Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

On The Trail Of Fishing And Hunting In Germany

Der Angler was right where you’d have expected one to be, casting into the tailrace of a low head dam.

We’d just waltzed the Philosophenweg on the hillside across from Heidelberg and were crossing the Neckar back to the Altstadt for lunch and ice cream when I looked over and saw the man fishing off a ramp sloping into the river.


It was late morning and the sun was shining brightly over Southwest Germany that day earlier this month, but with how stained the water was below the spillway of a set of locks, I figured the fisherman must have felt he had a chance of hooking something.

And I knew there was something very big swimming nearby.

When Amy, River, Kiran and I had started our walk a couple hours before, I’d seen a dark back briefly surface about a half a kilometer downstream, leaving a large set of ripples on the otherwise calm river.

Holy Fahrvergnügen, what the $%@$ was that?!? was my first thought.

If it had been the Columbia, I would have immediately said sea lion, but neither the Neckar nor the Rhine it feeds are known for their pinnipeds, let alone manatees or freshwater dolphins.

As my family walked on ahead, I stood and watched the river, ruling out a swimmer, diver and the odd duck.

Had I just seen one of those wels catfish?

These sturgeon-sized bottomfeeders are native to the Danube and other Central and Eastern European basins, but have done well since being stocked in Western European watersheds, which run on the warmer side.

Pictures abound of fishermen in up to their gills in rivers and lakes while holding huge whiskerfish they’ve hooked and landed (they’re said not to taste good, so are mainly released).

I’m not sure if a wels was what this particular one was after, but I took a couple photos and, as one angler to another, wished him good luck.

It would not be the last time I crossed paths with fishing or hunting during our two-week trip throughout the middle and upper Rhine River valley and its tributaries.

BEING A NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN as well as a hook-and-bullet magazine editor, I naturally keep my eye open for fish and game wherever I go.

If there’s a stream, I’m peeking into it, wondering about its angling possibilities. If there’s a patch of forest, I’m curious about what its leaves and needles might be hiding.


Germany’s woods and waters hold red deer (Hirsch), wild boars (Wildschwein), ducks, rabbits and pigeon, as well as walleye (Zander), pike (Hecht), brown trout (Forelle), introduced grayling, and carp and its relative the asp, among other species.

Of course, fishing and hunting are tightly regulated there, far more so than here, where there are minimal barriers to entry by comparison.

A 2003 article in Montana Outdoors magazine outlines the rigorous steps needed just to get a hunting license — a year of study followed by a test that half are said to fail — as well as the social responsibilities that come with the activity.

Writes James Hagengruber:

The 450,000-some hunters in Germany play the combined role of game warden, wildlife biologist, and agricultural pest controller. They also must ensure that wild game animals have sufficient food and habitat. “The hunting right and the conservation duty are inseparable,” said [Thomas] Baumeister, [a German native who worked for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks].

And a post by a Neckar River valley-based catfisherman who has caught a 150-pound wels details some of what he’s faced with:

We have bans on using livebaits, night fishing, boat fishing, wild camping etc. and you have to abide by them. With special rigs and techniques, you can still present bunches of worms and deadbaits attractively. If you want to be successful, you have to use your imagination.

BUT DURING OUR RECENT TRAVELS through the country my wife was born and grew up in, we crossed contemporary as well as historical references to fishing and hunting, showing their cultural importance.

Right beside the Neckar in Heidelberg was the Goldener Hecht — golden pike — restaurant and hotel.


On the mountain above this university town were a number of hunting stands …




… and near one were fresh tracks of a Reh, a blacktail fawn-sized roe deer.


Outside Meersburg, we spotted a herd of the diminutive deer, though by the time I’d wheeled the rental SUV around to get a picture, all but one had retreated into a patch of trees.


Above the Rhine, Burg Rheinstein offered an impressive antlers-and-armor man cave.


One hotel we stayed at sported a large bear hide hung inside the front door, while on the floor of a never-conquered castle we toured was this wild boar rug …


… and at BaseCamp Bonn, a youth hostel where we stayed one night in a cramped train sleeper car, was this trailer sporting the somewhat miss-set antlers of a stag.


Unlike here, hunters can sell their game meat at farmers markets and to restaurants. At one countryside Gasthaus, I had Hirschragout und spaetzle, venison in sauce with noodles  — sehr lecker!


Elsewhere, several establishments offered Zander, including the restaurant-hotel across from ours on the Bodensee.


Speaking of Lake Constance, an open-air museum there that told the story of the people who lived in stilted villages on the water a couple thousand years ago had a display of their ancient fishing hooks …

… , though I’m not sure I would have trusted them to hold onto the carp swimming through the Pfahlbaumuseum’s sheltered cove.


For that, I might have consulted the Jenzi fishing catalog, a sticker for which was affixed to a bench above the Bodensee at Meersburg.


Thus properly outfitted, I wouldn’t have minded tempting the schools of silver fish swimming in the Tauber below the famed walled city of Rothenburg.


And while we did get up to just under 100 miles an hour on the Autobahn, on smaller country highways speed limits were lower and there were numerous wildlife overpasses helping to prevent collisions with critters — this pair was in southern Baden-Wurtemburg state.


No, don’t worry, I won’t be moving to Germany anytime soon for its fishing and hunting opportunities. I think those in the Northwest are much more varied and less restrictive to take advantage of.

But I do appreciate that there, those with the will, time, money and patience are able to experience a little of what we take for granted here, making me cherish our opportunities all the more.

The True Lay Of Our Land

Lidar helps geologists and others spot potential hazards such as areas at risk of landslides, but also provides unseen details of our fishing and hunting grounds.

By Andy Walgamott

Trib 87 was troublesome.

The tiny stream that feeds the Sammamish Slough vexed the city of Woodinville during the years I covered my hometown for the local weekly newspaper.

If memory serves, the city council and business folks had visions of developing the area where the creek spilled off tony Hollywood Hill and met the valley near Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Redhook Brewery, but where the flood-prone tributary should be tucked away out of sight and out of mind was problematic.

When it was put into a concrete raceway along 148th just north of the old schoolhouse, someone promptly stuck their car in it. When it was dewatered, a handful of dead fingerlings unexpectedly turned up in a low spot.


Even though I’ve forgotten much from those cub reporting days, I distinctly remember an exasperated council member turning to me and asking where I thought Trib 87’s historic channel was located.

I could see it plain as day: everywhere within a quarter mile of where it poured off the hillside onto the valley floor.

That’s where Trib 87 (now known as Derby Creek) acted as an alluvial fan. The rise of the land towards that point told me that since the Great Berg melted back to Canada, rain, snow and gravity had been doing their best to flush the hillside across what would eventually become the city’s tourist district.

A  TRAINED GEOMORPHOLOGIST I’m not, I will admit, but I do have more than a passing interest in Northwest landscapes.

I’ve spent several decades exploring them, fishing them, hunting them, photographing them, reading about them, wondering about them, poring over maps of them.

Speaking of maps, give me one and I am taken away. Doesn’t matter where it is, what it shows, what language it’s in, they suck me in. One of my wife Amy’s recipes is written on the back of a map of somewhere in the country she was born in, Germany. The 4-inch by 4-inch snippet shows some dorf and surrounding landschaft in exquisite detail – I could stare at it until the oven timer beeps and not get bored.

So as you can imagine I was enthralled this winter when the Washington Department of Natural Resources posted Lidar imagery for large swathes of Washington.

Lidar stands for light detection and ranging, and without going into all the techy stuff about how it all works, it’s basically X-ray vision. People flying around in airplanes use lasers and computers to see through the Earth’s clothes, which is to say the trees, shrubs and whatnot it’s swaddled in, producing a map that shows the true land of the land.

It really shines in well-watered Western Washington. Where on the Eastside, topographic features such as the Missoula Floods’ giant ripple marks on the Wenatchee area’s Crescent Bar stand out because the sagebrush only grows so high, vegetation hides all on the Westside.

Well, did.


FOR A WEEK right after DNR’s early January launch of the site (, after our boys were in bed I spent my evening free time zooming around my favorite spots covered by the data, moaning in exaggerated delight (to Amy’s increasing disgust) at what the subtle silver shading showed me.

Ancient river terraces, entrenched meanders, gigantic Ice Age channels, abandoned runoff deltas facing into the Cascades, fluted drumlin fields, mysterious mounds, wavecut beaches high above Puget Sound, the zigzag of logging roads up steep mountainsides, fault lines, scarps and landslides, and more hidden features were all suddenly visible.

One of the most interesting things I found was a series of pinpricks near Mount Rainier, revealed as if the Earth could no longer keep a little heroin habit secret. Eventually I realized they were likely artifacts of old coal mines near Carbonado.


Well to the north, in the forests of Larrabee State Park were anticlines and synclines worthy of the Appalachians, and cupping narrow lakes that Doug Huddle wrote about fishing in his North Sound column last May.


In central Snohomish County, bass- and trout-rich Flowing, Panther and Storm Lakes sit among a field of long, low, cone-shaped hills that mark where the glacier bent towards the southeast to fill up the Skykomish Valley clear back to just east of Reiter Ponds.


Speaking of the Sky, down at its lower end a series of oxbows amongst the cow pastures of the Tualco Valley make me wonder if that river and not the much closer Snoqualmie was responsible for digging out what is today Crescent Lake.

The vast flats between Tacoma, the town of Rainier and Olympia are revealed to be a complex mix of supersized channels that sent Pugetropolis runoff through Grays Harbor, and rumpily-frumpily ground where great bergs were surrounded by runoff and filled to become Lake St. Clair and other kettles we fish today.


Ahh, I literally could go on forever, but let me wrap up in Darrington, deep in the Cascades. I was out there on the last weekend in January that the Sauk was open for fishing and had hooked a couple bull trout and was trying for something shinier. But I couldn’t help casting back in my mind to the Lidar maps I’d seen of where the river once turned left down the valley of the North Fork Stilly but now plows north in a great side to side milling of boulders, gravel, sand and glacial grit, speaking to deep time and earth processes that are mostly obscured from view, save for the subtle bar I walked up to a hole I hoped hid a steelhead.


While Lidar is meant for scientists, engineers, planners and others (for more see, it also lets us see the true land of this land we fish and hunt, revealing its secrets and ever deeper mysteries.

What’s up with those thin lines across the western shoulder of Mt. Haystack above the Sky?

The General Speaks, Part II Of II: Herzog Looks Back, Ahead

Editor’s note: The following article by columnist Terry Wiest appears in the June 2017 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine. Part I in the series ran in the May issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine.

By Terry Wiest

Ah, yes, The General. He is a rare bird, for sure. On the surface he’s a madman. Start a conversation with Zog and he’ll have you in stitches within minutes. On the rivers, he is the emporer of the genus Oncorynchus, backed by sheer numbers of fish and trophies that are legendary in Northwest anglerdom.

Beyond the surface, however, is a different person, one with a deep love for the fish he has mastered. Indeed, the self-proclaimed leader of the Judas Priest fan club – who will soon sport a lightning bolt tattoo on his freshly shaved head – has a sensitive side.

With a head freshly shaved in anticipation of getting a Judas Priest lightning bolt tattoo on his noggin, Bill Herzog speaks during a recent outdoor radio show broadcast. (BILL HERZOG)

Following last issue’s extended interview, I sat down again with my quick-witted friend Bill Herzog and dug into the mind of this steelheading genius for more on what he’s doing to marshal support for his favorite species, who’s to blame for the diminished runs and what he’d like to see done more of on the rivers.

But first, a little about strikes of a different kind …

Terry Wiest: So I heard there’s another name you’re stuck with that we haven’t brought up yet – “The Landlord?”
Bill Herzog: Oh, you know it. I’ve had some decent success in bowling leagues and tournaments. A bowling alley is known as a “house.” So, someone referred to me as “The Landlord” – it stuck. And you know, I am a bowler first and a fisherman second!

TW: What’s your average?
BH: As of late it’s a 219. I have 19 sanctioned 300 games during league and tournament play, and I also held the four-game scratch record at Kitsap Bowl with a 1,091. For those of you wondering, that’s a 272 average for four games.

TW: So rumor has it you’re actually on quite a few committees and groups advocating for wild steelhead?
BH: Yes, true – but not only wild steelhead. I want to make that clear. If a system can sustain hatchery steelhead, I’m totally for it. We need fish to be able to harvest. Heck, we just need fish to be able to fish. If we can’t fish for wild steelhead to let them recover, I’m all for fishing for hatchery steelhead. Go out, bonk your two and have a nice meal.

I’m keeping very busy doing my part to bring back steelheading to Puget Sound. Puget Sound is the birthplace of steelhead. Not Canada. Not the coast. Puget Sound. I’m determined to do everything in my power to make sure that I catch my last steelhead where I caught my first [the Puyallup].

TW: Those groups are?
BH: First off, Wild Steelheaders United. Again, we’re all for wild steelhead, but when viable, hatchery steelhead too. And don’t misquote me on this [laughs].

I’m also involved with Trout Unlimited and have been appointed, along with 16 others, by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to the Puget Sound Steelhead Advisory Group.

TW: A few years ago you were quoted talking about a steelhead permit lottery. Now it’s the “Four is enough” campaign. What’s the latter all about?
BH: Brian O’Keefe actually is the brains behind the Four is enough movement. Basically, what this involves is paying forward to those anglers behind us on the river. It’s self-governing, so no regulations need to be changed. It’s a matter of getting the word out, believing in it and practicing it.

We as anglers have become too freakin’ good. Between experience, better science and better gear, the fish don’t have a chance. Generally speaking, the first couple boats down a river can now destroy the fish – double-digit days and hookups in every hole. Fantastic, right?! But the more anglers down the river, the worse it gets for them. By the end of the day, or at least a weekend, you have all the fish in that river being hooked at least once.

This is something we can control. So, after we hook four fish and bring them to hand, we have a boat ride the rest of the day. We don’t need dead fish, and Lord knows we all have our share of grip-and-grin shots. This is more than that: It’s about having success and then allowing others behind us to have success as well. Have you seen our rivers and scenery? It’s breathtaking. Get your camera out and share some pictures of what you’re experiencing, not just dead fish.

Catch and release used to be the big thing. In my opinion, it’s abused. Catch and release is a problem, especially for hatchery fish. Bonk those damn things – nothing but living pollution, anyway.

We did some studies with biologists on a popular river. It was determined that 129 percent of the fish in the river at the time were caught. That means every fish was caught at least once, some twice. Do we really think those fish are going to spawn now?

This is a huge grassroots movement. We need to get the word out. Four is enough!

TW: Besides this movement, anything else that may help?
BH: Absolutely. If I had my way, boats would be used for transportation only on select waters. We have to leave some sanctuary on rivers to give steelhead a break. I know a lot of guides and sporties will be pissed at me for saying this, but I do think it will work until we can get our stocks back up. The Green River in King County was this way for years. Nobody complained because at least we got to fish.

TW: What about a no-bait rule, as many try to get passed each year?
BH: Who needs bait? For salmon absolutely, but steelhead, I haven’t used bait since 1944. If you need bait to catch a steelhead, you suck.

I stopped using bait the minute I discovered the pink nail polish Okie Drifters. Best lure ever! I used to have hundreds if not thousands of them. I’m now down to 38 and only use them on special occasions. Imitations just don’t work like the original.

Herzog, here with one of his biggest steelhead, a British Columbia fish, is calling on anglers to change their mindset about the species to help bring the stocks and fisheries back around. He’s advocating against bait and boat angling, and supports Brian O’Keefe’s “Four is enough” campaign. (BILL HERZOG)

TW: So in your opinion, who is to blame?
BH: We all are. I don’t think there’s one group or problem that we can pinpoint and say, “Hey, you f’d up the steelhead fishing.” You know the tribes catch a sh*tload of fish, but then again so have I. There was a time when me and three buddies destroyed the fish on the Nisqually, hooking 66 fish in one day out of one hole! That’s when we actually had fish. But look what good it did now by pumping our egos up.

And what about the guy who says “I only took my two,” as he’s holding two hens loaded with 10,000 eggs that will never get a chance to spawn?

The commercials? You know they take their fish too.

Let’s just say it’s human nature; if it’s legal, we will fish for them. For some, even if it’s illegal.

It’s not going to take regulations to turn things around; it’s going to take a different mindset.

In my early years I never batted an eye. Now what’s always on my mind is, How we can save our steelhead? If it takes everyone to stop fishing for five years to bring them back, I’m in. Whatever it takes, I’m in, and you can quote me on that.

TW: So there was a video recently posted  in which I swear you looked like you were purposefully hiding your face to shield the camera from tears as you looked into a hole on one of your South Sound rivers – perhaps where you caught your very first steelhead?
BH: Ah sh*t – guilty. Yep, that was the Puyallup, and I was standing in the exact spot I hooked my first steelhead. It took nearly 10 minutes to compose myself. I’m an emotional cat, you know.

TW: What about radio? What really caused you to walk away?
BH: Bowling, man – that’s it. I love radio. Love entertaining, but I wanted to give bowling a real shot to see if I could make a few bucks. I still get on the air occasionally. Who knows, maybe I’ll pick up a gig and become regular again. It’s cool sh*t having the power to crank up Judas, Black Sabbath or AC/DC.

TW: Speaking of, you rock out when you go fishing.
BH: You know it! I have the tunes cranked so loud the windows are shaking, game birds are flushed and others are dropping from the sky. I love rock, the louder the better, so if you fish with me, it’s join in or wear ear plugs.

TW: So how do you see the future of steelhead fishing.
BH: Thin. We all gotta play our part. I think we’ll know in three or four years where we’re headed. It’s not looking great. We need the big players to get on board with Four is enough. Rules aren’t going to change crap. We need to take control ourselves as stewards of our sport.

TW: Anything to close out?
BH: Steelheading is like a Judas Priest song – “Victim of Changes.” Let’s not let our steelhead fall victim to those things we are able to change. Four is enough – and rock on! NS

Editor’s note: Terry J. Wiest is the author of Steelhead University: Your Guide to Salmon & Steelhead Success and Float-Fishing for Salmon & Steelhead, and is the owner of Steelhead University,

The Hazards Of Using Gun Mag Galley Proofs As Kids Scratchpaper

The note that came home from school with our oldest son gave me more of a belly laugh than feelings of butthurt.

It was yet another reminder of how things have changed from my Sultan, Wash., elementary days, when a friend and I “shot” critters in Outdoor Life with pencils that we jabbed through the backs of pages into the rug of Mrs. Gudmunson’s second-grade classroom.

Ah, times of yore.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and River’s teacher said she had had a talk with him about his choice of scratch paper to do some math homework on.

Of all the used pages I have brought home from work for he and his brother to do whatever with, he’d apparently picked one from another of our newsstand magazines that featured a couple paragraphs from a gun review and a pic of a box of .22 LRs on the other side.



Next time, he should choose paper without either, the teacher wrote.

Bad Daddy.

As many of you may know, my real day job is magazine editor. In addition to putting together each month’s issue of Northwest Sportsman, I’m also the executive editor of our other three titles: Alaska Sporting Journal, California Sportsman and American Shooting Journal.

Really, executive editor is a fancy way to say proofreader, as I do a lot of proofreading around here.

A whole lot.

We try to give every article in all four mags at least three reads to make sure most of the words are spelt real good before sending them off to our press, so as you can imagine we generate a bit of wastepaper.

Several years ago now, I looked at that pile and realized that it was all still half good.

What’s more, River and his younger brother Kiran could use the unmarked side for their own devices.

So I began taking stacks and stacks worth home for them to draw on, practice their writing skills, make paper airplanes, cut up for snowflake decorations, scrunch up pages to throw at their brother and/or shoot baskets with, etc., etc., etc.

Out of respect for my wife Amy’s views, I am pretty careful with what comes home on the American Shooting Journal proofs; I grade away from firearms, but never considered that a pic of plinking bullets might raise a fuss.

Undoubtedly, the teacher was following something in the school district’s rules and regulations, but yi yi yi.

I recognize I’m not going to save the world by myself, but every two weeks our large-sized blue recycling can is full, from spring through fall our green yard waste bin is sometimes so heavy I worry it’ll get away from me as I wheel it to the curb, and at some level bringing home all those marked-up proofs for scratch paper must help save a tree — or at least a really thick branch or two.

Saving trees is pretty important to my wife and sons — and me, as they’re key for Northwest fish, wildlife and wildlands.

So I was pretty amused by the irony in River’s teacher’s note.

Try and do the right thing and you still get in trouble.

Be all PC and get trumped by the PC Patrol.

I don’t do towering moral outrage so well, but I am sure there are those who might be fuming by this little episode as the latest example of political correctness run amuck.

Can’t say I would blame you.

“I doubt you would have even heard about this if you were in Eastern Washington,” a friend texted me.

Hell, I joked back, “I would have had a new subscriber!”

Our former American Shooting Journal editor tacked away from emphasizing the enviro angle to my son’s instructor in favor of trying another positive approach with her:

“We could explain that there are people who use these tools to hunt for their food, hence negating the need for animals to suffer in feed lots their entire lives until they are slaughtered and promptly neatly packaged, so the sensitive folks can choose their protein without any idea where it comes from,” she wrote from a well-defended sailboat (pirates, beware!) adrift in the Sargasso Sea.

Actually, she had an even better idea:

“I would be interested to know what the repercussions would be if this event happened again. I am definitely the type of person to push back on something like this, not overtly, but in a ‘you can’t tell me what to do’ way, and just keep letting it happen. Maybe that is why my mother always shook her head and said ‘Life will be challenging for you.'”

Yeah, fine, we’ll make sure River doesn’t do any more homework on the back of gun reviews — but teacher never said anything about pages with pics of dead critters!

Indeed, instead of being all butthurt, this could end up producing a lot of laughs.

And besides, it could’ve been worse, as our current American Shooting Journal editor pointed out:

“Good thing you don’t work for Playboy…”

The General Speaks, Bill Herzog, Part I of II

Editor’s note: The following article by columnist Terry Wiest appears in the May 2017 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine. Part II in the series will appear next week and in the June issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine.

By Terry Wiest

I’ve been friends with Bill Herzog for a while now. The dude just flat out cracks me up. One thing I don’t think anyone denies is that he is a true master of the art of fishing. He loves being in the spotlight while teaching his craft, but isn’t one for bragging – he doesn’t have too. If you’re fortunate enough to fish with him, you’ll notice he’s super intense, yet calm, witty, hilarious, and always making the best of any situation. Most often, not only will you leave with fish, but also a side ache from laughing so damn much.

Smart as hell, Herzog gladly shares his knowledge when asked (he’s authored hundreds of fishing articles, including several in Northwest Sportsman). Even with his rock-star status in the fishing world, he remains very approachable, and is more than willing to share his stories of a life spent angling. In part one of this two-part series, I talked lighter subjects with my friend, “The General,” and next issue we’ll tackle some of his current projects, including his part in the “Four is Enough” campaign and a recent video series entitled “Steelhead Country.

Bill Herzog began his steelheading career during the golden age of the fishery in Western Washington, and was able to hit rivers that are now closed to angling for winter- and summer-runs. As he tells tales of a life spent on the water, he’s also working towards a sustainable future for the fish and fishery. (WILDSTEELHEADERS.ORG)

Terry Wiest: OK, why do they call you The General?

Bill Herzog: Oh my, it really happened by accident about 15 years ago or so. I was writing a section in Salmon Trout Steelheader called “How To,” where each issue I would explain, well, just like the title said, how to do something fishing related. I was also on the radio at that time, so a listener called in and said he liked my advice and looked forward to each issue. He said the only thing missing was a good tag line, so he asked what we could call him. Being the smartass that I am, I just said, “Oh, call me General Zog, man of steel, caffeine monster,” and a few other adjectives that just ran off my tongue. It was in reference to General Zod from Superman. For some reason listeners were paying attention and the name stuck.

TW What is your first recollection of wanting to fish?

BH I can’t remember when I didn’t want to fish. Growing up I had two uncles who lived for fishing. I can remember going to my Uncle Bob’s house and seeing a photo of him holding two steelhead from the Lyre River, rubber hip boots and all. I always thought to myself, “Man, I want to do that.”

Herzog considers himself lucky to have fished British Columbia’s Babine and Kispiox Rivers before their “discovery,” staying for a week and catching many over 20 pounds. (BILL HERZOG)

TW Tell me about your first steelhead.

BH I’ll never forget. It was 1971, fishing on the Puyallup River with Uncle Bob. He handed me some big black plastic rod with an Ambassadeur levelwind reel. I’d never cast a levelwind before, but Uncle Bob insisted only girls, beginners and Dallas Cowboy fans used spinning reels. I hooked an 11-pound chrome-bright hen and landed it using a red-and-white Dardevle spoon. That set my future of fishing in motion. My only regret was I never got a photo of that fish. Uncle Bob wasn’t into bragging and he thought photos of dead fish was nothing but that, bragging.

TW We all did things as kids we’d never think of doing now – care to share any moments?

BH I had a very fun childhood. I remember growing up we lived on the top of a huge hill in Tacoma. My cousins and I would take this huge mirror on a sunny day and then reflect it on the windshield of a car coming up the hill. You could see the cars swerving and tires were screeching, then we’d run and hide in the garage. I’m not sure how many wrecks we caused.

TW What about some fishing-related stories?

BH Never really did anything bad. I don’t think I ever broke any fishing laws intentionally. Probably the worst thing I did was skip school to go fishing. I went to Bellarmine Prep. I used to skip out and run to the Nisqually River to fish. But then it was only math class, so it was worth it.

TW You used to guide – how was that?

BH You know, I enjoyed it for a while.

I got into guiding because of an experience I had on the Cowlitz River with a guide I’ll not name. The guide basically set everything up, handed us our rods, we caught some fish, he collected his money and left. To me, I was expecting to learn something. He not only failed at this, but he barely spoke the whole time on the river.

It was then I told myself, “You know, I can do this and I can do it a lot better.” In my opinion, I did. I think a good guide needs to interact with their clients, needs to be a psychiatrist, a teacher, needs to teach technique, talk about history of the fish, the river, and, of course, make the clients comfortable and make them laugh. At the end of the day hopefully they caught fish, hopefully they learned something and, above all, hopefully they had a great time and want to continue fishing, whether with a guide or on their own.

TW Did you ever want to throw a client overboard?

BH Plenty! Yeah, it was those clients who, when they called back to book again, I’d say I was full but then give them a name and number of a guide I couldn’t stand.

There was my UPS driver. He’d deliver all my fishing gear and want to talk fishing. He’d never steelhead fished before but would always say he wanted to go. Finally he booked a trip on April 1, 1997, just him for the boat. The Skagit had been blown out for four days straight and it was just coming into shape, but probably a day early (I thought). I told him we’d at least look at the river, and if it wasn’t fishable, we’d reschedule.

So I took the sled and we headed downriver. Things weren’t looking good. But as we approached the Sauk, the river was this gorgeous steelhead green. There was a no-fishing-under-power rule, but I was a wee bit younger then, so I could actually row the boat so we could fish plugs. I put the dude’s plug back, set the rod in the holder and almost instantly it doubled over. He sat there and reeled it in like he was in his office. No expression, just kinda ho-hum. I almost sh*t; it was a chrome-bright 18-pound hen.

We did this eight straight times, hooking up within minutes of setting the plug back out. All the fish were between 16 and 19 pounds and they were all hens.

Another guide was coming downriver, so I motioned, let him know the hole was full of fish and let him have it. We’d already done our damage there and I wanted the other dude’s clients to experience it as well.

We headed down to the “Leaning Cedar” hole. It was by far the best day in my entire fishing life. We hooked another 25 fish! Total for the day was over 40 by 1:00. I decided we’d had enough and went in.

While I was ecstatic, the dude was pissed! Yes, pissed! He was even throwing expletives around because I didn’t give him a full day of fishing. He gave me my money, no tip mind you, and walked off.

I was dumfounded. This was my best day by far, ever, including Canada, and the dude was not happy. Wow.

About a month later there was a knock on my door. The dude showed up with a case of Henry Weinhards and a hundred-dollar bill. All he could say was, “Man, I’m so sorry, please, please take me again, I’m so sorry.”

Turned out, the day after fishing when the guy went to work he told his coworkers about our day. They said he was full of sh*t! It was only then that he realized this was not normal and he’d never experience a day like that again, ever. He thought my whooping and hollering the whole day was just an act and a way to get a tip.

OK, OK, I got another one.

I had an Asian father and son fish with me one day. It was really tough fishing but I worked my a** off. The whole day the son was nothing but smiles, the dad had on his angry face and didn’t speak hardly a word.

We were fishing plugs, so them being inexperienced I gave them both a demo on how to lift the rod from the rod holder. Sure enough, the old man’s rod doubles over. He reaches for the rod, grabs it by the label and pulls straight back.

All I heard was, “Crack, crack, snap” as the rod broke in two places, and then the line.

The old man looked at me and said, “Rod not strong.”

The kid was mortified.

At the end of the day we managed to catch a single fish. Like I said, it was tough fishing. The old man gave me $100 and walked away. This didn’t even cover my daily rates. The son followed him up and wrote a check for the difference, plus the cost of the rod and a nice tip.

As they drove by, the old man rolled down his window and yelled, “You not good guide, you only catch one fish.”

TW Every think about guiding again?

BH OK, here’s the deal. There are already too many guides on the river for the limited amount of fish we have in the rivers these days. I have too much respect for them, and they work their a**es off to get clients fish. Why would I join that pool and increase the number of guides?

Herzog provides instruction on a “steelhead river” at a sportsmen’s show. By one recent count, he’s authored over 500 articles, as well as a handful of books, and was a longtime cohost of Northwest Wild Country. “When I go out I know I’m going to catch fish; it’s getting others fish that satisfies me,” he says. (DR. BACKLASH)

TW Have you ever taken a dump in the river? Er, let me rephrase that – have you ever fallen in the river?

BH Haven’t we all! Yes, a lot.

My most recent was last year while fishing the Queets with Ashley (Nichole Lewis) and Richie (Underwood). I was in the middle of the river and hooked a chrome-bright summer-run. As I was backing up, a boulder let loose and I found myself sputtering and spitting water as I continued to hold my rod up. My immediate thought was, “Is this it? Should I let my rod go because I’m going to die?” Just then, as I was tumbling down the river, I felt something grab my neck. Luckily, Richie is a strong dude. He plucked me out. And, yes, I landed the fish.

I did an incredible Wile E. Coyote imitation once while fishing with Nick Amato. We were hiking through some thick brush up above the river. Then it happened – I took a step and there was nothing there. I plummeted about 20 feet straight down, Wile E. Coyote style, right into the roaring rapids. The only thing that saved me was a single rock that was above the water line that I was able to grab hold of. If not for the exact position of the rock, I don’t think I’d be here any more.

I will offer this advice: Always wear a wading belt and use a staff. Always!

TW How many 20-pound steelhead have you caught? What’s your largest ever?

BH Two hundred and thirty-one, including many over 30 pounds. I was very lucky and used to fish the Babine and the Kispiox before they were discovered. I’d stay for a week and it was nothing to catch 20 over 20 pounds in a week. In 1986 I caught 27 steelhead over 23 pounds in my weeklong stay.

Now if you want to go and stay a week it will cost you $10,000. Ridiculous, and not in my budget.

My largest ever was 44×24 inches, which computes to 35 pounds. It was a monstrous buck on the Babine River. Funny thing is, it took all of five minutes to land. One screaming run and that was it.

TW Favorite place to fish?

BH The rivers! That’s it. I love them all.

TW Now, I have some inside scoop. I met your ex. She said I could always believe how many you said you caught and what you caught them on, but never believe where you said you fished. Is that true?

BH OMG, yes, back then that was true. I’d fish the Dosewallips, Duckabush and the Skokomish – yes, the Skok. We’d absolutely annihilate the fish. It was so good and we’d never see another soul on the river. People would see photos and I’d say, “Oh yeah, the ’Nooch was good to us.” They’d study the picture, trying to figure out exactly where on the Wynoochee it was. LOL, they never could figure it out.

Now, heck, who cares. There’s no reason to try and keep secrets. No one is going to steal my fish. If they use my techniques, well, good for them.

Herzog at home with wife Brenda. These days the couple lives in the Wenatchee area. (BILL HERZOG)

TW Now, we’ve all been skunked; I’m assuming that’s true with you?

BH Umm, a lot. Hell, even Buzz Ramsey gets skunked – ask him. Especially these days, if anyone tells you they don’t get skunked, they’re full of chocolate hotdogs.

TW Funny, I already knew that because I’ve asked you before how you did and you’ve told me when you’ve gotten the goose egg. Admirable.

BH Yep, I’ve already been skunked twice this season. Not proud of it, but it is what it is.

TW We all know you love to chuck metal. Other than that, what’s your favorite technique.

BH Plugs! There’s nothing like a plug strike. They are so dang effective too. If you know how to pull plugs correctly, it’s what you need to do.

Bobber and jigs are also a favorite – even if I have to use a spinning reel, LOL. In fact, I think more people should use bobber and jigs. Not only are they incredibly effective, but they are also the most delicate on the fish. When was the last time you saw a fish bleed out after being hooked by a jig? Never.

TW Besides steelhead, what’s your favorite species to fish for?

BH Wild, nasty, midteener, ballistic coho. I love them and they love spoons and spinners. Man, when they hit, they’ll practically rip the rod from your hands. Whew, what a rush.

I also love fishing for cutthroat – any kind of cutthroat. One of the most gorgeous fish, and just a blast to catch.

TW Most of us have heard you on the radio and you seem a natural in front on the mic. I’ve been on air with you and you’re a machine, even while cracking everyone up. Were you the class clown?

BH Absolutely, you know it! I was a little dude in high school. I didn’t grow until a few years later. So here I am, this little dude with a mullet, you know, looking like Bud Bundy. I was either going to be the funniest kid in school or get my ass kicked. It was an easy choice.

TW I hear you do a pretty mean standup. Where can we catch you, if not on the river?

BH Oh, sh*t yeah. I’ve done several open mic nights in Seattle. I love being in the spotlight and making people laugh. It’s how I approach my seminars. Even while providing good information I get a high from hearing people laugh at what I’m saying.

I’ve worked hard to come up with a great routine. It’s funnier than hell.

If I could do it all again, I would have gotten more into comedy in the 1970s and ’80s and concentrated on a career other than fishing. I could see myself doing a show like Seinfeld; we have similar styles of humor. I would have been killer. But it didn’t happen.

TW You’ve caught a few fish so far in life. What’s the single most important thing you would tell someone just getting into fishing?

BH Don’t get caught up in all this social media crap. OMG, it’s rampant and it doesn’t accomplish getting you on more fish. Ha-ha, this is from a guy who’s on the radio, TV and in magazines.

You know, if you’re good, help others. Teach others how to fish; that’s what it’s all about. Have a great time, have fun, laugh. To me it’s more important to watch others fish and get them fish. Yes, I’ve caught a few. When I go out I know I’m going to catch fish; it’s getting others fish that satisfies me.

Fishing is very therapeutic. I spend a lot of time fishing by myself. It’s helped me out in life. It keeps me sane. It keeps me from shooting more people. Joke – that was a joke there, kiddies. NS

Editor’s note: In part two of this series, Bill Herzog gets more serious, talking about the state of steelhead in Washington, the stock’s future and projects he’s working on to help out the resource.

Bob Heirman Hikes On

It was with a heavy heart that I took my boys to a local wetland last Saturday to release coho fingerlings they’d been raising at school.

The weekend before, Robert “Bob” Heirman, a sportsman in the truest sense of the word, one who’d stocked untold numbers of fish into the rivers, lakes and ponds of the county just to our north (and in which I did a lot of growing up and where I’ve done plenty of fishing), had passed away. He was 84.

HEIRMAN WAS SOMEBODY I looked up to, a lifelong angler who took to the cutthroat-bearing “jump over” creeks around his hometown as a young boy in the 1930s and never looked back.

A train engineer by trade, he was the longtime secretary-treasurer of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club, and in 1993 published Snohomish: My Beloved County.

The late Bob Heirman’s book cover shows the author leaning on a giant cedar near the South Fork of Canyon Creek, outside Granite Falls, during a 1981 steelheading trip.

As much a paean to the wonderful fishing he enjoyed from tidewater to foothills canyons to lofty tarns way back in the Cascades, it’s also a eulogy for the demise of the habitat needed to support salmon, steelhead and trout.

Gleaning his short stories for ideas on where to fish, you can’t help but get angry about how growth has destroyed so much as the county has rapidly urbanized, and how the runs have fallen, though there are remnants to hold on to tightly.

I remember a call in 2010 from Heirman. He was reacting to a rule change closing streams and beaver ponds – “a horrible loss of angling opportunity,” he’d called it.

He had tough words about the folks at Fish and Wildlife’s regional office, who were zealously trying to protect listed salmonids – and who also eventually backtracked to reopen some of his waters above waterfalls and other barriers where it made sense to.

OUR FISH, WATERS and fisheries need more people like Bob Heirman. The evidence is all around us.

One day last winter, Amy threw the boys and I out for a walk in the rain, and as is my custom, I led us over to a nearby stream to see how it was flowing. Except this time, it stank – a “run away from” creek, a travesty to the small waters so “vital to our salmon and trout production and … so valuable to fish enhancement as to be priceless,” in Heirman’s words.

Bob’s legacy will live on with his club, the ethic that comes through in his book and the county park where he spent a lot of time plunking for steelhead back in the day (and later this summer will provide anglers with access to returning pink salmon) and that bears his name, Heirman Wildlife Preserve at Thomas’ Eddy, land at one time threatened with a subdivision.

It’s funny, but when River and Kiran were letting those little coho go, a bunch of their fish somehow ended up named Bob, Bob Jr. and Bob Jr. Jr. It now seems a fitting tribute. –Andy Walgamott

River and Kiran release coho into a wetland at Grace Cole Natural Area. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

My Steelhead Smolt Did Not ‘Survive The Sound’

Blitz just got nixed.

Not the Seahawks mascot — the Seahawks mascot-themed wild Nisqually steelhead.

A day after my green-blue-and-silver-colored smolt set off down the river on its grand journey out through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I got the bad news that Blitz had made it just 6.83 miles before going belly up.


Let us pause now for a moment of silence.

They can’t tell me why my little Blitzy died, but the river sometimes known as the Nasty has high enough levels of PDBEs — the stuff that makes products more flame resistant — to mess with the health of steelhead, increasing their risk from predators.

That’s according to the organizers of Survive The Sound, an interactive challenge that on Monday launched four dozen digital fish replicating the swims of actual radio-tagged steelhead as part of an effort to draw attention to the plight of the state’s fish in Puget Sound waters.

“Your fish didn’t survive the Sound,” commiserated Lucas Hall at Long Live The Kings, which put together the campaign with help from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc.


Yesterday morning Hall said his email was blowing up after some of the game’s 1,100 participants learned their fish had succumbed on the first day of their 12-day journey from the Nisqually or Skokomish Rivers to the open ocean.

Blitz lived through day one, as would 47 percent of the smolts in reality, but on day two that percentage dropped to 42, sacking Blitz, among others.

The road won’t get any easier for those survivors, which have many challenges ahead, including hungry harbor seals.

As the faux smolts make their trip, LLTK programmed text boxes to talk about the perils beyond pinnipeds and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and which have grown as Pugetropolis has developed.

Yesterday’s informed me that where in 1917 we would have likely seen at least 325,000 to possibly as many 800,000 adult steelhead returning annually, today only 13,000 do, and the stock is listed under the Endangered Species Act.

“The reality is, steelhead are dying, and that’s something to be mad about,” says Hall. “If people are mad, good.”

He said what happens to each fish is a computer-randomized outcome. A “ghost fish” will continue to make the journey, keeping me informed of other perils.


I got to wondering about just how many Puget Sound smolts might have made this annual spring journey 100 years ago, so I asked state fisheries biologist Brett Barkdull.

He gave me a range of possibilities, based on LLTK’s estimates and survival rates varying from a high of 20 percent down to today’s 2 percent. They suggest production of just 1.625 million smolts to produce 325,000 adults under the very best of conditions to 40,000,000 needed to yield 800,000 under the worst.

Barkdull says a 10 percent survival rate would “make sense” to him, so 3.25 million smolts producing 325,000 returners.

I’m cranky Blitzy got killed so early in his (or her) outmigration, but through Survive the Sound’s 48 smolts, I hope people outside of our fishing and hunting world also get pissed enough to learn more about how to get more young steelhead out and safely back as adults.

Kids Release Coho Into Lake Washington Trib

If it’s spring, it’s planting season.

Time to plant coho salmon, that is.

For the third May in a row, my sons and their friends from up the street turned out the fingerlings they’ve been raising at their elementary school from eggs donated by the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery.

Once again I was there to document the morning at Grace Cole Nature Park in Lake Forest Park, at the north end of Lake Washington, through pictures, but this time I had the late Bob Heirman on my mind. He passed away last weekend, after a long life full of fishing, conservation work and similar fish releases.

Around 30 volunteers, kids and their parents showed up to help release the fish at Grace Cole Park, a shady wooded alcove in Lake Forest Park on a tributary of McAleer Creek, at the north end of Lake Washington.

This year the kids at Ridgecrest Elementary were given 205 coho eggs to raise, down from last year’s 250. Some years they get as many as 300, according to organizers of the release.

Each kid ends up getting to release about a dozen coho each over several runs to the pond. They also get to name their fish, and this year Bob was popular. Here, Eliza releases Straw, Stick and Brick, although I’m not sure which one is the shy one not making an appearance.

My oldest, River, heads for the pond with a couple fish. It was a little bit tougher to get him to go to this year’s release but afterwards we had a good talk about the need for people to care about the fish as well.

Couldn’t help myself but to try and repeat a shot I took last year

This is the pond the coho are released into to rear. How many make it back as adults, probably very few if any. But it helps to connect the kids with the fish, and I think we can all appreciate that

The juniors release their silvers, although Kiran’s looks a little bit skeptical …

… but eventually decided to test the waters.

At a pond close by, mallards had a large brood, somewhere around eight ducklings. A lot of work has gone into making Grace Cole Park more natural, with large efforts to remove invasive ivy and other nonnative plants.

Salmon berries bloom and begin to ripen. Hopefully some of my sons’ coho similarly grow and ripen in return.

Job done till 2018. Thanks to the volunteers, the school district for their interest, and the state for providing the eggs.

Afterwards, Amy and I needed coffee, and while she ran into the Starbucks at Lake Forest Park Town Center, River, Kiran and I watched a stream roll past for awhile. It provided a moment of contemplation to talk to them about fish and what they need. A lot of work has gone into making this creek more natural, but so much more is needed around our region. I hope events like this and WDFW’s School Cooperative Program can continue to connect the kids with creeks and coho.

New Early Winter SW WA Steelhead Strains An Option As WDFW Outlines Coming Changes

A press release out from Southwest Washington steelhead managers bears bad news and good, and an intriguing possibility.

Due to the recently approved Mitchell Act biological opinion, the end of early-timed Chambers Creek steelhead releases is coming soon to three rivers.

But WDFW plans on upping releases of local late-timed hatchery stocks and releasing a bridge stock in some waters.

And what’s more, NMFS’s huge document carves out room to develop new runs that would return in November, December and January.

That said, the first of those new early steelhead might not show up for, at minimum, 10 Thanksgivings.

Still, reading between the lines, one wonders if there might be hope of restoring the Cowlitz’s famed early winter fishery that way as well …


But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s WDFW’s press release in full:

Anglers who fish for steelhead in five tributaries of the lower Columbia River can expect to see some changes in those fisheries as a result of new federal requirements for state hatchery production recently issued by NOAA-Fisheries.

In accordance with the new requirements, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will no longer release Chambers Creek winter steelhead into the Kalama, Coweeman, or Washougal rivers after this year. The same is true for Rock and Salmon creeks.

Developed in Puget Sound and introduced to the Columbia Basin in the 1950s, the Chambers Creek stock will be prohibited from release into those tributaries after this year under a federal biological opinion (known as a “BiOp”) issued by NOAA-Fisheries in January.

Eric Kinne, WDFW hatchery division manager, said the department expects to release the last of about 200,000 Chambers Creek fish into those waters later this month. Starting next year, the department will replace those fish with steelhead from local stocks.

“The BiOp concluded that eliminating that stock would help protect the genetic integrity of wild steelhead populations,” Kinne said. “We are committed to recovering wild salmon and steelhead populations, while providing sustainable fishing opportunities for anglers in the Columbia River Basin and throughout the state.”

Kinne said Chambers Creek fish will return to rivers and streams for the next three years, after which area fisheries will depend on steelhead from local stocks. To support those fisheries, WDFW plans to:

· Release a total of 135,000 local Kalama late winter steelhead – an increase of 45,000 fish – into the Kalama River each year. In the long term, WDFW plans to develop an early-timed run, similar to that of the Chambers Creek stock, that will return from November through January.

· Release winter steelhead available from the Eagle Creek hatchery in Oregon as a near-term replacement for Chambers Creek stock in the Washougal and Coweeman rivers and in Rock Creek.

· Replace Chambers Creek fish with Kalama late winter stock in Salmon Creek.

On the Kalama River, WDFW also plans to substitute a local broodstock – Kalama summer steelhead – for Skamania-origin summer steelhead.

Kinne said WDFW’s plan for replacing the Chambers Creek fish will increase the annual number of smolt plants by 50 percent, although the department’s effort to develop an early-timed run that corresponds to the Chambers Creek return will likely take a decade or more.

“Anglers will definitely miss that early winter steelhead fishery until we can establish an early run using local stocks,” Kinne said.

Meanwhile, state fishery managers are preparing for future requirements of the federal BiOp, which will be phased in through 2022. The next phase focuses on salmon hatcheries in the Columbia River Basin, establishing new requirements on the type, number and location of salmon released by hatcheries in Washington, Oregon and Idaho that receive federal funding under the Mitchell Act.

Approved by Congress in 1938, the Mitchell Act was designed to compensate northwest states for impacts to salmon runs resulting from dams, water diversions, pollution and logging in the Columbia basin. Under the BiOp, state, federal and tribal hatchery operations that do not comply with the new regulations risk losing federal funding provided under that law.

Seven of those facilities operated by WDFW below Bonneville Dam receive approximately $5.5 million in Mitchell Act funding per year.

One provision of the BiOp calls for reducing annual releases of “tule” fall chinook salmon in Washington state by 5.4 million fish, partly offset by higher fish production in Oregon. Other requirements include the installation of six new weirs – at a cost of more than $1 million – along with increased monitoring and reporting responsibilities.

Kelly Cunningham, deputy assistant director of WDFW’s Fish Program, said the new requirements will put a strain on the department’s resources.

“For the past decade, WDFW has made substantial progress in restructuring our hatchery system to protect wild fish,” Cunningham said. “But the kind of changes envisioned under the BiOp will require new funding. Without additional support, we will not be able to achieve the goals set by NOAA-Fisheries, and will be forced to reduce hatchery releases or halt production at some hatcheries altogether.”

Cunningham said he and other fishery managers will be conferring with NOAA-Fisheries on implementation of the BiOp during each phase of the process.

The federal BiOp on Mitchell Act hatcheries is posted at:

ODFW Deploys Drones To Survey North Coast Elk


From their vantage point high atop the Oregon Coast Range, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Herman Biederbeck and two researchers from Oregon State University can see almost forever as the first rays of sunlight peek over the top of Saddle Mountain in the distance to the east.

Below is the Young’s River basin and a patchwork of thousands of acres forest land interspersed with clear-cuts – ideal elk habitat.


The researchers, Jonathan Burnett and Cory Garms, both Ph.D. students in the Department of Forest Engineering, Resources and Management at OSU, want to find out whether unmanned aerial systems (UAS) or “drones” can be used effectively to count elk in this kind of terrain.

Preliminary results of field trials conducted on the North Coast near Astoria suggests that they can.


“UAS technology has promise to be relatively inexpensive and safe – much safer – than the way we survey elk now, which is generally from a helicopter,” said Biederbeck, a wildlife biologist with ODFW for 38 years.

This year’s field trial in Clatsop County is the first time that UAS technology has been used to count elk in Oregon, although ODFW has used drones to survey salmon spawning in rivers and as well as cormorant abundance along the Oregon coast.


ODFW conducts yearly elk population/composition surveys to make sure that age and sex ratios stay healthy.

“It’s part of our mission to monitor these populations to ensure they are being well managed for the public,” said Biederbeck.

This year drones were used in two field trials, one in January and another in March. The first tested the drone camera’s ability to capture imagery that allows biologists to classify elk by age and sex. A later field trial tested the aircraft’s ability to measure elk densities in forest stand types, another useful metric for managing elk.

ODFW currently contracts helicopters at a cost of $1,000 to $1,100 an hour to do this job. The agency staffs them with ODFW employees who look for and document elk in flights conducted year after year over the same survey units for statistical accuracy.


Each aerial system has its advantages and disadvantages, according to Biederbeck, who notes that with a helicopter, observers can view great expanses of landscape in real time by scanning their eyes in front and to the sides of the airship. Crew members can also ask the pilot to reposition the machine for a better look at animals, which can be especially helpful when it comes to distinguishing elk calves from adults. In addition, helicopters are much heavier and more powerful than drones and can fly in a wider range of weather conditions. The down side is unless they have a hand-held camera on board, observers only get one chance to classify elk – right then and there.

In addition to their relatively low cost, drones have the advantage of recording images that can be reviewed on a computer back at the office. Human safety is one major benefit of the UAS. People can get hurt or even killed in a helicopter. For example, two ODFW biologists, Holly Huchko and Eric Himmelreich, suffered broken bones but fortunately survived a helicopter crash a few years ago while conducting fish surveys on the Umpqua River in southern Oregon.

The drones used in this year’s experiment on the North Coast cost about $1,700 apiece, according to Burnett, although the thermal sensor adds another $3,500 to the cost of the system.


As darkness gives way to dawn, the first of two drones is prepared for flight. It is jet black in color, with flashing red night lights on the sides, and thermal imaging equipment on board. Its job is to detect elk hidden in the trees by keying in on their heat signatures with a heat-sensitive infrared camera.

A second drone – white, and equipped with a high definition video camera – will fly as soon as the black one gets back from its mission. The video camera is mounted on a gimbal that lets the drone operator tilt, turn, and pan the camera with a joystick that can also steer the aircraft.

After a turn at the end of one run along the serpentine-shaped run, the camera swivels from pointed directly at the ground to straight ahead toward the next GPS waypoint. The recording is set to overlap video from each pass so the video from each stretch can be “stitched together” with imaging software to so that every inch of the survey area is pictured.

The drones can fly essentially the same survey areas as helicopter in a single flight, according to Biederbeck, but likely take more passes because cameras do not have the same field of view as humans, who are able to scan the whole horizon and turn quickly from side to side with a simple twist or turn of the head.

With takeoff just minutes away, Burnett double-checks the flight path glowing from a laptop in the back of his SUV. A yellow line on the computer screen shows the exact course the aircraft will follow, a series of switchbacks. The route is made by programming GPS coordinates into the drone’s navigation system ahead of time.



Each flight lasts about 30 minutes, and the drone follows GPS coordinates automatically, although the pilot can override the navigation software to assume control the vehicle manually. FAA rules require a designated spotter be present and maintain visual contact with the aircraft throughout the flight. The aircraft are battery-powered and are programmed to return to base automatically whenever they detect their batteries are getting low.

This technology is a potentially powerful tool for conducting scientific inquiry, according to Burnett, although many regulatory barriers to effective implementation remain, notably Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules.

“Throughout this study there have been two major regulatory limitations to assessing the true cost-benefit of using UAS for elk survey,” said Burnett. One limitation is the current 400-foot altitude ceiling. The other is the requirement to maintain line of sight on the aircraft during its flight.

Higher altitudes and greater coverage area on each flight would translate to fewer flights and lower odds of counting the same animals more than once, according to Burnett.

“This technology demonstration is one small step in bridging the gap between what we currently can do and what we ultimately want to do,” he said.

Biederbeck and Burnett expect to extend this research by seeking FAA waivers and perhaps acquiring a fixed-wing UAS with up to three-hour flight endurance that may be equipped with both thermal and color cameras.

“There is more operational technology out there. We’ll have to see how costs and FAA regulations affect our ability to use them,” said Biederbeck.