Archive for December, 2009

Bios May Have To Kill Yakima Bighorns

December 30, 2009

Scott Sandsberry, among Washington”s most voluminous outdoor writers (yeah, we’re lucky to have him!) details how scientists are racing to stop a pnuemonia outbreak from spreading among bighorn sheep in Yakima and Kittitas counties, a sickness that destroyed another herd in Washington over a decade ago.

Unfortunately, it may involve killing some of the animals to save the 800 or so that live in both counties, as the Yakima Herald Republic reporter’s article, picked up by the Tacoma News Tribune, details.

Explains Sandsberry, “Because the outbreak is so contagious and fatal, the idea of killing the herd is quickly moving from possible to inevitable – which would mark the first time the state has tried to control an epidemic among bighorns by killing large numbers.”

A pasteurella outbreak devestated the Asotin County bighorn herd in 1995.

Skagit Elk Hunt Airs On KUOW

December 30, 2009

Hunters as a whole might not expect to get a very fair shake from a Seattle public radio station, especially following what happened up in the Skagit Valley last weekend, but today’s broadcast of The Conversation with Ross Reynolds on KUOW 94.9 in Seattle surprises.

While there’s always a chance of hanging yourself on live radio, the 20-minute segment, which aired from 12:40 p.m. to 1 p.m. this afternoon, includes the reasoning behind why the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife held the hunt in the first place, the reasons why it was closed, and hunter reaction to what happened in that farmer’s field last Saturday.

Reynolds, the host, talks to Capt. Bill Hebner of WDFW’s North Sound detachment (we spoke to him yesterday afternoon), plays a few prerecorded calls — including one man who called shooting at the cornered elk were cowards, and a woman who was opposed to the use of arrows for taking big game but not against rifles — and speaks to three hunters live, including Jim McAfee of the Pierce County Sportsmen’s Association.

“I think this type of a situation puts a black eye on all types of hunting, and unfortunately gives the anti-hunting group an inroad there to come back and say, ‘Let’s get rid of all it,'” McAfee tells Reynolds. “I also feel bad about the Fish & Wildlife Department having to go in and take care of these management hunts, because it’s a catch-22 — you’re almost damned if you do, damned if you don’t. In this situation, I think it was one of those things, like Bill said, that went awry, and it was not planned to be that way. But unfortunately, people rather than backing off of it, took advantage of it and are leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, about the whole program, and it’s not good.”

A caller identified as Lou, a Port Orchard bowhunter, re-emphasizes that the hunt was a damage-control hunt and says it should have done through the Master Hunter program.

Asked about a previous caller’s contention that using bows and arrows to go after large animals was a bad idea, Lou says that hitting an elk in the chest with a razor-sharp broadhead is more humane than a bullet — if done right, by skilled hunters.

He also points out that the hunt is held on the valley floor, in an area of farms and homes, not a place to have high-powered bullets flying around.

Another hunter, Jake in Bellingham, says stick to Master Hunters and other “honorable” hunters for situations like last weekend instead of the “jokers out there who just point and shoot and don’t think about anything else.”

He admits, hunters get excited when there’s game around, but with plenty of time afield under their belt afield, they learn to calm down.

“I’ve done damage hunts before and there’s a lot of deer I’ve passed up the shot because the situation wasn’t good,” he says.

“Well,  give me an example,” challenges Reynolds.

“I’ve done damage hunts east of the mountains over on a wheatfield for some farmers. Crawl over a hill and there’s 200 deer sitting there and there’s a house right behind them. You just can’t shoot. And so, four hours of my time going around getting to a different area to possibly take a shot with the chances of the animals smelling you and spooking off are pretty high and you lose your chance at an animal. But that’s the choice you should make because that’s the honorable way to do it,” Jake says.

With that, Reynolds runs out of time, but he invites callers to leave messages on KUOW’s feedback line at (206) 221-3663 or email conversation@kuow.org.

What’s Fishin’ In Oregon

December 30, 2009

The year-end version of Oregon’s weekly Recreation Report is out, and in addition to updates on North Coast steelheading and ice fishing possibililites in the Southeast and Northeast zones, here are highlights:

SOUTHWEST ZONE

  • Winter steelhead are starting to appear in many rivers and creeks, including the Chetco, Coos, Coquille, Rogue, Umpqua and Tenmile. Look for fishing to pick up after some good rain helps get fish moving.
  • Don’t overlook trout fishing in many area lakes and reservoirs. Fishing has been good in Emigrant Reservoir, Lake Selmac and several Coos County lakes.

WILLAMETTE ZONE

  • Winter steelhead fishing is off to a good start in both the Sandy and Clackamas rivers.  Anglers reported good catch prior to the cold snap and now that local rivers have dropped back into shape the trend appears to be continuing.
  • Large brood trout were released this week in Junction City and Walter Wirth ponds. The fish are 4- and 5-year-old rainbow trout from ODFW’s Roaring River hatchery and range in size from 8 to 18 pounds.
  • Sturgeon fishing is fair on the lower Willamette River and effort by anglers is increasing.

CENTRAL ZONE

  • There still are good numbers of summer steelhead in the Deschutes River upstream of Maupin.
  • Bright winter steelhead should be showing up in the Hood River soon.

MARINE ZONE

  • Bottom fishing is good when ocean conditions permit. Ling cod should begin moving into shallower waters to spawn. Divers may find success spearing along rocky jetties for ling cod and black rockfish.
  • Fishing for cabezon reopens Jan. 1. Cabezon retention by sport boat anglers is not allowed effective Sept. 12 through Dec. 31 because the ocean boat harvest cap of 15.8 metric tons has been reached. Cabezon have a high survival rate when released carefully. Shore anglers, including shore-based divers, may continue to keep cabezon.
  • Recreational and commercial clam harvesting is closed on the north Oregon coast, from Clatsop Beach north of the Necanicum River to the Columbia River. Clam harvesting remains open south of the Necanicum river to the California border.
  • Mussel harvesting is open on the entire Oregon coast, from the mouth of the Columbia River to the California border. The consumption of whole, recreationally-harvested scallops is not recommended. However, coastal scallops are not affected by toxins when only the adductor muscle is eaten.
  • A series of minus tides begins Dec. 28 in the late afternoon. Each day the minus tide will be about 50 minutes later, requiring lanterns for harvesting clams. The series ends Jan. 4 around 9 p.m., depending on where you are on the Oregon coast.
  • Ocean crabbing opened Dec. 1. Crabbing in the ocean this time of year can be very productive, but also dangerous because of wind, sea and bar conditions.

Did Wildlife Watchers Contribute To Elk Hunt Fiasco?

December 30, 2009

A lineup of elk watchers and their vehicles may have blocked a herd of 80 elk from moving out of a farmer’s field and back to the safety of woods on the north side of Highway 20, compounding a distasteful hunting scene that occurred last Saturday in Washington’s middle Skagit Valley and which has drawn condemnation nearly the whole way around.

Capt. Bill Hebner of WDFW’s North Puget Sound enforcement division says that after a group of archery hunters began to legally stalk the animals in Bill Johnson’s field between Birdsview and Concrete, the elk couldn’t escape across the highway because a line of cars had stopped as nonhunters and hunters alike watched and photographed the scene.

Several of the 58 photos posted by Catherine Anstett on Smug Mug show people out of their vehicles observing the hunt along the North Cascades Highway.

“The elk are wanting to move north across Highway 20, but there’s a line of people blocking them,” says Hebner.

The hunters advanced on the surrounded elk, he says, taking poor shots at “less than lethal areas to the dismay of many,” he says. “It was a fairly distasteful event that occurred in front of a lot of people.”

However, while no laws were broken, Hebner said what happened “violated fair-chase standards and sportsmanlike conduct.”

“I would say the hunters involved in this used poor judgment,” he says, and though he wasn’t on the scene, he says he “talked to other hunters who turned around and left. Everyone should have done exactly that.”

A hunter himself, Hebner says that the hunt was not what traditional archery hunters would consider a good hunt.

“Archers go to great lengths to make humane kills. That didn’t occur here,” he says.

The hunt, a general bow season held in “Elk Area 4941” on the north bank of the Skagit between Highway 9 and Cape Horn Road, has since been canceled because “the harvest objective has been met.”

Asked about that, Hebner says that the goal for the season was a take of ten elk, but by their estimation, hunters have taken 17 so far.

With three weeks left in the bow season, as well as permit muzzleloader and Master Hunter hunts that continued through Jan. 20, a preemptive decision to close the hunt was reached.

It follows on last winter’s unexpected take of an estimated 40 elk in the area.

“We were uncomfortable with that, and more importantly, our comanagers (the Point Elliott Treaty tribes) were uncomfortable with that,” says Hebner.

The tribes as well as WDFW, USFS, DNR, local timber companies, farmers and others have worked for over a decade to bring the Nooksack herd back from a low of 300 animals in the early 2000s.

But last winter’s big snows pushed the elk into areas where they were easily targeted.

“We didn’t want to get into a situation where we overharvested on that damage hunt two years in a row,” Hebner says.

The damage hunt contrasts markedly with a highly successful and popular special bull permit hunt held in the mountains above the Skagit, well away from public view.

But moving forward, the elk will continue to want to come down from the Cascades in winter, the valley-floor herd will continue to expand, and local residents will continue to find their crops and fences and cars damaged by elk.

A solution must be found for “a terrible area to hunt elk.”

“I don’t want to take a chance on this reoccurring, and neither does the community,” says Hebner. “But we still have to address damage issues. We need to work on ideas.”

Master Hunters may be used instead of general-season hunters or other permit holders.

“I’m open to suggestions,” Hebner says.

Plenty Of Big Bulls, Just No Shootables?

December 29, 2009

Some elk hunters saw plenty of bulls in the hills above Yakima this past fall, but too few of the elk were shootable spikes.

So writes  Scott Sandsberry in an article headlined “WDFW elk regulations not very sporting.”

“I brought up a friend of my grandson from California,” hunter Murvin Mullinax tells the reporter for the Yakima Herald Republic. “He was amazed at all the big branch bulls he saw. He’d never seen anything like that in the wild. He was really thrilled — but we couldn’t shoot a thing.”

The Yakima area has been spike-only bulls for general hunters since 1994, and the overall herd has also been reduced by 18 percent over the past half decade.

Regional wildlife manager Ted Clausing tells Sandsberry that reducing the “principal” of the breeding stock to around 9,500 animals results in lower calf production which ultimately means fewer bulls and cows to harvest.

Weather also affects hunter success; some special permit holders did quite well with their Peaches Ridge tags.

But the bad news for Yakima hunters, as Sandsberry reports, is that, “Hunting success is likely to become even more difficult to achieve in this region, he said, with the game department proposing ‘a fairly major reduction in the antlerless (cow) harvest in the 2010 season.'”

Federal Bio: ‘Wolf Population Doing Fine’

December 29, 2009

With Montana’s wolf hunt now closed and Idaho’s continuing into March, the federal biologist overseeing recovery of the species in the Northern Rockies tells the Idaho State Journal that the packs have leveled off for the time being.

“This year, we’ll have about the same population as last year,” Ed Bangs of the USFWS tells reporter Sean Ellis. “The wolf population’s doing fine.”

At the end of 2008, the population was 1,650 in those two states plus Wyoming, reports Ellis; hunters had taken 203 wolves through Dec. 21.

Writes Ellis:

(Bangs) says the hunts in Idaho and Montana have not adversely affected the region’s overall wolf population. The hunts, which have been planned for years, were enabled after the region’s wolf population was removed from the endangered species list in May.

Skagit Elk Culling Draws Fire, From All Sides

December 29, 2009

A Skagit Valley Herald article on an elk hunt east of Mount Vernon and reprinted in today’s Tacoma News Tribune and Seattle Times is drawing quite a few comments in all three papers, on KING5.com, KOMO4.com and at Hunting-washington as well.

Dick Clever’s original story in the Herald on Sunday details how a herd of 70 elk bounced from side to side of cattle rancher Bill Johnson’s field off Wilde Road along Highway 20 the day before as a half-dozen bowmen attempted to legally kill a few animals as Fish & Wildlife enforcement officer Worth Allen looked on to make sure everything stayed on the up and up.

(Allen’s comments on the scene, “This is not hunting,” has been attacked by some hunters as showing a lack of support by the department.)

The elk are there because the Nooksack herd has rebounded from a low of around 300 animals as recently as the early 2000s to around 700 or 800 today. The population has grown since the Point Elliott treaty tribes and WDFW airlifted 80 animals from the overpopulated Mt. St. Helens area. Permit hunts were again allowed starting in 2006 and this season featured a general bow hunt from Nov. 1-Jan. 20 for any elk, a hunt that has since been cancelled.

Writes Herald reporter Tahlia Ganser in an article posted very early this morning, “While the hunting wasn’t illegal, many spectators and others, including hunters who heard about the kills, said it was unethical. And it wasn’t what the Department of Fish and Wildlife had in mind when it opened an elk-hunting area roughly bounded by highways 9 and 20.”

She quotes WDFW Game Division manager Dave Ware as saying that “the hunters ‘lacked discretion’ and ‘took advantage of the situation’ though they did not break the law.”

An emergency rule change notice from WDFW, received shortly before 3 p.m. today, reads, The elk harvest objective for the area has been met and the conduct of hunters has become disorderly and unsportsmanlike.”

(That closure, however, is angering a few tag holders who say season should remain open despite what a few “bad apples” have wrought, a source at WDFW in Olympia says.)

A fuller article by Ganser now appearing on the Seattle Times details how word of the herd on Johnson’s land spread and how hunters reacted.

“The whole thing kind of got out of control,” Johnson tells Ganser.

Photos by Skagit Valley Herald reader Catherine Anstett show the hunt taking place.

Clever’s article states that while the herd’s core range is north of the Skagit, in the mountains, in winter, many move to the lowlands of the Skagit Valley. Some are also making the river bottom their year-round home.

It’s not unusual for elk to live in the lowlands. The behavior has led WDFW to create numerous “elk areas” around Washington as the large animals have increasingly settled near towns and fields.

A big herd lives outside the back door of Northwest Sportsman columnist Dave Workman in North Bend.

AREAS WITH SPECIAL ELK HUNTS HELD IN LOWLAND AREAS OF WASHINGTON. (WDFW)

Unfortunately, as with the Skagit, these lowland hunts are often done in front of the public. Clever writes that “traffic slowed to a crawl on Highway 20 Saturday as curious motorists passed by the scene.”

And as so often happens today, the culling of the excess elk in an unwanted area was not just played out in front of weekend drivers, but has gone big time online as well.

In the Times comments (up to 68 as of 10:44 this a.m.), there are the typical insults to hunters and counter claims of biased journalism.

hipnotic, who lists their hometown as Tukwila, writes:

The guys out there slaughtering these animals trapped in a field , are the braggers at work . You know the guy with all the Cabellos gear , beefy 4×4 with mud tires , that’s kept spotless and of course the numerous tales of hunting odessey’s in high remote mountains passable only by foot . Well the cats out of the bag now George ! You’ve been Elk shopping in Monroe , havent you ?
Franklin, Lake Stevens, adds:
Reminds me of the gutless so-called hunters I used to see shooting fawns as they wandered around campgrounds. These aren’t men, these are eunuchs. They should circle the pasture and take aim straight across. At least we could eliminate these gutless wonders from the gene pool.Cruel and inhumane and not a sport or a kindness. This garbage needs to be outlawed. Please write to the state game department and let them know what you think of this kind of inhumane slaughter of animals.
Day Trader, Kenmore, says:
I wonder if high-powered bow hunting is the norm for weeding out a large Elk herd in Concrete or just a bunch of bow hunters showing off their new Christmas presents?
red rocket, Seattle, says:
I have been hunting and fishing all my life and have yet to witness a situation like the one in this article. Although it was a legal hunt, the hunters, the farmer, and the WDFW should have done better. I am not pleased.
And ronulus, also in Seattle, adds:
Elk were grazing on these lands for thousands of years before hicks chose to farm it. Why don’t chicken sh##t hunters take their bows and guns and head to Afghanistan, or better yet, hunt each other.
However, some folks do get it, they understand what’s actually going on here, grisly a scene as it is.
Branches11, Edmonds:
I think things would be more clear if the authorities and the article would have labeled this as population management, which is what it was. Hunting and population management are two different things.
PedalPower, Friday Harbor:
Certainly the “cull hunt” on the Skagit farm was not “hunting,” but it was probably necessary, and the meat will not go to waste.
Veritas Maximus, Bainbridge Island:
If this hunt discourages the elk from making a repeat visit, it may be a good thing for all concerned.Wildlife become pests when they lose their natural fear of humans. When humans and wildlife are in the same place, their conflicting interests will lead to conflicts…and invariably the wildlife lose those conflicts.The more that wildlife avoid human areas, the better it is for them.

Now, with that said, we have to leave areas for the wildlife. The insane rapacious development going on everywhere is depleting habitat, and all so Taylor and Buffy can have their McMansion with urban services.

To make things worse, the Taylors and Buffys of the world leave food out for wildlife, thus encouraging them to get close to humans. And the Taylors and Buffys think that it’s cute seeing deer…until the deer eat their vegetation or a deer crashes into Taylor’s BMW.

VM later adds:
The entire reason the elk were there was because the elk decided that human areas were safer for them than the wild where there are cougars.It is better for all concerned if the elk stay in the wild and take their chances with the cougars.Whenever human/wildlife conflicts occur, the wildlife always loses.

It is only made worse by dreamy-eyed urbanites whose knowledge of wildlife comes from Disney movies.

And finally, on the TNT’s comment page, Mcgyver summarizes:
It’s not sportsmanlike but that doesn’t mean it’s not necessary.
True, that.
The elk are there. They’re not wanted. They’ve become a hazard to highway travel. The guy’s farm is not going to go away (and that’s a good thing, trust me, especially if it’s run well).
Hunters — even when it may not seem very sporting — can take care of the problem, for free, and the elk meat will not be wasted.
I hate to get all preachy, but a lot of those posters could use a good dose of that book, How Sportsmen Saved The World, that I’ve been going on and on about here and in the January issue.
The harried reporter may not have been able to fold larger wildlife management concepts into his piece, but the book outlines the reasoning behind what game officials are trying to do.
It’s not always pretty, of course. There will be blood when you shoot things. And hunters will take a black eye over this (and as we devour each other).
Writes Rob on page 9 of a now-double-digit thread on Hunting-Washington:
So there has been a lot of discussion on if the archers should have done what they did, if it was ethical, if it should be condemned, etc.

I guess my comment would be, it all does not matter.  Right or Wrong does not matter, perception matters.  Conducting a circle hunt by a highway with bows that corners an elk herd in a fenced area along with livestock looks crappy.  What happened?  Hunters (all of us) look bad, and the state closes the season with a snarky comment about “unsportsmanlike” “hunters”.  Validating the anti hunter viewpoint.

My gut tells me we have not seen the last of this.  It will have far reaching consequences in terms of new, more complex regulations, reduced hunting opportunities, and lowered public opinions of all hunters.  The actions of a handful will impact us all.  Image and reputation are important.

But adds justhunting on Go Skagit:

I am an archery hunter and I was at the field on Saturday.  I hunted the outskirts of the field, with eight arrows in my quiver.  The only arrow I fired was the one that dispatched the wounded elk, that was next to highway 20 (mind you it was already riddled with four seperate arrows).  It was a disgusting sight for any true-ethical archery hunter to see. I did not want to see the animal suffer needlessly any longer, and neither did the wildlife officer who asked me distpatch said animal.  I recieved no meat, no antlers, and no personal gain.  Just a sincere “thank you” from the wildlife officer, and I left the scene a very disgusted archery hunter.

We’ve got a call in to Capt. Bill Hebner of WDFW’s North Puget Sound detachment for more, but in the meanwhile, the agency is receiving quite a bit of feedback on the matter, as you can imagine. In addition to the rule change notice closing the elk hunt as of yesterday, they’re also sending out this email:

Thank you for contacting the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife regarding the article below that you pasted in the email.  This was actually a general season hunt opened up to the public to reduce the elk herd numbers in this area of the Skagit Valley.  Below I am posting the message from our Wildlife Program Manager, her name is Lora Leschner and she had this to say about the entire incident;

“We at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) share your distress over the recent archery hunt activity in that area.  Although an archery elk hunt was authorized in the area to control elk damage—and thus was technically legal—the hunting behavior was unsportsmanlike.  We at WDFW—along with the vast majority of hunters—support ethical and orderly hunting practices. Unfortunately, this hunt fell far short of those standards.

As a result of the incident, WDFW has closed the archery elk hunt in the area (Elk Damage Unit 4941), effective immediately. WDFW officers are warning hunters that the season is closed.

Elk damage has been, and will continue to be, a community problem in this area.  WDFW wildlife managers made an effort to structure this year’s elk hunting season to reduce damage. The hunter conduct that resulted was not anticipated, and is not condoned by the department.

While there will be a continuing need to address elk damage by reducing the number of elk in the area, we plan to conduct future elk damage hunts through a more-controlled permit system, probably limited to graduates of our Master Hunter Program.  Master Hunters have advanced hunt training aimed at avoiding a situation such as the one that recently occurred along State Route 20.”

If you have any further comments or questions please feel free to contact the Region 4 Wildlife Program at 425-775-1311.

Thank you,

Cody
Wildlife Program Olympia

Top 10 Hunt, Fish Trips Of The ’00s

December 28, 2009

It was epic. Salmon bit off the canoe’s starboard side, off its port side, off the bow, off the stern.

Pinks, pinks, pinks. Surging, jumping, thrashing.

Pinks!

The humpers bit for hours.

They bit every chunk of glitzy bent metal Bell and I threw at them.

We were tapped into the mother school and could do no wrong on the Snohomish River north of Seattle that day in late summer 2001 when the world was still (reasonably) sane.

And it was among the 10 best fishing and hunting trips I’ve gone on this decade.

THE EDITOR WITH A SNOHUMPISH PINK. (ERIC BELL)

Other floats for pinkos on the river and Puget Sound during 2001 as well as 2003’s runs could easily fill out a top-10 list for yours truly.

Indeed, if it were up to me, I’d call the 2000s (officially known as the “International Decade for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World”), the Decade Of The Pink for how well they’ve returned to Puget Sound rivers, culminating in Humpfest 2009.

And then there were their sizes — Avis’s Humpzilla at one end of the decade, Adam Stewart’s 15.4-pound state record at the other. Heck, those weren’t pinks, they were Pinkosaurus Rexes!

But let’s throw some variety into this exercise, shall we? With the 2010s dead ahead, here’s one last glance back at nine other top fishing and hunting trips from the 2000s:

* EARLY 2000S, A RAINY, BLUSTERY DAY in the flooded Snoqualmie Valley that started out slowly for Bell, Olenik and I. We were barely concealed along a fence row at the very back end of “The Prison Farm,” an honor dairy farm for low-risk inmates from the jail at Monroe. Right at shooting light, a flock of teal came in and great shot that I am, I managed to bag one.

It helped that Olenik had shot it first and slowed it down.

But things improved, especially after Bell, in a colossal lapse of judgment, left early to go home to the Missus.

As the weather worsened, huge flocks of wigeons and mallards winged their way up the valley. Olenik’s calling turned many, and as the whoosh of wings lowered and lowered over our menagerie of decoys, we popped out from behind grass and sticks leaning against the fence.

So many birds came in that day that we almost ran out of shells before finally limiting and pushing overstuffed decoy bags back through flooded fields to our rigs.

* I’D SEEN WHAT A GOOD SILVER BITE could be like in the saltwater while fishing the Everett Coho Derby at Possession Point earlier in the 2000s, but those rod-yanking antics were nothing compared to what I experienced out at the CR Buoy with one of my writers last August.

There I was, wishing I’d taken the Bonine well before jetting out of the mouth of the Columbia River and grimly focusing on the stump of a volcano on the eastern horizon to ward off seasickness, but “the damned rods kept going off.”

Primarily it was the back two, both still running Divers, (Fish) Flashes and cut-plugs. The one straight out the back on my side would suddenly have a seizure, then the one on the other side would shiver. A 13- or 14-pounder grabbed my bait, circled the boat, tangling three lines, and when I set the line back out after bonking the fish, I managed to tangle up two more lines.

It was chaos, but that’s coho fishing, said (Andy) Schneider, aka AndyCoho — tangles, madness and lots of bites. Indeed, my second keeper was one of three fish that bit all at once and sent us into another frenzy.

(ANDY SCHNEIDER)

One of the trio was on the rod of (an) angler whose name won’t be revealed. It bit right next to the boat. He lost it. He lost another at the net when the barbless hooks pulled out of the fish’s mouth. He leapt at his rod like a jumping jack only to be just a second too late many times. It became almost comical, and it was clear that while the Fish Gods were up against a pretty hot coho bite, they had some tricks up their sleeves for those who would flaunt the banana ban.

* THE SUMMER OF 2006 WAS one of the funnest and busiest of my life. Amy and I got hitched in June on the Oregon Coast, we toured Crater Lake and Germany, and the plan for our August honeymoon was a weeklong horseback trek across the Pasayten Wilderness that I knew would take me to many mountain lakes brimming with trout (oh, and fulfill lifelong dreams for both of us).

And then the Tripod Fire blew up in Okanogan County. It pulled our outfitter away to forest fire duty and put our trip on indefinite hold.

We pouted about it a bit, but ended up doing an overnighter up to Minotaur Lake in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness north of Stevens Pass. The fishing there wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, but it was worth getting into the heights (though I don’t think I’ll ever get Amy to hike back up that trail again!)

About a week later we found ourselves way up in the sky again — on board a jet to Sitka to fish for half a week with Amy’s grandfather and one of his friends in the area. The day after we landed, we loaded the gent’s boat down with fuel, food, shrimp and crab pots, and all of our gear for two nights at a U.S. Forest Service cabin halfway back to Juneau.

MOSER ISLAND CABIN. (USFS)

I thought I had left this world once when I camped alone at Roosevelt Grove of Cedars in extreme Northeast Washington — signs warned hunters that not only were grizzly bears in the area, but so were caribou. CARIBOU! — but Moser Island, tucked up in Hoonah Sound was out of the solar system to me.

Our cabin’s log recorded bears on the beach (Ed’s friend’s dog growled at the cabin’s door at odd intervals in the night), mountains and trees towered over us, and the Dungies were huge — HUGE, like dinner plates for a king.

The fishing was so-so — we didn’t haul in any barn-door halibut like Ed and his friend had the year before — but what made the trip all the more memorable was the shrimping. Ed’s friend’s devotion to shrimp made Forrest Gump’s buddy Bubba look like a bush leaguer.

We literally hauled four garbage cans — the big 55-gallon jobbies — worth of spot and coonstripe shrimp out of 300- and 400-foot-deep waters, and believe it or not, peeled three-fourths of them! I wore my left thumbnail down to the quick.

* BELL AND I WERE HUNTING NORTHEAST of Mt. Spokane, hard up against the Idaho border, on a mix of DNR and private land during the late season one November. And while we did see deer — and my first cow moose — the really cool thing was the place we were staying at and the land itself.

A friend of ours, Olenik, used to seasonally work for the Forest Service up there, and he made friends with coworkers. One of those guys — Ken Bancroft, now deceased — built his place by hand, as I recall, and it had tons of exposed woodwork and a self-composting toilet you threw cedar chips into after pooping.

But what made it particularly cool was that it was literally built into rock that’s a minimum of a third of a billion years old — some of the oldest in Washington.

Officially, it’s the Newman Lake Gneiss, dark but sparkly and riven with laminations. Cretaceous stuff, über-alt rock, right there in the living room next to the TV.

It not only backed part of Bancroft’s house, but we wandered over it as we coursed the woods and rounded knobs in hopes of shooting Bambi. We occupied but the barest, most infintesimal flicker of a moment in that rock’s extraordinarily long time on this planet. Lord only knows how many glaciers have tried their best to shave it down, how many rainstorms have tried to wear it away, what sort of dinosaurs must have grazed upon it.

I can’t say that I’ve ever hunted cooler terrain.

* BUT I HAD A SLIGHTLY MORE SUCCESSFUL whitetail hunt on even older rocks, like Precambrian, billion-year-old material, several years later.

It was early November 2006, and Dad and my modus operandi was a whole lot different than what we’d done just weeks before for muleys. Armed with antlers for rattling and wearing brand-new insulated boots trailing a cotton swab doused in doe-in-estrus scent, I hunkered in Westside-dense woods. Bell and Olenik alleged they’d been successful here other times.

Dad was hunting with me, but was a ways off. I had found an area that seemed pretty bucky — rubs, beds, poop, etc. — so I sat down, waited and rattled. And rattled and waited.

Then waited and rattled some more.

There was a moment when I could hear something 40 yards or so off through thick brush. Nothing ever showed itself in that direction, but my rattling did bring in a coyote from the opposite side, which I texted Dad about.

"YO, YER RADIO BROKE? NO DEER, RATTLED IN A COYOTE." (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The afternoon wore on. The sun clouded over. Despite the boots, my toes began to get cold. So did my butt. The woods were barren.

Typical Walgamott luck: Rattling’s never this unproductive in all those other articles and TV shows, I thought. Maybe it was time to head back to Kelly’s bar and grill down in Newport, or the hotel to see how other hunters had done.

I gave it another hour, and whether my now-half-hearted rattling actually did the trick or not, a gray buck suddenly appeared 20 yards away to my left. He was moving through and I figured I had one chance to slow him down, so I banged the antlers. He stopped, turned and came towards me. There was nothing but fur in the scope, but I dropped him with a shot to the neck.

I had felt kinda silly with that special hot-doe mojo, muley rack and oversized boots, like an Alabama Bubba or something, but it had all worked.

We dragged the small 4×5 out over the snow to the truck and hung it at the Golden Spur to clean.

* MUST’VE BEEN THE WINTER BEFORE DUSTY DIED. Mr. Routh, one of his friends and I were down at the Lincoln Creek Hunt Club, sitting in a waterfowl blind on a flooded field.

We had a jug of Admiral Nelson, and it must’ve done something to our calling because the ducks sure were uncooperative and the geese stayed high.

In retrospect, that was probably a good thing.

But it was only later, after Dusty had a heart attack while covering a high school basketball game out in Forks (probably got a wink from one of the cheerleaders), that I realized how stupid I’d been to not take him up on more of his invites.

Heck of a fun guy to get into the outdoors with.

* I’M PRETTY SHORT AND scrawny — I played nose-tackle in junior varsity football with rolled eyes — so when it took the guy I was sitting next to over an hour and a half to bring an oversize sturgeon to the boat, I found myself fervently hoping to only catch a shaker as we set up again below Bonneville Dam in September 2004.

Yeah, I know, not very manly, but the angler, a Cabela’s PR man over 6 feet tall and around 200 pounds, was literally shaking and spent after battling that 10-foot-long beast for over 4 miles down the Columbia. He could barely hold up his beer can.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Heck, with my spaghetti arms, I had visions of being yanked over the side of the boat and disappearing into the tailrace of the dam by Leviathan. I think that if our guide, Louis McMinds, had looked away for a second, I might have rubbed some eau de armpit on the shad bait as a repellent.

An 8-footer bit instead.

* THE SPRING OF 2002 WAS WHEN we “discovered” bass.

The green meanies were all over the place — not just the big-name lakes.

Washington and Sammamish and Spanaway and Stevens get the ink for their stellar fisheries, but not so well known is that every little podunk pond the Great Glacier left behind in Pugetropolis has bass, and how.

Chain Lake, an unremarkable 23-acre bog north of Monroe, has bass.

Lake Ballinger, partially ringed by green fairways, has the green fish.

Bosworth? Bass. Cottage? Can do. Wagner? Woo yeah, buddy.

Bell and I hit a mess of them. I hit a mess of them.

It was fantastic. We didn’t have to get up super early. There was barely any competition. We could hit a couple three lakes in a day. We didn’t have to buy a glittery boat (in fact, that pink-salmon-slamming canoe worked just as well on largies). Our rods and reels were really for trout and steelhead. We caught sweet bass.

Yeah, we were pestering the fish on their beds. Yeah, some might consider it unethical (true, I wouldn’t pester salmon or steelhead on their beds).

Yeah, it was a hell of a lot of fun, and one that spawned one of my favorite articles for F&H News: The anti-basser’s guide to bass fishing.

All this bassing culminated in two noteworthy hook-ups on Storm Lake.

One day while cruising its woody northeastern shoreline, I spied a great behemoth of a Mama Bass, she saw me, we eyed each other for three hours, she saw everything in my tackle box. Bell and I came back and I hooked her — briefly.

And then I came back alone and … hooked myself. For some reason, old netting hung in a tree near the bass’s bed, and somehow my lure got tangled in it, and for some reason my thumb got tangled in the hook which was tangled in the net. Good thing I had the pliers handy, otherwise I might still be there.

Never did hook her again, but the lily pads at the lake’s north end later yielded a pretty good-sized bass.

The next state record is out there, and somebody fishing a backwoods pond in Skagit, Snohomish, Thurston or Lewis county in a jonboat or canoe or rowboat will catch and report her this decade.

* A FLOCK OF GRAY BIRDS erupted from the trees on top of Rainy Pass off Highway 2 and dove into the old growth below. What in the heck are those, I wondered.

They didn’t glide like blue grouse. In fact, they started flapping and gaining elevation and flew away over the ridge!

They were too big to be camp robbers, and for that matter, too small to be wildly lost Himalayan snowcocks or German auerhahns.

In all my time in the highlands, I hadn’t seen anything like them. But they looked tasty.

Turns out they were bandtailed pigeons, among the Northwest’s wildlife comeback stories. Once nearly shot out of existence, strict protections have helped bring the species back. Washington’s hunt reopened in 2002 with a narrow season — just eight days in mid-September — and low bag limit of just two.

Bell and I were among the first several hundred or so hunters to get the special permit required to hunt the birds, and it led us to the mountains high above Swede Heaven and Darrington.

We bumped up and down Siegelson Ridge, scoured the clearcuts above the North Fork Stillaguamish’s South, Middle and North branches for the flighty buggers. We’d climb up to the knife-sharp ridgelines and set up for the every-half-hour passage of a flock … usually just out of range.

SIEGELSON RIDGE. (ERIC BELL)

The pigeons — the breast meat is red and slightly bigger than a doves — were there to feed on cascara and other ripening berries before winging their way south for the winter. With an ocean of peaks and meadows, they didn’t have to stick to one place.

But we found that there was one particular old snag they really liked. It was leaning out over the void and you had to be careful when you shot because if you only wounded a bird, it would glide into a bowl 1,000 feet below. Bigfoot country.

All in all, it was a pretty good way to enjoy the outdoors, and an example of how all is not going away when it comes to fishing and hunting rights.

I have to admit to not having gone bandtail hunting for several years now, but Bell has continued, either driving up to Siegelson or hiking into DNR land near his home.

And on more than one occasion, he’s come back home empty-handed only to find a flock on his feeder in the backyard.

Big New January Issue Out!

December 28, 2009

It’s the coldest month of the year, but our big January issue comes out with guns blazing and lines arcing.

While we drill through the ice for rainbows and crappie, and head afield for last-quack waterfowl blasts, we cast an eye towards spring with part I in our four-part series on bear hunting.

The 140-page issue also contains an excerpt from Don Thomas’s new How Sportsmen Saved The World, how an elk hunter saved a herd of starving, abandoned horses and the latest roundup of game scofflaws and poachers whose names shall be mud.

(MAIN IMAGE: BUZZ RAMSEY; INSET IMAGE: DAVE GRAYBILL)

For steelheaders, we map out the Sol Duc, where the rewards can be worth the risk of a treacherous river, and the Nestucca, which, reports Andy Schneider, can be a plugger’s or side-drifter’s paradise. And John Patton, a punchcard-filling Olympia angler, details the 15 “little things” that keep him in fillets year-round.

While the Northwest will never be known for ice fishing, we do have our share of grumpy old men who enjoy the sport on a wide range of lakes from Okanogan County to Spokane to Prineville to Lakeview, as Terry Otto, Jason Brooks and Leroy Ledeboer reveal.

If you’d rather fish in warmer environs, Larry Ellis’s “How the ocean made a better rainbow trout fishery” details well-stocked Garrison Lake, right next to the Pacific.

He also concludes part 2 in his series on that strange world known as bobcat hunting.

Tim Bush and Buzz Ramsey’s columns cover steelheading while Otto’s Stumptown examines  panfishing around Portland. Mark Veary of Hillsboro reveals the amazing variety of Northwest species that can be caught from a kayak while Fly Guy Chester Allen hits the beach for Puget Sound’s best winter trout fishery. Wil Askew fesses up to being a former Willamette Valley goose hunting virgin and Dave Workman has advice for keeping yer shooting eye sharp.

We’ve also got reader photos, big-game tag deadlines for over a half-dozen Western states and some incredibly odd factoids about black bears. Those critters are freaks — and not just your run-of-the-mill circus-grade freaks, but F-R-E-A-K-S.

That and more is inside the January issue of Northwest Sportsman, the biggest, baddest, localest fishing and hunting magazine in Washington and Oregon.

Pick it up on Auto Trader racks at convenience stores, Walmarts, Fred Meyers and more locations today!

Winged Wanderers

December 28, 2009

EUGENE—The past few seasons have seen the Oregon Ducks travel to Pasadena, Pullman and West Lafayette, Ind., but another species of Oregon duck has gone even further afield.

Mallards banded in the Beaver State have shown up in at least 31 U.S. states, six Canadian provinces or territories, and one Mexican state — everywhere from Nome to Natchez to New Jersey.

(ODFW)

Those are, of course, rare fowl. The vast majority of the 15,507 banded drakes and hens harvested and reported since 1990 have been taken along the Pacific Flyway, in Oregon, Washington and California, as this recently produced map from the state Department of Fish & Wildlife shows.

According to Brandon Reishus, an assistant game bird biologist in Salem, a total of 91,344 mallards have been banded by ODFW as part of annual population monitoring to set bag limits, as well as testing for avian influenza. As many as 10,000 a year have been captured each summer at wildlife areas across Oregon, including Sauvie, Ladd Marsh, Fern Ridge, Klamath and Summer Lake.

While the map’s main usefulness is to show Oregon ducks’ potential range, Reishus does have some tidbits. He calls the Sacramento Valley “a major wintering area for birds from Eastern Oregon,” while Eastern Washington hosts many ducks produced at Ladd Marsh, south of La Grande. And though the map isn’t set up to account for long-term trends, Reishus suspects fewer mallards are using the northern Columbia Basin than were in the 1980s based on population counts.

But as for those far-flying fowl, he has a theory.

“Presumably what could happen is a mallard drake winters in Oregon, pairs up with a hen and she drags him to Alberta or Saskatchewan. And then he … hooks up with other birds and ends up in Arkansas or the East Coast.” –Andy Walgamott

NWS’ OR Boys Find Xmas Chrome, Cats

December 28, 2009

One hit the North Coast, one the South — and the fins and fur flew.

Andy Schneider, our ace Northwest Oregon salmon-steelhead angler/writer, got into both brands of chrome while fishing the day after Christmas while Wil Askew, our Salem-based hunting writer, was on the scent of a very unique bobcat hunt on Christmas Eve.

Here’s Andy’s story:

Tom VanderPlaat and John Bond joined me today on a Oregon North Coast river trying to find some Winter Steelhead….and that we did!

The Steelhead bite started out great this morning, with a fish thrashing at the end of a plug rod well before we were prepared for any such ‘inconvenience’ as a fish. The bite was pretty consistent till about 11am then it just died?

While many boats passed us Side Drifting today, I just couldn’t get motivated to move around that much while bundled up for that brisk East Wind. So we took the ‘easy route’ and back trolling plugs today and….it worked!

The only other problem with catching Chinook in late December is that it’s awfully tough on Steelhead gear…we put those ‘Classic Glass’ Fenwick’s to work today!

CHINOOK AS BRIGHT AS THE CHROME ON SANTA'S SLEIGH. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

There is something very satisfying about a multi-species trip, throw in some good company with good friends in the boat and it turns into a fantastic day. Probably my last fishing trip of 2009 and I couldn’t be happier!

Happy New Year to All!!!

As for Wil, he posted some incredible shots of the most gung-ho beagle of all-time, a bobcat hound that literally had to be cut out of the hollow log it chased the cat into. Check ’em out over on ifish.

Oregon’s New Boating Permit

December 28, 2009

Confused about Oregon’s new Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Permit?

Bill Monroe of The Oregonian has a ton of details on who must buy the sticker.

Smelt Subject Of Jan. 6 Meeting

December 24, 2009

(WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has scheduled a public meeting Wednesday, Jan. 6 in Kelso to discuss prospects for smelt fisheries on the Cowlitz River and other tributaries to the Columbia River in 2010.
The meeting will be held from 6-8 p.m. on the third floor of the Cowlitz County Administration Building at 207 4th Ave. N. in Kelso.
As in recent years, state fishery managers are predicting low returns of Pacific smelt in 2010.  In addition, NOAA Fisheries has proposed listing the species as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).  A final decision on the proposed listing is expected in March.
“Fishery managers are thinking long and hard about what kind of smelt fishery – if any – makes sense in light of the proposed ESA listing,” said Bill Tweit, WDFW Columbia River policy leader.  “Before we begin making those decisions, we’d like to hear what the public has to say.”
Earlier this month, representatives of WDFW and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife agreed on restrictive sport and commercial smelt-fishing seasons for the Columbia River, but delayed decisions about the Cowlitz River and other tributaries.
Sport fishing for smelt on the mainstem Columbia River will be open seven days per week starting Jan. 1, although anglers catch very few fish there.  The ongoing commercial fishery will be restricted to Mondays and Thursdays starting Jan. 1 through March 31.
Columbia River smelt are part of a designated West Coast population that extends from the Mad River in northern California to northern British Columbia.  A scientific review by NOAA Fisheries found that this stock is declining throughout its range, mostly due to changes in ocean conditions.

Disco Derby Cancelled

December 24, 2009

(PRESS RELEASE)

February 2010 Gardiner Salmon Derby Canceled
>
> Gardiner, WA – December 18, 2009 – The February 2010 salmon derby on
> Discovery Bay has been canceled, due to an unresolved conflict over
rights
> to the derby. Since 1973, a core group of Gardiner residents ran this
> fundraising event each Presidents Weekend. Early derbies focused on
the
> Gardiner boat ramp, but they expanded in recent years to additional
ramps
> in
> Port Townsend and Sequim. In 2009, over 800 tickets were sold, and
over
> $16,500 in prizes were awarded. Derby proceeds were contributed to
> Gardiner’s local fire department – over $50,000 since 2006.
>
> The conflict is over who has the right to run future derbies. In 2009,
> Gardiner residents petitioned to change their emergency response
district,
> leaving Jefferson County Fire District #5 in September to join Clallam
> County Fire District #3, with its new fire station in nearby Blyn.
> (Gardiner
> remains part of Jefferson County.) Gardiner volunteers had expected to
> continue running the annual salmon derby, but this was contested by
> Jefferson County Fire District #5. The matter remained unresolved in
late
> December, so the Gardiner derby committee has been forced to cancel
the
> 2010
> event.
>
> Dan Tatum, a major figure in all recent derbies, is disappointed. “We
> apologize to all our loyal supporters that we couldn’t resolve this
> situation. And we apologize to the volunteers who already did so much
work
> this year. We should have dealt with this last summer, but we never
> expected
> the problem because the derby association was a local organization
> independent of the fire district.”
>
> Local restaurants, merchants, and hotels will no doubt miss the
off-season
> traffic normally generated by the event. But Tatum thinks the biggest
> impact
> will be in Gardiner. “It just won’t be the same here without our
derby.
> The
> same neighbors and local businesses have been coming together each
year.
> We
> drew families of participants from all over the region. The tradition
> spans
> three generations. It’s a waste.” When asked if a derby would be held
in
> 2011, Tatum shrugged. “Who knows? Running a derby takes a huge amount
of
> volunteer work and personal contact. Legal headaches have made that
> impossible.”
>
> The derby had been a feature of the Northwest Marine Trade
Association’s
> annual Northwest Salmon Derby Series. Since other regional derbies
have
> expressed interest in taking over the Presidents Day slot, the future
of
> any
> Discovery Bay derby may be moot. Whatever happens, competitive
Blackmouth
> anglers in 2010 will have to be satisfied by impromptu fishing
contests at

Guide/NWS Pen Finds Post-storm Steelies In The Chetco

December 23, 2009

(WILD RIVERS FISHING PRESS RELEASE)

Following two big winter storms during the second half of December, steelhead fishing is heating up on Oregon’s Chetco River, already producing the kind of results normally seen during peak season.

“The Chetco dropped back into shape today after blowing out Sunday, and there were fish spread out throughout the lower river,” guide Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing said Wednesday. “We got bites in just about every good run, and hooked five fish. The biggest one was 17 pounds.”
Fishing was also good Friday before the river blew out over the weekend.
“Since a good push of fish arrived last week, there should be decent numbers of steelhead clear up to the South Fork by now,” Martin said.
More than half of the catch so far has been wild fish, an indication of a strong run this season.
“The best fishing has been from the Piling Hole down, but it’s worthwhile to drift from Ice Box or even higher,” Martin said.
With relatively high water Wednesday, Martin’s clients side-drifted the edges of the river.
“We used sploosh balls combined with five-shot slinkies to get down quickly, and used slightly larger-than-normal roe clusters,” Martin said. “All the strikes came on eggs cured in Pautzke’s natural-colored BorxOFire.”
Steelhead fishing typically peaks in late January or early February on the Chetco, so anglers appear to be in store for a great season, Martin said.
The steelhead are averaging a solid 8 to 12 pounds, with fish in the high teens already showing up.
For current reports, check out www.wildriversfishing.com or call (206) 388-8988.

NSIA Issues Statement On Sulfite Egg Cure Study

December 23, 2009

(NORTHWEST SPORTFISHING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION PRESS RELEASE)

On December 11th, 2009 representatives of NSIA Board, staff, scientists and members who manufacture bait cure or cured products received a briefing from ODFW staff regarding the effects of sodium sulfite in bait cures on captive populations of juvenile salmonids and trout.

The study concluded that cures with higher concentrations of sodium sulfite fed to fish in hatchery pens created various levels of mortality.  ODFW staff did not identify this issue as a substantive conservation issue and were clear that the study did not provide information as to the population effects.  Initial conversations indicated that this was not likely a crises warranting immediate regulatory action but that we may want to consider an outreach and education program that shares the results of the study for appropriate industry response.

In the meantime, the Board and Staff of NSIA are working to inform their manufacturers and members of the results of the study.  Many of NSIA’s manufacturers have indicated they will voluntarily terminate their use of sodium sulfites until further studies can determine if the effects can be replicated outside captive populations. Various NSIA retailers and manufacturers are also working on education pieces for the angling public as well. To be clear, the study has not undergone necessary peer review, was not conducted in a representative environment and has not been replicated. Still, NSIA understands the concern and is meeting those concerns head-on. NSIA’s Board recognizes that our position to eliminate sulfites pending further study will likely result in the closure of some sport fishing related businesses.  The NSIA has long supported and been champions for the highest standards of conservation related to our fishery resources. As is consistent with our guiding principles and values, we have elected to take this action in NSIA’s continuing effort to put the fish first.

We trust that members of the public and conservation community will appreciate the promptness of the NSIA’s response and the level of action embraced to address these preliminary findings.

Whidbey Hunt Ban Heads To Court

December 23, 2009

Waterfowlers will have their day in court when a suit over the ban on shooting at Deer Lagoon on southwest Whidbey Island is heard on New Year’s Eve.

According to The Whidbey Examiner, the Washington Waterfowl Association and a local resident have sued the county, claiming the  commissioners’ decision earlier this fall was “abitrary and capricious.”

Writer Justin Burnett reports, “It also claims that the commissioners based their decision on hearsay, having no direct evidence that hunting has ever posed a danger to people, pets or property.”

Adds a South Whidbey Record article picked up by the Seattle PI:

The lawsuit says county commissioners adopted the restrictions on shooting at Deer Lagoon — previously a popular waterfowl hunting spot — without conducting ballistic studies that would support the ban.

The suit also says the county sheriff’s office has no records that birdshot has ever jeopardized people, domestic animals or property near Deer Lagoon.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the ordinance that created the ban “invalid,” and demands that it be repealed.

Burnett’s article details more of the background on the issue, which we blogged about earlier this year.

Northwest OR Steelhead Report

December 23, 2009

With a little time off over the Christmas holidays, you may find steelhead on Oregon’s Northwest Coast.

Here’s an update on the action, courtesy of ODFW’s weekly Recreation Report:

ALSEA RIVER: Winter steelhead angling has been hit or miss so far this season. A few pulses of fish have moved in with anglers having some success throughout the river by boat and bank angling. This week is looking to have favorable fishing conditions.

CHRISTMAS 2008 CAME ONE DAY EARLY FOR CHAD PHELPS WHEN THIS ALSEA RIVER METALHEAD BIT. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

BIG CREEK: Winter steelhead fishing improved after recent rains. Fish are available throughout the stream below the hatchery. This small stream is a good bet during this part of the season. Bobber and jig, spinners, or baits drifted along the bottom all will produce fish.

GNAT CREEK: Winter steelhead fishing is improving as water levels have risen and temperatures warmed up. This is a good early season, small stream opportunity. There is good access near the hatchery. Look for pockets of holding water to find fish. Spinners often draw strikes in these areas. Bobber and jig or small baits drift fished will produce some fish also.

KILCHIS RIVER: Winter steelhead are being caught, particularly in the lower river. A few late chinook are also in the river, but many are close to spawning and should be released. Drift fishing is the most productive when flows are up. Side drifting or pulling plugs from boats has produced fish lately. Use bobber and eggs or shrimp in the deeper holes if targeting chinook.

KLASKANINE RIVER AND NORTH FORK KLASKANINE: A few early winter steelhead are available in the system. Fishing has improved as more fish enter the system and with better angling conditions. Good access is available near the hatchery on the North Fork. Use light gear and approach holes carefully to avoid spooking fish.

NECANICUM RIVER: A few early winter steelhead are available in the lower river. Fish will spread out more with better flows. Drift boaters should be able to float the river now. Bobber and jig or bait is very effective on this stream.

NEHALEM RIVER AND NORTH FORK NEHALEM RIVER: Good numbers of winter steelhead are moving into the north fork. Best fishing has been around the hatchery and the lower river, with some fish being caught in the mile or so just above the hatchery. The entire Nehalem Basin is closed to chinook angling for the remainder of 2009.

NESTUCCA RIVER AND THREE RIVERS: Steelhead angling is fair. More fish are moving into the system. Three Rivers is the best bet until the main Nestucca clears. Drift fishing on the bottom will probably be the most productive until flows recede. Plunking in the travel lanes on the main river is another option. A few early hatchery winter steelhead have been trapped and recycled from Cedar Creek Hatchery. Chinook angling in the river is slow. Fish the deeper holding water low in the system for best chances of hooking bright fish.

SALMON RIVER: Native winter steelhead typically return from December through March. Fair to good numbers of wild winter steelhead should return this season. Good fishing conditions are expected this coming week.

SILETZ RIVER: Winter steelhead angling has been slow to fair so far this season. A mixed bag of fish can be caught this time of year consisting of winter and summer steelhead and possibly a coho salmon. Angling from boat or bank can produce good catches on the right days. Good fishing conditions are expected for the coming week.

LAYTON THURLOW FIGHTS A WILD WINTER STEELHEAD ON THE UPPER SILETZ. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

SIUSLAW RIVER: Steelhead angling is slow to fair with catch rates being hit or miss. Recent rain events and a good weather forecast should make for favorable angling conditions for the coming week. Anglers should focus on the mid to lower river during the early part of the run.

TILLAMOOK BAY: Angling for sturgeon should be fair to good with increased river flows. Concentrate on the channel edges on the outgoing tides or the first part of the incoming, with sand shrimp the preferred bait.

TRASK RIVER: Steelhead angling is beginning to improve as a few more fish enter the river. Fall chinook are available, but angling is slow. Some bright fish are being caught, but many are dark and should be released. Construction of a new boat slide at the Cedar Creek launch site was completed earlier this fall and is ready for use. Contact ODFW in Tillamook at 503-842-2741 for details.

WILSON RIVER: Steelhead angling should be good when the river clears. Fish will move through and begin to spread out. Fish higher in the system first, then lower as the river drops and clears. Use brighter color lures and slightly larger baits while the river has some color. Look to the edges of the current for holding fish. Chinook angling is slow, but a few new fish moved into the system with recent rains. Many fish are close to spawning and should be released.

YAQUINA RIVER: Steelhead angling is slow to fair in Big Elk Creek but should start to pick up any time. River conditions should be good through the weekend.

What’s Fishin’ In Oregon, Christmas Edition

December 23, 2009

Ho-ho-ho, Merry Fishmas, Oregon anglers. Here’s what worth chasing around the state, according to ODFW’s weekly Recreation Report:

ICE FISHERMEN, PAIUTE RESERVOIR. (ODFW)

SOUTHWEST ZONE

  • Winter steelhead are starting to appear in many rivers and creeks, including the Chetco, Coos, Coquille, Rogue, Umpqua and Tenmile. Look for fishing to pick up after some good rain helps get fish moving.
  • Don’t overlook trout fishing in many area lakes and reservoirs. Fishing has been good in Emigrant Reservoir, Lake Selmac and several Coos County lakes.

WILLAMETTE ZONE

  • Large brood trout were released this week in several Willamette Valley ponds, including Junction City, Walter Wirth, Walling, Mt. Hood and West Salish. The fish are 4- and 5-year-old rainbow trout from ODFW’s Roaring River hatchery and range in size from 8 to 18 pounds.
  • The onset of warmer weather and precipitation should provide a boost to winter steelhead fishing in the lower Willamette, Clackamas and Sandy rivers.

CENTRAL ZONE

  • There still are good numbers of summer steelhead in the Deschutes River upstream of Maupin, and recent warm weather should make them more active.
  • While flows area still high, some bright winter steelhead should be showing up in the Hood River soon.

NORTHEAST ZONE

  • Steelhead fishing on the Umatilla River should be good this week as water temperatures have warmed and river flows have increased.

SOUTHEAST ZONE

  • Murray Reservoir: Ice fishing for trout is good. Fish are averaging 12 inches.
  • Thief Valley Reservoir: Fishing is good for 15-18 inch trout. Ice is on the reservoir but may not be thick enough. Use caution. The dirt road that follows the reservoir has been upgraded to provide good access to the Powder River below the dam. Public access only goes approximately 1,000 ft below the dam. Please respect private property and remain within 1,000 ft of the dam.
  • Unity Reservoir: Ice fishing for trout is good. Fish are 12-14 inches.

MARINE ZONE

  • Bottom fishing is good when ocean conditions permit. Ling cod should begin moving into shallower waters to spawn. Divers may find success spearing along rocky jetties for ling cod and black rockfish.
  • Fishing for cabezon reopens Jan. 1. Cabezon retention by sport boat anglers is not allowed effective Sept. 12 through Dec. 31 because the ocean boat harvest cap of 15.8 metric tons has been reached. Cabezon have a high survival rate when released carefully. Shore anglers, including shore-based divers, may continue to keep cabezon.
  • Recreational and commercial clam harvesting is closed on the north Oregon coast, from Clatsop Beach north of the Necanicum River to the Columbia River. Clam harvesting remains open south of the Necanicum river to the California border.
  • Mussel harvesting is open on the entire Oregon coast, from the mouth of the Columbia River to the California border. The consumption of whole, recreationally-harvested scallops is not recommended. However, coastal scallops are not affected by toxins when only the adductor muscle is eaten.
  • A series of minus tides begins Dec. 28 in the late afternoon. Each day the minus tide will be about 50 minutes later, requiring lanterns for harvesting clams. The series ends Jan. 4 around 9 p.m., depending on where you are on the Oregon coast.
  • Ocean crabbing opened Dec. 1. Crabbing in the ocean this time of year can be very productive, but also dangerous because of wind, sea and bar conditions.

New Year’s Razor Clam Digs A Go

December 23, 2009

I remember the last time I was on the Washington coast over New Year’s.

Well, actually I don’t remember it very well. A lot of champagne was consumed — perhaps a local record — that evening in Ocean Shores.

But I recall that at one point we were running around on the beach. Where there were clams. In the dark.

Which brings us to this press release from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife:

Clam diggers today got the go-ahead to proceed with a four-day razor-clam dig on Washington’s coastal beaches over the New Year’s holiday.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) gave final approval for the evening digs after a series of marine toxin tests confirmed the clams on all five coastal beaches were safe to eat.

Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks and Kalaloch beaches will be open for clam digging Thursday, Dec. 31 and Friday, Jan. 1.

All of those beaches, with the exception of Kalaloch, also will be open Saturday, Jan. 2. One beach – Twin Harbors – will open for a fourth evening of digging Sunday, Jan. 3.

All digs will be held on evening tides, with digging restricted to the hours between noon and midnight. The National Park Service approved the two-day dig at Kalaloch Beach, located within Olympic National Park, to coincide with those at the other beaches.

“New Year’s razor clam digs are very popular,” said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “We’re pleased that the tides allowed us to offer another holiday dig this year. For safety’s sake, make sure to check the weather and surf conditions before heading out.”

Olympic National Park Superintendent Karen Gustin also reinforced taking night dig safety precautions, especially at Kalaloch.

“Kalaloch is considerably more remote than the other clamming beaches, and visitors should be prepared for primitive conditions,” Gustin said. “With no streetlights or lighted buildings in the area, flashlights or lanterns are a necessity.”

Harvesters are allowed to take no more than 15 razor clams and must keep the first 15 they dig, regardless of size or condition. Each digger’s clams must be kept in a separate container.

A license is required for anyone age 15 or older. Any 2009 annual shellfish/seaweed license or combination fishing license is still valid. Another option is a razor-clam only license available in annual or three-day only versions. Descriptions of the various options are available on the WDFW website at fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov.

Additional digging dates in 2010 will be announced in January, following review of harvest data, Ayres said.

Digging days and tides during the opening are:

  • Thursday, Dec. 31 (6:16 p.m. -1.1 ft.) Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
  • Friday, Jan. 1 (7:01 p.m. -1.8 ft.) Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
  • Saturday, Jan. 2 (7:45 p.m. -1.6 ft.) Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks
  • Sunday, Jan. 3 (8:29 p.m. -1.2 ft.) Twin Harbors

Beaches scheduled to open are:

  • Long Beach , which extends from the Columbia River to Leadbetter Point.
  • Twin Harbors Beach , which extends from the mouth of Willapa Bay north to the south jetty at the mouth of Grays Harbor.
  • Copalis Beach , which extends from the Grays Harbor north jetty to the Copalis River, and includes the Copalis, Ocean Shores, Oyhut, Ocean City and Copalis areas.
  • Mocrocks Beach , which extends from the Copalis River to the southern boundary of the Quinault Reservation near the Moclips River, including Iron Springs, Roosevelt Beach, Pacific Beach and Moclips.
  • Kalaloch Beach , which extends from the South Beach Campground to Brown’s Point (just south of Beach Trail 3) in the Olympic National Park.

Advice From Angler Who Almost Bit It

December 22, 2009

“I am an idiot,” the subject line of madcapmag’s post today reads.

“I ignored my own advice and the promise that I made to myself that I’d never do anything stupid to catch some fish. Unfortunately, my lust for steel almost meant the end,” the angler writes.

The post, over on Gamefishin, details how madcapmag decided to cross a side channel of the Snoqualmie River near Tokul Creek, a stretch wadeable in the past, but not this morning.

And despite repeated mental warnings, slower going than usual, swifter water and even a near-dunking, Madcapmag continued across — and went down, losing two rods while being pushed downstream 15 yards or more.

“I would say I’m fairly safe. I do push some boundaries, but please, take my advice. No fish is EVER worth dying for. As soon as the first warning goes off, heed it. Don’t wait for another warning,” the angler writes.

The missing rods are described as a pair of 9-foot-6 St. Croix rods matched with Daiwa spinning and baitcasting reels.

It echoes something we ran in our November issue, an article by Jim McMillen about floating the Wynoochee River blind. He ran his drifter over two cottonwoods across the main river — and then hit the third dead on.

Update On Blue Mtns. Steelhead Management

December 22, 2009

Just got off the phone awhile ago with Glen Mendell, a state fisheries biologist in Southeast Washington. He says that in January anglers should watch for word on the dates and locations of one or two public meetings on the future of steelhead management in the Blue Mountains.

He’s rewriting harvest plans for rivers around the region — a process that began earlier this year but was sidelined as other brush fires came up — and says they will blend genetic plans required by the Feds with revisions to state hatchery practices.

“It may affect the number of fish coming back in the future,” Mendell admits.

But he claims that that’s only half the story.

While managers must address ESA requirements to recover listed wild stocks of steelhead, they must also balance that with angler harvest as part of mitigation for installation of the four lower Snake River dams.

“You can’t just do one or the other,” Mendell says.

The reason to watch this one closely is that the Ronde is one of the state’s best steelhead streams, putting out thousands upons thousands of summer-runs for fly guys, bait chuckers and plug pullers from September through April. Preliminary and final estimated catch stats from WDFW show that over 55,000 hatchery fish have been hauled ashore here over the past 13 seasons.

Season       Total catch
1996-97    3,378
1997-98    4,511
1998-99    1,440
1999-00    2,077
2000-01    5,755
2001-02    7,959
2002-03    5,842
2003-04    4,910
2004-05    4,661
2005-06    4,495
2006-07    3,062
2007-08    4,040
2008-09    3,343

It’s rather ironic, but part of the problem according to Mendell is too many hatchery steelhead returning the 600 or so miles from saltwater to the Ronde. Only 1,500 are required back to Cottonwood Creek, about 2 miles upstream from the Highway 129 bridge and Boggan’s Oasis, but far more than that have been coming back.

They may be spawning in the wild, diluting the genes of native steelhead in the Basin. And while the Ronde’s hatchery stock is known as “Wallowa” fish, they’re a composite of A- and B-runs from all over the Snake River basin, collected in the early 1980s in the lower river rather than in the Ronde itself.

GREG OLENIK OF WOODINVILLE, WASH., FIGHTS A GRANDE RONDE STEELHEAD, MARCH 2009. (AARON COLLINS)

AARON COLLINS OF LAKEVIEW, ORE., PREPARES TO NET A RONDE STEELHEAD. (AARON COLLINS)

IN THE NET! (AARON COLLINS)

SUCCESS! (AARON COLLINS)

Asked point blank if the plan rewrite means the end of steelheading on the Grande Ronde and other Blue Mountain streams, Mendell replies, “No, no. I don’t think there’s any chance we’re going to shut down all fishing.”

But he went on: “There are some places that may get shut down or limited, but we won’t know until the end of the process.”

That process includes the rewrite, as well as working with local tribes and the National Marine Fisheries Service, and then presenting options to the public, he says.

“Do you have any ideas?” Mendell asks of steelheaders and the public. “We do want to get public input. We’d like to have them attend.”

Springer Breakdown, River By River

December 22, 2009

Just to recap, here are the official preseason forecasts for most of the Columbia River system’s 2010 spring Chinook returns:

Columbia (above Bonneville): 470,000

Select (SAFE) Areas: 4,100

Cowlitz River*: 12,500

Kalama River*: 900

Lewis River*: 6,000

Willamette River: 62,700

Sandy River: 3,700

Wind River*: 14,000

Drano Lake*: 28,900

Klickitat River*: 4,500

Snake: 272,000

Yakima*: 16,600

Upper Columbia: 57,300

* Note: Predicted returns to the trib’s mouth.

Wind, Drano Springer Forecasts Out

December 22, 2009

Hot off the presses, the 2010 spring Chinook forecasts for Wind River, Drano Lake and other Bonneville Pool tributaries are out this morning.

In a nutshell, the predictions call for the largest run in 40 years back to Drano, biggest run in seven years back to the Wind and second largest in 33 years to the Klickitat, glorious news for plug-pulling, prawn-dragging Southwest Washington springer fiends.

Here’s the news, as forwarded by Joe Hymer of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission:

Washington Bonneville Pool Tributaries

Adult Spring Chinook

2009 Returns and 2010 Forecasts

Overall

  • The 2009 total return of adult spring Chinook to the Washington Bonneville Pool tributaries was slightly less than the pre-season forecasts.
  • A total of 18,500 adult spring Chinook were predicted to return to the Wind and Klickitat rivers plus Drano Lake in 2009; the actual return was 16,900.
  • The three year-old jack returns to all three tributaries were the highest or second highest since at least the 1970s.
  • There have been challenges in recent years forecasting returns to these areas and several new models were explored to predict Wind River and Drano Lake returns for 2010.
  • Unlike most upriver spring Chinook returns, the Klickitat River has more of a proven track record and the Yakama Nation used standard regression models for the 2010 forecast.
  • The 2010 pre-season forecast for all three areas is 47,400 adults.
  • The majority of the adults returning in 2010 are expected to be four year-olds.

Wind River

  • 2009 actual adult return was 4,650; pre-season forecast 6,900.
  • The 1,200 three year-old jacks that returned in 2009 were the second highest since at least 1970 (highest was 1,500 fish in 1971).
  • The 2010 pre-season forecast is 14,000 adults.
  • The 2010 return would be the largest since 2003 and over 300% greater than the recent five year average.

Drano Lake

  • 2009 actual adult return was 10,700; pre-season forecast 9,600.
  • The 2009 return was slightly greater than the recent ten year average.
  • The 3,150 three year-old jacks that returned in 2009 were the highest since at least 1970 and 470% greater than the previous high of 664 fish in 1976.
  • The 2010 pre-season forecast of 28,900 adults would be the largest since at least 1970 (largest to date is 17,600 adults in 2002).

Klickitat River (forecast provided by the Yakama Nation)

  • 2009 actual adult return was 1,500; pre-season forecast 2,000.
  • The 2009 return was slightly less than the recent five year average.
  • The 1,250 three year-old jacks that returned in 2009 were the second highest since at least 1977 (highest was 2,900 fish in 1979).
  • The 2010 pre-season forecast is 4,500 adults.
  • The 2010 return would be the second largest since at least 1977 (largest is 5,250 fish in 1989; however, that return included 4,100 four year-old Carson stock adults.  The 2010 return would be the largest return of Klickitat only fish).

Sound Crabbing To Close After Jan. 2

December 21, 2009

(WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE)

Puget Sound marine areas currently open for recreational winter crabbing will close at sunset Jan. 2, after which all sport crabbers licensed to fish for crab in the Sound will have 13 days to report their winter catch.

(The affected areas include 4, 5, 9, 10 and 13 in the western and central Strait of Juan de Fuca; Admiralty Inlet; Elliott Bay and the salt waters between Seattle and Bremerton; and Puget Sound south of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.)

State fishing rules require that all sport crabbers submit catch reports for the winter season to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) by Jan. 15 – even if they did not catch any crab. With the end of the winter crab season, which runs from Sept. 8 to Jan. 2, all Puget Sound marine areas will be closed to recreational crabbing until summer 2010.

Sport crabbers should be aware that if they fail to submit a winter catch report, they will receive a $10 fine when they purchase their 2010 crab endorsement, said Rich Childers, WDFW shellfish policy lead.

“The 2009 winter crab fishing season is the first one for which fines will be issued, but we’re hoping everyone turns in their catch reports and avoids the penalty altogether,” Childers said.

“By submitting their catch data, crabbers play an important role in managing the Puget Sound crab fishery,” he said. “We need to hear from everyone who was issued a winter catch card – including from those who didn’t catch any crab.”

To submit catch reports, crabbers may send their catch record card to WDFW by mail or file their report on a special webpage on the department’s licensing website. The mailing address is WDFW CRC Unit, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091. The online reporting system will be available Jan. 3-15 at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/wdfw/puget_sound_crab_catch.html .

Sport crabbers who file their catch reports by the Jan. 15 deadline will be entered in a drawing for one of 10 free combination fishing licenses, which allow the holder to fish for a variety of freshwater and saltwater species during the 2010-11 season.

SW Washington Fishing Report

December 21, 2009

(REPORT COURTESY JOE HYMER, PSMFC)

SALMON/STEELHEAD

Cowlitz River – No report on angling success is currently available.

Last week, Tacoma Power recovered 449 coho adults, 15 jacks, 244 winter-run steelhead and four sea-run cutthroat trout during five days of operation at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.   During the week Tacoma Power employees released 25 coho adults, one jack and one winter-run steelhead into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton, 84 coho adults and four jacks into the upper Cowlitz River at the Skate Creek Bridge in Packwood, 151 coho adults, seven jacks and one steelhead adult into the Cispus River above the mouth of Yellowjacket Creek, and 45 coho adults and three jacks into Lake Scanewa.

River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 8,800 cubic feet per second on Monday, December 14. Water visibility is eight feet.

Under permanent rules, December 31 is the last day to fish for hatchery steelhead on lower Mill Creek near the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery.

Kalama River – Anglers are catching some steelhead.

Lewis River – Bank anglers are still catching steelhead around the salmon hatchery but overall fishing was a little slower last week.

Under permanent rules, wild Chinook must be released on several rivers  beginning Jan. 1 including the mainstem Columbia from Buoy 10 upstream to the I-5 Bridge, Cowlitz (including Cispus),  Deep, Kalama, Lewis (including North Fork) rivers plus Lake Scanewa (Cowlitz Falls Reservoir).

Under permanent rules, Dec. 31 is the last day to fish for salmon on the mainstem Columbia from the I-5 Bridge to the Hwy. 395 Bridge at Pasco and the Elochoman, Tilton, and Washougal rivers plus Drano and Mayfield lakes.

A Compact/Joint State Hearing is tentatively scheduled for February 18 to consider the 2010 mainstem Columbia recreational spring salmon seasons.

STURGEON

Until further notice, recreational sturgeon fisheries will continue as scheduled under permanent regulations.  The Compact may consider modifications to the March-December 2010 mainstem Columbia sturgeon recreational fisheries at the February 18 hearing when additional Commission guidance is available.

Lower Columbia mainstem and its tributaries from the Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines – White sturgeon may be retained daily beginning Jan. 1.   Daily limit 1, minimum size 38” fork length and maximum size 54” fork length.

Lower Columbia mainstem and its tributaries from the Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam – Light effort and catches.  Remains open for white sturgeon retention Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays only.  Daily limit 1, minimum size 38” fork length and maximum size 54” fork length.

Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam – Sturgeon may be retained beginning Jan. 1.  In Bonneville Pool, the daily limit is 1 fish, minimum size 38” fork length and maximum 54” fork length.  From The Dalles Dam to McNary Dam, the daily limit is 1 fish, minimum size 43” fork length and maximum size 54” fork length.  Ending date for all pools depends upon when the individual guidelines are met.

TROUT

Lacamas Lake – Received 6,000 catchable size rainbows Dec. 14.

Icehouse Lake (near Bridge of the Gods) and Little Ash Lake (near Stevenson) – Depending upon the weather, both may be planted with catchable size rainbows this week.

Rowland Lake near Lyle – Planted with 53 brood stock rainbows averaging 8 pounds each and 13 weighing 4 pounds each on Dec. 14.

Guide A Target Of Nigerian-style Scam

December 21, 2009

Guides, beware. A scammer recently targeted a Tri-Cities-area salmon-steelhead guide, Bruce Hewitt, and the story was written up in the Tri-Cities Herald yesterday.

Upper Columbia Good For Steelhead: Guide

December 21, 2009

Guide Anton Jones of Darrell and Dad’s Guide Service in Chelan reports:

What’s hottest is drifting purple shrimp baited jigs under slip bobbers for Steelhead in the Upper Columbia.  The lower basin of Chelan and Rufus Woods Reservoir should continue to be productive.  Roses Lake is mostly covered with thin ice with seams of open water.

Shrimp baited Rock Dancer jigs by Mack’s Lures under a slip float is the ticket.  Now that the super cold has passed you really should get out there.  You may never see Steelhead Fishing this good again.  You’ve just got to check out this week’s pictures.

KEVIN AND KEITH STENNES OF PATEROS, GUIDE JERROD RIGGINS OF BREWSTER AND ANTON JONES OF CHELAN WITH UPPER COLUMBIA STEELHEAD (DARRELLANDDADS.COM)

KEITH STENNES' VERY NICE UPPER COLUMBIA STEELHEAD. (DARRELLANDDADS.COM)

And You Thought Egg Cures Were Bad For Salmonids

December 18, 2009

Columbia Basin Bulletin reports on a new study in the journal Ecological Applications that looks at “extrapolating sublethal pesticide exposures to the productivity of wild salmon populations.”

Even as work is done to improve habitat for runs of Northwest salmon that are listed under the Endangered Species Act, study coauthor David Baldwin at NOAA is quoted as saying, “However, not much research has been done to determine the importance of pollution as a limiting factor of ESA-listed species.”

Baldwin et al’s abstract says, “Our results indicate that short-term (i.e., four-day) exposures that are representative of seasonal pesticide use may be sufficient to reduce the growth and size at ocean entry of juvenile chinook.”

And as quoted by CBB, Baldwin adds, “The seasonal transport of pesticides to salmon habitats over successive years might slow the recovery of depressed populations.”

One extrapolation CBB points to shows that in 20 years, exposed Chinook would only increase 68 percent while those in pristine habitat would grow 523 percent.

Writes CBB:

The researchers argue that improving water quality conditions by reducing common pollutants could potentially increase the rate of recovery. Looking to the bigger picture, “This should help resource managers consider pesticides at the same biological scale as physical and biological stressors when prioritizing habitat restoration activities,” Baldwin said.

Why am I clogging up your brain bits with this? Pesticides are commonly used in the Northwest’s vast agricultural lands, from Puget Sound and Willamette Valley to the Columbia Basin and Snake River Plain, helping to produce things we all eat and drink.

More 2010 Salmon Forecasts

December 18, 2009

The Columbia Basin Bulletin today fleshes out more 2010 salmon forecasts for the Columbia Basin. To wit:

“The preliminary estimate for 2010 is for a return of 124,600 sockeye to the basin. That total would still be the seventh highest return dating back to at least 1980.”

“The Willamette spring chinook return to the Columbia is predicted to nudge up to 62,700 next year, including 45,900 adult hatchery fish. That would be up from 2009’s actual return of 39,410, which was the fourth lowest return since 1970.”

“The 2010 upriver summer chinook return is expected to surge to 88,800 adult fish, of which 67 percent are likely be 4-year-old fish. The 2009 jack return of 22,264 was 300 percent of the recent 10-year average.”

At the end of their story, CBB also provides some interesting stats on recreational and commercial salmon catches in 2009.

Bear Gall Bladder Buyers Sentenced

December 18, 2009

UPDATED 12-24 William Page of Ferry County, Wash., was sentenced Dec. 18 to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine for illegally buying bear gall bladders, and a Spokane grocer was also fined for buying them as well.

Page, a Curlew butcher, was convicted last month of purchasing six bladders, KPLU reported Dec. 17.

Mike Cenci, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Deputy Chief of Enforcement, says that his agency will also get to keep $1,800 they “made” during undercover sales of bladders to Page.

Cenci told radio reporter Doug Nadvornick that Page admitted to buying 35 gall bladders in 2007 and 2008.

The Associated Press also reports that Jason Yon, who owns Jax Foods, was fined $1,000 on Tuesday. Yon twice purchased two from undercover agents for $400 each time, Cenci says. 

A search warrant found two bladders in Yon’s freezer, he says, and adds that Yon is expected to be sentenced soon.

Bear gall bladders are believed by some to have aphrodisiacal powers. 

“We really rely on concerned sportsmen to get word of this,” Cenci adds. “They are our friends. They’re responsible for (initiating) 80 percent of our cases of trafficking.”

He says that the state’s five undercover wildlife detectives are getting better at sleuthing out bear gall bladder cases.

“We investigate three or four a year. It’s safe to say more is going on. If we were working on bear bladders full time, we could be chasing 12 a year,” Cenci says.

But WDFW faces long odds of catching everyone due to a lack of manpower. He says he only has 135 fish and wildlife officers to cover the state’s 68,000 square miles plus thousands of square miles of ocean.

He feels that a lot of gall bladders come from bears that are illegally hunted with hounds.

In related news, the January 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine features an article on the Asian wildlife trade — “An exposé of the world’s most notorious wildlife dealer, his special government friend, and his ambitious new plan.”

The story says, “For too long in too many countries (including the U.S.), placing the word ‘wildlife’ in front of the word ‘crime’ had diminished its seriousness,” and it details how a special agent — who’s also a lifelong hunter — brought Anson Wong, a wildlife smuggler described as the “catch of a lifetime,” to justice.

Upper NF Stilly To Close

December 17, 2009

Yesterday, we got word that the terminal zone on the Cascade River in Northwest Washington was closing later this week for steelheading. Today, another stretch of stream below a hatchery will be shut down early.

WDFW announced that 4 miles on the upper end of the North Fork Stillaguamish will be closed to fishing Dec. 21 through Jan. 31 due to low steelhead returns.

“The Whitehorse Hatchery facility is significantly below its egg-take requirements that are needed to achieve the release target of 140,000 hatchery steelhead smolts. The closure of the fishery in this area is necessary in order to collect sufficient fish to meet broodstock needs,” WDFW says.

The closure area stretches from the Whitehorse Bridge down to French Creek and includes the Whitehorse Hatchery effluent and Fortson Hole.

The Cascade closure goes into effect Dec. 19 through Jan. 31. It covers from the Rockport-Cascade River Road bridge downstream to the mouth. It’s also due to low returns.

WDFW also alerted anglers that the popular Sauk and Skagit wild steelhead spring catch-and-release seasons may be no-gos because of a low preseason forecast.

Inconvenient Truth, Take 2

December 17, 2009

Pop quiz – tell me what flaming nature lover is responsible for the following quote and actions:

1) “To lose the chance to see frigatebirds soaring in circles above the storm or a file of pelicans winging their way homeward across the crimson afterglow of the sunset, or a myriad of terns flashing in the bright light of midday as they hover in a shifting maze above the beach – why, the loss is like the loss of a gallery of the masterpieces of the artists of old time.”

2) Sent a U.S. Navy gunboat to protect fur seals from sealers on a remote island in the Bering Sea, the U.S. Marines to protect nesting shorebirds on an equally remote Pacific atoll.

3) Added three national parks, and expanded Yosemite.

4) Consolidated management of federal lands and set aside 148 million acres in 66 national forests across the country.

5) Created the country’s national wildlife refuge system, of which the first reserve was for pelicans.

I KNEW THAT Teddy Roosevelt was a big-time big-game hunter, of course, and remembered he had something to do with the Antiquities Act and national monuments, but I read with surprise his thoughts and other contributions to wildlife protection.

They’re detailed in Don Thomas’s excellent new book, How Sportsmen Saved the World, The Unsung Conservation Efforts of Hunters and Anglers, part of which is excerpted in our January issue.

(LYONS PRESS)

Thomas is a Montana/Alaska author who was written over a dozen other outdoor books, and pens articles for Gray’s Sporting Journal, Ducks Unlimited, Traditional Bowhunter and other mags.

Sportsmen, a concise 230-page read published in mid-November by Lyons Press, outlines the efforts of Roosevelt and other late 19th and early 20th century hunters, writers and legislators such as Aldo Leopold, George Bird Grinnell and John Fletcher Lacey who worked to shield America’s flocks and herds from rapacious destruction at the hands of market/commercial hunters, industrialization and western expansion, and to save habitat for all species at a time when few cared for wild things or ecosystems.

And yet today, you might never guess that people like you and I – through more than a century of ceaseless hellraising, organizing, fundraising, badgering, legislation and volunteer work – have done more than any other group to preserve this country’s and continent’s animal life and given it room to prosper.

No, you’d think our wildernesses, waters and wildlife magically sprung out of the ’60s or something – and that we’re the bad guys!

But, as Thomas writes, “When it comes to public policy, the record clearly shows who has actually stood up for wildlife in the past, and who continues to do so today.”

THOMAS’S BOOK DOESN’T GET into maudlin moralizing about why we hunt, or bother with tracing our heritage back to caveman days.

It’s Cliffs Notes for those of us who know part though not all of the story of how some of America’s wildlife was killed off in the 1800s but many other species were brought back from the brink.

Thomas writes pretty objectively, indeed noting we hunters sometimes have needed correction in our path. His thesis is “When wildlife advocates work together, wildlife wins; when they bicker, wildlife loses.”

But the book is also an inconvenient truth for anti-hunters, providing facts for when your mother-in-law or greenie cousin gives you guff on hunting.

Oh yeah? Well, tell me, Gretchen, how much bird, butterfly and bear habitat has PETA helped conserve? And who, again, remains at the forefront of managing America’s wildlife scientifically instead of emotionally?

That said, though Thomas does not dismiss the threat from anti-hunters, he writes that their “movement does not belong at the top of the list of threats.”

The real dangers are loss of habitat and places for new hunters to go afield, low recruitment of sportsmen, and a lack of understanding about hunting by the vast majority of the American people – thus the book.

“In the battle for the hearts and minds of the 80 percent of the public who remain uncommitted toward hunting, the best counter is a rational explanation of sportsmen’s true accomplishments on behalf of wildlife,” Thomas writes in the afterword.

JUST HALF OF THE SALIENT THOUGHTS I MARKED IN THOMAS'S BOOK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

His outline of our works makes me pretty goddamned proud to say I am a hunter, I am the nation’s – if not the world’s – true original conservationist, true nature lover.

Knowing this history, and the tenets of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (it’s in the book), strengthens our cause. Pick it up as a gift to yourself for Christmas, or put reading it on your list of New Year’s resolutions.

Hunter Orange Requirement Coming To OR?

December 17, 2009

Mark Freeman reports that the tragic death of an 15-year-old shot by his uncle while hunting earlier this month appears to be sparking the Oregon Fish & Wildlife Commission to consider implementing a hunter-orange requirement beginning in 2011.

“I’ve hunted in several other states where orange is required, and I’ve never understood why it wasn’t required here,” commissioner Dan Edge told Freeman, a reporter for the Medford Mail-Tribune, adding, “We should go through the public process to see what the hunters think about it. But it’s a pretty compelling argument: Almost everyone killed out there isn’t wearing hunter orange.”

Matthew Gretzon was the young man who was killed. Wearing camouflage, the Salem youth was shot in thick brush while elk hunting Dec. 6 south of Grand Ronde in Yamhill County.

Not everyone agrees with mandatory orange, including the head of the Oregon Hunters Association, Duane Dungannon.

“No one wants to belittle the tragedy, but at the same time, you need to keep some perspective,” Dungannon tells Freeman, adding, “All these incidents could be avoided by showing better judgment in the field. You can’t legislate common sense.”

Freeman points to limited data that indicates hunters who don’t wear camo are more likely to be shot than those who do, and that big game can’t see orange anyway. He says the commission will take comment on the issue in May.

Multnomah Sticker Shock

December 17, 2009

Allen Thomas of The Columbian details the surprise Washington-side springer anglers will be in for when they dip their boats into the Multnomah Channel in 2010.

Evergreen Staters will now have to buy a new $22 invasive species stamp to fish in the slough on the west side of Sauvie Island.

“So, add the new $22 fee for non-residents to the $106.26 non-resident fishing license fee and $26.50 angling harvest tag and you get a total of $154.75 for Washington anglers who boat into Oregon,” Thomas writes.

While he reports Northwest Sportsman advertiser Jack Glass says that Oregon’s rolling out the not-welcome mat for Washingtonians, a Marine Board spokeswoman says enforcement will begin with warnings before citations.

The new fee is to “will be used to implement a new program involving voluntary boat inspections, decontamination of infected boats and education to stop the spread of unwanted species,” Thomas reports.

Sulfite-heavy Egg Cures Said To Kill Young Salmonids

December 16, 2009

UPDATED 12-17: Laboratory testing shows that when you feed young salmon and steelhead eggs cured in some bait products that contain sodium sulfites, some die.

So says a study by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and Oregon State University released Wednesday afternoon and sure to stir up the industry.

“Specific mortality levels varied among products and ranged from 0 to 30 percent,” a press release from ODFW says.

While the work has not yet been formally peer reviewed, egg-cure makers are said to be committed to solving the problem, according to ODFW.

No company’s products are mentioned by name, but Scott Amerman of Amerman’s Eggs was briefing anglers on Ifish about it. He writes:

The tests have shown that hatchery raised smolts whose diet is changed to 100% cured eggs (egg cures high in sodium sulfite) have shown mortalityin some smolts in a small hatchery basin test. As of so far we have no idea how this translates to the real world and if smolts in the wild suffer these same effects. It is very unlikely that any fish in the wild will ever be forced to eat 100% eggs only.

Eggs are among the most effective baits for steelhead, Chinook and coho, and are used numerous ways — drift-fished, under a bobber, plunked, back-trolled, with a diver, etc. Anglers use cures to make their eggs last longer on the hook, and to change its color and texture. Prawns are also cured.

According to ODFW, a random sample of commercially available cures were tested. Researchers found that “some juvenile fish died after ingesting some brands. Specific mortality levels varied among products and ranged from 0 to 30 percent. In a second round of studies at OSU, researchers identified sodium sulfite as the ingredient causing the fish to die.”

The investigation was sparked in 2008 “by a group of anglers who were concerned that some of these cured eggs may be toxic to juvenile salmon.”

According to an email sent by Rob Russell last night to the heads of three Northwest fishing magazines and the operator of a popular chat board, as well as posted online on the Oregon Fly Fishing Blog, Western Oregon salmon, steelhead and trout fly fishing guide Jeff Mishler is cited as the angler who approached ODFW with concerns.

Mishler is quoted as saying:

“I had heard stories of trout dying from eating cured eggs. Then one day while I was bobber fishing with my Dad, I noticed swarms of young-of-the-year steelhead pecking at our baits. Then we noticed the shoreline. Bait anglers had disposed of their old bait along the beach, creating a fuzzy pink margin along the river bank. Baby steelhead were eating them like crazy, and cutthroat hung behind waiting for an easy meal. It suddenly occurred to me that the poisons in cured eggs could be having serious impacts.”

Sulfites became a common ingredient in egg cures in the 1980s, says ODFW. However, the agency says that it can’t extrapolate the data to say if sulfites have a “significant effect on the overall health of salmon and steelhead populations.”

A study summary reads:

“The researchers initially tested the effects of 4 or 5 commercially available cures in a laboratory setting. This represents a limited sample of the commercially available cures. The cured eggs were fed to groups of juvenile chinook and steelhead held in tanks over a period of 23 days. The researchers also examined whether there were any differences among pre-smolts (juvenile salmon or steelhead that have not yet reached the physiological state known as a smolt) and smolts (juvenile salmon that are undergoing physiological changes to migrate from fresh to salt water). Mortality was assessed following each feeding and all dead fish were autopsied.

The results of these experiments confirmed that some of the commercially available cures caused mortality in both steelhead and chinook juveniles (Figs. 1 and 2). In any given tank mortality ranged from 0-30% during the 23 day period. However, researchers also found that there was considerable variability in the individual sensitivity of the juvenile fish. Some fish died after apparently eating a single egg whereas most were able to persist after 23 day of (presumably) consuming the eggs.

The researchers then focused on determining the likely cause of this mortality. Based on a list of ingredients supplied by several of the manufacturers, sodium sulfite was identified as the most likely cause. Researchers tested this by removing the sodium sulfite from two of the cures that were used in the first round of experiments. Groups of fish were fed eggs that were cured with or without the inclusion of sodium sulfite in the cure. Mortality was again recorded daily. Removal of sodium sulfite appeared to eliminate the mortality (Fig. 3). To confirm this, the researchers also injected cured eggs directly into the stomach (to ensure consumption of a known amount). Injection of eggs cured with sodium sulfite caused 30-35% mortality within a 10 day period. Removal of sodium sulfite eliminated the mortality (0%).

Researchers also tested whether the effect could be minimized by pre-soaking the eggs prior to feeding, as might occur in the wild. The cured eggs were soaked for 0, 30, or 60 seconds, or 10 minutes prior to feeding. There was no difference in mortality for the pre-soaked eggs as compared to the unsoaked eggs.

Conclusions. Based on these results the researchers concluded that some commercially available cures caused elevated mortality in juvenile chinook and steelhead. The mortality is most likely cause by the inclusion of higher levels of sodium sulfite in the cures. It is also highly likely that fish that consume these particular cures in the wild will respond similarly. However, we have no data to suggest that this may be significant at a population level.

ODFW Deputy Administrator of Inland Fisheries Bruce McIntosh says the agency is talking with several of the product manufacturers to address the issue.

“Our emphasis will be on informing anglers, guides and other manufacturers about the risks sulfites pose to juvenile fish,” he says in the press release.

Amerman, the bait-cure maker, adds this advice:

Be aware that there will be groups out there that will want to take these preliminary test results to push for total bait bans or to prove a great impact by the sports fisherman rather than waiting for continued testing to see if these results translate over to the wild which right now no one knows. For now what we as fisherman can do is avoid throwing your fished out baits back in the water after you change it. Small salmon and steelhead are much more likely to eat the small discarded bait chunks than the larger bait chunks many people fish. Discarding any used cured eggs in a safe manor instead of back into the water until more testing is done will be a safer alternative either way for now.

And in bolded text he declares:

Please know that if something in our products is significantly impacting juvenile salmon in the wild, then we the cure companies will whole heartedly take on the responsibility to change these ingredients, the way they are used and hopefully regulated.

Adds Mishler: “The smart manufacturers will simply design new cures that are not poisonous to our fish … Anglers want to do the right thing, and will undoubtedly move toward products that are safe for salmon.”

That said, to some it’s just another example of “death by a thousand cuts,” as Auntie M on piscatorialpursuits wrote. This year, loon advocates proposed a partial ban on lead fishing weights on a dozen lakes in Washington, which some took to mean the beginning of a wholesale attack on the cheapest, best way for anglers to target moving and stillwater species.

Then again, as other anglers have noted, there’s always good ol’ borax for curing eggs.

Sauk Catch-and-Release Steel A No-go?

December 16, 2009

I heard rumbling a couple weeks ago that my favorite spring wild steelhead fishery, the Sauk, probably would be a no-go in 2010, and a press release this morning from WDFW seems to confirm that.

In an announcement that the meat of the Cascade River was closing Dec. 19 due to a low return of steelhead, there’s also word on the popular catch-and-release seasons for nates on the Skagit and Sauk.

ANGLERS WORK SOME OF THE SAUK'S "LUMBERYARDS" FOR BIG NATIVE STEELHEAD AS WHITEHORSE MOUNTAIN LOOKS ON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“Because pre-season forecasts for steelhead returns to the Skagit River Basin are down this year, additional fishing closures to protect wild steelhead also are likely this spring,” statewide steelhead manager Bob Leland is quoted as saying.

“Catch-and-release fisheries in the Skagit and Sauk rivers are among those fisheries that likely will not open next spring,” the press release continues.

(REEL DEAL GUIDE SERVICE)

Both Snohomish/Skagit county streams are known for their muscular wild steelies and generally good access. Anglers can do well with everything from spoons to jigs to rubber worms.

The Cascade will be closed from its mouth up to the Rockport-Cascade Road Bridge until Feb. 1; the hatchery is immediately downstream of the bridge.

What’s Fishin’ In Oregon

December 16, 2009

Here’s what’s been fishin’ around Western Oregon, according to ODFW’s weekly Recreation Report:

SOUTHWEST ZONE

  • Winter steelhead are starting to appear in many rivers and creeks, including the Chetco, Coos, Coquille, Rogue, Umpqua and Tenmile. Look for fishing to pick up after some good rain helps get fish moving.
  • Warning, thin ice conditions exist on many of the ponds and reservoirs in the Rogue River basin. Anglers should use caution.

WILLAMETTE ZONE

  • Large brood trout were released this week in Huddleston Pond in Yamhill County. The fish are 4- and 5-year-old rainbow trout from ODFW’s Roaring River hatchery and range in size from 8 to 18 pounds.
  • The onset of warmer weather and precipitation should provide a boost to winter steelhead fishing in the lower Willamette, Clackamas and Sandy rivers.
  • Sturgeon fishing is fair on the lower Willamette River.

NORTHWEST ZONE

  • ALSEA RIVER: Winter steelhead are starting to return. This week’s change in weather should move more fish into the river. Best opportunities during the early season are in the mid to lower river. Fall chinook fishing is slow.
  • BIG CREEK: The stream is low and clear, and very cold. Winter steelhead fishing is very slow. Don’t expect fishing to improve until more rain arrives. This small stream is a good bet early in the season. Bobber and jig, spinners, or baits drifted along the bottom all will produce fish.
  • GNAT CREEK: A few early winter steelhead are in the stream, but angling conditions have been poor in the low, clear and cold water. This is a good early season, small stream opportunity. Use light gear and be stealthy when approaching holding water on this small stream, especially after extended dry periods when water levels are low and the stream is clear. There is good access near the hatchery.
  • KILCHIS RIVER:The river is very low and clear. A few chinook were caught after the last high water, but fishing is now very poor. Many fish are close to spawning and should be released. A few early winter steelhead are being caught. Fish low in the system with light gear until more rains raise the river. Bobber and small jigs are ideal in these conditions.
  • KLASKANINE RIVER AND NORTH FORK KLASKANINE: A few early winter steelhead are available in the system. Look for fishing to improve steadily over the next few weeks when angling conditions change. More rain is needed to raise the stream to good, fishable levels. Use light gear and approach holes carefully to avoid spooking fish.
  • NECANICUM RIVER: A few early winter steelhead are available in the lower river. The river is very low, with clear water and cold temperatures.
  • NEHALEM RIVER AND NORTH FORK NEHALEM RIVER: A few winter steelhead are available in the north fork up to and even above the hatchery. Most fish are holding in the lower river while flows are low. The entire Nehalem Basin is closed to chinook angling for the remainder of 2009.
  • NESTUCCA RIVER AND THREE RIVERS: Steelhead angling is slow, but will improve when conditions become more conducive to angling. The water is clear and cold. A few early hatchery winter steelhead have been trapped and recycled from Cedar Creek Hatchery. Chinook angling in the river is very slow. Fish the deeper holding water low in the system for best chances of hooking bright fish.
  • SALMON RIVER: The winter steelhead run in just getting underway. Fair to good numbers of wild winter steelhead should return this season. Anglers should use small baits/lures during the cold and clear river conditions this week. Fall chinook angling is slow. Most chinook have moved up river and are actively spawning.
  • SILETZ RIVER: Winter steelhead are returning to the Siletz. Warmer rain events this week should help to move more fish up river. Chinook angling is slow. Anglers are reminded that the chinook angling deadline has been lowered to Morgan Park and are asked to not target or harass spawning chinook.
  • SIUSLAW RIVER: Some winter steelhead are being caught in the lower sections of the Siulsaw and Lake Creek. This weeks warmer wet weather should move more fish into the system. Chinook catches are slow. Most chinook have or are actively spawning.
  • TILLAMOOK BAY: Angling for sturgeon improved after recent high waters, but slowed as water levels receded and colder temperatures set in. Concentrate on the channel edges on the outgoing tides, with sand shrimp the preferred bait.
  • TRASK RIVER:Steelhead angling is beginning to improve as a few more fish enter the river. Fall chinook are available, but angling is slow. Some bright fish are being caught, but many are dark and should be released. Construction of a new boat slide at the Cedar Creek launch site has been completed and is ready for use. Contact ODFW in Tillamook at 503-842-2741 for details.
  • WILSON RIVER: Steelhead angling has slowed with the low, clear water. Low flows will cause most fish to hold up in the lower river until we get more rain. Chinook angling is very slow. Many fish are close to spawning and should be released. For both species, fish the slower, quieter water until the river rises and warms ups. Lighter gear fished slowly should produce the best results.
  • YAQUINA RIVER: The winter steelhead run is just getting underway. Small numbers of steelhead have moved into the lower river. Look for the next good rain event to push more fish in. Chinook angling is slow. Most fish have or are actively spawning.

map

Welcome to the ODFW
Recreation Reports
Northwest Zone

Fishing | Hunting | Viewing

FISHING

Attention anglers: Beginning Jan. 1, 2010, you will need an Aquatic Species Prevention Permit for your drift boat, canoe or inflatable pontoon boat over 10 feet long. Permits are transferable to other non-motorized boats, but each boat on the water needs a permit. Permits go on sale Dec. 1 wherever ODFW licenses are sold and online. For more information see the news release.

The fall chinook season is nearly over. Many fish are spawning, or are ripe and are about to spawn. Anglers are urged to release fish that are in this condition. Even fish that appear bright can be in spawning condition, and make low quality table fare. Look for soft, rounded bellies on females as a sign of loose eggs and readiness to spawn. Let these fish spawn to help improve future returns.

NORTH COAST LAKES

Trout stocking is complete for 2009. Trout stocking will resume in March.

Surplus hatchery summer steelhead have been released in Town Lake. These fish will bite sand shrimp fished under a bobber, medium sized spinners or spoons, or a variety of flies at times. Be persistent as these fish are sometimes very finicky.
MID COAST LAKES
SILTCOOS LAKE

The lake coho fishery should pick up this week with the recent warming trend and rain. Many fish holding in the lake are colored up and getting ready to spawn. Slowly trolling or casting spinners or other lures seems to be the most productive. Anglers may retain one wild (non-adipose fin clip) adult coho and one jack coho per day. There is a seasonal limit of five wild (non-adipose fin clip) adult coho per year.

TAHKENITCH LAKE

The lake coho fishery is picking up with the recent change in weather. Most fish in the lake are in spawning colors. Trolling or casting spinners or other lures at a slow retrieve seems to be the most productive. Anglers may retain one wild (non-adipose fin clip) adult coho and one jack coho per day. There is a seasonal limit of five wild (non-adipose fin clip) adult coho per year.

WARM WATER FISH ANGLING OPPORTUNITIES

The mid coast has numerous lakes or reservoirs which offer good angling for naturally produced warm water fish species, such as large mouth bass, yellow perch, bluegill, brown bullhead and crappie. Typically the best fishing is from late spring to mid fall while water temperatures are warm. Tactics such as casting or trolling lures, jigging baits near bottom or using the traditional bait and bobber technique are all productive from either a boat or from shore. Below is a list of lakes near local coastal cities that offer warm water angling opportunities.

Devils Lake (Lincoln City): Offers good trout fishing and provides some angling opportunity for largemouth bass, yellow perch and bluegill.

Big Creek Reservoirs 1 & 2 (Newport): Offers fair largemouth bass fishing, slow to fair angling for yellow perch and bluegill and good year-round angling for rainbow and cutthroat trout.

Olalla Reservoir (Toledo): Offers fair largemouth bass fishing, slow to fair angling for yellow perch, bluegill and brown bullhead and good year-round angling for rainbow and cutthroat trout.

Sutton and Mercer Lakes (northern Florence): Fair to good angling for largemouth bass and decent angling for bluegill, and potential for crappie and brown bullhead. Offers year-round rainbow and cutthroat trout fishing.

Woahink Lake (southern Florence): Can be good to very good for yellow perch and offers fair to good angling for largemouth bass and bluegill.

Siltcoos Lake (south of Florence): A large lake with numerous fingers, lots of shoreline structure and a couple large tributaries. Offers fair to good angling for largemouth bass, bluegill, yellow perch and brown bullhead. There is good year-round rainbow and cutthroat trout fishing and a good seasonal fishery for coho salmon.

Tahkenitch Lake (south of Florence): A large lake with numerous fingers, lots of shoreline structure and a couple large tributaries. It offers good angling for largemouth bass and yellow perch, and fair to good angling for bluegill, crappie and brown bullhead. There is good year-round cutthroat trout fishing and a good seasonal fishery for coho salmon.

ALSEA RIVER: winter steelhead

Winter steelhead are starting to return. This week’s change in weather should move more fish into the river. Best opportunities during the early season are in the mid to lower river. Fall chinook fishing is slow.

BIG CREEK: steelhead

The stream is low and clear, and very cold. Winter steelhead fishing is very slow. Don’t expect fishing to improve until more rain arrives. This small stream is a good bet early in the season. Bobber and jig, spinners, or baits drifted along the bottom all will produce fish.

GNAT CREEK: steelhead

A few early winter steelhead are in the stream, but angling conditions have been poor in the low, clear and cold water. This is a good early season, small stream opportunity. Use light gear and be stealthy when approaching holding water on this small stream, especially after extended dry periods when water levels are low and the stream is clear. There is good access near the hatchery.

KILCHIS RIVER: chinook, steelhead

The river is very low and clear. A few chinook were caught after the last high water, but fishing is now very poor. Many fish are close to spawning and should be released. A few early winter steelhead are being caught. Fish low in the system with light gear until more rains raise the river. Bobber and small jigs are ideal in these conditions.

KLASKANINE RIVER AND NORTH FORK KLASKANINE: steelhead

A few early winter steelhead are available in the system. Look for fishing to improve steadily over the next few weeks when angling conditions change. More rain is needed to raise the stream to good, fishable levels. Use light gear and approach holes carefully to avoid spooking fish.

NECANICUM RIVER: steelhead

A few early winter steelhead are available in the lower river. The river is very low, with clear water and cold temperatures.

NEHALEM RIVER AND NORTH FORK NEHALEM RIVER: steelhead

A few winter steelhead are available in the north fork up to and even above the hatchery. Most fish are holding in the lower river while flows are low. The entire Nehalem Basin is closed to chinook angling for the remainder of 2009.

NESTUCCA RIVER AND THREE RIVERS: chinook, steelhead

Steelhead angling is slow, but will improve when conditions become more conducive to angling. The water is clear and cold. A few early hatchery winter steelhead have been trapped and recycled from Cedar Creek Hatchery. Chinook angling in the river is very slow. Fish the deeper holding water low in the system for best chances of hooking bright fish.

SALMON RIVER: winter steelhead

The winter steelhead run in just getting underway. Fair to good numbers of wild winter steelhead should return this season. Anglers should use small baits/lures during the cold and clear river conditions this week. Fall chinook angling is slow. Most chinook have moved up river and are actively spawning.

SILETZ RIVER: winter steelhead

Winter steelhead are returning to the Siletz. Warmer rain events this week should help to move more fish up river. Chinook angling is slow. Anglers are reminded that the chinook angling deadline has been lowered to Morgan Park and are asked to not target or harass spawning chinook.

SIUSLAW RIVER: winter steelhead

Some winter steelhead are being caught in the lower sections of the Siulsaw and Lake Creek. This weeks warmer wet weather should move more fish into the system. Chinook catches are slow. Most chinook have or are actively spawning.

TILLAMOOK BAY: sturgeon

Angling for sturgeon improved after recent high waters, but slowed as water levels receded and colder temperatures set in. Concentrate on the channel edges on the outgoing tides, with sand shrimp the preferred bait.

TRASK RIVER: steelhead, chinook

Steelhead angling is beginning to improve as a few more fish enter the river. Fall chinook are available, but angling is slow. Some bright fish are being caught, but many are dark and should be released.

Construction of a new boat slide at the Cedar Creek launch site has been completed and is ready for use. Contact ODFW in Tillamook at 503-842-2741 for details.

WILSON RIVER: steelhead, chinook

Steelhead angling has slowed with the low, clear water. Low flows will cause most fish to hold up in the lower river until we get more rain. Chinook angling is very slow. Many fish are close to spawning and should be released. For both species, fish the slower, quieter water until the river rises and warms ups. Lighter gear fished slowly should produce the best results.

YAQUINA RIVER: winter steelhead

The winter steelhead run is just getting underway. Small numbers of steelhead have moved into the lower river. Look for the next good rain event to push more fish in. Chinook angling is slow. Most fish have or are actively spawning.

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HUNTING

OPEN: WATERFOWL (see regulations for dates), FOREST GROUSE, CALIF. QUAIL, COUGAR AND BEAR

Use the Oregon Hunting Access Map to see where to hunt.

Don’t forget to report your hunt results. Anyone who purchases a big game or turkey tag must report hunt results online or by phone. Reporting is required even if you did not fill your tag or go hunting. More information

COUGAR and BEAR seasons go through the end of the year on the north coast. Successful hunters, remember you must check in cougar (hide and skull) and bear skull at an ODFW office within 10 days of harvest and bring them in unfrozen. It’s also a good idea to prop their mouths open with a stick after harvest for easier tissue sampling, teeth collection and tagging. See regulations for details.

Both species are most effectively taken by using predator calls, although one can successfully stalk-hunt bear in the early morning and late evening hours, especially in areas with plentiful food supplies, like abandoned orchards. Around Thanksgiving is when bears usually go into their “winter sleep” or torpor, so opportunities on them will be rather limited from now on.

DUCK and MERGANSER season goes through Jan. 31, 2010. There are special seasons and/or bag limits on certain species, such as scaup, mallards, pintails, redheads and canvasbacks – please check the 2009-10 Oregon Game Bird Regulations for details. In the last few weeks, several thousand migrating pintails, mallards and widgeon have been seen on Tillamook Bay. Best hunting generally occurs during rainy or stormy weather, which forces birds off of the larger bay waters and into the shallows along edges where hunters have better access to them.

NORTHWEST PERMIT GOOSE season is open in Clatsop and Tillamook Counties. Local geese should be plentiful and generally make up a significant portion of the harvest early in the season. However, substantial numbers of migrant geese have already showed up and will continue to increase in numbers as the season progresses.

FOREST GROUSE and MOUNTAIN QUAIL appear to be in decent numbers, based on anecdotal observations in recent months, especially for mountain quail. Ruffed grouse occur mainly in mid-slope and riparian areas, whereas blue or sooty grouse are generally only at the highest elevations, such as ridge-tops. Mountain quail prefer brushy clearcuts, especially those on south-facing slopes in the forest. If you harvest a forest grouse, ODFW is interested in getting samples of wings and the tail for studies related to the age structure of the population. Many ODFW offices have wing/tail collection bags available to hunters interested in assisting in this effort. See page 40 in the 2009-10 Oregon Game Bird Regulations for details.

Although CALIFORNIA QUAIL season is open, the north coast has very limited numbers.

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VIEWING

Migratory waterfowl, including ducks and geese, have been showing up on north coast estuaries. The lower Columbia River has some great areas to view them, including the Twilight Eagle Sanctuary off of Highway 30 east of Astoria and the viewing bunker on trestle bay at Ft. Stevens State Park. A drive along Bayocean road west of Tillamook usually offers good viewing along Tillamook Bay. Netarts Bay is a great place to find sea ducks, where they can be seen along the eastern edge of the bay from the paved road. 11/ 10/09.

Pelicans

Substantial numbers of brown pelicans have still been seen in Netarts Bays, on Three Arch Rocks near Oceanside and lower Tillamook Bay. In recent years, a small proportion of the summer population has tried to stay here on the north coast throughout the winter, sometimes enduring brutal storms. Pelicans were just recently de-listed from the federal Endangered Species Act, as their numbers have recovered dramatically in recent years. 12/8/09.

Unusual birds

Unusual birds are occasionally found on north coast beaches, and even further inland, as a result of fall and winter storms. These situations are opportunities to find migrants from Asia or pelagic seabirds that were blown off course by strong west storms.

Jewel Meadows Wildlife Area, Coast Range

Elk viewing has been excellent at Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area. Elk have been visible throughout the day on the Fishhawk Tract. Best viewing times are from 9 a.m. to about noon each day. Visitors should start near the main viewing area and along Hwy. 202 to observe larger herds of females and young. The older bulls are usually found near the west viewing area. The Beneke Tract is also a good bet if the elk are not out along Hwy. 202. Elk are currently being fed a supplemental diet of alfalfa hay on the wildlife area. Staff tries to feed close to the viewing areas on weekends to enhance viewing opportunities. Reservations for the winter elk feeding tours have been completely filled for the three-month season. 12/8/09

Newport Area

The trail behind the Mark O. Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport is a good place to observe shorebirds and waterfowl in the Yaquina estuary.

Tillamook Area

Now that winter is just about upon us, it’s a good time to go out to Netarts and Tillamook Bays for some birding. Especially on calmer days, it’s easy to spot birds on these estuaries that are not seen during the fall and summer months. A variety of grebes, loons, scoters, diving and puddle ducks can be seen along Whiskey Creek Rd along Netarts Bay and Bayocean Rd along Tillamook Bay. Look for the sea ducks lower down in these estuaries, while the puddle ducks prefer the shallower upper portions of the estuaries. If you’re lucky, you might even find Harlequins on lower Tillamook Bay at the Three Graces Rocks near Barview.

Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge west of Oceanside is always home to some type of viewable wildlife. Long gone are the thousands of nesting murres, puffins and auklets. During the winter months, bald eagles and peregrine falcons are common on the rocks, as are a smattering of pelicans, cormorants and gulls. Steller sea lions are also regulars at the refuge, and actually use it as a breeding ground in the summer. These larger, blonder cousins of the California sea lion are still listed as a threatened and endangered species as they have not recovered to the extent that California sea lion has.

Great egrets are large, white wading birds that are slightly smaller than their cousin, the great blue heron. In Tillamook County they can often be seen foraging in the southwestern portion of Netarts Bay, along fields adjacent to the lower Tillamook River, in various parts of Tillamook Bay and the Tideland Road area of Nehalem Bay. The birds typically stay in the area through the winter and into the spring before they disappear to nest in parts unknown. 12/15/09.

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Record Coho — Except For The Not-Officially-Weighed Part?

December 16, 2009

We’re hearing rumblings from the Oregon Coast about a whopper coho caught at Siltcoos Lake, one that purportedly went 26.4 pounds, but was not officially weighed.

If it had — and if that weight is indeed correct — that would make angler Tony Radovich of Florence the new Oregon record holder.

He caught it, according to Dean Hendricks of North Country Lures, Nov. 24, in the lake’s Fiddle Creek Arm.

The current mark is Ed Martin’s 1966 beast, a 25-pound, 5-ouncer, also from Siltcoos Lake, which we mapped for coho in our October issue.

I’ll have more tomorrow, but I gotta take off from work to deal with a dead car battery, relieve the Missus from two hungry toddlers, pick up milk, yada yada yada.

Cowlitz Fishing Report

December 15, 2009

The returns are down compared to 2008, but last week saw some high notes on the Blue Creek stretch of Washington’s Cowlitz River — nine particularly high-leapin’ notes coming off of just one boat.

Last Tuesday, Jesse Thompson (deckhand) of Duvall and the Ahinas of Lynnwood — 5-year-old Ala Pa’i, who battled  the 14-pound hen he’s hanging onto and Jared and Tyson — tore it up side-drifting shrimp and eggs.

(WOOLDRIDGE BOATS)

They hung ’em while fishing with Bonner Daniels of Tall Tails Guide Service (TallTailsGuideService.com) out of a Wooldridge 20’ AK XL.

That’s a pretty good ratio of fish to angler. A count last weekend found 137 sled-born anglers with 102 steelhead at the trout hatchery, according to data forwarded by Joe Hymer of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission.

“Forty three bank anglers (almost all at the trout hatchery) kept 10 steelhead,” he adds.

Yesterday, Hymer reported that through early December, 467 metalheads had checked into the Cowlitz, much lower than last winter’s 1,039 for the same period.

But that’s still better than what the Lewis is seeing.

Hymer also reports that Tacoma Power “recovered 840 coho adults, 37 jacks, 203 winter-run steelhead and nine sea-run cutthroat trout during five days of operation at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.”

He adds that “river flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 8,800 cubic feet per second on Monday, December 14. Water visibility is eight feet.”

More Springer Numbers Out

December 14, 2009

Forecasts for a trio of Southwest Washington rivers were revealed today, and the news is improved if you’re a Cowlitz or Lewis River angler, not so good if you work the Kalama.

DAVE RICHARDSON NABBED THIS HEN SPRINGER ON THE COWLITZ THIS PAST SEASON. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

A statement from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, and forwarded by Joe Hymer of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, reads:

2009 Returns and 2010 Forecasts

Overall

  • The 2009 total return of adult spring Chinook to the Cowlitz, Kalama, and Lewis rivers were spot on with the pre-season forecasts though where the fish ended up was slightly off.
  • A total of 7,200 adult spring Chinook were predicted to return to the Cowlitz, Kalama, and Lewis rivers in 2009; the actual return was 7,200.
  • The three-year-old jack returns were improved and in some cases the highest in years.
  • The 2010 pre-season forecast for all three rivers is 19,400 adults.

Cowlitz River

  • 2009 actual adult return was 4,900; pre-season forecast 4,100.
  • Largest three-year-old jack return since the early 1990s.
  • The 2010 pre-season forecast is 12,500 adults.
  • The 2010 return would be twice the recent five year average.

Kalama River

  • 2009 actual adult return was 350; pre-season forecast 900.
  • The 2009 return was the second lowest since at least 1980 (338 adults returned in 1985).
  • 2004 and 2005 broods have performed poorly to date.
  • Improved three-year-old jacks returns from the 2006 brood are expected to result in improved four year-old returns in 2010.
  • The 2010 pre-season forecast is 900 adults.

Lewis River

  • 2009 actual adult return was 1,900; pre-season forecast 2,200
  • The 2009 return was the lowest of this decade.
  • Largest return of three-year-old jacks since the early 1990s.
  • The 2010 pre-season forecast is 6,000 adults.
  • The 2010 return would be 20% greater than the recent ten-year average

THIS GRAPH ON P. 58 OF THE 2009 JOINT STAFF REPORT SHOWS THE 2010 FORECAST IS AMONG THE BETTER ONES OVER THE PAST TWO DECADES. (WDFW)

SW WA (Not) Fishing Report

December 14, 2009

SALMON/STEELHEAD

Kalama River – Light effort and catch.

Lewis River – About 1 in 4 bank anglers at the salmon hatchery had kept a hatchery winter run steelhead when sampled last week.  Flows are currently 4,400 cfs, about half the same time last week.

Through early December, hatchery winter run steelhead returns to several Washington lower Columbia hatcheries are lagging behind last year.

Station                 2009                       2008

Cowlitz                 467                         1,039

Kalama                 69                           84

Lewis                    32                           408

Washougal         135                         169

STURGEON

Lower Columbia from the Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam – Light effort and no legals sampled last week.

TROUT

Klineline Pond and Battleground Lake – Both were planted with 2,500 catchable size rainbows Dec. 7.  Depending on the weather/availability of staff/trucks, they are expected to be stocked again before the holidays.

Report courtesy Joe Hymer, PSMFC

Oregon Tuna Classic Sets Records

December 14, 2009

(OREGON TUNA CLASSIC PRESS RELEASE)

The books are closed on the 2009 season for the Oregon Tuna Classic. The upside down economy had the organizers wondering if they’d see a decrease in participants and sponsors as they worked diligently through the spring making final preparations for the first event in Newport on July 18th.

(OREGON TUNA CLASSIC)

That question was answered by a record number of participants that exceeded well over 1,400 people involved in this past summer’s events. Allstate agents Ron Brockmann along with Dennis Pendley, from Corvallis Oregon, were the title sponsors while Shimano, G.Loomis, Daiwa, The Mill Casino and Coast 105 Radio anchored the sponsorships with a combined $65,000 in donations between just the top six. That generosity and support carried over to another 81 sponsors making it another record year with sponsorships.

The popularity generated from past events drew teams from Montana, Idaho, California, Washington and Oregon. To witness the energy and excitement from 500 people setting inside one of those big tents this year is contagious and you can really see the heart of a fishermen when it comes to helping those in need.

People are still talking about the impressive line of boats that slowly worked their way out of the port of Ilwaco in the dark, it looked like a Christmas boat parade. That sight was witnessed again, a few weeks later, when over 100 spectators gathered in the dark standing on the north jetting and watched the boats come out of Garibaldi. They couldn’t see the flare start due to the fog that moved in on the beach but they could hear the tremendous roar of engines as everyone raced offshore to their favorite fishing spot.

(OREGON TUNA CLASSIC)

To say these events grew this year would almost be an understatement. Today, the Oregon Tuna Classic is the fastest growing charitable fishing tournament on the west coast. When registrations started pouring in the organizers were forced to rent three very large tents capable of handling 500-600 people. People were coming out of the woodwork to volunteer because they wanted to be a part of the excitement.

Some sponsors jumped in at times and gave more than their donations as witnessed by the guys from Weldcraft Boats who were there just to watch but got caught up in all the excitement and the next thing you knew they were helping to unload fish and help with whatever else was needed.

The growth of these events is starting to bring much needed economic benefits to the communities visited by the armada of fishermen, volunteers and spectators. Businesses in Ilwaco saw record sales for the year while Garibaldi City Manager John O’leary speculates the Oregon Tuna Classic might rival the annual Garibaldi days in generating business.

The original purpose of the Oregon Tuna Classic, OTC as many call it, was to provide a forum for fishermen to have a little friendly competition, catch albacore and donate it to the local food bank. This past summer those fishermen gave coastal food banks 18,600 pounds of tuna in addition to the economic aid from just visiting their communities.

Since 2005, over 44,300 pounds of tuna and $103,000 has been donated to the Oregon Food Bank. The OTC’s donation helped the Oregon Food bank purchase six pounds of food for every dollar donated, equivalent to a contribution weight of over 662,300 pounds of food.

(OREGON TUNA CLASSIC)

Dates have been set for the 2010 summer events, plans are being made and sponsors are being contacted to again get ready for another season. With the continued support of volunteers and sponsors alike, the OTC will continue the fight against hunger bringing its armada of fishermen and spectators into these communities.

Thank you for your support and involvement in 2009.
Del Stephens
OTC Chairman

Steelhead Cutbacks In WA’s Blues?

December 12, 2009

As we warned last spring* in Northwest Sportsman magazine, Washington steelhead managers are increasingly uncomfortable with the large runs of hatchery fish back to the Grande Ronde and Tucannon rivers in the Blue Mountains, and they may turn the smolt spigot down in the future.

Rich Landers of the Spokane Spokesman-Review takes the story up in a piece picked up recently by the Tri-Cities Herald.

He reports simmering resentment from Washington and Idaho anglers as “hints” about a cutback emerge. Word is that the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife will hold public meetings on future steelhead plans this winter.

Biologist Glen Mendell, whom we spoke to last winter about this, reiterates that hatchery returns are well above the mitigation goal of 1,500 back to Cottonwood Creek on the Ronde about 2 miles upstream from the Highway 129 bridge and Boggan’s Oasis.

“Reducing the releases from Cottonwood is one of the options for reducing competition between hatchery fish and wild fish on spawning beds,” Mendell tells Landers, adding, “In the past five years, steelheaders have had a really wonderful situation in the Snake and Grande Ronde, but I don’t know whether we’ll be able to maintain it at these levels.”

Stay tuned.

* An earlier version of this piece mis-stated when we first reported on Blue Mountains steelhead cutbacks. While I learned about it last winter while putting together our March issue, I reported on it in our May 2009 issue. AW

How The Springer Forecast Came About

December 11, 2009

Reaction to yesterday’s prediction of 470,000 spring Chinook back to the Columbia River in 2010 ranges from “We are going to have a very fun year next year it looks like” to “Even half of the prediction would be very nice!” to “I’ve got ten bucks that says they have over-estimated. Their track record for making estimates is horrendous.”

Those comments came from posters on ifish known as Fish Hawk Adventures, allwaysfishing and Bait Bucket.

Similar statements were also registered on three other Northwest salmon and steelhead fishing boards, piscatorialpursuits, gamefishin and steelheader.net, and anglers quoted by Allen Thomas of The Columbian all arched their eyebrows at the prediction.

Added Mark Coleman of All Rivers Guide Service (425-736-8920) , “The forecast of 470,000 springers sounds great and I’m hopeful that the actual return will be that large. Even if we only get a percentage of that number, we will still be looking at a lot of springers to catch. I normally start my guide trips around the middle of March, but if we are really getting over 40o,ooo fish, we could have good fishing a week or two earlier.”

A GOOD DAY ON THE INTERSTATE, APRIL 2008. (SWANNY'S GUIDED FISHING, 206-755-1204)

Indeed, we springer fiends can’t help but be giddy and leery at this potential blockbuster of a Christmas present.

A) The run, as predicted, may be the largest of all time, topping the current mark by over 50,000!

B) This year saw a run that was only 54 percent of what the same team of forecasters said it would be!

Indeed, in the inexact science of trying to forsooth how many salmon might return to the Columbia from a 93,000,000-square-mile body of water based on how many of a certain age came back last year, the margins of error in recent years have been huge.

Four of the past six years’ runs have been well below forecast.

But anglers sometimes forget that we’ve also had years where managers got it right (see 2007), and there have been seasons where more than expected have returned (see 2001, The Best Year Ever) as this graph from ODFW and WDFW shows:

The difference, though, is that the number of underforecast fish is much fewer than the number of overforecast fish. That is, since 2000, 211,000 unpredicted fish have returned to the Columbia River, but 534,000 forecasted springers have failed to come back.

It’s led anglers to roll their eyes at any forecast, but the missing fish have also given managers fits in recent years.

Part of the run consists of threatened wild springers which require protection, and as Hal Bernton writes in today’s Seattle Times, “Accurate forecasts are necessary to set harvest at levels that meet treaty obligations and conservation requirements under the federal Endangered Species Act.”

Columbia Chinook are required to be managed by what is actually coming in — thus the all-important midseason update — vs. what is merely forecast. Part of the problem is that in the last five years, the midrun mark has unexpectedly moved deeper into the year.

It’s all led to sometimes herky-jerky seasons and angler discontentment.

SPRINGER ON, UNDER I-5. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

This year, managers also have had to contend with a strange new signal from the salmon: A record 81,000-plus jack, or 3-year-old, springers returned past Bonneville, four times the previous high.

Managers figure that the jack Chinook run is a certain percentage of the overall year-class, and more or less multiplying out that percentage will give you the following year’s return.

When folks like Stuart Ellis of the U.S. v. Oregon Technical Advisory Committee did that “back of the envelope” math last spring, they came up with a run forecast of 1 million to 1.5 million adults in 2010.

In November, however, he told me that it was “unreasonable” to expect even a doubling of the current record return, 2001’s 416,000.

But he also told me, “Nobody’s going out on a limb to say a record return.”

And yet that’s what the forecast released yesterday says.

Four hundred and seventy thousand! “Holy f#$%*#@ *%t!” is what I said.

“That’s what we thought — wow!” Ellis tells me this morning.

(ALL RIVERS GUIDE SERVICE, 425-736-8920)

I called him to find out more about how he and the rest of the committee — which includes Oregon, Idaho and Washington fish and wildlife departments, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (on behalf of the Nez Perce tribe, the Umatilla tribe, the Warm Springs tribe and the Yakama Nation,) the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, the National Marine Fisheries Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — settled on that number.

Turns out, it’s just a midpoint from seven different mathematical models that spat out run sizes of anywhere from 366,000 to 528,000 adults next year.

And it almost sounds as if Ellis et al, in their attempts to deal with all those jacks, looked at 470,000 different ways to forecast the run.

“We looked at a huge number of models and then settled on 18 that had any validity,” he says.

In previous years, they’ve used a straight linear graph of jacks on the X axis, adult 4-year-olds on the Y axis to come up with a number, but among the new approaches was a nonlinear curve.

They also used models that factored in ocean indicators such as water temperatures, upwellings and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, climactic and environmental conditions that haven’t been used before.

They shortened up their data set.

They looked at jack returns to home hatcheries, not just past Bonneville Dam.

And they calculated the absolute lowest number of adults that have come from a jack return.

ANGLERS LAUNCH BEFORE DAWN AT VANCOUVER'S MARINE PARK RAMP. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“With the 18, we did ‘hindcasting’ to narrow things down based on error rates,” Ellis says. “We chose seven that would have been acceptable in the past. They tended to have the lowest error rates.”

The group then talked over those seven models’ pros and cons, and in the end averaged them, he says.

“They’re all quite reasonable as far as predictors,” Ellis says, but he adds that right now, they’re “not trying to assess how accurate (the forecast) will be. There’s no history with this size of jack return.”

“It’s kind of tricky when you’re dealing with records,” he says.

“You can make extreme theories  on jacks — outrageous inriver and ocean survival, so lots will come back. There’s lots of evidence pointing that way.

“But another theory you can’t disprove is, maybe there’s a big change in maturation rates in the ocean. For some reason, a huge proportion came back as jacks and we don’t have a lot of adults out there. That line of thinking leads to lower estimates. That’s possible; we can’t rule it out.

“But the sum total is, we should get a pretty good return,” Ellis says.

Looking at 2009’s actual return, 169,000, he says, “I think we’re going to do a fair bit better, but don’t bet the farm.”

According to today’s Columbia Basin Bulletin:

The upriver forecast includes 272,000 Snake River spring/chinook, of which 73,400 are expected to be wild fish, and 57,300 Upper Columbia spring chinook (including 5,700 wild). The balance of the upriver forecast is comprised of mid-Columbia spring chinook.

Now that we at least have a number, Ellis says that the season setters can begin to craft recreational, tribal and commercial fisheries. We already know that they’re going to chop 30 percent off the forecast as a run buffer and move some of the allocation upstream, as Bill Monroe of The Oregonian detailed, and which has pissed off two commissioners of a lower Columbia River county on the Washington side.

Ellis has no doubt we’ll be fishing — “It would be well worth making sure your spring Chinook gear is in tip-top shape, where you’re going to get your bait, and your boat motor will start up” — but he’s warned me before and he warned me again today that we will need to be flexible in our late winter and spring fishing plans.

“The opportunities may not be in your favorite area, or your preferred area to fish. You may have to go to choice number two or three,” he says. “Hang loose.”

Planning fishing trips months ahead may be more difficult, he suspects.

UPRIVER ANGLERS LIKE JEFF MAIN FISHING AT "THE WALL" BELOW LITTLE GOOSE DAM WILL GET A BIGGER CUT OF THE SPRINGER PIE IN 2010. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

Asked why his committee’s guesses have been well off in recent years, Ellis says that springers are pretty difficult to forecast due to their timing, the wide geographic landscape they return to — not to mention the fact that as smolts a couple months out to sea, they literally disappear off the face of the earth for one to two years. Who knows what sort of ocean conditions they’re swimming through.

The “intense interest” in the species — widely viewed (at least in the Northwest) as the best-tasting fish on the planet, and a substantial cash cow for river cities and the sportfishing industry as a whole — magnifies those errors.

Ellis points to the Spring Creek tule Chinook stock that returns past Bonneville Dam in the fall. That run has come in 50 percent below forecast, or at 150 percent, and outside of the managers, not too many folks are wringing their hands.

“They’re just not as impressive to anglers. They don’t tend to gripe as much,” he says.

And even as Ellis says the run could come in above and below what those seven models spit out, he’s confident in all the work that’s gone into 2010’s prediction.

“We do think the effort we put into the forecast — we’ve made a real good effort to reduce the risks of very large errors. We hope it’s accurate, but we’re not guaranteeing it,” he says.

THE ONLY GUARANTEE IS HEADACHES THE WHOLE WAY AROUND, FOR FORECASTERS, FOR FISHERY MANAGERS, FOR ANGLERS LOOKING FOR OPEN WATER -- AND FOR HERRING- AND PLUG-BITING SPRINGERS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT

Of Frozen Squid And Not-frozen Snails

December 11, 2009

A pair of invasive species are in the news this cold morning, one dying and freezing on the beach and the other not dying and freezing in a lake.

Oregonbeachconnection.net reports that over three dozen Humboldt have washed up across 100 miles of the Oregon coast in recent days, then frozen into the sand.

“Staff from Seaside Aquarium have received reports of dozens of them washing up, coming in from Pacific City all the way up to Sunset Beach near Warrenton,” the site reports.

So far, 40 squid from 4 to 5 feet long and up to 25 pounds have been reported.

They’re also leaving “really neat squid prints,” as a photo from the Seaside Aquarium shows.

People are warned not to eat the dead Humboldts, but in the article, ODFW’s Brandon Chandler says they’ll make good crab bait. Crabbing opened Dec. 1 on the coast.

At Washington’s Capitol Lake, managers drew down the water to try and freeze and kill recently discovered invasive New Zealand snails. But according to The Olympian, the results were “inconclusive.”

“Biologists found some frozen New Zealand mudsnails and others that may or may not have died from exposure to the frigid overnight temperatures, said Allen Pleus, an aquatic invasive species coordinator for Fish and Wildlife,” reports the paper’s John Dodge.

In an earlier story, Pleus worried about the affect the algae-snarfing snails would have on other species.

“These things are nasty, and if they take over, your biodiversity is gone,” he told KUOW radio.

470K Springers, Panel Says

December 11, 2009

Well, if as many springers as they say are coming in actually come in, Northwest anglers could be in for one whale of a season!

Late today, word came from a panel of Columbia River salmon managers that the 2010 run could be a whopping 470,000 fish — the most in more than 70 years of record-taking.

Can you say HOLY F@#$%@% $@&T!?!?!?!

Can you say GET YOUR HERRING NOW?!?!

Can you say GET IN LINE AT THE MARINE PARK LAUNCH NOW!?!?

(Can you say THE GLEASON RAMP BETTER BE READY TO GO!!!!!!!!!!)

Can you say GET IN YOUR LANE IN THE INTERSTATE DRIFT NOW!?!?!

Dude!!!!!!!!!!!

Swanny, Mark, Jack, Brandon, Don, Shane, Pat, Andy, Terry — keep seats open for me!

I should not drive home at this point. I’m a trembling wreck. Chrome fish streak in front of my eyes, thousands of them, tens of thousands of them, all heading for Northwest anglers from Astoria to Enterprise to Leavenworth to Riggins.

More than came back in 2001, The Best Run Ever, the season that ruined my rotator cuff on the banks of Drano Lake.

Breathe, slow down, think, Walgamott. Remember, these are the same managers who have basically blown almost every spring Chinook forecast they’ve ever put together — and those in recent years egregiously so.

But for what it’s worth, here’s the official word from On High, the press release put together by the Washington and Oregon departments of fish and wildlife, and the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission on the forecast:

The technical committee advising Columbia River fishery managers has released its forecast for the 2010 spring chinook run. If the fish show up as projected, the forecast of 470,000 spring chinook would be the largest return to the Columbia since 1938.

The forecasted run is up significantly from last year’s final run of 169,300 fish.

Because of challenges in forecasting the spring chinook returns in recent years, members of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) had to reconsider the model they have used in past years to predict the number of returning fish.

According to Stuart Ellis, current chair of the TAC and fisheries scientist of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), committee members were leery of the record number of spring chinook “jacks” counted at Bonneville Dam in 2009. Jacks are immature, precocious males that return after just one or two years in the ocean.

In the past few years, forecasts relying heavily on jack counts from the previous season had overstated the actual return of adult fish by an average of 45 percent. An accurate preseason forecast is necessary to set commercial and recreational harvest levels that meet treaty obligations under U.S. v Oregon and conservation mandates to protect fish runs listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Ellis said this year the committee considered several additional models that took into account other factors such as ocean conditions.

“The number of jacks that returned in 2009 was four times greater than anything we’ve seen before, which made the number a statistical anomaly,” Ellis said. “At the same time, we know the environment for young salmon appears to be changing and we needed to account for that.”

“We’re still projecting a strong return for upriver spring chinook salmon next year, but we needed to temper last year’s jack return with other indicators of spring chinook abundance,” he added.

The seven models chosen by TAC generated a range of predicted run sizes from 366,000 to 528,000 adults. The committee members agreed on 470,000 as an average of the models.  This forecast will now be used by the managers to develop preseason fishing plans.

The Technical Advisory Committee was established under the US v. Oregon and includes representatives from Oregon, Idaho and Washington fish and wildlife departments, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (on behalf of the Nez Perce tribe, the Umatilla tribe, the Warm Springs tribe and the Yakama Nation,) the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, the National Marine Fisheries Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Chrome Coho For NWS Pen

December 10, 2009

Jason Brooks, one of my Western Washington writers, floated the Humptulips River on the southwest side of the Olympic Peninsula for coho earlier this week with guide Mark Coleman (425-736-8920). Here’s his report:

Andy,

So, my buddy Grant calls me on Sunday to let me know that the trip is “on” for Monday and that we need to meet Mark Coleman (All Rivers Guide Service) at 5:30 near the Humptulips, which means I had to pick up Grant at 3:30!

All goes well, and we spend some coin at the local 7-11 in Aberdeen, fill that gas tank as well, and head to the river with a balmy 21 degrees — not including wind chill.

As we stand on the gravel bar launch at 6:00, I start to tell Grant that it won’t be daylight for another hour or more when Mark walks up after parking his rig and says, “Let’s go!”

SLAVE-DRIVER COLEMAN ON THE STICKS. (JASON BROOKS)

Now my idea of fun isn’t exactly floating down a river in the dark in sub-freezing temperatures, more like a margarita on a sunny beach in Mexico, which is what I kept telling myself as I began to lose the feelings of all my extremities!

IT'S FUH-REAKIN' COLD! (JASON BROOKS)

Let me say, that “Boat Chute” just above the hatchery on the Hump is a bit like “Splash Mountain” at Disneyland, minus the warm sun, Briar Rabbit theme or the popcorn and cotton candy at the end.

OK, looking back on it, it is nothing like Splash Mountain, but again I kept telling myself, “This will be fun…”

At the moment of commitment, passing the point of no return, Grant and I get into a discussion of our PFDs. Mine is the auto inflatable one and his is the neoprene vest type. Mark isn’t wearing any and we both conclude that if the boat does flip, he is the smartest guy on the trip. After all, he will succumb quickly, while Grant and I will become bobbers and die slowly.

Just then the boat gets sucked down the chute … and we came out floating down the other side.

Finally the sun comes up and we begin to fish, and by 10:15 we had landed 10 coho and had our limit of chrome!

GRANT FIGHTS A COHO. (JASON BROOKS)

COLEMAN SHOWS OFF A CHROME COHO. (JASON BROOKS)

GRANT AND JASON WITH A QUARTET OF SWEET LATE COHO. (JASON BROOKS)

We tossed spinners and other lures, and fished your basic coho holding water — back eddies, frog water areas and the inside of the river bends (again, back eddies).

It was fast and furious — Grant caught three fish in four casts — but we did learn after pulling a few fish out of a hole the hole would go “dead” and we would move on. Mark said that the fish are stacked up tight in the holes and that once they get “stirred up,” it took a while for the fish to calm down and this was the reason we launched in the dark, as he wanted to be first at a certain hole he likes to fish. It turns out there was only one other boat on the river the entire day, so we pretty much had the entire river to ourselves.

We decide to spend the rest of the day float fishing jigs for steelhead, attempting to break my reputation. It was a close one: Grant had two take-downs but my reputation is well intact — no steelhead!

Hope all is well and sleep comes soon,

Jason

How Gregoire’s Budget Would Affect WDFW

December 9, 2009

Skip the county fair, lay off some high honcho in Olympia, buy 11 percent less hay for hungry deer and elk next winter.

Just a few of the lowlights for the Department of Fish & Wildlife from Gov. Christine Gregoire’s proposed 2010-11 supplemental budget, revealed Dec. 9. She’s attempting to deal with a $2.6 billion shortfall.

While her budget is balanced as mandated by law, Gregoire is also discussing raising taxes to “buy back” some social programs that would otherwise be cut.

As for positives, the agency is tasked with opening 200,000 more acres of private land for hunting, but the Department of Natural Resources is also being asked to close 22 primitive recreational facilities around the state.

Here’s a rundown of what would be affected for WDFW:

Reduce Outreach and Education
Funding for outreach and education programs is reduced by six percent. This reduction decreases funding for partnerships offering youth fishing opportunities, and eliminates funding for natural resource law enforcement education and outreach at fairs and outdoor shows.

Reduce Executive Management
The Department will reduce one executive management position and consolidate administrative and policy functions.

Reduce Wildlife Disease Monitoring

Funding for the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Laboratory and testing for contaminants in salmon and other species is reduced by 18 percent in Fiscal Year 2011.

Reduce Winter Feeding of Wildlife

Funding for the winter feeding of wildlife is reduced by 11 percent on a one-time basis.

Reduce Wildlife Area Management Planning
The Department manages over nine million acres of wildlife habitat. Funding for wildlife area management planning is reduced three percent, delaying approximately 20 plans and updates and the input from citizen advisory groups needed for those plans.

Fund Hatcheries Using Partnerships
The Department will identify hatcheries that primarily benefit a specific region, with little commercial production, that are suitable for partnerships with local groups. It is assumed that two hatchery facilities will operate without General Fund-State support by July 2010.

Reduce Fisheries Management Authority
Reductions are made to the expenditure authority for five accounts. No planned work will be reduced. (Special Wildlife Account-Federal, Sea Cucumber Dive Fishery Account Nonappropriated, Puget Sound Crab Pot Buoy Tag Account-Nonappropriated, Washington Coastal Crab Pot Buoy Tag Account-Nonappropriated, Recreational Fisheries Enhancement Account-State)

Less Scientific Assistance for Salmon Recovery

On a one-time basis, technical assistance to local salmon recovery efforts is reduced by 2.5 percent. This reduction means lead entities will have less access to engineering and biology technical support from the Department.

Eliminate Regional Fisheries Enhancement Group Advisory Board #

Funding is eliminated for the Regional Fisheries Enhancement Group Advisory Board. (Regional Fisheries Enhancement Group Account-Nonappropriated)

Restore Aviation Funding

As part of a re-evaluation of statewide aviation needs, funding is restored for the maintenance and operation of the Department’s Partenavia aircraft. The Partenavia is ideally suited for survey missions and fish planting, and will assist the Department of Natural Resources with fire suppression coordination.

Revenue Accounting Correction
The Department will correct the way in which payments to the contractor who developed and operates the Washington Interactive Licensing Database system are accounted. The contractor receives a fee from the license surcharge paid by users of that automated licensing system. The contractor’s fee has been treated as negative revenue, rather than as revenue into and expenditures out of the State Wildlife Account. Correcting this will require higher expenditure authority for the agency and increases accounted revenue by an equal amount. This accounting correction has no net fiscal impact. (State Wildlife Account-State)

Maintain Core Administrative Functions

The Department’s indirect rate for administration and overhead from federal grants has been reduced, resulting in a net loss of approximately $3.8 million for the 2009-11 Biennium. The lower revenue creates a deficit in basic administrative services, such as payroll, contracts, budget, and accounting. The Department will absorb roughly half of these impacts through vacancy management. Funding is provided on a one-time basis to partially restore the loss from the lower indirect rate. This funding allows the agency to avoid eliminating 26 administrative staff positions above the 28 positions eliminated in the 2009-11 Budget. (State Wildlife Account-State)

Operating Costs for New Wildlife Lands
In Fiscal Year 2009 the Department completed land acquisition transactions for 9,067 acres. These acres were acquired with legislatively approved and allocated capital funds through the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. The necessary operating funding to maintain these new land acquisitions is provided, enabling the Department to utilize and manage new wildlife areas, natural lands, and water access sites, and to provide safe access, clean toilets, and weed control.

Wildfire on Department of Fish and Wildlife Lands

One-time funding is provided for fire suppression activity costs incurred during Fiscal Year 2010. The majority of these costs are for on-site fire suppression, but also include restoring native perennial vegetation to control erosion and limit the spread of noxious weeds.

Payments in Lieu of Taxes and Assessments
Ongoing funding is provided to pay for statutorily required payments to local government entities. The Department is required to compensate counties for lost property tax revenue for department owned lands through payment in lieu of taxes. In addition, the Department pays local assessments for weed control, storm water management, lake management districts, and diking districts.

Derelict Gear Removal Technical Adjustment
Funding for derelict fishing gear removal is redistributed between fiscal years so that the program can operate steadily throughout the biennium.

Fund Support Programs Proportionately
Funding is provided to help replace General Fund-State subsidies that were eliminated in the 2009-11 Budget, using available fund balance in a dedicated account. As part of the Department’s review of how various funds contribute toward agency-wide services, funding ($210,000 per year) is provided beginning in Fiscal Year 2011 to pay for administrative support services proportionately. Another $250,000 per fiscal year will support the automated Washington Interactive Licensing Database system, allowing it to operate at its normal capacity after state general funds were eliminated. (State Wildlife Account-State)

Increase Hunter Access on Private Land

In response to the demand for additional hunting lands, the Department will bring 200,000 additional acres of private land under contract for recreational access. Contract leases provide a new revenue source for rural landowners, and the Department provides some funds for minor improvements to prevent or mitigate litter and vandalism. Hunting generates $350 million of economic activity annually, which is especially welcome in rural parts of the state. The program is funded through special hunting permit application fees. (State Wildlife Account-State)

What’s Fishin’ In Oregon

December 9, 2009

Highlights from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s weekly Recreation Report include:

SOUTHWEST ZONE

  • Over 200 adult, fin-clipped coho were stocked into Galesville Reservoir recently. Anglers can harvest one of these fish per day as a “trout” over 20 inches. For information on boat launching conditions, call 541-837-3302.
  • Both the Smith and South Umpqua rivers open for winter steelhead fishing on Dec. 1.
  • Winter steelhead are starting to appear in many rivers and creeks, including the Chetco, Coos, Coquille, Rogue, Umpqua and Tenmile. Look for fishing to pick up after some good rain helps get fish moving.

NORTHWEST ZONE

  • Big Creek is low and clear. A few early winter steelhead are being caught. Expect angling to pick up over the next few weeks as more fish enter the system. This small stream is a good bet early in the season. Bobber and jig, spinners, or baits drifted along the bottom all will produce fish.
  • A few early winter steelhead are available in the Klaskanine system. Look for fishing to improve steadily over the next few weeks. More rain is needed to raise the stream to good, fishable levels. Use light gear and approach holes carefully to avoid spooking fish.
  • A few early winter steelhead are available in the lower Necanicum. A few chinook are still be in the river, but most are spawning and should be left alone. The river is very low.

WILLAMETTE ZONE

  • Large brood trout were released this week at several Willamette Valley ponds, including Junction City, Walter Wirth, Walling, West Salish, Mt. Hood, and St. Louis #6. The fish are 4- and 5-year-old rainbow trout from ODFW’s Roaring River hatchery and range in size from 8 to 18 pounds.
  • Winter steelhead are starting to arrive in the lower Willamette, Clackamas and Sandy rivers.
  • Sturgeon fishing is fair on the lower Willamette River.

CENTRAL ZONE

  • Good numbers of summer steelhead remain in the Deschutes primarily from Maupin upstream to Pelton Dam. The highest density of steelhead are likely to be from South Junction upstream to Warm Springs. Anglers are reporting good success on both flies and lures. As a reminder, the Deschutes River upstream of the northern border of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation closes December 31, 2009. Anglers who catch a tagged hatchery steelhead with an orange anchor tag, are encouraged to report catch information to ODFW at 541-296-4628 or via the internet at http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/The_Dalles/fish_tag_returns.asp. Anglers catching a tagged wild fish should release it immediately without recording any information.

NORTHEAST ZONE

  • Water conditions on the Umatilla River have been low and clear and steelhead fishing has been good.

MARINE ZONE

  • Bottom fishing is good when ocean conditions permit. Ling cod should begin moving into shallower waters to spawn. Divers may find success spearing along rocky jetties for ling cod and black rockfish.
  • A series of minus tides starting around sundown on Sunday, Dec. 12, will provide clamming opportunities for those with lanterns. Recreational and commercial clam harvesting is open on the entire Oregon Coast, from the mouth of the Columbia River to the California border. This includes clam harvesting on beaches and inside bays.
  • Ocean crabbing opened Dec. 1. Crabbing in the ocean this time of year can be very productive, but also dangerous because of wind, sea and bar conditions.