Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Baker Sockeye Issues Back On WDFW Commission Agenda

It turns out that my best idea for solving aggravating Baker sockeye harvest inequities would cost on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars — money WDFW doesn’t exactly have at the moment — and require round-the-clock monitoring so thieves don’t steal valuable parts.

In-river sonar that counts salmon, like what’s used on the Fraser and in Alaska, before they reach North Sound tribal nets in the Skagit and sport hooks there and up at Baker Lake could yield better data on relative run strength than the preseason prediction now used to set fisheries and hope the fish come in.

IT’S BEEN AWHILE SINCE ALEC SCHANTZ CAUGHT HIS SOCKEYE LIMIT AT BAKER LAKE, WHERE HE DID SO IN 2013 BUT NOT THIS PAST SEASON WHEN HE TROLLED AROUND FOR TWO DAYS WITH NARY A NIBBLE. HIS GRANDFATHER FRANK URABECK IS TRYING TO ENSURE THAT MORE OF THE SALMON ARE PLACED INTO THE RESERVOIR. (FRANK URABECK)

Forecasts the past few years have been as much as 33 percent too high, leading to a 19,000-plus-fish disparity between the fleets, and that’s been rubbing recreational anglers the wrong way since 2017.

This coming Saturday morning the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will again hear about the issue, and fishermen are being called on to attend the meeting in Bellingham.

“Whenever the actual run is less than the preseason forecast the tribes wind up with more sockeye,” said angler advocate Frank Urabeck, who was rallying anglers on The Outdoor Line radio show on Seattle’s 710 ESPN last weekend.

Currently, the best way to tell how well the run is tracking versus the prediction made the previous winter is how many are showing up at the Baker River trap, minus tribal and plunkers’ catches. The time it takes the fish to swim to the trap limits the effectiveness of inseason actions. And when fewer show up than expected, it means less are put into Baker Lake, where the primary sport fishery is.

So one of the ideas Uraback is pitching is to use a run forecast buffer, like what is done with spring Chinook on the Columbia River. Thirty percent is chopped off the best guess of biologists to set fisheries before the halfway point of the run is reached as a check against overharvesting a weaker than expected return.

He also suggests “following year payback” — adjusting harvests the next season to even out overages the previous one.

That’s similar to how Puget Sound crabbing is managed and why this past summer saw an early closure in Area 10. There, last year’s Dungeness quota was 40,000 pounds, but sport crabbers harvested more than 46,000 pounds, and so through “buyback provisions” in negotiated state-tribal agreements, that dropped this year’s allowable take to 33,212 pounds.

Urabeck, a retired Army Corps engineer, also suggests managers use their “professional judgment” inseason to adjust the forecast.

“We again are asking that the Commission direct (WDFW) to give Baker sockeye harvest equity a high priority for the 2020 season, engaging the three Skagit Basin tribes on behalf of sport fishing license holders in a transparent manner that allows the public to track the discussions,” he said.

The sockeye fishery, particularly in the lake, has become more important in recent years with low returns to the Brewster Pool on the other side of the North Cascades and the decline of Lake Washington.

Sportfishing occurs off the banks of the lower Skagit between Mount Vernon and Gilligan Creek, and in Baker Lake, while three tribes net from the forks of the Skagit up to Mount Vernon, and from Gilligan Creek up to the Baker River, and the Swinomish in the salt to their preseason share.

Most of the nontribal catch occurs in the lake — 10,080 in 2015, according to one set of WDFW catch stats, versus 800 in the river.

With Urabeck and others pushing, Washington’s fish commission has been tracking the issue since at least October 2017, and last fall there was a workshop at WDFW’s Mill Creek office. On Saturday commissioners will be updated on the 2019 season and how harvest inequity issues are being addressed by state staff.

“The department absolutely thinks this is a worthwhile endeavor to find a solution that the state and tribes can live with,” say Aaron Dufault, a WDFW anadromous resources policy analyst in Olympia.

Even as it was off by a third this year, a new forecasting tool he and the biologists came up with and which uses environmental factors in the North Pacific is tracking better than the old model, which called for a return of nearly 60,000 sockeye in 2019.

Only 22,440 actually hit the mouth of the Skagit.

Yet Dufault acknowledges that the new model’s overprediction means there is “a little bit more room for improvement.”

He cautions that while ideas like Urabeck’s would impact tribal harvests and represent hurdles that would need to be overcome, WDFW is working with the Swinomish, Sauk-Suiattles and Upper Skagits to get an agreed-to harvest sharing dataset in place for 2020, as well as improve communications between the parties.

Because sockeye are seldom pursued much less caught in saltwater like Chinook, coho and pinks, it’s one of few fisheries where recreational anglers fish behind the tribal guys.

Since 2010, the tribes have harvested 134,035 Baker sockeye, sport anglers 113,074, according to Dufault’s commission presentation.

We caught more in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015, years when more fish came back than were forecast; they caught more in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, years the prediction was too high, the presentation shows.

The disparity since 2017 is 37,864 to 18,782, according to the presentation.

An uptick in marine survival could turn things around quickly, Dufault notes.

He says there are payback provisions in an overarching Puget Sound salmon management document, but that they’re not a silver bullet either as they haven’t been used in “a couple decades.”

Still, it’s an option and one that could have an impact but would have to be agreed to too via the North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process.

But what if everybody had a better, more accurate gauge of run strength, aka in-river sonar?

Dufault calls it “a really cool tool,” and says it could solve a lot of the issues around the inequity.

He adds that the units also cost on the order of a couple hundred thousand dollars — tens of thousands of dollars if rented — and they require pretty specialized operators to perform real-time analysis, another cost.

He says that on the larger Fraser in Southwest British Columbia, five or six people are needed for daily number crunching, and someone has to be onsite 24-7 to guard the valuable equipment used to scan the river.

Needless to say, with WDFW’s current budget issues, the agency has other stated priorities in its whopping $26 million supplemental request to lawmakers. And sonar would need to have tribal buy-in.

Meanwhile, Urabeck is pessimistic about next year’s sockeye run and Puget Sound salmon fisheries, adding importance to Baker Lake, which he speculates “may be one of the few places salmon anglers can troll in 2020.”

“Many sport fishing license holders are giving serious thought to leaving this sport. We must have a reason to continue which only fishing opportunity can provide,” he says.

As it stands, WDFW does report that hatchery fry production in the Baker is increasing, with north of 9 million released in 2019, up from 6 million just four years ago and 2.5 million in 2009.

With sockeye clearly going to be around in the Skagit system for the foreseeable future and representing an important fishery for the state and three North Sound tribes, it behooves the parties to come to an equitable solution.

Saturday’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting comes to order at 8 a.m., with sockeye on the docket at 9 a.m. Public comment will be taken after Dufault’s presentation.

The meeting is in the Chuckanut Room at the Holiday Inn, 4260 Mitchell Way, across from the airport.

A Few More Of Northwest Fishing’s ‘Influential Communicators’ Who Need To Be Recognized

A local fishing magazine’s list of the “15 most influential communicators” in the Northwest’s angling world caught my eye recently.

While I absolutely can not argue the merits of any of those who made the roundup* — they are or have been crucial to getting some aspect or another of The Word on Fishing in these here parts out to the public — from my vantage point I feel there are a few more folks who probably should be recognized too.

(Dozens more like Buzz Ramsey, who also writes, were part of the main portion of the article which focused on influential anglers, so aren’t listed here.)

So here is some recognition for:

SCOTT HAUGEN

I can think of very few Northwest hook-and-bullet writers who have had as many consistent monthly bylines for almost the past two decades as full-timer Scott Haugen, who has shared expert advice on all things fishing as well as hunting in the Northwest and beyond dating back to 1997. Plus he’s a book author, TV host and seminar speaker. Wife Tiffany Haugen also deserves strong recognition for her wild game and fish recipes and cookbooks, helping sportsmen come up with new ways to serve up their harvest.

SCOTT HAUGEN WITH AN UMPQUA RIVER WINTER STEELHEAD CAUGHT ON A MAG LIP. (SCOTT HAUGEN VIA BUZZ RAMSEY)

MARK YUASA

A devotee of mooching for salmon on Puget Sound, the longtime Seattle Times outdoor reporter who I chased scoops against for years now works for the Northwest Marine Trade Association as its Grow Boating director. Even as we still race to post the latest clam openers, etc., Yuasa’s duties nowadays include filing a monthly regional fishing prospectus — Get Hooked on Reel Times With Mark — and outside of that he provides fishing updates for The Outdoor Line radio show and blog and is very active on social media.

MARK YUASA WITH A PUGET SOUND COHO. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

DAVE GRAYBILL

The self-proclaimed Fishin’ Magician has been detailing North-central Washington angling opportunities since I first learned my ACBs, and to this day his reports are regularly carried by local media and posted to his website. Oh, and he’s also a member of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, where he’s a strong angler advocate. Talk about influence!

WDFW FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSIONER AND “FISHIN’ MAGICIAN” DAVE GRAYBILL. (WDFW)

TREY CARSKADON

Besides authoring occasional articles, he’s the public relations director at O’Loughlin Trade Shows, which puts on annual sportsmen’s shows in Portland, Puyallup, and Redmond, Oregon, and is a strong positive force in a time of overwhelming negativity in terms of fish runs and angler attitudes.

MIKE CAREY

Flipping through broadcast channels on a recent Sunday afternoon in search of football, who should pop up onto my screen — and with a turkey no less — than Mike Carey. He took what began as Washington Lakes waaaaay back in the Interwebian dark ages of 1997 into the cross-platform behemoth that is Northwest Fishing Reports, featuring fresh reader content, searchable reports, how-to videos, articles and a TV show.

INFLUENCING THEIR REGION

While the weekly outdoors newspaper columnist is a critically endangered species in most of our region’s population hubs — preposterous when you consider that one of every five Washington salmon and steelhead anglers in 2015 lived in the SeaTimes’ hometown and backyard, King County — there are a few more out where we haven’t yet completely paved Mother Nature over and there are a fish or two to be caught still.

Jordan Nailon has Southwest Washington fishin’, clammin’, huntin’, viewin’ and other outdoorin’ activities nailed down in his weekly column for the Centralia Chronicle, and last year won the 2018 Dolly Connelly Award For Excellence In Environmental Journalism with his coverage of the region’s massive poaching ring.

Eric Barker anchors fishing and outdoor coverage in the hugely important Lewis and Clark Valley at the mouth of Hells Canyon for the Lewiston Tribune, just as Mark Freeman‘s has held down the fort in Southern Oregon for 30 years at the Medford Mail-Tribune.

Even as he’s authored the Northwest Sportsman fishing and hunting column in the Yakima Herald-Republic for 25-plus years, it’s a bit of a mismatch to slot Rob Phillips in with the rest of the regional writers as he’s also the owner of an ad agency with Yakima Bait as one of its biggest clients, giving him influence beyond the valley.

ROB PHILLIPS PILOTING HIS BOAT IN TRAFFIC AT WIND RIVER DURING A PAST SPRING CHINOOK FISHERY THERE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

UP-AND-COMERS

You can’t deny the passion, energy and much-needed positivity that Sara Ichtertz has brought to Southern and Coastal Oregon fishing since breaking onto the writing scene in late 2016. Her name recently shared a line with Buzz on the cover of a local sporting magazine.

Eli Francovich certainly has some very big boots to fill at the Spokane Spokesman-Review as the replacement for now-retired outdoor reporter Rich Landers, but his coverage of Inland Northwest issues over the past two years has been impressive.

You certainly can’t call Duane Inglin an up-and-comer following his years behind the mic on two different Seattle-based radio shows, but since March he’s been at the desk of his new two-hour Thursday evening Fish Hunt Northwest, streaming on YouTube, as well as posting news nugs, pics and more to FHN’s Facebook feed.

Online, angler-influencers like Ashley Nichole Lewis, Bryanna Zimmerman and Sebastian “Seabass” Chik are ones to pay attention to too.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Joel Shangle moved on to the national bass fishing world a year and a half ago and is now the editor-in-chief of Major League Fishing, but not before beginning his outdoor career here in our radio and magazine ecosystems as the host of Northwest Wild Country, editor of Fishing & Hunting News’ flagship Washington edition and freelancer for other titles.

Full disclosure, he’s personally taught my sons and I how to crab, but author Wayne Heinz has also authored good books on catching a variety of saltwater species and how to read depthfinders — and his data on Tri-Cities bass is ridiculously deep. Speaking of deep, there is all-things-halibut guru John Beath. Speaking of John, there is John Kruse, host of not one but two shows heard on stations big and small through his Northwestern Outdoors Radio and America’s Outdoor Radio broadcasts. And while also retired Jeff Barnard, the longtime Associated Press reporter in Medford, did well to keep that region’s fish, wildlife and environmental issues in the news before going on to detail his late-blooming interest in hunting for ODFW.

Lord knows that I am absolutely forgetting some folks, and my sincere apologies for that.

Influential all, and I am thankful they provide their time and energy to the betterment of Northwest fish, fishing and issues therein.

* Editor’s note: The 15 influential communicators were listed in the December 2019-January 2020 issue of Salmon & Steelhead Journal. They are Terry Sheely and Jim Goerg of The Reel News; Bill Herzog, the angler-author; John Keizer of Salt Patrol and seminar speaking; Tom Nelson and Rob Endsley of The Outdoor Line; Ifish originator Jenny Logsden; freelancer Jason Brooks; Bill Monroe of The Oregonian, Terry Otto of The Columbian and Rich Landers, now retired, of the Spokane Spokesman-Review; Owen Hayes of Outdoor GPS; Patrick McGann (who hired yours truly at F&H News) of SSJ; California-based writer JD Richey; and Addicted Fishing’s Marlin LeFever and Cameron Black.

The full list of influential and innovative anglers includes Jason Atkinson, Southern Oregon fly guy and former Fish and Wildlife Commission member; Gary Loomis, rodmaker and CCA member; guide and CCA member Jack Smith; pro-fish and fishing former Oregon governor John Kitzhaber; Walt McGovern, longtime president of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders; Buzz Ramsey of record steelhead catches, Luhr Jensen and now Yakima Bait; Liz Hamilton, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association director and member and advisor to many committees and agencies; Frank Amato, publisher fishing magazines and books; Bruce Polley of CCA; Rod Brobeck of the Oregon Wildife Heritage Foundation; Frank Haw of the old Washington Department of Fisheries and salmon management innovator; Dick Pool of Pro-Troll; Tony Floor, a retired WDFW and NMTA spokesman; Brian Kraft, Alaska fishing loddge owner fighting the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay; Dave Schamp of the Steelheaders, CCA and now Hatchery and Wild Coexist; Ron Garner, president of Puget Sound Anglers and member of the Billy Frank Jr. Salmon Coalition; former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, key to beginning mass marking of salmon; rod designer and fly fisherman Steve Rajeff; former Washington Department of Fisheries director Curt Smitch; CCA’s Andy Marks; retired WDFW salmon policy analyst and current fishing lobbyist Pat Patillo; Mitch Sanchotena, founder of Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited; and lobbyist Carl Burke.

7-day Razor Clam Dig Coming Up; Tentative Jan., Feb. Openers Set

THE FOLLOWING IS APRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Razor clam diggers can return to ocean beaches for a seven-day opening beginning Dec. 10.

COPALIS, WHERE THESE RAZOR CLAMMERS ENJOYED A NIGHT DIG, IS ONE OF TWO WASHINGTON COAST BEACHES THAT WILL OPEN IN THE COMING DAYS. (DAN AYRES, WDFW)

State shellfish managers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) approved the dig on evening low tides after marine toxin tests showed the clams are safe to eat.

The approved dig is for the following beaches, dates and low tides:

  • December 10, Tuesday, 5:28 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 11, Wednesday, 6:06 pm, -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 12, Thursday, 6:45 pm, -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 13, Friday, 7:26 pm, -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 14, Saturday, 8:08 pm, -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 15, Sunday, 8:53 pm, -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 16, Monday, 9:41 pm, -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

No digging is allowed before noon for allowed digs, when low tide occurs in the evening.

“We also were able to pencil out tentative dates, and upcoming digs bring a ton of opportunity to harvest clams well into the new year,” said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager.

In order to ensure conservation of clams for future generations, WDFW sets tentative razor clam seasons that are based on the results from an annual coast-wide razor clam stock assessment and by considering harvest to date. WDFW authorizes each dig independently after getting the results of marine toxin testing.

Proposed razor clam digs for Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks include:

  • December 23, Monday, 4:35 pm, -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 26, Thursday, 6:47 pm, -1.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 27, Friday, 7:26 pm, -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 28, Saturday, 8:05 pm, -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 29, Sunday, 8:43 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

 

  • January 8, Wednesday, 5:05 pm -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • January 9, Thursday, 5:47 pm -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • January 10, Friday, 6:29 pm -1.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • January 11, Saturday, 7:11 pm -1.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • January 12, Sunday, 7:53 pm -1.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • January 13, Monday, 8:36 pm -1.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • January 14, Tuesday, 9:20 pm -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

 

  • January 21, Tuesday, 4:23 pm -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • January 22, Wednesday, 5:10 pm -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • January 23, Thursday, 5:53 pm -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • January 24, Friday, 6:32 pm -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • January 25, Saturday, 7:08 pm -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • January 26, Sunday, 7:42 pm -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

 

  • February 6, Thursday, 4:40 pm -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • February 7, Friday, 5:26 pm -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • February 8, Saturday, 6:09 pm -1.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • February 9, Sunday, 6:51 pm -1.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • February 10, Monday, 7:32 pm -1.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • February 11, Tuesday, 8:13 pm -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • February 12, Wednesday, 8:55 pm -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

 

  • February 20, Thursday, 4:54 pm 0.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • February 21, Friday, 5:35 pm -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • February 22, Saturday, 6:11 pm -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • February 23, Sunday, 6:44 pm -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Final approval of the tentatively scheduled openings will depend on whether results of marine toxin tests show the clams are safe to eat.

Ayres notes that low tides around New Years are not low enough for successful razor clam harvest, so digging will not open then.

WDFW is also asking razor clam fans around the state to weigh in on the perennial question: Which is better, clam gun or shovel? To register support for a favored digging method, clam diggers can post a photo or video, complete with hashtag #TeamClamShovel or #TeamClamGun on any social media before the end of the spring season.

Additional safety considerations are important this time of year. “Diggers want to be sure to come prepared with good lighting devices and always keep an eye on the surf, particularly at this time of year when low tides come at dusk and after dark,” said Ayres.

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2019-20 fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, are available on WDFW’s website at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov and from license vendors around the state.

Under state law, diggers at open beaches can take 15 razor clams per day and are required to keep the first 15 they dig. Each digger’s clams must be kept in a separate container.

6 Options For Liberalizing Washington Bass, Spinyray Limits Identified

Will it be the bag limit behind Door No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6?

WDFW staffers will present the Fish and Wildlife Commission a half dozen options for liberalizing bass, walleye and channel catfish retention in select waters across Washington later this month.

A STRINGER OF SMALLMOUTH DRAPE THE PROW OF A DRIFT BOAT ON OREGON’S UMPQUA RIVER. (VIA TROY RODAKOWSKI)

They range from the complete elimination of size and daily limits on 146 lakes to expanded bags but with standard slot size protections for spawners on a set of just 14 lakes which have Chinook runs in their headwaters.

The citizen panel is scheduled to make a final call the morning of Saturday, Dec. 14, at its meeting in Bellingham. Public comment will be taken.

They’re acting on a bill passed by the state legislature earlier this year.

While primarily strengthening habitat protections for Chinook, Substitute House Bill 1579 also requires the commission to liberalize limits on the three nonnative but popular warmwater species “in all anadromous waters of the state in order to reduce the predation risk to salmon smolts.”

It was among a set of measures aimed at helping out endangered southern resident killer whales, which mostly feed on Chinook though also coho, chums and steelhead at select times of the year.

But bass anglers rebelled against WDFW’s initial proposal that would have eliminated rather than liberalized limits on 106 waters in Puget Sound, 18 in coastal watersheds, 12 in Southwest Washington and another dozen on the Eastside.

“We’re hoping today we can kinda come to some kind of consensus, maybe not to just destroy but can we surgically do something?” Phil Martin, president of the Mt. St. Helens Bassmasters, asked the commission in mid-October. “We’re conservative fishermen, we don’t want to destroy the fishery for anything, whether it be salmon, carp, bass, panfish. That’s what we do, but there’s got to be a better alternative than just genocide on the bass, walleye and catfish populations.”

And with commissioners pushing back as well, state fishery managers developed a matrix of six options, which differ based on how many waters they would affect and the extent of the liberalization.

Option A1 would be the full elimination of limits on all 146 lakes, while A2 would expand the daily bag on them for largemouth from five to 10 (none between 12 and 17 inches and only one over 17 inches); on smallmouth from 10 to 15 (only one over 14 inches); on channel catfish from five to 10; and on walleye from eight to 16 (only one over 22 inches).

A WDFW MAP SHOWS 146 LAKES THAT WOULD BE AFFECTED UNDER OPTION A. (WDFW)

For Option B, the list of lakes was whittled to 77 after subtracting out those that didn’t have bass, walleye and/or channel catfish, or public access, but still said to have salmon spawning in their headwaters.

Option B1 would eliminate limits on all 77, while B2 would expand the limits as described in A2.

And for Option C, the list was narrowed down to 14 lakes which adult Chinook and their fry swim through, have bass, walleye and/or channel catfish, and have public access.

Those waters include popular bass lakes such as Washington, Union, Sammamish, Osoyoos, Vancouver, Ohop and Kapowsin, smaller ones such as Cottage, and overlooked lakes such as Scanewa, Cushman, Mayfield and Wynoochee.

Under C1, they would see limits eliminated, while C2 would follow A2 and B2.

In their briefing packets, WDFW staffers only recommend Option B, leaving it up to commissioners whether to choose the wholesale elimination of all limits on the 77 lakes or expanded bags instead.

That alternative would mesh with the legislature’s intent to protect “salmon smolts.” The lakes and their feeder streams largely represent habitat for coho, which are important to orca diets in the inland sea in late summer.

But it’s also questionable how productive some of those waters are compared to larger river systems and hatcheries, as well as how recently salmon have actually used them.

Some like Lakes Sammamish, Union and Washington are a critical conduit between the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, which annually raises millions of Chinook and coho fry, and the saltwater.

While that King County watershed’s Chinook were not federally identified as important for southern residents, Scanewa and the Cowlitz River, where springers are being reintroduced in the upper end, has been.

At any rate, the rule change would primarily affect bass, as channel cats are limited to few lakes and on the Westside they are typically too cold for reproduction, and fortunately few walleye have been illegally brought over the Cascade crest.

Even as largemouth and smallmouth aren’t as coveted on the table in Northwest and also have consumption advisories out for women and children due to mercury, the episode has served as a warning for bass anglers that they “need to have a voice in Olympia,” in the words of Joel Nania of the Inland Northwest Bass Club.

He joined Martin and several others at the state capital in mid-October to talk to the commission about limits.

BASS CLUB PRESIDENT PHIL MARTIN SPEAKS TO THE WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION IN OCTOBER. (TVW)

During written public comment, there were 500 comments in favor of liberalized limits, 190 against.

SHB 1579 follows on previous prodding by federal fishery overseers to do more in the Columbia system to protect outmigrating smolts preyed on by the three spinyrayed species. WDFW several years ago waived daily and size limits on the big river and its tribs.

The primary factors impacting reduced Chinook and salmon abundance are massive, long-term, all-encompassing habitat destruction from the tops of our mountains to the depths of Puget Sound, and declining ocean productivity.

Whether the commission chooses to liberalize limits on 14, 77 or 146 lakes, it has a tough needle to thread between lawmakers, pro-orca public sentiment and a portion of its constituents.

WDFW Commission Denies Petition To Restrict Popular Skykomish Fisheries

A utility district’s petition to restrict bait fishing for half the year and delay the opening of the summer Chinook and steelhead season on Washington’s Skykomish was rebuffed by the Fish and Wildlife Commission late last week.

That left local anglers like Mark Spada breathing a sigh of relief for the moment.

“The sportfishing community worked very hard to educate the commission to the importance of this last-of-its-kind fishing opportunity for the North Sound,” said the president of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club. “Thankfully they listened, and voted to deny this uninformed petition by the PUD.”

KRISTIN BISHOP SHOWS OFF A NICE SKYKOMISH SUMMER CHINOOK CAUGHT IN JUNE 2017. A UTILITY DISTRICT’S REQUEST TO RESTRICT GEAR AND SEASON TIMING ON THE RIVER WOULD “SIGNIFICANTLY AFFECT” ITS FISHERIES FOR HATCHERY KINGS AND STEELHEAD. (THEFISHERE.COM)

But the citizen panel did ask WDFW to consider the request during the upcoming North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process, where fishing rules for 2020-21 will be determined through preseason forecasting and consultations with tribal comanagers before approval by federal overseers.

The petition came from the Snohomish County Public Utility District, which is concerned about wild steelhead recovery in the watershed, where it operates a dam it has to mitigate for.

Speaking for the utility, fisheries biologist Larry Lowe asked the state agency to enact selective gear regulations from July 15 through January 31 and push the summer opener back two to three weeks to June 15.

Lowe said that despite enhancement projects on the Skykomish and its tributary the Sultan, where PUD’s dam, hydropower facilities and reservoir are, native winter-run returns have declined to “an alarmingly low level,” with just 178 and 55 back to the mainstems of both rivers, respectively, this year.

And he said that the fishery for hatchery kings and summer-runs is impacting pre- and postspawn wild winters, as well as outmigrating smolts.

“Wild salmon and steelhead face many complex and costly challenges on the road to recovery. The requested rule changes are neither complex nor costly and will continue to provide ample fishing opportunity for recreational anglers as well as provide the resource protections needed for species recovery,” Lowe wrote.

But WDFW’s regional fisheries manager Edward Eleazer says the fishery comes in well below allowable impacts, and he points to greater threats to the steelhead stock than angling.

“Major pressures for steelhead are harbor seals, habitat degradation and climate change,” he told the commission during its Nov. 15 conference call.

The pinnipeds have been identified as eating large numbers of outmigrating salmonids in Puget Sound.

PUD’s Diversion and Culmback Dams have blocked all fish passage to most of the Sultan for decades, and much of the Sultan and Skykomish watersheds outside of three wilderness areas have been heavily logged, dumping sediment into the rivers. In the valley, dikes armor banks to protect the BNSF rail line, farms and towns.

Eleazer pointed out to commissioners that the Skykomish fishery is operated under a comanager agreement, and is authorized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to have a maximum impact of 4.2 percent on wild winter steelhead.

“Recent estimates by NOAA say we’re more like 1.6 percent, so the impacts on steelhead are negligible and not severe like the petitioner is claiming,” Eleazer said.

He said the proposed rule changes would “significantly affect hatchery Chinook and hatchery steelhead fishing.”

It’s fair to say that the Skykomish is where anglers are digging in their heels.

“The fact that the smolt mortality and wild fish encounters were below the allowable minimums as outlined by the NOAA permit for this fishery gave PUD no legitimate case for the rule change they were petitioning for,” argues Spada.

In this era of decreased hatchery releases and salmon and steelhead fishing opportunities, the Sky is the last bastion of consumptive angling in Puget Sound. It’s the only river north of the Cowlitz where Chinook and steelhead can be kept in June and July.

It’s the river that WDFW prioritized in the Chambers Creek early winter steelhead settlement with the Wild Fish Conservancy, and it’s the one they’ve come up with a plan for saving the summer steelhead fishery out of another WFC lawsuit.

Just under 500 Chinook and 1,573 steelhead were caught on the Sky during 2017’s summer fishery, according to WDFW’s 2017 sport catch report, the most recent available, along with 1,863 winter steelhead during the fall-winter season.

While eggs and sand shrimp are popular and productive offerings for summer kings, coho, chums and both summer and winter steelhead, under selective gear rules bait and scents are prohibited. Anglers are also limited to lures with single barbless hooks (except plugs), and required to use knotless nets.

Eleazer acknowledged that PUD is an important stakeholder in fishery issues in the Skykomish watershed, and the county agency does a lot of steelhead and salmon habitat and recovery work.

“One of the reasons why they’re so alarmed, and our staff is alarmed as well, is because of the extreme drought and climate conditions that we saw in 2015,” he said. “And so the salmon and steelhead returning this year, their parents came into the system during 2015 and it wasn’t very hospitable for them to survive. Very low numbers are coming back this year because of the climate change environmental situation, so they’re kind of waving the red flag.”

That year was when the effects of The Blob — the giant pool of overly warm water in the North Pacific — really hit Northwest rivers hard, with little winter snowpack and hot air temperatures leading to an early meltout and record low flows through summer.

I chronicled those impacts in a photographic survey of the Skykomish that summer, when on July 18 the river was flowing at a mere 425 cubic feet per second, 2,700 cfs below average and twice as low as the old record minimum for the date, set back in 1940 — extraordinary numbers.

PANORAMA MODE CAPTURES THE SKYKOMISH RIVER AT PROCTOR CREEK DURING JULY 2015’S RECORD LOW FLOWS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Over on dewatered Olympic Peninsula streams, WDFW biologists observed where wild winter steelhead redds had been dug up by raccoons to get at the eggs.

Unfortunately the snow drought was followed by major fall floods. The Skykomish saw crests of 70,000, 60,000, 95,000 and 80,000 cfs at Gold Bar in a six-week period, which didn’t do salmonids any favors either.

Eleazer said that it appears PUD is more focused on recent abundance trends, and it’s true, those don’t look good.

Where once there were enough winter steelhead to hold a coveted March-April catch-and-release season on the Sky, overall Snohomish-Skykomish Basin returns have dropped from 4,132 as recently as 1998 to 1,188 in 2014 to 372 in 2018.

He said that PUD was also “very upset” about this year’s May 25 start of the Skykomish fishery, seven days earlier in the past, a change that came about through WDFW’s rule simplification efforts which affected hundreds of flowing waters statewide and moved the traditional Sky opener from June 1 to the Saturday before Memorial Day.

In 2020, the Saturday before the holiday falls on May 23; in 2021, the 29th; in 2022, the 28th, etc.

According to Eleazer PUD didn’t submit comments on the late May opener, but Lowe’s petition states that as much as 43 percent of the Sultan’s wild winter redds are dug after the 25th of the month.

And Lowe says that outmigrating steelhead, coho and Chinook smolts “are vulnerable under a May 25 opener. This would not be the case with a mid-June opener.”

PUD’s crunching of 2011 WDFW creel data shows that king and steelhead catch rates spike from June 6 to 11, consistent with the early 2000s.

(PUD)

The mouth of the Sultan, where a popular put-in/take-out is located, also acts as a thermal refuge because the tributary dumps in water that’s cooler than the Sky, Lowe says.

Hatchery steelhead haven’t been released in the Sultan in more than a decade as WDFW moved away from off-station stocking, and the agency also scaled back the period that gold mining can occur between the site of the old Diversion Dam, at river mile 9.7 and which came down in 2017, and Culmback Dam to the month of August.

Before filing their petition, Lowe and utility managers took to print and the airwaves in early June rather than work with local anglers, and that didn’t sit well with Spada, and the whole thing still doesn’t.

“It continues to mystify me why the PUD thinks that they are in control of wild fish management on the Sky, and want to point fingers of blame at the recreational fisherman when they have made no attempt to be part of the solution, or work together with all interested parties for common sense management,” he says.

Eleazer told the commission that to his knowledge, PUD has not talked with the Tulalip Tribes, which comanage fisheries in the basin, and that conversations have been limited to the utility, his agency and the Wild Fish Conservancy.

Before voting to deny the petition, Fish and Wildlife Commission members debated whether to include specific direction to WDFW staff to consider the requests during North of Falcon.

Some, like Vice Chair Barbara Baker of Olympia and Kim Thorburn of Spokane wanted to, while others like angler advocate Dave Graybill of Leavenworth said it wasn’t necessary because it was already part of NOF.

Ultimately, an amendment to do so was included in the vote denying PUD’s petition.

NOF begins again in late winter, with multiple chances to comment on any proposals that come out of it.

Washington’s Rifle Deer Season Wrapping Up

Washington’s 2019 general rifle deer season is just about a wrap, with only hours worth of hunting time left in the state’s northeast corner for whitetails.

As hunters filtered out of Stevens and other counties up there this past Sunday, some encountered a game warden check station on Miles-Creston Road near the intersection with Highway 2, in northern Lincoln County.

WASHINGTON GAME WARDENS CHECK HUNTERS NEAR THE SMALL TOWN OF CRESTON WEST OF SPOKANE ON SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2019. (WDFW)

According to WDFW, fish and wildlife officers chatted with 179 hunters as well as anglers in 117 rigs, and sportsmen were bringing quite an array of game home.

“We checked 35 white-tailed bucks (mostly shot in Stevens County), nine turkeys, two cougars, seven grouse, and assorted fish (trout and kokanee) from Lake Roosevelt,” reported Capt. Dan Rahn in Spokane.

While the late modern firearms whitetail hunt ends half an hour after sunset today in Game Management Units 105 through 124, turkey, cougar and grouse seasons there run through the end of the year, while fishing is open year-round on the bulk of the Upper Columbia impoundment.

WDFW biologists in these parts also ran their usual last-Sunday-of-season check station in Deer Park, though you might read the results while keeping in mind how many days of hunting were still available as hunters passed through.

This year, with two days of season left, district bio Annemarie Prince in Colville says that 99 hunters with 26 bucks were tallied.

That’s an uptick from 2018 when the count was 96 with 16, but when hunters had one more day in hand, and less than 2017, when it was 124 with 43 and no time left on the clock.

“Overall, hunters seemed happy with the season and we had some really nice whitetails come through,” says Prince, who notched her tag. “Most hunters at least saw does and fawns even if they never found a buck to harvest.”

Back at that Highway 2 game check, WDFW reported that officers had to give out 22 warnings, “mostly for improperly notched tags, no evidence of species/sex, and transporting fish/wildlife without written statements.”

But at least one violation may get someone in hotter water.

“One cougar was checked that was harvested without a valid cougar tag. The cougar was seized, and charges will be referred to the prosecutor’s office,” Rahn reported.

Meanwhile, the late blacktail hunt in Western Washington closed Sunday evening.

Next up are late general archery and muzzleloaders opportunities that begin tomorrow and in following days and weeks.

So far this deer season, judging by pics and stories on Hunting-Washington.com and a similar Facebook page, a fair number of riflemen tagged out in November, including with some pretty nice bucks as well as great firsts.

Prince was gunshy about making a prediction for how final harvest stats will shape up in her district, and while it won’t be for months that we do see hard numbers, I’m going to go out on a bit of limb and forecast that this year’s statewide kill will end up above last season’s admittedly modest take.

(Amy, go ahead and start on our crow recipe now, should still be on the counter.)

It’s Public Comment Season In The P.N.W.: Sea Lions, Wolves, Grizzlies

Editor’s note: Since this blog was posted Monday, Oct. 28, WDFW has announced that the public scoping period for future wolf management planning will extend through 5 p.m. Nov. 15.

As one public comment period closed last week, two others important to Northwest sportsmen will end soon as well.

Tuesday, Oct. 29 is when commenting wraps up on a proposal by the three Northwest states and several tribes to remove California and Steller sea lions in an expanded part of the Lower Columbia watershed, while this Friday afternoon is when the scoping period for postrecovery wolf management planning ends in Washington.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

Last Thursday saw the second comment period on plans to recover grizzly bears in the North Cascades wrap up following several well-attended meetings in the region.

Following passage of the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act by Congress last winter, IDFG, ODFW, WDFW and the Nez Perce Tribe, Yakama Nation and other tribal partners in the Columbia Basin put in for a permit that would allow removals of sea lions in tributaries with listed salmon and steelhead runs, as well as in the Columbia from river mile 112, around Washougal, up to McNary Dam.

Currently, sea lions are only being taken out in the mainstem at Bonneville.

It’s not a ultimate cure-all for all the woes Chinook, coho, summer-runs and other stocks face — many other species chew on them and fish habitat has been radically altered — but already the ability to remove the marine mammals is showing results at Willamette Falls.

According to a Bill Monroe article in The Oregonian late last week, sea lion predation of winter steelhead and spring Chinook there has dropped by as much as 75 and 55 percent, respectively, since Oregon received a federal permit.

ODFW took out 33 last winter and spring, and that has greatly increased the odds that the ESA-listed steelhead stock will not go extinct, “probably to less than 10 percent,” according to the agency’s Dr. Shaun Clement, Monroe reported.

A SEA LION FLINGS A SALMONID AT WILLAMETTE FALLS. (ODFW)

To comment on the expanded program in the Columbia, go here by tomorrow.

As for Washington wolf management, 5 p.m. Nov. 1 is the deadline to register your thoughts as WDFW looks towards the next phase of the species’ recovery in the state.

There are two options, a scoping questionaire that asks for your age, sex, county of residence, whether you live in a rural, suburban or urban area, whether you identify as a hunter, livestock producer, outdoor recreationist or environmentalist, and a list to check off the topics most important to you in terms of wolf management.

That takes less than two minutes, but another option allows for more submitting more expansive thoughts.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS WHERE COMMENTS ON ITS PUBLIC SCOPING PERIOD ON FUTURE WASHINGTON WOLF MANAGEMENT WERE COMING FROM, AS OF OCT. 17, 2019. (WDFW)

When the Fish and Wildlife Commission met a week and a half ago, wolf managers updated them on how the scoping process was going through Oct. 17, and wolf hunting and wolf-livestock conflicts were the two most important topics among respondents, followed by wolf conservation and monitoring.

Translocation — moving nonproblem wolves from one part of the state to others — was the least important.

Rural residents and outdoor recreationists have been among those participating in the survey in the highest numbers.

Don’t believe your voice counts in public comment?

With WDFW proposing a blanket elimination of daily and size limits on bass, walleye and channel catfish in 146 lakes across Washington (most don’t have the latter two species, but the first are widespread), testimony heard by the Fish and Wildlife Commission at their October meeting had the citizen panel pushing back and asking for a more refined proposal from fishery managers as the state agency tries to follow a legislative directive to provide more forage fish for orcas.

WDFW Says 2016 DOI Opinion On Skokomish Border ‘Factually And Legally Deficient’

Washington state salmon managers are appealing to the Department of the Interior to set aside a 2016 opinion that has kept sport anglers from fishing the lower Skokomish for plentiful Chinook and coho for four years.

Citing research by two outside historians drawing on multiple documents, maps and statements from the late 1800s and early 1900s dug out of the National Archives and elsewhere, WDFW says that a federal Solicitor General reached “an erroneous conclusion” that the boundaries of the Skokomish Reservation stretched all the way across the river to the other bank.

A SIGN POSTED ALONG THE SOUTH BANK OF THE SKOKOMISH RIVER BY THE SKOKOMISH TRIBE WARNS ANGLERS AWAY FROM THE BANKS AS 2016’S RETURN OF CHINOOK TO THE STATE HATCHERY FILLED THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Oct. 3 letter from WDFW Director Kelly Susewind to DOI Secretary David Bernhardt says the opinion “was issued without
input by Washington State, and our subsequent analysis shows it is factually and legally deficient.”

And it requests that the matter be given immediate attention as the start of the 2020 North of Falcon salmon season negotiations is just a few months away.

“With this new information in hand, I am writing to request that Solicitor Opinion M-37034 be reversed, or at a minimum be withdrawn,” Susewind asks Bernhardt and DOI.

The Skokomish River is important because it sees one of Puget Sound’s larger returns of kings, reared at a state hatchery near Shelton, and is productive from the bank. In the starving orca era, terminal salmon fisheries will be increasingly important.

But with that opinion hanging over their heads, WDFW has had to close its seasons to keep state anglers out of legal limbo with the feds. Fishermen rallied in summer 2016 in protest. The 2017 run saw tens of thousands of Chinook in excess of broodstock needs.

HUNTER SHELTON SHOWS OFF A SKOKOMISH RIVER CHINOOK FROM THE LAST SEASON IT WAS OPEN TO SPORT ANGLERS, 2015. IT BIT EGGS UNDER A BOBBER. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

And so with negotiations with the Skokomish Tribe stalled and raising the issue with the myriad Western Washington tribes at North of Falcon a nonstarter, the agency is now looking for relief from DOI.

While respective of tribal sovereignty, treaty fishing rights and historical links to the Great Bend of Hood Canal, Susewind’s letter just as firmly makes the case that at no time was the entire width of the river part of the tribe’s reservation, nor was it ever ceded to the Skokomish by the federal government before statehood.

That argument is supported by General Land Office Survey plat maps from 1861, 1873 — which in particular paid close attention to the boundaries of the reservation, according to WDFW — 1874, 1885 and 1909, along with what Susewind calls “perhaps the most significant piece of evidence on this point,” an 1874 letter discovered in the National Archives.

It was written in May of that year by federal Indian Agent Edwin Eells, who is described by Susewind as being tasked with attending to the Skokomish Tribe’s “needs,” and sent three months after President Ulysses S. Grant established the borders of the reservation via executive order.

It states:

“The present reservation lies on the North side of the river extending from the mouth about 3 1/2 miles up the river.”

FEDERAL INDIAN AGENT EDWIN EELLS’ MAY 25, 1874 LETTER TO H.E.P. SMITH, COMMANDER OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, ON THE LOCATION OF THE SKOKOMISH RESERVATION’S SOUTHERN BORDER STATES IT IS THE NORTH BANK OF THE SKOKOMISH RIVER. (NATIONAL ARCHIVES)

According to Susewind, the correspondence from Eells to H.E.P. Smith, Commander of Indian Affairs in Washington DC, was “apparently never discovered or considered” by DOI’s Hilary C. Tompkins, who authored that 2016 opinion.

“The correspondence clears any ambiguity about whether the local federal Indian agents intended the Reservation to extend across the entire River to its south bank and encompass the River’s full width — they did not,” Susewind asserts.

As for her opinion, Tompkins argued that tribal fishers’ use of weirs “required use and control of the entire width of rivers and their beds.”

She wrote that the 1855 treaty with the tribe and Grant’s order essentially reserved the riverbed along the border of the reservation so that it did not pass to Washington at statehood under what is known as the Equal Footing Doctrine.

At statehood, navigable waters were conveyed to the states by the federal government, an act affirmed in a 1926 Supreme Court decision and essentially upheld in a 2001 ruling that there had to be clear and compelling reasons not to, both cited by Susewind. The Skokomish is considered navigable, in pioneer days to above the reservation’s western boundary.

Tompkins assessment was panned by Dr. Gail Thompson of Gail Thompson Research of Seattle, who stated Tompkins “conducted inadequate research and overlooked much information that would have led to a different conclusion.”

“I conclude that the anthropological and ethnohistoric data do not support the Solicitor’s Opinion that the riverbed adjacent to the reservation was included within its boundaries,” Thompson writes in a 77-page report entitled “Anthropological and Ethnohistoric Information Related to the Riverbed Adjacent to the
Skokomish River.”

“To the contrary,” Thompson continues, “government maps and documents consistently show that the southern boundary of the reservation was located along the north bank of the Skokomish River.”

MAPS FROM 1861, 1873 — LIKE THIS ONE — 1874, 1885 AND 1909 CITED BY A PAIR OF RESEARCHERS CONSISTENTLY SHOW THE SOUTHERN BORDER OF THE SKOKOMISH RESERVATION TO BE THE NORTH BANK OF THE SKOKOMISH RIVER. (GENERAL LAND OFFICE)

Dr. Douglas Littlefield of Littlefield Historical Research in California also looked into the issue, and his 111-page report concludes:

“Based upon extensive historical research in multiple archival sources, governmental reports, and historical newspaper accounts, [my] report clearly demonstrates that federal Indian Agents in Washington Territory expressly did not intend to include the bed of the Skokomish River when they established the boundaries of the Skokomish Indian Reservation. Instead, contemporaneous understanding by Indian Agents as well as other historical observers was that the Reservation’s southern boundary lay along the low-water mark of the north bank of the Skokomish River. The historical evidence in support of this conclusion is substantial and includes U.S. General Land Office survey plats and field notes as well as extensive documentation from the files of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and published annual reports of that agency.”

His “Historical Report on the Skokomish River and the Southern Boundary of the Skokomish Indian Reservation” states the border was defined by federal officials in the Office of Indian Affairs and confirmed by Grant’s order.

Littlefield’s and Thompson’s services were procured through the state Attorney General’s Office.

How this all turns out will be very interesting to watch.

Meanwhile, the work that WDFW has put into challenging the 2016 DOI Solicitor General’s opinion is notable.

The depth of the research, the tone of Susewind’s letter and who else he cc’ed it to — the state’s Congressional delegation, numerous DOI officials, the Skokomish Tribe, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, and select Olympia lawmakers — lend it a confident air.

Word of it emerged publicly this morning during the Director’s Report to the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

But the question is whether the feds have enough time to review these new facts and make a decision in time for this coming North of Falcon, or when.

ANGLERS CARRY SIGNS AT A 2016 RALLY TO REOPEN THE SKOKOMISH TO SPORT FISHING. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Rifle Hunter Numbers, Success Down At Okanogan, NE WA Game Checks

If you hunted Okanogan County or Northeast Washington this past weekend and got a deer, tip of the hat, as success rates for the rifle opener were just in the 12 to 16 percent range.

Game check stations in those parts of the state saw fewer hunters bring fewer animals through than last year, although in the case of the latter region, that may be due to whitetail does being off limits for youth and disabled general season hunters this season.

JACK BENSON COULD ONLY TAKE PICTURES OF THIS DOUGLAS COUNTY STUD ON THE OPENER, GIVEN ITS LOCATION ON PRIVATE LAND, BUT THE NEXT DAY, WHEN IT MOVED ONTO TO STATE GROUND, WAS ANOTHER STORY. HE TOOK THE MONSTER ON LAND HIS DAD HUNTED 20 YEARS AGO, AND THIS MAKES HIS THIRD BUCK IN THREE SEASONS. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

“Overall, the check station was slow,” reported Annemarie Prince, WDFW district wildlife biologist in Colville. “Weather was good, but we did see very few vehicles with youth hunters. Not sure if that is related to our regulation change, but I would guess that played a role. Most hunters saw deer, but most were does and fawns.”

She said that 30 hunters came through the Chewelah station with five bucks, including four whitetails and one mule deer, for a 16.66 percent success rate.

Further down Highway 395, 92 hunters stopped at the Deer Park station with 12 bucks, including eight whitetails and four muleys, for a 13 percent success rate.

By comparison, last year’s results, when does were legal for youth and disabled hunters, were:

Chewelah: 49 hunters with 10 deer (eight whitetails, including two bucks and six antlerless, and two mule deer) for a 20 percent success rate.

Deer Park: 127 hunters with 38 deer (35 whitetails, including 23 bucks and 12 antlerless, and three mule deer) for a 30 percent success rate.

And in 2017, it was 174 hunters at Deer Park with 38 deer (35 whitetails, including 21 buck and 14 antlerless, and three mule deer) for a 21.8 percent success rate. A Chewelah station wasn’t run that year.

The idea behind the full ban on general season antlerless whitetail harvest is to try and rebuild numbers in Washington’s most productive deer woods.

Affected units include Sherman (GMU 101), Kellyhill (105), Douglas (108), Aladdin (111), Selkirk (113), 49 Degrees North (117) and Huckleberry (121).

Seniors haven’t been able to take one there since the 2016 season.

CHASE GUNNELL ENJOYED A SUCCESSFUL RIFLE OPENER, BAGGING THIS WHITETAIL BUCK ON PUBLIC LAND IN OKANOGAN COUNTY. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

The only other check station in the rest of the state is at the Red Barn in Winthrop, and that’s where WDFW district wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin and his crew were set up.

“We checked 67 hunters with eight deer, plus two bears and a cougar,” he reported, a 11.9 percent success rate on deer. “These numbers suggest both participation and success are down somewhat from last year, 82 hunters with 13 deer,” a 15.9 percent success rate.

In 2017 the score was 83 with seven, an 8.4 percent success rate.

The caveat is that not all hunters stop by the check stations, which are voluntary and only operated on the weekends. The successful rifleman in our camp of five wasn’t leaving until Monday.

He got his buck first thing Saturday morning. That day was mostly overcast and while Sunday morning did see rain and snow, things are looking decidedly stormier in the coming days.

“The forecast is for colder and wetter weather with significant high country snow for the second half of the season, so prospects may improve if conditions get deer moving toward winter range,” Fitkin says.

TALK ABOUT GETTING IT DONE! JAMES POTH, 11, TAGGED OUT ON THE RIFLE OPENER WITH THIS NICE MULE DEER, THEN THE NEXT MORNING FILLED HIS SECOND DEER TAG WITH A DOE. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

That’s a mighty big if, of course, but keep in mind that mule deer season here (and everywhere else in Washington) does run through Tuesday, October 22.

“My guess is the last two days of the season next week will be the best opportunity given the weather forecast and the fact that there is usually significantly less pressure on those two days,” Fitkin stated.

JODY POTH BAGGED HER FIRST DEER EVER, THIS MULEY DOE. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Back in Northeast Washington, whitetail season goes a bit longer, through Friday, Oct. 25, then picks up again in November for the rut hunt.

“My tip for most hunters is, ‘Get out of the truck,'” says Prince, the District 1 biologist.

Whitetail season on the Palouse, Blue Mountains and Northcentral Washington runs through the 22nd.

FRESH OFF FILLING HIS OREGON DEER TAG WITH A TALL-TINED MULEY, CHAD ZOLLER NOTCHED HIS WASHINGTON ONE WITH THIS SOUTHEAST WHITETAIL. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

On the Westside, blacktails are open through Halloween, with numerous units also open for a late hunt in mid-November.

JACK ALLEN MADE IT AN EVEN HALF DOZEN DEER SINCE TAKING HIS FIRST AT 11 YEARS OLD. THE 17-YEAR-OLD BAGGED THIS SNOQUALMIE VALLEY BLACKTAIL WITH A SHOTGUN IN A FIREARMS-RESTRICTED AREA ON COLUMBUS DAY. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Got a pic or story to share about the opener? Email me at awalgamott@media-inc.com!

Money Minnow Season Wraps Up With Cathlamet, New Angler On Top

The 2019 pikeminnow sport reward season wrapped up early last week and it featured a pair of surprises.

Not only did Cathlamet retain its title of top station, but for the first time in a decade there’s a new top-earning angler, according to program manager Eric Winther.

AN ANGLER BELOW BONNEVILLE DAM UNHOOKS A NORTHERN PIKEMINNOW. (PIKEMINNOW.ORG)

He called it perhaps a “‘changing of the guard’ in the pikeminnow world,’ in which anglers are paid to remove these native fish that prey on young salmon and smolt in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Until last year, Cathlamet had never had highest haul since the program’s inception in 1991, according to Winther, but it followed up 2018’s 25,135 with an even larger tally, 27,317 qualifying pikeminnow.

That equates to just over 18.5 percent of all the fish brought in during the May 1-Sept. 30 season for rewards from $5 to $8, with specially tagged ones worth $500.

“The Dalles station didn’t really happen for the second straight year and the Mid-Columbia stations around the Tri-Cities had down years as well,” noted Winther.

Second best location was Boyer Park on the Snake with 20,989, followed by Washougal with 11,785.

Catch per angler was strongest at Ridgefield, Kalama and Beacon Rock, with an average of 10.3, 10.2 and 10.0 pikeminnow apiece through the season for participating fishermen.

“We have a new top angler for the first time since 2009,” Winther added.

That fisherman earned $50,647 for bringing in 6,187 pikeminnow, including three with tags.

The second-place angler took in $38,365 for their 4,490 and five tags.

Names of participants aren’t divulged.

This year’s catch of 146,082 was the lowest back to 2009, and well below the longterm average of roughly 172,000.

“On a positive side, we did once again hit our exploitation target, 10 to 20 percent, for the 22nd consecutive year, which is the truest gauge of program success,” Winther noted.

Meeting that goal is believed to reduce predation on young Chinook, coho, steelhead and other salmonids by up to 40 percent.

Funding comes from the Bonneville Power Administration, which operates a number of dams on the Columbia system, and which  made pikeminnow much more effective at snacking on outmigrating smolts.

Walleye, Caspian terns and other piscovores also prey on the little fish, while California and Steller sea lions chow down on returning adults.

Federal overseers are now taking public comment on a proposal by state and tribal managers to expand the area where pinnipeds can be removed and could lead to as many as 416 being taken out a year to help ESA-listed fish populations. It would allow lethal removals from around Washougal upstream to McNary Dam as well as salmon-bearing tribs below there.

Anglers participating in the pikeminnow program are reminded they have to submit their vouchers by Nov. 15 to receive payment.