It had been months since anyone other than the local fauna had been down the secret path. But instead of being overgrown from inattention, the way was wide open thanks to the magic wand of Old Man Winter.
A leisurely pace allowed a penetrating gaze to sink deeper into the woods than tired eyes had grown accustomed. With trees stripped bare and even the ever-verdant ferns coiled up in rust, the result was at first off-putting, like a troll had rearranged the furniture in the forest.
In the depressions of the pathway, puddles shrank at their edges as brittle sheets of newborn ice spiderwebbed across the surface. Sharp paw prints of otters and ‘coons cut a crisscrossing course into the mud around the shattered glass edges.
Pockets of snow persisted where holes in the canopy had allowed it to collect and where the winter sun would never shine. Up ahead a solitary shaft of light filtered through a brand new tear in the forest fabric. An awesome oak with a trunk as wide as a fourth grader is tall had come crashing down across the path. The tips of its top branches dangled in the soft water of a swift seasonal stream at one end. A twisted root ball full of gargoyle faces lay wrong end up at the other. Their watch over the wild things had just begun.
Flutter birds skittered to-and-fro in the wide open spaces between the clustered thickets. They sang out warnings and salutations to their neighbors as they pecked away at the iron-skinned fruits of highbush cranberries, banks of snowberries and the blood-red clusters of winter holly. A pileated woodpecker eschewed the temptation of those low hanging fruits for the promise of grubs in the spongewood beneath the sagging bark of an overgrown alder patch. The thrust of his breakneck beak did not echo its norma rat-a-tat. Instead it was a rapid splatter attack into the payload of the pulp.
Around the next bend a pair of eagles suddenly appeared alongside the flooded path. They wrenched their necks around to identify the unexpected commotion and then turned back irritated to deal with their writhing prize. Its silver scales were scattered like piñata confetti and an aggressive jawbone burst through a paper mache of mottled skin.
One white-headed eagle and its motley juvenile companion worked in tandem to wrench meat from bone as they waddled well within the woodline with the river lapping at their feet. The swollen drainage had swamped its banks after weeks of rain and presumably pushed that salmon past the point of no return.
As the wanderer retreated from the dead end in order to leave the birds of prey in peace, he wondered if that salmon had been able to reach its headwaters of home before the eagles found it.
He wanted to believe that if you wander long enough the river will one day rise up to meet you; so that we may be lucky enough to rot beside the streams that birthed us.
Freezing temperatures have helped to slow the runoff in area rivers while simultaneously rounding angler prospects back into shape. Drainages that were near or beyond flood capacity last week have dropped back into their channels and the big woody debris that came with those storms have mostly washed on by.
Out in Independence, the plunkers have been busy tending their wood stove shacks while they wait for a hungry steelhead to happen by. Rumor has it that patience finally paid off this week when the first steelhead of the season was reeled in from that well-worked section of the Chehalis River. While it’s possible that a few other winter steelhead may have been caught already, what’s clear is that the run that typically starts hitting lines in November is well behind schedule and expectations.
Steelhead are also an option, and likely to be more abundant, on the Humptulips, Wynoochee, and Satsop rivers in Grays Harbor County. Other anglers have been testing their luck on the various tributaries to Willapa Bay. All of those rivers, including the mainstem Chehalis, have a daily limit of two hatchery steelhead per person.
On the lower Columbia River and its tributaries, some anglers are also searching out steelhead. Downstream of the I-5 Bridge in Vancouver, the daily limit is two adult hatchery Chinook, two hatchery steelhead or one of each. The Cowlitz, Kalama and Deep rivers have the same daily catch limits, but on the Lewis River anglers are only allowed to keep one adult hatchery Chinook per day. So far this winter the bulk of the action has been on the tributaries closest to the ocean as steelhead seem content to take their time moving upstream. For instance, on the Elochoman River last week 11 bank anglers sampled by the WDFW kept a dozen steelhead.
Meanwhile, there were no reports of any fish caught on the Cowlitz River last week. High water can absorb part of the blame, but anglers can’t catch what isn’t there. At the Cowlitz salmon hatchery last week crews retrieved 673 coho adults, 16 coho jacks, four summer-run steelhead adults, 13 cutthroat trout and eight winter-run steelhead adults. Fish handlers also redistributed 19 coho adults and one coho jack at Franklin Bridge in Packwood, and released 464 coho adults, 14 coho jacks, six cutthroat trout and one winter-run steelhead into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton. Another 248 coho adults, three coho jacks and four winter-run steelhead were deposited at Lake Scanewa in Randle, and while 110 coho adults and one coho jack were put into the Cispus River located near Yellowjacket Creek. This week’s river report from Tacoma Power marked river flow below Mayfield Dam at 14,400 cubic feet per second with a water temperature of 44.1 degrees and visibility of just four feet.
Anglers on the lower Columbia River are still limited to catch-and-release opportunities for sturgeon these days, but catch-and-keep fisheries are underway in the dammed pools. Last week the WDFW sampled seven bank anglers with no catch in the Bonneville Pool, but 39 rods on 13 boats kept 10 sturgeon while releasing 64 for being too small and two more for being too big. In The Dalles Pool, six bank anglers released one sublegal sturgeon. All the way up at the John Day Pool, 15 bank anglers were also skunked but 36 rods on 17 boats managed to keep one sturgeon while releasing another.
With wicked winter weather dominating the forecast for the foreseeable future many anglers understandably prefer to stay closer to home, and shore. Luckily, the WDFW has continued stocking area ponds and lakes in order to keep prospects teeming even as temperatures plunge.
On Jan. 2, Carlisle Lake (Ol’ Mill Pond) in Onalaska received 130 oversized rainbows weighing between 10 and five pounds each. Fort Borst Park Pond in Centralia was planted on Jan. 6 with a shipment of 2,000 fingerling rainbows, and then on Jan. 7 Mineral Lake in Northeast Lewis County was planted with 60 rainbow trout weighing about 10 pounds each. Silver Lake in Cowlitz County, which had been fishing well for crappie before the cold snap, received 2,000 fingerling rainbows on Jan. 13.
Winter storms have done wonders for hunters hoping to find a few more waterbirds before time runs out on those seasons. Heavy rainfall last week helped to fill in seasonal wetlands, and big winds over the last fortnight have pushed many ducks and geese inland a bit when they may have preferred to keep closer to the ocean shoreline.
Duck hunts will remain open through Jan. 26 in Southwest Washington, as will goose hunts in Goose Management Area 3, which includes all of Lewis and Thurston counties. However, Goose Management Area 2 (Coastal), which includes Pacific County and the portion of Grays Harbor County west of 101, is open to hunters on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays only through Jan. 19. That area will then reopen on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays from Feb. 8-22. A hit-and-miss hunt for brant geese is also taking in Pacific County with opportunities remaining on Jan. 18, 19, 21, 23, 25 and 26.
In Thurston County the best waterbird prospects are dependably found along the shores of Puget Sound, including Henderson, Budd and Eld inlets as well as the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. The old Centralia coal mine is another traditional destination for waterfowl hunters in Lewis County, as well as any flooded farm fields where access can be obtained from private landowners. Of course, the big water surrounding the Columbia, Chehalis and Willapa rivers are also popular destinations for pursuers of waterfowl.
Coote and snipe hunting seasons will also remain open through Jan. 26, in case anyone cares.
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. In the meantime, cougars may be hunted with any legal weapon, but dogs may not be used.
Small game hunts for bobcats, fox, raccoon, cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares will remain open until sundown on March 15. 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.
Any hunter 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 ahead, 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.
Lastly, but not leastly, 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.
Earlier this week the WDFW gave the go-ahead to a six-day coastal razor clam dig that’s set to start on Tuesday, Jan. 21. Those digs were approved following marine toxin testing that confirmed the clams are safe for human consumption.
“Weather and surf during our last opener dissuaded many from participating,” said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager, in a press release. “The good news is that this means there are still a great many clams out there for this and future digs.”
The upcoming digs are approved for the following beaches, dates and low tides:
• January 21, Tuesday, 4:23 p.m. -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
• January 22, Wednesday, 5:10 pm -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
• January 23, Thursday, 5:53 p.m. -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
• January 24, Friday, 6:32 p.m. -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
• 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 play no digging will be allowed on any beach prior to noon. That means that diggers should come prepared to battle both the cold and darkness as they chase the succulent bivalves and dodge the tide.
“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 Ayres. “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.”
All diggers age 15 and up are required to possess a fishing license and each person is limited to 15 clams per day. Anyone hauling clams must dig their own harvest and carry their quarry in a personal container. Additionally, any clam that’s dug must be kept regardless of size or condition.
Conservationists have been celebrating following the release of four fishers at Mount Rainier National Park. With those four critters now roaming free, a 12-year effort to reintroduce the cat-sized mammal to its traditional stomping grounds has now been completed.
The final four fishers released were let go in the Nisqually River watershed. Since 2008, the WDFW has partnered with the National Park Service and Conservation Northwest in order to release more than 250 fishers in the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges.
Members of the weasel family, fishers have been listed as endangered by the state of Washington since 1998. However, their numbers have been in dire straights since the middle of the 20th century due to trapping efforts by humans and ongoing habitat loss.
Since 2008 biologists with the project have released 85 fishers in the North Cascades, 90 fishers on the Olympic Peninsula and 81 fishers in the South Cascades. Experts had previously determined that due to their staggering losses the species would not be able to recover on its own without outside help. The fishers released in Washington were live-trapped in Canada.
“Our work this year represents progress in the collective effort to recover fishers in Washington,” said WDFW biologist Jeff Lewis, in a press release. “People have been working tirelessly to restore this mysterious and rare carnivore to the Cascades, and now that reintroductions are complete, we think it’s likely that fishers will continue to settle into the recovery areas, find mates and provide the foundation for a large, healthy population in Washington.”
Monitoring stations are set up in areas where fishers have been released in order to track their progress. The public is also encouraged to share any observations or sightings they may stumble upon while out in the wild. Those reports can be filed online at wdfw.wa.gov/get-involved/report-observations.
“By restoring fishers to Washington State, we’re restoring both our natural and cultural heritage for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations,” said Tara Chestnut, Mount Rainier National Park ecologist, in a press release.
On Monday visitors to any National Park from sea to shining sea will be able to do so for free.
Each year the NPS offers five free days where entrance fees are waived. Martin Luther King Jr. Day will mark the first free day of 2020.
Here’s the complete list of NPA free dates for 2020:
● Monday, Jan. 20 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
● Saturday, April 18 – First Day of National Park Week/National Junior Ranger Day
● Tuesday, Aug. 25 – National Park Service Birthday
● Saturday, Sept. 26 – National Public Lands Day
● Wednesday, Nov. 11 – Veterans Day
“Across the country, more than 400 national parks preserve significant natural and cultural areas, each one an important piece of our national identity and heritage,” said National Park Service Deputy Director David Vela, in a press release. “Free entrance days serve as additional motivation for people to get outside and enjoy these places of inspiration and recreation.”
Conditions continue to be prime for skiing and snowboarding on regional slopes following another week of cold temperatures and intermittent precipitation that landed as powder up in the highlands.
On Friday morning the temperature at the White Pass ski area ranged from 14 degrees at the summit to 21 degrees at the base. A total of nine inches of new snow had fallen over the previous 36 hours in order to buffer already sterling prospects for aspiring shredders.
“White Pass has received 159" of snow from January 1 until today... WOO HOO!” noted the White Pass snow report.
That new snowfall brought the total snowpack up to 112 inches at the summit and 80 inches at the base.
White Pass is currently open daily from 8:45 a.m. until 4 p.m. The backcountry gates are open with the surface lifts, Great White, Far East, Basin and Couloir in operation.
Snow totals are now up to 112 inches at summit and 80 inches closer to the lodge.
Up-to-date conditions can be obtained by calling 509-672-3100.