All posts by Andy Walgamott

Sturgeon News

The infamous “Wall” in Oregon City, a bank-fishing spot for Willamette River anglers, may close, reports the Statesman Journal in Salem, while KIRO TV reports on poaching rings capturing oversize fish in the Columbia, tethering them up and offering them for sale.

For a picture of The Wall, and previous coverage of sturgeon issues in the Willamette, see Bill Monroe’s piece here and here.

Sea Lions Munch 300+ Sturgeon In January

A report in today’s Columbia Basin Bulletin says that from Jan. 8 through the end of last month, Steller and California sea lions had eaten well over 300 white sturgeon below Bonneville Dam.

A little bit concerning seeing as how that number is “already nearly halfway to last year’s record total, 758,” CBB reports.

The pinnipeds are being monitored five days a week; last year, researchers started counting Jan. 13.

The sturgeon taken last year were estimated to be from 2 to 7 feet long but most, 79.4 percent were fish 4 feet long or shorter, according to the study’s final 2009 report.

CBB points out that predation will probably switch over to springers as this year’s forecasted bumper run builds next month. Sea lions, the article says, usually leave the dam in May.

There’s also word that NOAA Fisheries is about to begin a review of the status of ESA-protected Steller sea lions in the eastern Pacific “in the very near future,” a spokeswoman for the federal agency tells CBB.

City Coyotes Do Better Than Their Country Cousins

Fascinating natural-history material on coyotes in an article in Scientific American, out today.

For instance, writes author Lynne Peeples:

Coyotes in urban settings have a far greater rate of survival than their rural counterparts: Between 60 and 70 percent of adults and pups survive each year in the city, whereas in the country—in the face of rampant hunting and trapping—they may have only a 15 to 30 percent chance of survival.

Coyotes, of course, were in the news recently in the Northwest when WDFW had to kill an aggressive male in Seattle’s Discovery Park, just 4 miles from Pike Place Market and downtown.

The story discusses what makes some urban coyotes good and some bad — hint, sounds like it partially has to do with how much handout from humans they’re getting — how to live with them, and the best ways to avoid conflicts. Since obviously hunting isn’t an option in the big city, researchers are studying alternate ways to instill fear of humans, “from firing paintballs and Super Soaker water guns at coyotes, to clanging pots and pans and installing motion-sensor lights,” Peeples writes.

But why are the songdogs being drawn to the bright lights?

A New York photographer offers an interesting insight:

“I started out with the idea that the coyote has been dislocated from its natural environment,” (Amy) Stein says. “But it’s more resourceful than I thought. The coyote is reclaiming a new environment: the human environment.”

Tribes To Gauge Salmon Habitat Work


We know that protecting and restoring habitat are the keys to wild salmon recovery. But how are we really doing on that front?

Puget Sound chinook and steelhead, Hood Canal summer chum and Lake Ozette sockeye are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Meanwhile, our culture, treaty rights and way of life – everything that makes us Indian people – are disappearing a little every day, just like the salmon.

We know that we can’t count on the ESA to protect us, our treaty rights and the natural resources that we depend on. And we know that salmon recovery begins and ends with habitat.

That’s why this year, the 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington are beginning a project to help gauge just how we’re doing when it comes to habitat protection and restoration.

In 2004 and 2005 the joint tribal/state Salmon and Steelhead Habitat Inventory and Assessment Program (SSHIAP) produced the State of Our Watersheds, reports that captured the status of salmon stocks and habitat in western Washington. What the reports didn’t tell us were the results of the natural resources management decisions being made.

We’re looking to change that through a new effort that will track key indicators identified by tribes to find out the impacts of our protection and restoration efforts regionwide.

Are threats such as development and water withdrawals being balanced by responses through the federal Clean Water Act, state stormwater rules and other laws? Are these responses leading to salmon recovery? Are the restrictions imposed on harvest balanced by restrictions on habitat loss and degradation?

We will focus on fish, harvest, water quality/quantity and land-use rules. The first phase of the effort to begin this year will focus on the Skokomish, Quinault and Snohomish river systems.

We know that we can’t wait for the ESA to save the salmon or us. We may not like what we find, but we have to have the courage to look for ourselves to see how we are doing at recovering habitat.–Billy Frank Jr., chairman, NWIFC

More On The Abolishing Of WDFW

Our head’s-up piece on the abolishing of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has gotten huge hits the last few days, but unfortunately, we haven’t been able to learn much beyond what is in the digest for Senate Bill 6813.

A key cosponsor has yet to call us back, but from what a WDFW source told us earlier today, because of the bill’s classification, it may not die at the midnight Feb. 5 legislative cutoff if it’s not moved out of committee, as an information officer in the state capitol informed us earlier this week.

In a nutshell, SB 6813 would kill off WDFW and the State Parks and Recreation Commission by folding them into the Department of Natural Resources. The Commissioner of Public Lands (currently Peter Goldmark) would be the head honcho.

The Fish & Wildlife Commission would be one of the mega agency’s three boards and still be in charge of making fishing and hunting rules, etc., but would only be able to make recommendations on the overall department’s budget.

A preamble, if you will, to 6813 reads:

The legislature finds that perpetual management of Washington state natural resources, including sustainable harvesting of minerals, timber, and other forest products, and the preservation and protection of fish and wildlife and recreational opportunities requires clear, efficient, streamlined, and scientific management by a single state agency. Such a consolidation will bring combined resources to bear on securing, managing, and enhancing all of the state’s natural resources. It will simplify licensing, amplify research, avoid duplication, and magnify enforcement of laws and rules. It will provide all forest landowners, fishers, hunters, users of recreation, and tribal fisheries comanagers with a single source of consistent policies, procedures, and access.

Tom Davis, WDFW’s legislative liason, says WDFW, DNR and State Parks had JUST begun to work on a fiscal impact statement for the bill this morning.

Meanwhile, he’s got his eyes on some other stuff in Olympia.

House Bill 2485 would, he says, restrain the agency’s ability to buy land in certain areas where there’s already a lot of public land.

He points to Okanogan County, part of which is repped by bill cosponsor Joel Kretz, a Republican, and deputy minority leader of the house. Washington’s biggest county has some of the biggest chunks of intact habitat left in the state, and an area WDFW’s real estate division always seems to be picking up parcels large and small.

“We need to make sure county commissioners are OK with our land purchases,” Davis says, but he also points out that private landowners are free to sell to whomever.

While they can sell to developers as well, “to us, land acquisition is the best way to protect habitat,” Davis says. “We just have to be sensitive how we do it.”

He points out that WDFW pays PILT, or payment in lieu of taxes, on almost all acreage they own.

But there’s something of a sagebrush rebellion going on. Another bill in Olympia, HB 2934, which has since died, would have prevented the agency from buying land for more than the appraised current use value.

That’s different than fair-market value, and might only be 50 percent of it.

Davis says that it’s a big deal in Eastern Washington where state land buys can pull land out of agricultural productivity by outbidding local farmers.

The last bill Davis mentioned is HB 2593, dealing with derelict crab pots. This bill originally had a provision for collecting donations of $2 from recreational crabbers to collect lost pots in the Sound and Straits, but that has since been dropped, says Davis.

Now the bill would allow WDFW to spend crab endorsement money on pulling up derelict gear in the Straits and Sound.

“Twelve thousand pots a year are lost, and they may fish up to two years. You might have 1 million crab a year impacted,” says Davis. “It’s a small start, but a tool to focus on the problem.”

The bill would also allow citations to be issued to commercial crabbers if they are caught using noncompliant gear.

Word Of The Day: Hoplophobia

I learned a new word today: hoplophobia.

No, not the fear of hopping, or an extinct North American proto-cat in the Nimravidae family.

Rather, the fear of — according to Wikipedia — “firearms or alternatively, an irrational fear of weapons in general.”

Dave Workman pulled the term out for his latest Seattle Gun Rights Examiner column.

He writes that the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence is trying to “browbeat” Starbucks “into refusing service to an evidently growing clientele of law-abiding firearms owners” who are openly carrying their Berettas along with their fresh brews.

In an e-mail message sent out this week, Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke laments that, “Starbucks is refusing to prohibit open carrying in its stores, despite protests from loyal customers.”

This was after Helmke acknowledged that his campaign of social bigotry against legally-armed citizens was launched because, “Over the past few months, more and more gun owners have been gathering at restaurants and coffee shops like Starbucks with guns strapped to their hips, intimidating fellow patrons.”
So, let me see if I have this straight. Because Starbucks is attracting increasing numbers of gun owners – presumably becoming the kind of loyal customers about whom Helmke writes – he wants the coffee chain to ban these people, in deference to his own ilk of hoplophobes.
In reaction, even more gun owners are declaring a sudden thirst for Starbucks blend and heading to their local coffee stand.
Hoplophobia, meet the kings of caffeine.

What’s Fishin’ In Washington

One spring Chinook down, 469,999 to go.

Or something like that.

While news of the first springer of the year may distract some anglers, there are plenty of other fishing opportunities to be had around Washington — rainbows, blackmouth, steelhead, browns, kokanee, sturgeon and more.

Here’s WDFW’s most recent Weekender:


Most marine areas in Puget Sound are open for salmon, but blackmouth fishing has yet to heat up this year.

“I’ve heard reports of anglers reeling in a salmon here and a salmon there, but overall fishing for blackmouth has been slow,” said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist.

Marine areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) and 9 (Admiralty Inlet) are open for blackmouth – resident chinook. Anglers fishing those marine areas have a two-salmon daily limit, but must release wild chinook.

Thiesfeld reminds anglers that Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton) is closed to salmon fishing.

In the rivers, steelhead fishing continues to be slow as well. Some hatchery steelhead have been reeled in recently at Reiter Ponds on the Skykomish River and at Tokul Creek. There also have been reports of some wild steelhead in the Pilchuck and Wallace rivers, said Bob Leland, WDFW’s steelhead program manager.

Leland reminds anglers that the Green River is closed to fishing from the 1st Ave. South Bridge upstream to the Tacoma Headworks Dam, and the Skagit and Sauk rivers close Feb. 16. With low steelhead returns expected back to those rivers, the emergency closures are necessary to protect wild steelhead, Leland said.

Meanwhile, a portion of the North Fork Nooksack River re-opened Feb. 2.

Details on all of these emergency rules can be found on WDFW’s fishing regulation website at .

Freshwater anglers looking for a change of pace might want to try fishing for cutthroat trout in Lake Washington. The daily limit is five trout, but rainbow trout measuring more than 20 inches and steelhead must be released.


Several new areas of Puget Sound are opening to blackmouth fishing, more wild steelhead are moving into coastal rivers and another razor clam dig is tentatively scheduled for later this month.

“Blackmouth fishing has been pretty slow around the Sound, but these new areas could be a different story,” said Steve Thiesfeld, a WDFW fish biologist.  He was talking about marine areas 11 (Tacoma-Vashon) and 12 (Hood Canal), both of which opened to fishing for resident chinook salmon Feb. 1.

Starting Feb. 13, anglers will also be able to fish for blackmouth in marine areas 5 and 6 on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

There is a daily limit of one chinook, measuring at least 22 inches, in all of those areas, although anglers fishing for blackmouth in Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) can keep two fish per day.  Marine Area 10 (Seattle-Bremerton) closed for blackmouth fishing Jan. 31.

Rather fish for steelhead ?  This is the time of year when wild steelhead begin moving into coastal rivers in large numbers and – as of Feb. 1 – most of those rivers were in good shape for fishing, said Randy Cooper, another WDFW fish biologist.

“Fishing has been pretty good on the lower Hoh River, although the Sol Duc has been drawing the largest number of anglers,” Cooper said.  “Hatchery steelhead are clearly winding down, but the fishery for wild fish should keep improving through the month.”

Anglers may retain one wild steelhead per license year on the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Hoh, Hoko, Pysht, Quillayute, Quinault and Sol Duc rivers.  On all other rivers, anglers may retain only hatchery-reared steelhead marked with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar. Specific rules for each river are described in the 2009-10 Fishing in Washington pamphlet at

WDFW has tentatively scheduled an evening razor clam dig at several ocean beaches in late February, pending the results of marine toxin tests.  Shellfish managers are optimistic that elevated levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) – which disqualified Long Beach from a dig in late January – will have dissipated by then.

“The toxin appears to have moved up the coast from Oregon, where it has cleared up enough to open beaches for razor clam digging,” said Dan Ayes, WDFW coastal shellfish coordinator.  “That’s a good sign, but it’s still important that diggers here wait for a final announcement on the opening before they hit the beach.”

Approved digging days in February for specific beaches are shown below, along with evening low tides:

* Friday, Feb. 26, (4:49 p.m., -0.7) Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks
* Saturday, Feb. 27, (5:34 p.m., -0.9) Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch
* Sunday, Feb. 28, (6:16 p.m., -0.8) Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks, Kalaloch

Harvesters may take no more than 15 razor clams and must keep the first 15 taken, regardless of size or condition. Each digger’s limit must be kept in a separate container. All diggers must have an applicable 2009-10 fishing license to dig razor clams on any beach. A license is required for anyone age 15 or older.

Anglers can buy a combination license or an annual shellfish/seaweed license. Also available are razor-clam only licenses in annual or three-day only versions. Descriptions of the various licensing options are available on the WDFW website at . A list of state license vendors is available at .


The first spring chinook salmon of the year was caught Feb. 1 in the Columbia River off Davis Bar, west of Vancouver.  The fish reportedly took a cutplug herring on a “downhill” troll with the current.

So began the 2010 spring chinook fishery, which could promise to be one of the best on record.  With over 550,000 springers predicted to return to the Columbia River this year, anglers are already prospecting for early arrivals.

Columbia River anglers may retain hatchery-reared spring chinook under last year’s rules until fishery managers from Washington and Oregon meet to establish new fishing seasons for the remainder of 2010.  That meeting, which is open to the public, is set to begin at 10 a.m. Feb. 18 in Oregon City, 211 Tumwater Dr.

But since the bulk of the spring chinook run isn’t expected to arrive until mid-March, anglers may want to consider some other options between now and then:

* Winter steelhead:   Anglers fishing The Dalles Pool have been averaging one to 1.5 steelhead per rod, although 70 percent of the fish were wild and had to be released.  Meanwhile, late-run winter steelhead are beginning to move toward the hatcheries on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers where they were raised. The fishery for late-run fish tends to peak in late February and early March, although some late-run steelhead are already beginning to show up in the catch.

* White sturgeon:    Catch rates of legal-size sturgeon have picked up above Bonneville Dam in recent days, likely triggered by warming water temperatures.  Sturgeon fishing in the lower river remains slow, but that could change if smelt return to the Cowlitz River in greater numbers than expected.  Sturgeon regulations for all areas of the lower Columbia River listed in the Fishing in Washington rule pamphlet will remain in effect through February.  New seasons will be set by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon at a public meeting scheduled Feb. 18 in Oregon City, Ore.

* Smelt: Projecting another poor return, WDFW is limiting the Cowlitz River sport fishery for smelt to four days this winter. The Cowlitz will be open for smelt dipping Feb. 6, 13, 20 and 27, between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. with a 10-pound daily limit. Sport fishing for smelt on the mainstem Columbia River opened seven days per week, 24-hours day, starting Jan. 1, although anglers catch very few fish there. Commercial boats on the Columbia landed about 2,700 pounds of smelt in January, but the catch dropped off  during the last few days  of fishing.

* Trout:   While nothing is certain, anglers have a pretty good chance of catching trout – some averaging eight pounds – in lakes planted by WDFW during the winter months. At Klineline Pond, 106 bank anglers caught and kept 123 catchable-size rainbows and 10 broodstock rainbows and released another 106 catchables and three brooders during the last week of January.  During that week, Klineline was stocked with 4,500 catchables, Lake Sacajawea in Longview got 3,000 catchables and Battleground Lake got 1,500 catchable, plus 150 surplus hatchery steelhead averaging eight pounds each.  In addition, a couple of lakes in the gorge (Rowland Lake near Lyle and Spearfish Lake near Dallesport) got a total of nearly 100 broodstock rainbows averaging four pounds each.

During the last week in January, Tacoma Power recovered 44 winter-run steelhead, five coho adults and one jack during five days of operation at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.  Also that week, Tacoma Power employees released five winter-run steelhead into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton and 11 winter-run steelhead and one coho jack into Lake Scanewa behind Cowlitz Falls Dam.


Ice on lakes throughout most of the region remains questionable since daytime temperatures have been above 40 degrees. Bill Baker, WDFW northeast district fish biologist, said the two winter-season rainbow trout lakes – Williams and Hatch lakes in Stevens County near Colville – remain iced over and a few folks are fishing through the ice.  But ice fishing is definitely “at your own risk,” he said. Baker encourages anglers to check WDFW’s ice fishing safety information at .

Chris Donley, WDFW central district fish biologist, said there is open water at the northeast end of Sprague Lake, and anglers continue to catch the lake’s big rainbow trout . Year-round Eloika Lake in north Spokane County has mostly open water for anglers.

Year-round Rock Lake in Whitman County rarely freezes up completely and has been providing good open-water fishing for rainbow and brown trout .

“But the best bet right now is still Lake Roosevelt,” Donley said. “The rainbow trout and kokanee fishing there is very good, especially on the south end.”

Steelhead fishing is also good in the Snake River drainage, especially on the tributaries like the Grand Ronde, Touchet, Tucannon, and Walla Walla.  When water levels drop and the water clears, steelhead are harder to catch. But the fish are there, so persistent anglers can be successful. Anglers fishing the system can retain hatchery steelhead, but are required to release all wild fish. See the details in the rules pamphlet at .


WDFW fish biologist Matt Polacek recommends year-round Banks Lake in Grant County for good fishing opportunities for rainbow trout and kokanee.

“The main lake is ice free,” he said, “but a small group of anglers are also catching whitefish and perch through the ice on the south end of Banks Lake.”

Warmer weather has opened up previously iced-over sections of the Methow and Okanogan rivers, providing some good winter steelhead fishing.  WDFW district fish biologist Bob Jateff of Twisp reports catch rates of one fish for every six to eight hours of fishing for the last two weeks.

“Jig and bobber setups for the gear fishermen, as well as smaller flies under float indicators for the fly fishermen, have all been producing catches of steelhead,” Jateff said.

Jateff reminds steelheaders that both the Okanogan and the Methow are under selective gear rules and no bait is allowed.  Retention of hatchery-origin fish with clipped adipose fins is mandatory, up to the daily limit of four.  Anglers should make sure to gain permission before crossing private property alongside both of these rivers.

Meanwhile, ice fishing opportunities on Okanogan County lakes has been reduced due to warming temperatures.

“The ice in some areas appears to be unstable,” he said.  “However, Patterson Lake in the Winthrop area is still producing catches of yellow perch , with a few rainbows mixed in.  There is no minimum size and no daily limit on yellow perch in Patterson because we actually want anglers to remove as many as possible.”

For information on ice-fishing safety, see .

The Methow River is open to whitefish from Gold Creek upstream to the falls above Brush Creek and the Chewuch River from the mouth to the Pasayten Wilderness boundary.  The Similkameen River is open from the mouth to the Canadian border.  Jateff notes those fishing for whitefish in areas that are currently open for steelhead must use selective gear (single barbless lures and flies, no bait allowed).


Three out of 14 boat anglers fishing the John Day Pool on the Columbia River took home a legal-size sturgeon, according to a creel survey conducted the last week of January.  “Legal-size sturgeon must measure between 43 and 54 inches in fork length,” said Paul Hoffarth, a WDFW fish biologist. “New regulations went into effect last year changing how sturgeon are measured from total length to fork length.  Fork length is defined as the distance from the tip of the nose to the middle of the fork in the tail, and that’s the length you record on your catch record card, even if the card has the old ‘total length’ column.”

Hoffarth notes the sturgeon fishery in this area will remain open until the quota is reached and closure announced.

“Walleye fishing in the Tri-Cities area and upstream in the Snake River is beginning to pick up,” Hoffarth said. “Anglers are reporting fair catches below and above McNary Dam and in the Snake River below Ice Harbor and Little Goose dams.”

Hoffarth says steelhead fishing in the district has been spotty this winter but should pick up in late February and early March.

Oregon Hunter Numbers Climb Again

Mark Freeman of the Medford Mail Tribune reports a 2009 survey found that for the second straight year — and despite the recession — the number of hunters grew in Oregon.

Hunting participation rose 1.38 percent between 2007 and ’08, then rose another 5.22 percent last year to just shy of 300,000, (ODFW spokeswoman Michelle) Dennehy says.

The story cites a press release from the National Shooting Sports Foundation which says that a 12-state nationwide index saw participation up 3.5 percent overall last year.

Nine states recorded growth, according to NSSF.

“Many factors such as weather and the economy affect hunting license sales in any given year, but in 2009 the economy likely had a more significant effect,” said Jim Curcuruto, NSSF’s director of industry research and analysis, in a press release. “While the reasons for the 3.5 percent increase are speculative, past research shows that during slowdowns in the nation’s economy it is possible that people have more time to hunt and that hunters take the opportunity to fill their freezers with nutritious, high-protein meat acquired at lower cost than if a similar amount was purchased at the supermarket.”

Besides Oregon, other index states include New York, New Jersey, Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee,  Minnesota, Indiana, Kansas, Texas and Utah. They were selected because of consistent reliable data over time.

Freeman reports that Dennehy credits “SportsPac and juvenile licenses, as well as nonresident and three-day nonresident bird-hunting licenses” for the rise.

Elk-car Crashes Said To Be On Rise Near Astoria

Car-elk collisions are said to be on the uptick along Oregon’s extreme North Coast, and the reasons cited for why include large new developments that have reduced habitat near Warrenton, reports the Daily Astorian.

Sgt. Jeff Scroup, a fish and wildlife officer with the Oregon State Police for more than 26 years, agreed that habitat loss may be a factor, but in his opinion, the large number of accidents is a sign the animals are thriving.

“I think partly the number of deer and elk road-struck demonstrates the healthy deer and elk populations here in Clatsop County,” Scroup explained.

The lengthy article mentions one human fatality from a car crash, details areas where collisions seem to take place and more.

In our February issue, we talk about how one Washington valley is dealing with an influx of elk in the settled lowlands.

Abolish WDFW?!?

Abolish the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife!?

To some it might seem a gift from on high, and a bill introduced in Olympia yesterday aims to do just that.

Senate Bill 6813, sponsored by a trio of central Pugetropolis Democrats — Senators Tom, Rockefeller and Shin — would abolish “the department of fish and wildlife and transfers its powers, duties, and functions to the department of natural resources.”

It would do away with State Parks Commission and move that department to DNR as well.

Reform of natural resource agencies has been brewing for awhile. Last year, Gov. Gregoire asked numerous departments to come up with ideas on how to reform management, reduce costs and improve service delivery in light of the state’s $9 billion budget shortfall.

However, in December, a panel recommended to her that WDFW, DNR and other departments not be bundled. Instead, WDFW would work to unify instate regions, smooth permitting, better coordinate fieldwork and identify redundancies between it, DNR and DOE.

The cutoff for bills to move out of Senate committees is midnight, Feb. 5. It must then be passed out of the full Senate by Feb. 16.

We’ve got calls in to learn more about the bill’s odds as well as the rationale behind it.