All night long, the chorus grew louder and louder as more and more voices joined in their song. Hidden from plain view, their bass line seemed to emanate out of thin air before slipping through the imperceptible cracks in the walls of the old house and sliding through warped window panes like ghosts on parade.
The reverberations echoed off the wood floors and bounced around like candy-fueled toddlers in an inflatable funhouse. As the hours passed, the unique voices that held the choir together began to emerge as we became familiar with the particular intonnations of each belch.
The soggy bottom serenade would have sounded so lovely to our homebound ears if not for the fact that it was all happening well beyond the witching hour and even big boys need their beauty sleep. Eventually the weight of our eyelids pulled us off into a heavy slumber as the song rambled on with no end in sight. By the time the sun was up in the morning, though, all was quiet on the farm as a silken sheet of fog clung close to the contours of the cold ground.
Waddling around in bulky trousers and even bigger boots, I began the day like all the rest, heavily dependent upon muscle memory as I struggled to wipe the congealed sleep from my eyes. I tossed green grass hay to the greedy goats and doled out pungent bowls of curdled whey and grain to the hogs that cohabitate beneath the naked maple. Then I made my way over to the pumphouse to begin the bone-chilling chore of cleaning and refilling the water troughs.
When I reached down for the big blue bucket, that’s when I saw him, all bloated and grey and motionless as he bobbed just below the surface. With a head like a cracked walnut and legs like the cocked coils of a bear trap, he cut an impressive figure even in death, but the sight still left me dreary as I emptied the rest of the bucket and watched him wash up all limp and lifeless on a withering stand of ruffled ryegrass.
For a moment, I grieved the loss of the big bullfrog, who I imagined had been belting out the deepest intonations through the darkest hours of the night. Then a wave of anger washed over me — I mean, how does one even manage to drown a frog? It was an honest accident, of course, but it seemed like such an embarrassing way for any amphibian to meet their maker.
That’s when a wild idea slapped me like a silver salmon’s tail across the forehead — I could string the big old boy up on the end of my fishing line and then give him a final honorary fling!
Now that’s a way to go out.
So I grabbed my sleepy-headed son and dressed him up warm and we hit the old shady trail down to the riverside to see what we could see. The river was calm and enveloped in the morning fog of mystery as we walked the sandy bank down to the old lumber pond at the wide mouth of Abraham’s Creek. Along the way we saw footprints from otters and the shattered shells of mussels yanked from the muddy shallows. We saw a lanky-legged heron standing stoic on the trunk of a tipped over snag tree and watched a fork horn deer wade silently across the river to the hollow promise of safety on the other side.
When we finally reached our trusty spot along the weedy shore, we assumed our familiar positions and surveyed the surface for signs of where we might find an empty belly bass hankering for one more big meal before hiding away and hibernating.
With old Frog-arotti all strung up and the morning sun trying to break through the clouds, we held our bait up aloft and paid homage with our own adoring imitations of his infamous ribbit. Then, as my son reminded me, it was time to “wing it, Daddy!”
So I reached back and slung our heavy bait toward the reeds and we watched with intrigue as the frog skipped off the surface, once, twice, three times before sinking beneath the final concentric circles that his earthly body would ever ripple.
As we waited and waited for a bite, time moved slower than boulders in a stream. Eagles began to circle overhead and song birds danced out on the end of riverside branches to fill the air with their melodies as our hand grew cold.
Then, all at once, it happened. The calm surface of the water broke like a cannonball through glass and the slack line on my rod pulled tight in my hand as I caught my balance and attempted to set the hook.
While I worked the rod, my son asked over and over, “What is it, Daddy? What is it?” I told him we’d just have to wait and see.
With the line halfway in, we caught the first glimpse of its slimy tail poking out from the water as the big mouth hog thrashed about in a fight for life and death. Then the water went quiet and the line went slack and I wondered what was going on. When furious cranking on the old reel failed to bring back any tension, I had an unfortunate inkling of what had happened. A couple more cranks later, when the line landed on the shore all empty and useless, I knew for sure.
The big one had gotten away.
Confused, my son asked, “When are we going to catch one, Daddy?”
With false confidence I told him that we’d have to wait at least a little while longer.
“We’re just fattening these fish up,” I explained through my disappointment. “We’ll catch that big fat fatty next spring when the water warms up again.”
“I don’t want to catch him later. I want to catch him now,” my son replied.
I understood exactly but had nothing to combat his complaint but the promise of hot chocolate back at home. And so we began to make our way, whistling and ribitting to one another all along the walk. We were grateful to have heard our frog friend sing, even if it was all over too soon.
We considered ourselves lucky enough to know that we still had plenty of songs to sing.
A mess of honker hatchery trout are destined to land in lakes and ponds around the state in coming weeks as the WDFW gears up for the annual “Black Friday” fishing event. This year, thousands of trout averaging 15.5 inches in length and weighing up to 3 pounds each will be deposited around the state in an attempt to lure folks out of shopping lines and into the great outdoors.
"This is a great chance to enjoy a fun day on the water with family and friends," said Steve Caromile, WDFW inland fish program manager, in a press release. “I can’t think of a better way to pre-celebrate the holidays.”
Lakes in Southwest Washington slated for Black Friday fish include Fort Borst Park Pond in Centralia, South Lewis County Park Pond in Toledo, Black Lake, Long Lake, and Offut Lake in Thurston County, Battle Ground Lake and Klineline Pond in Clark County, Kress Lake in Cowlitz County, Cases Pond in Pacific County, and both Tanwax and American lakes in Pierce County.
Additionally, the WDFW has reported that the bite has been picking up at Lake Sacajawea in Longview, along with Mayfield Lake near Mossyrock. Both Yale and Merwin reservoirs have been kicking out kokanee in recent weeks as well.
“WDFW’s trout stocking and hatchery programs are active year-round,” explained Caromile. “We provide the gift of spending time with friends and family on lakes around the state, at any time of the year.”
Elsewhere, anglers have been having success pulling crappie and perch from Silver Lake.
It might seem odd to be talking about little fish like those during the middle of fall salmon season but the bite on area rivers has left much to be desired in recent weeks.
One ponytailed old twitcher who grew up on the banks of the Chehalis around Independence lamented that, “I don’t know if we’ll ever get enough rain to get any coho all the way up here … and the ones that are in the river I wouldn’t even give my cat for fear of insulting her.”
While the entirety of the Chehalis River, including the Newaukum and Skookumchuck, are open, the long lasting dry spell we’re in the midst of has left most rivers without any hungry fish to haul in.
“Nobody has been consistent with their reports on any of the rivers. I’ve got guys coming in who say, ‘Ah, I caught 27 but I had to release 25 of them!’ I do know there’s a lot of dark ones in,” said Gregarious Mike over at the Sunbird Shopping Center sports section in Chehalis.
He added that dependable hatchery runs even appear to be slow to develop this year.
“I haven’t heard anybody tell my anything about a run coming up the Skookumchuck. Everything is late. It’s just bizarre,” added Mike. “The Satsop is the only river where I’m getting consistent reports of people catching fish.”
Coastal rivers such as the Quinault and the Humptulips may provide a bit more action in exchange for the drive, and other options are open further up the wet side of the Olympic Peninsula.
Salmon angling on the lower Columbia River is currently open from Rocky Point/Tongue Point up to Bonneville Dam. Anglers in that stretch of the river can keep up to six salmon per day, two of which may be adult hatchery coho, or one hatchery coho and one hatchery steelhead. Most tributaries to the lower Columbia allow for the harvest of two or three hatchery fish per day but anglers should be sure to check the official rule pamphlet before heading out.
Creel sampling by the WDFW last week showed a mixed return on investment for area anglers. On the Grays River, six bank anglers released six coho. On the Kalama River, 18 bank anglers had no catch to show, and five rods on two boats were also skunked. The Lewis River, though, was a bit more productive. A total of 19 bank anglers showed two keeper coho and one coho jack while 44 rods on 13 boats kept five kings, two jacks, five coho and three jacks while releasing one king and four coho.
According to WDFW stats, the bite was muted on the Cowlitz River last week. From the I-5 Bridge down to the mouth, 35 bank rods kept one coho and released another while 20 rods on seven boats kept 24 coho and released one Chinook and four more coho. From the freeway up to the Barrier Dam the WDFW found 17 bank rods with two keeper coho along with 18 Chinook and one coho released while one boat rod had no catch at all.
At the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery last week, crews retrieved 1,228 coho adults, 125 coho jacks, 51 fall Chinook adults, nine fall Chinook jacks, 38 cutthroat trout and 18 summer-run steelhead from the chutes. Those fish handlers also released 116 coho adults and 15 coho jacks at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood, along with 564 coho adults, 52 coho jacks, and six cutthroat trout in Lake Scanewa near Randle. Another 510 coho adults, 54 coho jacks, 17 fall Chinook adults, one fall Chinook jack and one cutthroat trout were put into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton. On Monday, river flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at 3,540 cubic feet per second with a temperature of 50 degrees and visibility of 10 feet.
The heat is on. Well, more accurately, it’s cold out but the rut is on and we are currently in the heart of some of the areas most popular hunting seasons.
Elk hunters will be able to tote modern rifles in the woods through Nov. 13 before the modern weapon general season switches over to black-tailed deer from Nov.14-17. According to WDFW statistics that four-day hunt typically accounts for a full third of the bucks taken each year.
Then, both bowmen and musketeers will be able to get back in the woods to search for deer and elk beginning Nov. 27. In District 10, which includes Lewis, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum counties, the odds for bagging an elk are about as good as they get, particularly if you stay west of I-5. In 2018, the best outcomes were reported in GMUs 506 (Willapa Hills), 530 (Ryderwood), 520 (Winston), and 550 (Coweeman). Even GMU 560, which follows the Lewis River up toward Mount St. Helens, has been able to reward hunters in recent years. However, hoof disease has taken a gruesome toll on the Mt. St. Helens herd in recent years. In an effort to limit the spread of the mysterious, and fatal, disease hunters are required to sever the lower leg portion of any harvested elk, leaving it behind at the kill site. Other areas where hoof disease hasn’t been as detrimental include GMUs 658, 672, 673 and 681 where the Willapa Hills herd likes to roam.
Bear hunts, which got the fall hunting smorgasbord started back in August, is set to come to an end on Nov. 15. However, cougar hunts will continue through at least the end of the year, or until next April, as harvest guidelines allow by area.
Duck hunting has been rewarding in the early fall thanks to a good show of mallards and more birds are rumored to be on the way from the Great White North. Plenty of geese are also expected to be arriving soon from those same hinterlands. In Goose Management Area 3, which includes Lewis and Skamania counties, goose hunting resumed on Nov. 2. In Goose Management Area 2 (Inland), which includes Cowlitz, Clark, and Wahkiakum counties, hunting will pick back up again on Nov. 23, on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays only. In the Coastal section of Goose Management Area 2 hunting is already open on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays.
Like ducks, snipe and coot hunts will continue through Jan. 26. Some of the best areas to prowl include the old coal mine outside of Centralia, as well as the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, and the various inltes of south Puget Sound. Other hot spots include the flooded backwaters along the Willapa and Chehalis rivers.
Hunts for forest grouse, quail, northern bobwhite, and pheasants are also ongoing. Those pheasant hunts will continue as is through Nov. 30. After that a special extended season, complete with bird releases, will begin in December. Release locations include Lincoln Creek, Skookumchuck, and Scatter Creek. The Skookumchuck Wildlife Area is slated to receive about 2,000 pheasants while the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area has been tabbed for a release of 3,900 pheasants. Another 4,000 birds are destined to be released at Joint Base Lewis-McCord.
Hunts for bobcats, foxes, raccoons, cottontail rabbits, and snowshoe hares will all continue through March 15. Similarly, trapping seasons for beaver, badger, weasel, marten, mink, muskrat, and river otter will remain open through the end of March.
And, of course, coyotes are open for hunting all year round. However, they may not be hunted with the help of dogs.
Another round of succulent bivalve pillaging has been approved for Washington’s coastal beaches beginning on Veterans Day.
That seven day dig was approved after marine toxin testing conducted by the WDFW confirmed that those meaty mollusks are safe to eat.
"We are encouraging people to get out there with family and friends to experience razor clam digging, one of Washington’s oldest and greatest traditions," said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager, in a press release.
The upcoming dig is for the following dates and low tides:
• Nov. 11, Monday, 5:51 pm, 0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
• Nov. 12, Tuesday, 6:27 pm, -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
• Nov. 13, Wednesday, 7:03 pm, -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
• Nov. 14, Thursday, 7:41 pm, -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
• Nov. 15, Friday, 8:22 pm, -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
• Nov. 16, Saturday, 9:08 pm, -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
• Nov. 17, Sunday, 9:59 pm, -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
No digging will be allowed before noon on any beach and Ayres advises diggers to come prepared to battle both the darkness and the cold.
“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,” noted Ayres.
Additional clam digging dates have been proposed through the end of the year. Those openings will be dependent upon the results of marine toxin testing conducted closer to the proposed digging dates.
All diggers age 15 and older must possess a fishing license in order to harvest razor clams, with a daily limit of 15 clams per person. Diggers are required to keep the first 15 clams they dig regardless of size or condition. Additionally, diggers must keep their clams in a personal container.
Fish lovers are several opportunities to catch a glimpse of salmon in their final throes as they return to their stream of origin to spawn this fall.
The Kennedy Creek Natural Area Preserve is perhaps the best location of all. Located on Totten Inlet in between Olympia and Shelto off of Highway 101, the creek is renowned as one of the most productive chum salmon runs in the state. A well maintained nature trail follows the stream at it winds uphill so visitors can catch glimpses of the dogged fish from multiple vistas.
Returning salmon can also be seen on the Deschutes River near the old Olympia Brewery as well as at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge on the northeast end of Olympia.
Poor returns of king salmon to Willapa Bay have prompted the WDFW to call for a public meeting in order to discuss smolt release options for next year.
Earlier this year the WDFW ramped up the target for released Chinook smolts from 6.15 million to almost 8.7 million juvenile fish. At the meeting members of the WDFW will provide updates on the Chinook salmon egg collection totals so far this year at hatcheries buffering Willapa Bay. Those facilities include the Forks Creek, Nemah, and Naselle hatcheries. Based on current hatchery returns the WDFW does not expect they will be able to meet their goals.
“We want to work with the public to determine the best possible release strategy for the Willapa Bay area moving forward,” said Chad Herring, WDFW fish policy lead for the south coast, in a press release.
The meeting will be held in Raymond on Nov. 13. Additional meetings were previously scheduled for discussions regarding ongoing salmon management policy for Willapa Bay. The next meeting regarding those policies is slated for Nov. 21.
The meeting for Chinook salmon release strategies will take place from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 13 at the Raymond Elks Lodge.The lodge is located at 326 3rd St., Raymond.
Washington State Parks are offering free admission for visitors twice this month.
The first free day will occur on Monday in honor of Veterans Day and the second free pass will be offered on Nov. 29, the day after Thanksgiving. On those days, visitors will not need a Discover Pass or daily use permit in order to visit those parks.
Additionally, entrance fees will be waived at Mount Rainier National Park on Veteran’s Day.