Swimming in a trance of magical surrealism in that realm that resides right between sleep and exhaustion, the bonk on the head was an exceptionally rude awakening, especially for a king.

The weather had been wicked for weeks resulted in morale fatigue that swept across the valleys and hillsides and flatlands all the same. It seemed that even when the sun was out the rain still fell. And it wasn’t that run of the mill straight down from the heavens kind of rain. It was that “The devil’s beating his wife again,” kind of rain that charged in sideways off the eves of the tumbledown shack of the neighbors two fields over. 

Branches tore loose from their trunks in the wind as moss and leaves grew heavy in the big wet. Puddles refused to provide time for reflection as they rippled in hyperlapse, even in between storms while the ether tried to drip dry like a towel pinned to the backyard line in winter.

With the holidays over and the thrill of the new year lost in the current of time there weren’t many excuses to leave the relative comforts of home, so most people stayed locked away whenever they could. Those poor souls that were braving the elements, by and large, weren’t doing so by choice. But alas, there were logs to haul and poles to climb and the streets never did manage to sweep themselves, so the laborers simply went on with their work with their heads down while clutching their trusty thermos just a little tighter.

Even the community of retirees and squatters, who had set up shop at the County Line fishing hole, made it down by the waterside with less frequency than they’d intended when they’d first had the bright idea to park their vans, campers and RVs down by the river. Most of their recent days had been spent trading smokes and passing cards around the musty confines of their assorted four-wheeled abodes. There were usually drinks with ice in them, as well, or at least a frosty can from the cooler beneath the spare tire. They weren’t missing out on anything anyways, they all agreed. The fish weren’t biting anyway.

And that’s exactly what the scene was when a know-it-all high school kid with 20 minutes of free time on his hands pulled into the parking lot during a surprise fit of sun and splendor on that winter’s day. It was high tide on that lower stretch of the river not far from where the mighty drainage ultimately belched into the ocean. The water was fat and chunky and the beach was underwater, along with most of the bank up to where the alders took root.

The towheaded greenhorn was not fazed in the slightest when he found the river free of fellow fishermen despite a parking lot that was overflowing. He simply figured he’d outsmarted everyone, of course.

So, with a half twisted rig and jig setup dangling from the tip of his rod, the kid cast his gear with a great heave toward the far off line in the current. Once the hook and sinker hit the water there wasn’t even time to wait before the naive newcomer to the isolationist fishing hole saw his unreasonable self confidence rewarded with an angry tap and tug at the end of his line.

Even the young buck and all of his inexperience knew what was happening — He’d tossed his gear directly on top of an unsuspecting king salmon and he was about to be taken for a ride.

Except that fight never materialized. Almost as soon as the silvery Chinook tried to swim away the force stopped altogether and the line sat still, but taught, before diving below the surface roughly 40 yards offshore.

With the rod tip high, which was about the only thing he knew he should do for sure, the kid pulled gently on the line while being careful not to snap it off at the leader. Still, nothing budged and if not for the almost imperceptible flicker of energy transmitting through the monofilament line and through his fingers he would have been sure that his inconceivable catch was already gone for good. With his feet at the water’s edge and a cold sweat on his brow as he considered his scarce options things took a turn for the weird when a wild man suddenly emerged from the bushes in tattered camouflage britches and made a frantic run for the river.

“You’re fish is stuck in a snag under water,” hollered the grey-bearded man with all the knees and elbows flailing about while the river quickly rose up above his waist. “I’ll get it for you! Just hold it steady.”

There was no time to debate the tactic so all the dumbfounded teenage angler could do was follow the impromptu instructions he’d been given. When the wild eyed bushman reached the end of the line he grabbed onto it with his filthy hands and submerged his body completely beneath the black muddy river and disappeared.

Time ceased to move in a linear fashion, like a river flowing downhill in that moment, and instead seemed to explode in all directions like the mist of a waterfall. The seconds peeled away like leaves in a windstorm, and before long it seemed the man had been underwater for entirely too long, even if it was impossible to tell exactly how long that had been.

Then, like a whale breaching the surface unexpectedly, or maybe a merman rising from the depths to startle a gang of seasick pirates, the man reappeared triumphantly with the king salmon clenched tight in his grasp. Standing with the snag at his feet the stranger worked to free the hook from the salmon’s mouth while the kid continued to hold tension on the line like an idiot. As a result, as soon as the hook came free from the fish the line came ripping back and tore directly into the flesh between the man’s forefinger and thumb.

A blue streak of curse words unfit for this column, and so extensive as to run well over the allotted word count anyhow, flowed forth from the man as his hand dripped rusty red blood into the river. Still, he did not drop the fish.

“Let some slack out!” he hollered toward the shore before ripping the hook from his own hand with crusty pliers while holding the salmon aloft by the gills.

The kid was terrified. He couldn’t figure out what kind of man would run into a frigid river on behalf of a stranger and he had no idea how a man like that was going to react after winding up hooked and bleeding for his efforts.

As he emerged slowly out of the water, the teenager unleashed a flurry of apologies and thank yous toward the stranger with his hulking fish. The man told the kid to be quiet, he knew it had been an accident and he would do the same for anyone, he insisted.

“I’ve seen a hundred fish break free from that spot, and all the lines and lures are still there to prove it,” the river man explained with a surprising air of calm. “I wasn’t going to let that one get away.”

Just then the man made two cuts near the salmon’s gills with a knife the kid hadn’t even realized was in his hand. The man then slipped his fingers between the gills and gums and promptly tore the fish open from neck to tail with the spine and guts coming out all at once as if he had tugged on some secret ripcord.

The kid was amazed. And slightly terrified.

As the man handed over the expertly prepared salmon the kid asked if there was a way he could repay the herculean efforts in any way and his hero was quick to reply.

“You can take me to the store down the road so I can buy some more beer. I don’t have a license anymore,” he explained. “And I grow pot in the woods back here, so if it winds up missing I’ll know it was you who took it. So don’t do that, please.”

The young angler agreed on both accounts and as they made their way down the highway toward the store there was hardly a word spoken between them. All the kid knew for certain was that sometimes in fishing, as in life, it was better to be lucky than good.

FISHIN’

Steelhead were finally in the mood to bite last week on the Chehalis River near Rochester as a rash of clear days allowed the water to work itself back into shape. This week the prospects took a dive again, however, as another round of wicked rain and flood warning returned to the area.

The Satsop River hit flood stage on Thursday and washed out any piscatorial prospects on that watershed. The Wynoochee River was also hit hard by the rain but that was the least explosive news coming off of the tributary to the lower Chehalis River in the last week. On Saturday law enforcement wound up with the biggest catch of the week when they fished a suspected burglar out of the Wynoochee and found a live bomb in his backpack. A real estate agent called authorities after checking on a home and catching the suspect on the premises. The suspect then fled and took his chances trying to ford the river before he was apprehended. No fish were harmed in the getaway attempt.

Whenever prospects round back into shape, anglers on the Chehalis and Willapa systems will both be held to a two steelhead per day limit.

Odds on the lower Columbia River and its tributaries aren’t much better these days as high water has hit nearly every watershed in the area. Last weekend, though, the Elochoman River was about as hot as winter steelhead fishing gets. According to WDFW sampling stats, 39 bank anglers kept 20 steelhead while two boat rods kept another two steelies. On the other hand, Grays River, which was overflowing to the point of forcing the closure of Highway 4 on Thursday, had no catch for the anglers that tried their luck last week.

Effort on the Cowlitz River is about as depressed these days as you’ll ever see. Last week the WDFW surveyed one skunked bank angler on the lower river, while six bank anglers between the I-5 Bridge and the Barrier Dam also went without any catch to report.

At the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery last week crews recovered 23 adult coho, four coho jacks, 18 winter-run steelhead adults and one cutthroat trout. Fish handlers then released nine adult coho, three coho jacks, one cutthroat trout and five winter-run steelhead into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton, along with six adult coho, one coho jack and six winter-run steelhead into Lake Scanewa in Randle. On Monday the Cowlitz was reportedly flowing at 14,400 cubic feet per second just below Mayfield Dam with a water temperature of 44 degrees and visibility of just four feet.

Anglers who know their way around the Columbia River might be inclined to try their odds for sturgeon instead of steelhead right now since there are ongoing catch-and-keep fisheries in the dam pools. Last week 59 rods on 20 boats in the Bonneville Pool kept six legal sturgeon while releasing 87 dinosaur fish for being too small, and tossing back one river monster for being too big. In the John Day Pool, the WDFW found 31 rods on 14 boats with one sublegal sturgeon released while four bank anglers released two steelhead.

HUNTIN’

It’s last call for waterfowl hunters in our neck of the woods, or flooded fields as it might be.

Duck hunts will come to a close on Sunday, Jan. 26, along with goose hunts in Goose Management Area 3, which includes all of Lewis and Thurston counties. Goose Management Area 2 is already closed but the coastal section will reopen on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, between Feb. 8-22. Meanwhile, a hit-and-miss hunt for brant geese in Pacific County will also come to a close at dusk on Sunday.

Likewise, coot and snipe sniping seasons will end on Sunday.

Most cougar hunts are set to stay open until April 30. The WDFW reserves the authority to cancel cougar hunts by area once harvest limits have been reached. Until emergency closures are issued, though, cougars may be hunted with any legal weapon, although dogs may not be used.

Small game hunts for bobcats, fox, raccoon, cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares will remain open through 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 has no end date in Washington state.

On a related note, earlier this week, a father from New Hampshire went full savage mode on a coyote after the wild dog attacked his two year old son. The father reported that he was able to get between his son and the coyote after it tackled the child to the ground. The coyote then reportedly continued to lunge at and bite the father despite efforts to scare it off.

“There was no running away, it would not allow us to run away,” Ian O’Reilly told CBS Boston. “It was very much the aggressor.”

That’s when the man dad-strength kicked into full gear and he decided to take matters into his own hands, as it were. Jumping on top of the coyote the man covered the canine’s snout and went about choking it to death.

“When I was able to get on top of it, I put my hand on its snout so it wasn’t able to attack me," O’Reilly told Boston 25. "There was quite a bit of snow on the ground, so I shoved the face into the snow and then eventually was able [to] put my hand on its snout and expire it through suffocation. Ultimately one hand on its windpipe and one hand on its snout did the trick.”

Turning back toward more traditional hunting matters, any nimrod who purchased a tag in the last year is required to report the results of their big game hunts to the WDFW by Jan. 31, even if they were skunked. Hunters who fail to report to the state on time will be subject to a $10 penalty the next time they purchase a license.

Looking forward, the WDFW is accepting applications for spring bear permits. Applications may be submitted through February for one of the 250 special spring bear hunting permits that are being offered in the coastal area. Additional information can be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/special-hunts/bear.

And, of course, it’s important to remember that roadkill salvage is allowed 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’

There are two days remaining in the current set of razor clam digs. Those digs were approved last week following standard marine toxin testing and began on Tuesday.

The remaining digging opportunities will take place on the following dates, beaches and tides:

• January 25, Saturday, 7:08 p.m., -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

• January 26, Sunday, 7:42 p.m., -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

With evening tides in effect there, no digging is allowed on any beach prior to noon. That means that diggers will need to come prepared to battle not only the surf but also darkness.

“Diggers want to be sure to come prepared with good lighting devices and always keep an eye on the surf, particularly at this time of year when low tides come at dusk and after dark,” said WDFW coastal shellfish manager Dan Ayres, in a press release. “Diggers can also start gathering clams an hour or two before the tide, which on some days allows folks to enjoy daylight for most of their time on the beach.”

Additional digging dates are proposed for early February. Those dates are currently awaiting final approval pending marine toxin testing by the Department of Health. If approved the proposed digs would take place on the following dates, beaches, and tides:

  • February 6, Thursday, 4:40 p.m., -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • February 7, Friday, 5:26 p.m., -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

  • February 8, Saturday, 6:09 p.m., -1.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • February 9, Sunday, 6:51 p.m., -1.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

  • February 10, Monday, 7:32 p.m., -1.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • February 11, Tuesday, 8:13 p.m., -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

  • February 12, Wednesday, 8:55 p.m., -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

State law requires any digger age 15 or older to be in possession of a valid fishing license. Additionally, diggers are limited to 15 clams per day and must keep the first 15 clams they dig regardless of size or condition.

FARMIN’

The company that accidentally allowed more than a quarter million non-native Atlantic salmon to escape into Puget Sound in 2017 has come one step closer to being allowed to rear rainbow trout/steelhead in the Old Salish Sea.

Cooke Aquaculture originally blamed the escape of those farmed salmon on a high tide caused by a solar eclipse. Later it was determined that negligent maintenance practices had allowed aquatic debris to build up on the pens, which weighed them down and led to their collapse. The company was fined $332,000 for their failure to properly maintain their facilities.

Now the company, which runs a salmon-rearing facility in Rochester, wants to add trout farming to its docket in Puget Sound. This week that proposal came one step closer to fruition when the WDFW approved the company’s application to rear batches of sterile female rainbow trout/steelhead.

The five-year permit applies to existing net pens in Puget Sound near Rich Passage and Skagit Bay but will likely extend to three other net pens owned by Cooke Aquaculture. 

More than 3,500 public comments were received by the WDFW in regard to the proposal before the issued their permission for the project. The WDFW has put together materials related to the project for review online at wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/environmental/sepa/closed-final.

“We heard from a huge number of stakeholders on this issue, and we appreciate everyone who took time to make their voice heard as part of this process,” said WDFW Deputy Director Amy Windrope, in a press release. “This permit was approved based on scientific review and is contingent on Cooke complying with strict provisions designed to minimize any risk to native fish species.”

Those provisions include:

  • A comprehensive escape prevention, response, and report plan;

  • Biennial inspections of net-pen facilities by a WDFW-approved marine engineering firm, to check for structural integrity and permit compliance;

  • Immediate reports to WDFW of any escaped fish, as well as a unique marking identifying all commercial aquaculture fish;

  • Sampling and testing of smolts before being transferred to marine net pens, to ensure that they are free of disease;

  • Annual fish health evaluation reports; and

  • Tissue sampling for genetic analysis of broodstock by WDFW.

Before Cooke Aquaculture can move trout into the pens, though, they will need to obtain a modification to their National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits from the Department of Ecology, along with a transport permit from WDFW.

SHREDDIN’

All the rain in the lowlands is good news for powderheads as the slopes at White Pass continue to receive new snow.

On Friday morning, the summit at the White Pass ski area was about 30 degrees with fresh snow falling. The lower ranges of the slopes were closer to 32 degrees with a mix of snow and rain. Over the previous 12 hours White Pass had received two inches of new snow, with 10.5 inches of fresh now falling over the previous 36 hours. Those accumulations put the summit snowpack at 100 inches with 75 inches of snow piled up closer to the lodge.

White Pass ski area is currently open daily from 8:45 a.m. until 4 p.m., with their surface lifts, Great White, Far East, Basin and Couloir in operation.

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