(Continued…) The designated spotter, already feeling like a tag-along, was caught in a moment of wavering uncertainty. He pondered whether the mighty bull on the other side of the river bank would continue to cross the drainage or if hard-earned paranoia would cause him to retreat. The handy-down camouflaged middle manager hiding in the wind stripped brush worried loudly inside his head. He wondered what he should do and dreaded being wrong, again, while the rest of his party sat silent and still behind the stony berm.

In that moment — one that stretched like the last drip of sap from a rack scarred maple tree before the first frost hits — the big bull slowly began to turn. Like a battleship in the current its blaze white rump pointed downriver and its square muzzle staring up toward the mountainous headwaters of the gods. In that decisive moment he and the bull shared visions that revealed the mystic secrets of the natural world.

That’s when the spotter, inspired but unswayed, dropped his head below the skeleton brush line. He signaled to the bowman with a telltale head nod that the moment of action had finally arrived. Rising to a crouch with his knee cradled between the boulders the bowman needed but a single breath to place his quarry squarely in his sights. All at once he noticed the reflection of the twilight sun off the bull’s eyeball. He contemplated the creatures' entire magnificent existence all within the confines of one more breath before pulling back on his bow string. He exhaled with the calm poise of daily meditations and afternoon tea as he released the deadly arrow so that it may fly and the elk might fall.

When he withdrew his fingers he closed his eyes closed in a fit of devotion and already knew the point had found its mark. He’d seen it all unfold in his daydreams. This was the moment he’d watched unfold a thousand times already.

Before the recoil of the bowstring ceased the river had begun to run with a smear of red. Still, while the rest of the hunting party popped up over the hill excitedly to see what they could see the bull stood frozen. For several breaths longer than seemed possible he held his gaze upriver to where it all began —  The frigid braided streams. The clouds and rains and the spawning salmon. The rounded boulders of erupted mountain rubble. The meadows of his youth and fuzzy scented memories of his mother.

Like a thunder clap the terror hit him all at once and then rolled over his body like a cataclysmic mud flow. The bull quickly spotted the source of its pain as the four orange hat heads stood silhouetted on the far river bank. In a rage of instinct it tore up the water and lunged for the far shore before stumbling on those rounded river rocks and crashing in the shadows of the sinking sun.

Although they were flush with satisfaction there were no war whoops or attaboys from the good ol’ boys on that day. They knew how far they’d come, and how long that heavy headed elk had run. Maybe they were just tired, and no one would admit it, but they each seemed to mourn the end of that animal more than they ever thought they could. Instead, they simply shook hands and began to ford the blood stained river in order to retrieve their kill from the other side.

They realized that, as so often happens, the end of one story marked the beginning of another. As a familiar frost settled over the woods they plunged headlong into their work remembering that back home they had important promises to keep and miles to go before they’d earned any sleep.

FISHIN’

The mainstem Chehalis River has been open from the mouth up to the headwaters since the beginning of October and anglers have been wasting no time trying to reel in the coho as they roll by. However, the bite has been a little slow to start and the cold snap dry spell hasn’t helped to call the fish upstream.

“Increased flows definitely bring in more fish activity,” explained WDFW biologist Mike Scharpf. “Certainly on the downturn of big flow seems to be when things are good.” 

This year 48,000 hatchery silvers and 63,000 of their wild spawned cousins are expected to return to the Chehalis River system. About 18 percent of the total hatchery coho smolt releases from 2016 (the year most likely to produce this year’s returning silvers) were released above the Twin Cities. That includes 50,000 smolts from the Lake Carlisle project in Onalaska that feeds the Newaukum River and another 32,000 smolts in Elk Creek near Doty.

There’s always a hot debate over what gear or bait is best to use depending on the personal proclivities of the piscatorial pursuers. 

Then there’s the not so simple matter of what to use.

“I know lower in the system spinners and spoons work pretty good. I also know people have success with a bobber,” noted Scharpf. “Little Cleo’s, Blue Fox spinners … Pink seems to be the hot color typically but I have yet to throw a spinner this year. I can’t wait to get out and change that!”

Beginning next Wednesday the Skookumchuck and Newaukum rivers will complete the list of fishable waterways in the Chehalis Basin. The daily limit up and down the watershed is six salmon per day, of which two may be adults. Both hatchery and wild coho may be retained but all Chinook must be tossed back. 

The expiring closures on the Chehalis system mean that bass anglers can also try their luck before the bite cools off.

“Anything that has a side slough attached to it is good for bass fishing. And of course they love structures so anything with debris or slack water is a good place to go looking for them,” said WDFW biologist Curt Holt. “The next couple of weeks is a good time to get them before they get hunkered in.”

While salmon and steelhead angling has been curtailed on the lower Columbia River from Buoy 10 up to Pasco and anglers will be able to target sturgeon in a catch-and-keep fishery for at least one more day. That opening will take place on Saturday (Oct. 12) between the Wauna Powerlines and Bonneville Dam, including the Cowlitz River.  Fish between 44 and 50 inches are eligible for harvest. The daily limit for white sturgeon is one fish with a two-fish annual limit. 

A prospect report from the WDFW noted that catch rates in the late fall are about as good as they get. So far the fall fishery has consisted of two days (Sep. 21 and 28). During the first day 5,100 angler trips resulted in a harvest of 525 sturgeon, which held in line with projections. The second date saw only 4,350 angler trips and just 115 sturgeon kept on the lower Columbia. Another fifty or so sturgeon were harvested on the Cowlitz River. There are approximately 542 sturgeon remaining for harvest according to WDFW guidelines.

There are plenty of other fish in the Cowlitz River also. Well, at least there were last week. A report from Tacoma Power noted that last week at the Cowlitz salmon hatchery separator crews recovered 1,628 coho adults, 312 jacks, 317 fall Chinook adults, 56 jacks, 21 summer steelhead, 14 cutthroat trout, and three spring Chinook. Those fish handlers then released 292 coho adults, 83 coho jacks, three spring Chinook adults, and one cutthroat trout into the Cispus River by Yellow Jacket Creek near Randle and deposited 389 coho adults and 70 coho jacks at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood. Another 780 coho adults, 143 coho jacks, 82 fall Chinook adults, two fall Chinook jacks, and one cutthroat trout were trucked to the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton.

No creel sample numbers were reported by the WDFW this week but on Monday river flow below Mayfield Lake was reported at 3,540 cubic feet per second. Water visibility was 10 feet with a temperature just under 52 degrees.

Anglers who prefer to turn to the old Salish Sea for their salmon will be happy to hear that the limit for coho in Marine Area 13 (South Sound) has been increased to two fish per day. A press release from the WDFW noted that, “While precautionary measures for coho remain necessary for Marine Areas 8-1 and 10, escapement and hatchery goals are expected to be met for coho stocks in Marine Area 13.” All wild salmon must be released in the South Sound but hatchery Chinook at least 22 inches long may also be retained. That area remains open to salmon fishing all year long.

HUNTIN’

Saturday will mark the opening of many of the state’s most popular hunting seasons as rifle hunts for deer and general hunts for waterfowl all get underway.

“Overall, hunters should expect good opportunities for mule deer along the east slopes of the Cascades in Chelan and Okanogan counties, good opportunities for white-tailed deer in northeast Washington, and good to excellent opportunities for black-tailed deer throughout western Washington,” said Brock Hoenes, WDFW deer and elk section manager.

While some areas east of the Cascades have been hit by loss of habitat and population decline the prospects over here in the Evergreen hills should hold up to recent memory.

“Opportunities will be limited for elk hunters in eastern Washington this year, but elk hunters west of the Cascades can expect seasons similar to last year, with the best opportunities being associated with the Willapa Hills and Mount St. Helens elk herds...All indications are the black-tailed deer and most elk populations west of the Cascades have remained stable,”  added Hoenes. “Severe weather and wildfire events in recent years have contributed to declines in some of Washington’s deer and elk herds in eastern Washington and populations remain below historical levels. The department has restricted doe and cow harvest in those areas to rebuild those herds.”

After a few youth and senior-only hunts to get things going duck, goose, coot, and snipe seasons will all begin in earnest on Saturday as well.

“Hunters have been among the nation's largest contributors to conservation, donating time and paying for programs that benefit America's wildlife — and all who enjoy the outdoors,” said Eric Gardner, WDFW wildlife program director and waterfowl hunter, in the news release. “Now is a great time to celebrate our hunting tradition. I’m anticipating a great year and I look forward to getting out and hunting with my new dog.” 

According to Kyle Spragnes, WDFW waterfowl manager, conditions were prime in the hinterlands over the summer to produce a sterling crop of water birds.

“Favorable habitat conditions and breeding pair counts from Washington, Alaska, and portions of Canada indicate a strong fall flight,” explained Spragens. “Weather is a key ingredient to successful waterfowl hunting, but is the most difficult to anticipate… Waterfowl hunters have a first chance on local birds until the northern birds are ushered into the state from Alaska and Canada by low pressure weather systems. Things seem to be shaping up nicely with early season rains and colder temperatures settling into the north.”

While early season prospects are generally best along permanent bodies of water like Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay, Puget Sound, or the Columbia River, seasonal rains have already begun attracting geese and ducks to swamped pasture land.

Forest grouse hunts are set to continue through the end of the year, while hunts for pheasant, quail, and bobwhite are also ongoing. Farm raised pheasants can be found at release sites such as Lincoln Creek and Kosmos in Lewis County. The WDFW has planned on releasing 2,000 pheasants at the Skookumchuck Wildlife Area and another 3,900 pheasants at the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area this fall. An additional 4,000 pheasants are set for release at Joint Base Lewis-McCord.

Black bear hunts will amble on until Nov. 15 and cougar hunts will continue until at least the end of the year. Bobcat, fox, raccoon, rabbit, and hare hunting will all be options through March 15. And, of course, coyote hunting is always open in Washington.

Last but not least, with wild ruminants 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’

Succulent bivalve lovers will have to wait at least another fortnight before they get to start pounding sand again. Tentative razor clam digs have already been announced through the end of the year but final approval is still pending the results of marine toxin testing.

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

All diggers age 15 and older are required to possess a valid fishing license.

WAGGIN’

Wolves are on the march across the Evergreen State and powers that be are seeking new candidates for a Wolf Advisory Group.

New members of the citizen committee  would serve a three year term through 2021. The Wolf Advisory Group (WAG) was formed in 2013 and is charged with providing input to the state regarding management practices.

"This group has been extremely helpful in advising the department on the challenging issue of recovering and managing gray wolves in our state," said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind, in a press release. "We are looking for candidates who value working cooperatively with others to develop management recommendations to advise the agency."

Currently there are four openings on the WAG. According to the release, “WDFW is looking to recruit stakeholders who represent environmentalist, hunter, livestock producer, and at-large identity groups to fill these positions. Candidates must value compromise and cohesion on issues, with the intent to resolve conflicts.”

Donny Martorello, the WDFW wolf policy lead, added, “The WAG’s members have a wide range of perspectives and opinions on wolf recovery and management, and we are committed to continuing this collaboration."

To apply, submit letters of interest or nominations that address the following items:

  • The applicant or nominee's name, address, telephone number, and email address;

  • People or groups making nominations must also submit their own names and contact information;

  • The candidate's relevant experience, organizational affiliations, and reasons why they would be an effective advisory group member;

  • Familiarity with Washington's Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and current wolf recovery status and management issues; and

  • Experience in collaborating with people with different values.

The deadline for submission is 5 p.m. Nov. 8. Letters of interest, relevant application materials such as CVs, and nominations may be emailed to wildthing@dfw.wa.gov or sent to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, P. O. Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504-3200.

Additional information on the WAG is available at wdfw.wa.gov/about/advisory/wag/.

ADVISIN’

The WDFW is angling for as many as 20 representatives to join the Puget Sound Sport Fishing Advisory Group.

If selected, members of the advisory group would serve two-year terms through 2021. Their task would be to provide input to the WDFW on issues related to recreational fisheries for salmon, rockfish, and other sport species in the old Salish Sea.

A press release noted that, “Advisors should have firsthand knowledge of and experience in marine or freshwater recreational fisheries in their respective regions and be able to communicate ideas to fishery managers. Advisors are an important link between the department and the sportfishing community, and are expected to communicate fishery information and policy decisions to local sportfishing groups in their respective regions.”

The group will likely meet between three and four times per year, primarily between February and April when salmon seasons are established.

Applications and nominations will be accepted through Nov. 30 and must include the following information:

  • Applicant or nominee name, address, telephone number and email address.

  • Relevant experience and reasons for wanting and qualifying to serve as a member of the advisory group.

  • Applicant or nominee’s effectiveness in communication with sportfishing groups and constituents.

  • Name and contact information of applicant, or any individual or organization submitting a nomination.

Applications and nominations may be submitted electronically to David.Stormer@dfw.wa.gov or by mail to WDFW Fish Program, Attn: David Stormer, P.O. Box 43200, Olympia WA, 98504.

Additional information can be obtained by calling 360-902-0058.

VIEWIN’

Wildlife lovers have lots to look at these days as critters of all types are on the move by hoot, paw, fin, and wing.

At the top of the list this month are the migrating chum salmon that are arriving 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 chum salmon bearing streams in Washington and boasts a walking path (Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail) that allows visitors to watch up close as the fish finish the final few miles of their odyssey. 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.

Anyone who can make it up the west end of the Olympic Peninsula has great odds of encountering Roosevelt elk. Those elk are currently in the midst of their annual mating season which puts them on the move. Bull elk will be bugling in the woodlands and sparring with rivals as they try to impress the harems of cows. Activity is usually most prominent in the early morning and evening hours. Be sure to give the regal animals a wide berth since they can become easily agitated, or frisky, and should be considered dangerous in either instance.

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