove they can tell the difference between a legal black bear and an off limits grizzly.

Applications can be entered online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov, by phone at (866) 246-9453, or at any licence vendor in the state. Hunters should take into consideration that access to many areas where permits will be issued will require permission from private landowners.

This month saw the sand run out on most of the final waterfowl hunting seasons that signal the end of the general season extravaganza that began way back in August. However, hunters can continue to pursue geese in the inland portion of Area 2 until March 9.

Additionally, most cougar hunts remain open but hunters should be sure to check with the WDFW before heading out. That extra effort has been recommended since the New Year when cougar areas became subject to restrictions based on cumulative harvest numbers from the fall and winter season. In areas where the take remains below the quota hunting will continue through April 30.

Bobcats, fox, raccoons, snowshoe hares and cottontail rabbits will continue to take heed through the Ides of March when long-running seasons on their kind are set to end. Trapping seasons for beaver, badger, weasel, marten, mink, muskrat and river otter will continue through the end of March. And, as always, coyotes are fair game all year round.

Spring turkey hunts will take up the attention of bearded gobbler imitators beginning on April 15.

Roadkill salvage is also legal in Washington with the use of an emergency permit provided by the WDFW. 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.

Out of the brush and into the boardroom, the state has extended an invitation to the public to provide input to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission regarding proposed changes to hunting rules and action in regard to elk hoof disease. Those topics will be up for discussion during a set of meetings on Friday and Saturday in Spokane.

On Friday specific consideration will be given to eliminating antlerless white-tailed deer hunts in GMUs 101-121 and changing archery rules to remove minimum arrow weight restrictions. Additionally, the commission will consider expanding a requirement that hunters sever and leave behind the hooves of harvested elk. Another proposal would eliminate hunter orange requirements for turkey hunters outside of the general modern firearm seasons for deer and elk.

The meetings are set to begin at 8 a.m. on both March 1-2. A full agenda is available online at wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings.html. The meetings will be held in the Inland Empire Room of the Ramada by Wyndham Spokane Airport, 8909 W. Airport Dr., Spokane.

CLAMMIN’

Another wave of razor clam digs is scheduled to begin on March 16, so long as marine toxin testing shows that those succulent bivalves are safe for consumption.

A recent announcement by the WDFW lays out a batch of prospective digs that would last through the end of April. If approved, the upcoming digs could include as many as three elusive openings at Kalaloch Beach on the west end of the Olympic Peninsula.

Those potential digs signal a shift from evening digs to morning digs with only the first three dates offering openings after noon. During evening digs no digging is allowed before noon. On morning digs no digging is allowed after noon.

The proposed razor clam digs, along with low tides and beaches, are listed below:

  • March 16, Saturday, 3:43 p.m.; 0.3 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis (during the Ocean Shores Razor Clam Festival);

  • March 17, Sunday, 4:43 p.m.; -0.2 feet; Twin Harbors (during the Ocean Shores Razor Clam Festival), Mocrocks;

  • March 21, Thursday, 7:48 p.m.; -0.5 feet; Mocrocks

Switch to a.m. Tides:

  • March 22, Friday, 8:14 a.m.; -0.2 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Kalaloch;

  • March 23, Saturday, 9:01 a.m.; -0.3 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis, Kalaloch

  • March 24, Sunday, 9:49 a.m.; -0.3 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Kalaloch

  • April 6, Saturday, 8:05 a.m.; 0.3 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis

  • April 7, Sunday, 8:42 a.m.; 0.1 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • April 8, Monday, 9:20 a.m.; 0.0 feet; Mocrocks

  • April 20, Saturday, 7:58 a.m.; -1.1 feet; Long Beach (during the Long Beach Razor Clam Festival), Twin Harbors, Copalis;

  • April 21, Sunday, 8:42 a.m.; -1.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • April 22, Monday, 9:25 a.m.; -1.0 feet; Twin Harbors Mocrocks

According to the WDFW’s coastal shellfish manager, Dan Ayres, additional digging dates will be considered if data indicates that there are enough resident clams remaining for harvest.

Ayres always recommends that diggers hit the beach about an hour or two prior to low tide for the best results. He also advises diggers to bring sufficient lighting for evening digs.

All razor clam diggers age 15 and older are required to possess a valid fishing license in order to partake. State law allows diggers to harvest up to 15 clams per person and each clam dug must be taken regardless of size or condition.

ROTTIN’

This week the WDFW confirmed what has been suspected for at least the last month — the scourge of elk hoof disease is on the move again.

On Jan. 17 an elk hunter dropped a cow elk in the Pikes Peak area of the Blue Mountains. After the hunter noticed that the animal had deformed hooves he turned them into the WDFW. Testing conducted by WSU confirmed that the disfiguring was caused by treponeme-associated hoof disease.

TAHD was first reported in the Willapa Hills and Mount Saint Helens elk herds about two decades ago. Initially biologists were under the impression that the disease was unique to Southwest Washington due to its damp conditions. However, the fatal malady has now popped up in all pockets of Western Washington, crossed the Cascade Range, and shown up in Oregon and Idaho as well as eastern Washington. Cases have been confirmed in 14 counties of Washington alone.

“We have been monitoring this area fairly intensively for the past four years, and have never before confirmed an elk with the disease,” insisted Kyle Garrison, WDFW hoof disease coordinator, in a press release.

Wildlife managers are asking the public to assist their efforts by reporting any animals observed with deformed hooves or limping behavior. Officials admit they still have a lot to understand about the horrific disease that leaves elk fated to starvation or predation once they become unable to walk.

“Much remains to be learned about the disease,” said Margaret Wild, a WSU veterinarian and research leader on elk hoof disease. “We are further investigating treponema bacteria and other potential pathogens, and we will also look at factors that may increase the susceptibility of elk contracting the disease.”

Reports of afflicted elk can be made online at wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/hoof_disease/

RESTORIN’

On March 4 the WDFW will host a public workshop in order to discuss options for rehabilitating sections of the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area that were scorched by fire in late 2017.

The entire area covers six units and takes up nearly 3,600 acres that include portions of unique South Sound glacial till prairie in both Thurston and Grays Harbor counties.

The WDFW hopes to draft a plan that will cover the next decade of management with an emphasis on protecting wildlife species, native habitat, and recreational opportunity. The workshop will include a historic review of the area along with opportunity for public comments.

"We want to hear from the public about how people use this area as well as what recreation and natural resource values are important to them," said Darric Lowery, the WDFW’s wildlife area manager, in a press release.

That meeting is scheduled to take place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on March 4 at Swede Hall. That traditional gathering place is located at 18543 Albany St. SW, Rochester. A previous meeting was cancelled due to a winter storm.

Detailed information on the six units that comprise the wildlife area is available online at wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/scatter_creek/.

SNOWIN’

After two straight weeks of Winter wunderland type precipitation a smattering of fresh snow continued to dapple the slopes at White Pass through the middle of the week. About a foot of new powder accumulated during a 24-hour period on Tuesday with a morning temperature of 15 degrees reported at the base at a temperature of nine degrees up top. The total snowpack was up by half a foot to 109 inches at the summit and at least eight inches at the base where the pack had crept up over 81 inches.

This will be the final weekend for night skiing. General lift tickets will allow skiers and boarders to stay on the slopes until 9 p.m. on Saturday. The main runs will continue to be open for regular daily operation. The nordic area is open Thursday through Sunday each week and the tubing area is open on weekends.

Winter Carnival is the next big to do that will descend upon White Pass. That annual celebration of the powder season is slated to take place on March 2-3 at East Lewis County’s favorite snow recreation site.

Festivities will include the sculpting of ornate snow structures as well as fireworks. There will also be sledding, tubing and snow balls for those who know how to party in the pow-pow. All events at the base are open and free to the public and a complete schedule can be found online.

Snow riders can catch a ride to the slopes via the White Pass Shuttle seven days a week. The shuttle picks up riders in Olympia at 6:30 a.m., and at the Grand Mound Park and Ride off of Tenino-Grand Mound Road at 6:50 a.m. The shuttle arrives at the Safeway parking lot in Centralia at 7 a.m., with the flag pole as the designated pick up spot, and then stops at the Chehalis park-and-ride on West Main Street at 7:10 a.m. The final stop is at Packwood around 8:30 a.m.

The shuttle typically arrives at White Pass at 9 a.m. and leaves at 3:30 p.m. A round trip ticket costs $40, or $95 with the addition of a lift ticket. For additional information call 360-970-9619.

Up to date information on conditions and activities at White Pass can be obtained online or by calling 1-509-672-3100.

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