Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

The Story Behind That Huge Lingcod Speared Off Oregon Sunday

Imagine you’re holding your breath 40 feet down off Oregon’s chilly Central Coast and the ginormous lingcod — one with a toothsome smile as big as your head — that you’ve just shot with your speargun pulls you backwards.

Into its cave.

That’s the situation Josh Humbert found himself in last Saturday.

HENRY BRIAN CHAMBERLAIN EMERGES FROM THE OREGON SURF WITH A 42-INCH-LONG LINGCOD HE SPEARED ON THE LAST DAY OF THE 2017 BOTTOMFISHING SEASON. (PHOTO BY JOSH HUMBERT, INSTAGRAM: @JOSHHUMBERT)

Humbert is among the Beaver State’s elite free-diving spearfishermen, as well as a photographer, and his images (@joshhumbert on Instagram) graced a July feature in Northwest Sportsman on the tight-knit community.

How that struggle between man and sea beast nearly 7 fathoms below the surface might have played out we’ll never know because as the lingcod thrashed, pulling Humbert towards its lair, the small barb or “flopper” on the pole spear he was using pulled through the ling’s cheek, and the fish was lost.

“If it had been a full-sized [barb] (about 2 inches), as well as being far enough away from the tip, it would have held for sure,” Humbert says.

But that is not the end of the story.

The next day, Sunday, the final day of Oregon’s bottomfish season, Humbert and friend Brian Chamberlain returned for another go at the ling.

With a slightly higher tide and 8 feet of visibility, they had to make numerous dives of up to a minute and a half as they searched for more than half an hour to find the ling and its cave.

“We were diving an offshore reef with no nearby land bearings to line up on, so just locating the cave was a small victory,” Humbert wrote on an Instagram post.

Eventually they rediscovered it and Chamberlain speared the ling on his first dive.

Chamberlain’s “fish of a lifetime” and “biggest lingcod any of us has ever seen,” as his friend said, taped out at 42 inches, which would put it around 31 pounds, according to one chart.

That’s definitely on the upper end for Oregon lings, which on rare occasions grow to as big as 4 feet. ODFW’s Eric Schindler says that of 63,564 randomly sampled by his crews since 2008, only 97 have been bigger, and he notes most anglers release those that big.

According to Maggie Sommer, the agency’s marine fishing manager, the state’s lingcod stocks are considered healthy and are being fished at nowhere close to concerning levels. She says the biomass is at 58 percent of “virgin,” or unexploited levels, and says that it could be fished down to 40 percent and still provide enough for sustainable fisheries and ecosystem functions.

“There are plenty of big, spawning females. That’s the reason there’s no upper size limit on lingcod,” Sommer says.

ODFW closed bottomfish season as of this Monday after quotas for black rockfish, yelloweye rockfish — which inhabit similar habitats and eat the same things as lings — and cabezon reached their quotas due to excellent fishing this year.

There is no quota on lingcod and they’re otherwise open year-round with a daily limit of two 22 inches or larger.

As for Humbert’s initial shot on the ling, a mere flesh wound.

“We saw the wound from the previous day on the fish and couldn’t believe how well it had closed up,” he noted.

Responding to comments on our initial Facebook post of the photo of Chamberlain and the ling, Humbert said he planned on eating “a big piece with friends this weekend.”

Bon appetit, you guys earned it!

Here Are Some Of The Fishing Regs WDFW Wants To Simplify

With today’s announcement that WDFW is looking for comment on ways to simplify the @$%@$ confusing as @%$@ fishing @#$@$# regulations, here’s a look at the first round of specific proposals the agency is floating:

Chumming

Action: Eliminate the prohibition of chumming and allow it statewide.

Justification: Provides opportunity for the public to use this method where desired.

IT’S BECOME LESS OF A JOKE AND MORE OF A REALITY TO WANT TO HAVE AN ATTORNEY ON HAND TO PARSE THE FISHING REGULATIONS, BUT WDFW IS PROPOSING WAYS TO SIMPLIFY THE RULES GOVERNING ANGLING IN THE STATE’S WATERS.

Eastern brook trout

Action: Standardize fishing regulations for eastern brook trout statewide by requiring no daily limit and no minimum size.

Justification: This change is intended to help increase harvest of Eastern brook trout, which are a non-native trout species that hybridize with native bull trout and compete with other native species in Washington waters.

Eliminate mandatory steelhead retention

Action: Remove mandatory steelhead retention requirements.

Justification: Creel information in the mid-Columbia indicates that the rule has had limited additional benefits.

Eliminate pan fish special limits

Action: Remove daily limits for pan fish species, such as bluegill and pumpkinseed, on specific waters.

Justification: Special limits are not showing benefits to populations.

Possession limit

Action: Change the game fish possession limit to apply when in field or in transit, aligning the regulations with the definition of the general possession limit rule.

Justification: Provide consistent language for possession limits.

Removing duplicative landowner rules

Action: Remove fishing regulations in WAC and in the pamphlet that are duplicative of local landowner rules and regulations (e.g., county ordinances stating “no use of a floating device equipped with an internal combustion motor.”)

Justification: This will reduce the complexity of regulations in the pamphlet and rely on local landowners to post access regulations on site.

Separate trout and steelhead rules

Action: Provides separate daily limits and sizes for trout and steelhead. Would allow both limits to be retained daily (e.g., two trout and three steelhead). Modify the definition of trout to: “rainbow trout (except steelhead).”

Justification: This will help anglers better understand the daily

catch limits and allow them to retain the daily limit of trout and the daily limit of steelhead.

Standard regulations (apply to lakes, ponds and reservoirs unless listed as an exception)

Action: Reduce the number of seasons and regulations that apply to lakes, ponds and reservoirs.

Justification: Simplifies seasons and regulations for lakes, ponds and reservoirs.

Seasons:

  • Year-round (default)
  • March 1 through September 30
  • March 1 through November 30
  • Fourth Saturday in April through September 30
  • Fourth Saturday in April through October 31
  • Friday after Thanksgiving through March 31

Catch limits and minimum sizes:

Species Daily limit Size restrictions
Trout 5 None
Trout 2 14 inch minimum
Trout 1 18 inch minimum
Trout None Catch and release
Kokanee 10 None
Largemouth bass 5 Bass less than 12 inches or greater than 17 inches, no more than one over 17 inches daily
Smallmouth bass 10 No more than one 14 inches or greater in length daily
Walleye 8 Minimum size 12 inches only 1 over 22 inches
Channel catfish 5 None
Tiger musky 1 Minimum length 50 inches
Panfish None None
Burbot 5 None
Whitefish 15 None
All other gamefish None None

Action: Standardize language regarding eligible participants to allow juveniles, seniors and disabled anglers.

Justification: Provides consistency regarding who can fish at these waters.

Statewide standards (apply to all rivers and streams unless listed as an exception)

  • Gamefish Season: Open Saturday before Memorial Day through October 31 unless listed otherwise.
  • Wild trout, except brook trout and dolly varden/bull trout: Daily limit 2, minimum size 8 inches.
  • Dolly varden/bull trout: Closed.
  • Brook trout: No daily limit, no minimum size. Open when open for gamefish or salmon.
  • Hatchery trout: daily limit 2, no minimum size. Open when open for gamefish or salmon.
  • Bass, channel catfish, and walleye in rivers and streams: No daily limit, no minimum size. Open when open for gamefish or salmon.

Action: Modify language to allow the retention of hatchery steelhead in freshwater statewide when open for game fish or salmon.

Justification: Allows for broad implementation statewide. Currently incidental retention of hatchery steelhead is only allowed in Puget Sound and on the coast.

Action: Standardize statewide the annual season for rivers, streams and beaver ponds to the Saturday before Memorial Day through October 31.

Justification: Currently there are three dates around the start of June. Reducing this complexity to one season will provide predictable fishing opportunities.

Action: Eliminate provision that states all trout caught are counted as part of the daily limit whether kept or released.

Justification: Provide opportunity for anglers to continue fishing for the day.

Action: Provide consistent standard seasons for fisheries only open to white fish.

Justification: Maintain predictable seasons for fisheries only open to white fish that are consistent with wild steelhead protection.

High Hunters Find Bucks, Crowded Conditions Due To Fires

The heights were crowded and smokey, but some High Buck hunters came down with nice muleys as Washington’s early rifle season kicked off.

KEN GRAHAM NOTCHED HIS TAG DURING WASHINGTON’S HIGH BUCK HUNT WITH THIS NICE MULEY. (MIKE QUINN)

Dale Wick at Icicle Outfitters in Leavenworth reports that one party of four, including hardcore High Buck hunter Stan Weeks, all tagged out after spotting more than a dozen legal bucks the day before the Sept. 15-25 season began.

VETERAN HIGH BUCK HUNTER STAN WEEKS GOT ANOTHER GOOD ONE, THIS MULEY. ACCORDING TO DALE WICK OF ICICLE OUTFITTERS, WEEKS TOOK IT ON THE SECOND DAY OF SEASON AFTER PASSING ON THREE OTHERS. (STAN WEEK)

But he confirmed that with closures due to the Diamond Creek, Jolly Mountain and Jack Creek Fires, as well as uncleared trails in the recently reopened upper Entiat, more hunters were crowded into portions of the Henry M. Jackson, northern Alpine Lakes and southern Glacier Peak Wildernesses his company runs drop camps in.

SMOKE TURNS THE SKY A LURID RED OVER WASHINGTON’S NORTH CASCADES DURING THE HIGH BUCK HUNT LAST WEEKEND. (MIKE QUINN)

Freelance hunters had mixed results. Mike Quinn said that before recent storms rolled in, bucks had been bedding before daylight and not risking exposing themselves till after dark.

“We had to roll a couple of large rocks down the slope we were covering, and lightly blow on a predator call to get the bucks curious about what was occurring in their bedroom/kitchen,” said Quinn. “It worked. Fifteen minutes after the last stone rolled down the hill two four-points came slinkin’ out of their bedding sanctuary and the larger buck paid the ultimate price for Ken Graham. We let the other four-point go as he was probably only 2 1/2 years old and small.”

IT WASN’T JUST STAN WEEKS (RIGHT) TAGGING OUT — THREE OTHER MEMBERS OF HIS DROP CAMP ALSO SCORED BUCKS DURING WASHINGTON’S HIGH HUNT. (STAN WEEKS)

Writing on The Outdoor Line’s blog, Jason Brooks reported a couple chances lost after other hunters fired on bucks.

Chase Gunnell was solo hunting 6 miles up a trail in falling snow when he spotted a nice four-point in a burned area, taking his first buck in his third year participating in the historic High Hunt.

“Between the crowds of hunters and the weather, the deer seemed to be less active in the open alpine slopes and meadows compared to past years, and what I saw scouting just a few weeks ago,” he reported.

CHASE GUNNELL TOOK HIS FIRST HIGH HUNT BUCK, THIS CHAR-ANTLERED FOUR-POINTER. (CHASE GUNNELL)

Like Quinn and Graham, Gunnell had to switch up tactics to succeed.

“After a few fruitless early mornings and evenings glassing the basins, I got my buck still hunting meticulously through some steep timber where I figured they were bedding. Felt more like a general season strategy than the usual spot and stalk high hunt approach, but it paid off,” he noted.

The High Hunt has been around more than 50 years and is open in select North Cascades and Olympic Peninsula wilderness areas, as well as the Lake Chelan National Recreation ARea.

This week’s snowier, colder weather could help hunters out for the second and final weekend. Already it’s led to the reopening of Harts Pass Road and portions of the western, southeastern and eastern sides of the Pasayten Wilderness due to moderating fire behavior. For more, see Inciweb.

“Success rates and hunting opportunity in Washington may not compare with some other Western states, but the chance to put your time in and hunt public land as truly wild and rugged as what we have here is something worth savoring,” says Gunnell. “I know I was relishing it the entire brutal pack out, and will be for many meals and stories to come.”

Yes, There Are Fires; No, Washington Hunting Season Isn’t Closed

You can breathe easy (but not too deep), fellas: Just because Washington is the earthly equivalent of Mordor at the moment does not mean hunting seasons are closed.

NO, NOT, MT. DOOM, JUST THE UNO PEAK FIRE BURNING ON A COUPLE THOUSAND ACRES IN THE 4 MILLION-PLUS ACRES OF THE OKANOGAN-WENATCHEE NATIONAL FOREST. (INCIWEB)

Yes, there are fires; yes, it’s smokey as hell; yes, the sun’s this weird pink-red orb thing; yes, the moon’s orange; yes, the gods have dandruff; yes, I’m hacking up chunks of the Norse Peak Wilderness, but …

“No Washington hunting seasons are closed due to wildfires.”

So says WDFW this afternoon after reporting Eastside offices have been getting calls from hunters concerned about the wildfires burning in the Cascades.

But as firefighters battle blazes like Jolly Mountain, Norse Peak and others, be aware that some lands have been closed to allow them to do their jobs — for which we’re all thankful for — as well as to ensure public safety.

Say, so that nice big buck, bull, bruin or blue grouse you just bagged  — along with yourself — doesn’t get barbecued on the spot.

“For example, current access closures from the Jolly Mountain fire in Kittitas County affect the Teanaway Game Management Unit (GMU 335); closures from the Jack Creek fire just to the north in Chelan County affect access to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area (where some Sept. 15-25 High Buck Hunts traditionally occur); closures from the Norse Peak and American Ridge fires affect the Little Naches and Bumping River Game Management Units (GMUs 346 and 356); as the closures expand west of the Pacific Crest Trail into Pierce and King counties, the White River GMU (653) may also be affected,” says WDFW.

The Diamond Peak Fire closures in the Pasayten Wilderness will also affect this month’s High Buck Hunt.

The agency points out that there are many other options available across the state to most hunters.

Yeah, as someone who got locked out of my woods due to 2007’s Tripod Fire and had to hunt some utterly deerless terrain in Chelan County, that sucks, but it’s not the end of the world.

“Special draw permit holders unable to access any area for which a permit is valid, due to wildfire closures, will be contacted by WDFW about possible point restoration,” the agency adds, but notes that refunds aren’t available as tags are still good in general seasons.

Best way to stay on top of the changing conditions is through Inciweb.

It’s got daily updates, maps, photos, links, you name it to stay abreast of any restrictions or lifting of them as conditions moderate as we move out of this godawfully long, hot, dry summer. Eventually, I suppose.

In the meanwhile, remember, there’s a statewide burn ban, so no campfires and for god’s sake, no fireworks!

New Top Game Warden Takes Reins At WDFW

Alaska’s recently retired top game warden now heads up Washington’s fish and wildlife police.

Chief Steve Bear took the reins Sept. 1 and will be given his oath of office at tomorrow’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Port Angeles.

CHIEF STEVE BEAR. (WDFW)

Bear served for 27 years with the Alaska Department of Public Safety, spending the last 10 years as first the deputy director and then the director of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers division before his retirement as a colonel this past July.

In 2015 he oversaw 84 full-time wildlife troopers and 47 civilian employees.

Before joining law enforcement Bear served in the U.S. Army between 1985 and 1989.

At his new post in Olympia, Bear will oversee a staff of 156 WDFW employees, including 130 commissioned officers.

In a brief message to Northwest Sportsman, he said he has a lot to learn about Washington, its natural resources and hunters and anglers, loves to work to protect the resources, and hoped to work with as many folks from across the spectrum to that end.

“Growing up hunting, fishing, and trapping, I developed a strong sense of just how important natural resources are to everyone,” Bear said in a WDFW press release officially announcing his hire. “What draws me to this line of work is the idea of protecting those resources for this generation and future generations.”

“We look forward to Chief Bear’s leadership and experience being put to work in order to be the premiere natural resource law enforcement entity in the nation,” reads a statement in Director Jim Unsworth’s report to the commission ahead of the commission meeting.

Capt. Chris Anderson had been serving as the acting chief since the departure of former Chief Steve Crown to the Wenatchee Police Department. Before Crown, Bruce Bjork — who like Bear came from the state patrol — was Chief.

The director’s report also notes several promotions within the state’s game warden ranks:

“Lieutenants (Eric) Anderson, (Paul) Golden,  (Phil)Johnson, and Sergeant (Mike) Jewell were all promoted to the rank of Captain. Officers (Ken) Balazs, (Carlo) Pace, and (Shawnn) Vincent were all promoted to the rank of Sergeant,” it says.

More Than Half Of Atlantics Appear To Have Escaped Pen

It appears that more than half of the 305,000 Atlantic salmon in a commercial netpen off Cypress Island were able to get loose when it was damaged two weeks ago, making it the second largest escape in Washington waters.

Cooke Aquaculture reports that the pens are now clear of fish and that the company recovered 142,176 during clean-up operations.

That means somewhere around 163,000 initially escaped before anglers and tribal fishermen swooped in to begin scooping them up.

ANGLERS FISH ALONG THE SHORE NEAR THE LOCATION OF THE CYPRESS ISLAND NETPEN IN HOPES OF LANDING ATLANTIC SALMON. (DNR)

A voluntary catch-reporting tool on WDFW’s website shows the location of where 1,589 have been landed by anglers since Aug. 21, when the escape became widely known.

“Latest fishing reports show that most of the fish have cleared out of Deepwater Bay to surrounding areas and continue to be caught further from Cypress Island,” a report from the agency late Wednesday afternoon stated.

WDFW’s map shows Atlantics caught as far away as off Tofino, which is not quite halfway up the west coast of Vancouver Island, Texada Island, in the Johnstone Strait between the island and mainland British Columbia.

Others have been reported caught in the Samish and Snohomish Rivers, and six were caught off the east side of Bainbridge Island.

Unfortunately, Area 5, where at least 20 were reported caught, has closed to salmon fishing and thus Atlantics as well. After Sept. 4, Area 9 will as well.

Lummi Nation fishermen have removed at least 20,000, and possibly as many as 30,000. The Suquamish and Tulalip Tribes also authorized gillnetting this week.

According to WDFW, there were three large escapes in the 1990s — 107,000 (1996), 369,000 (1997), and 115,000 (1999).

In the wake of August’s disaster, permitting for new netpens has been put on hold while the incident is fully investigated.

Try Mimicking Dinner Time At Netpens For Atlantics

UPDATED 330 PM WITH WDFW INFO AT BOTTOM

Who needs pink salmon when there are gobs of hungry Atlantics swimming around out there?!

Kevin Klein, a San Juan Islands salmon angler, reports a friend got into a whole pile of the net-pen escapees yesterday.

(KEVIN KLEIN)

“The Atlantic Salmon that escaped form a net pen in the San Juan Islands are now spread across the area. Reports have come in of Atlantics caught as far South as Bush Point on Whidbey Island. Folks are out there catching them, and forty in a day is not uncommon. There is no limit, but current WDFW rules for other species must be followed while targeting them,” he reports.

Note that boat fishing is closed in Marine Area 9, Admiralty Inlet, due to low Coho returns to the Skagit and Stillaguamish Rivers, but the shorelines of Whidbey Island and the Kitsap Peninsula are open for bank fishing through September 4th.

“Once you find them on the troll, try casting spinners or Buzz Bombs to them while throwing pea gravel near the boat. Seriously, it mimics feeding time at net pens. These invasive fish need to be caught before they can spread disease, eat native smolts, or mix with natural Pacific stocks,” Klein reports.
The following is information from WDFW:

I do not have any more information on the details behind the escaped Atlantic Salmon.  However we do have quite a few folks heading north interested in catching these fish.  The common question is where and how.

 

Where is again primarily around the release site but don’t be surprised to see them spreading out (i.e., Bellingham Bay).

 

The how is still a bit of an unknown but from the most recent report I have is a few folks have had great success casting spinners.  Being these are pen raised fish, they are likely not strong swimmers and will orient themselves to the top of the water column looking for the easy meal.  Casting spinners into jumping/congregated fish near the surface has already worked for some anglers (and will avoid Chinook and coho).  I have also heard that flies often used for sea-run cutthroat trout has been known to work in the past for those who flyfish.  Our test fisher was out recently and saw plenty of fish near the site within Secret Bay.  Trolling does not appear to work.  However casting chrome-colored buzz bombs, rotators, and spinners had some success in shallow water (less than 3 feet and tight to shore).  Fish were seen finning and jumping near the shore and seem to be particularly attracted to eel grass beds.

 

Regulations are (again) for fishing in the saltwater:

  1. License plus salmon catch record card
  2. Open only where salmon is open
  3. Must stop fishing once the appropriate salmon daily limit is reached (Chinook, coho, pink)
  4. No limit on Atlantic Salmon or size limit
  5. Be prepared to be sampled at the boat ramp per our baseline creel sampling staff – and if you have tips on how to catch them, please share that information with staff

2017 Idaho Big Game Hunting Outlook

THE FOLLOWING IS AN IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME ORESS RELEASE

2017 should be another productive hunting season despite harsh winter

Idaho big game hunters have been on a roll in recent years with a top-10, all-time deer harvest in 2016, an all-time record whitetail harvest in 2015, and a top-five, all-time elk harvest in 2015.

Overall hunting success rates over the last five years have averaged 40 percent for deer and 23 percent for elk. Word has gotten out that big game hunting in Idaho has improved because the nonresident deer tags sold out last year for the first time since 2008, and only 300 nonresident elk tags (out of 10,415 available) remained unsold.

The 2017 tags are selling faster, and at current pace, Fish and Game could sell all the nonresident deer and nonresident elk tags by the end of October to nonresidents, or to residents as second tags.

So what does all that mean for big game hunters taking to the field this fall? They will see similar numbers of elk and white-tailed deer, but fewer mule deer.

graph_deer10yrharvest

Creative Commons Licence
Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

Mule deer

Last winter took its toll on mule deer, particularly young bucks, because most of the fawns born last year died during winter, and they would have been two-points this fall.

Most of southern and central Idaho had record, or above-average snowfall, coupled with prolonged winter weather. Deer and elk weathered repeated snowstorms and snow depths not normally found on their traditional winter range coupled with Arctic temperatures. That prompted Fish and Game officials to launch a massive feeding effort that included up to 13,000 deer and 12,000 elk.

Despite that, statewide average survival for mule deer fawns was 30 percent, which was the second-lowest since winter fawn monitoring started 19 years ago.

The big question in many hunters’ minds is how much that will affect their fall deer hunts. Deer hunters killed 66,925 deer in 2016 (mule deer and whitetails), down slightly from the previous year, but still a respectable 36 percent success rate statewide, including 34 percent in general hunts.

graph_deerbyharvest

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Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

Like most things related to big game hunting, it’s hard to predict what will happen during the upcoming season because there are many variables, but past hunting seasons may provide some insight.

The 2011 deer harvest – which followed the lowest winter fawn survival since monitoring started in 1998 – was 2,555 fewer deer than the previous year, or a drop of 6 percent. Last winter actually tied with 2008-09 winter for second-lowest fawn survival at 30 percent, and in 2009, the deer harvest was 1,380 fewer than the previous year, a drop of 3 percent.

How does that happen?

There are a couple things to keep in mind. First, although mule deer fawn mortality was high in those years, whitetail herds were less affected by winter kill. Whitetails have typically comprised 30 to 40 percent of Idaho’s annual deer harvest during the last decade. That means sometimes white-tailed deer harvest compensates for fewer mule deer.

While last winter’s mule deer fawn survival was well below average, it was still not catastrophic to the overall mule deer population.

Adult mule deer doe survival was 90 percent, and although Fish and Game does not radio collar adult bucks and monitor them during winter, their survival likely tracked similar to does.

Yearling bucks (two-points) typically account for a significant share of the mule deer buck harvest, but over the last 19 years, annual average survival for fawns was 57 percent. While the 2016-17 winter fawn survival was about half the average, there’s still a large mule deer population remaining, including adult bucks and breeding-age does.

Mule deer

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Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

With a normal, upcoming winter, the herds could quickly rebound. To aid that, Fish and Game has reduced doe permits for most hunting units in southern and central Idaho to help more of them survive into breeding season.

Another thing to consider is prior to this year, mule deer populations were trending upward for several years, so while biologists expect a drop in the harvest, there’s a good chance it will fall within the range of the last five years.

Elk 

Hunters shouldn’t see a big change in elk populations this year. Elk are hardier than deer and able to withstand the rigors of hard winters, and elk herds have increased in recent years and produced some outstanding hunting seasons.

Hunters killed 22,557 elk in 2016, which was down 1,670 animals from 2015, but still the second highest in 20 years. (For more perspective, 2015 was the fourth-highest, all-time harvest dating back to 1935.)

Elk hunters in 2016 had 21 percent success statewide, including 39 percent for controlled hunts and 17 percent for general hunts, but general hunts accounted for 62 percent of the harvest.

graph_elk10yrharvest

Creative Commons Licence
Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

“This is the good-old day of elk hunting,” said Craig White, F&G’s Magic Valley regional supervisor. “There was only one period when Idaho hunters were harvesting as many elk as they are now.”

However, elk herds didn’t survive winter completely unscathed. There was higher calf mortality due to the harsh winter, which means some zones will have a “blip in the recruitment of young bulls,” White said, adding that it will likely be short-term.

Adult winter survival, particularly breeding-age cows, was “bulletproof,” he said, so any decline in herds will likely be replaced next year, barring another extreme winter.

While Idaho is reliving some of its glory years for elk hunting, the location of the animals has changed. During record harvests in the 1990s, Central Idaho’s backcountry and wilderness areas were major contributors. They are less so these days, but other areas have picked up the slack.

“We grow more elk in what I like to call the front country,” White said.

top10elkzones

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Glenna Gomez/Idaho Fish and Game

Harvest results support this. The Panhandle is currently the top elk zone in the state, and the top 10 zones include the Weiser River, McCall, Tex Creek, Palouse, Boise River and Pioneer, all of which have major highways running through them.

Those zones provide accessible opportunities for many hunters, but also have unique challenges because there’s often a mix of public and private lands where the elk roam.

Elk herds are doing so well in some zones, such as the Weiser and Pioneer zones, those herds are over objectives and Fish and Game has increased cow hunting opportunities to thin the herds.

elk

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Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

But elk hunters in some areas will have to navigate a mix of public and private lands, such as large sections of commercial timberlands in Central Idaho that used to be open to the public, but are now closed.

For new elk hunters, or experienced hunters looking for a new place to hunt, White recommends taking a longer view than this season. Elk populations are likely to remain healthy in the foreseeable future, so now’s a good time to learn a zone where there are abundant herds.

“Be patient,” White advises. “Make it a multi-year commitment, and get to know the area.”

Idaho offers a variety of over-the-counter tags for elk hunters. Out of 28 elk hunting zones, only two are limited to only controlled hunts. Hunters should research each zone and look beyond the general, any-weapon seasons to find additional opportunity. Many archery and muzzleloader hunts provide antlerless, or either-sex hunting, and also early and late hunts.

White-tailed deer

Idaho’s whitetail deer are about as reliable as you can ask for in a big-game animal. Over the last five years, Idaho’s mule deer harvest has swung by nearly 20,000 animals, but during that same period, whitetail harvest varied by only about 10,000 animals, which included an all-time record of 30,578 whitetails harvested in 2015.

whitetail

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Roger Phillips/Idaho Fish and Game

Whitetail harvest dropped about 2,700 animals in 2016, but it was still in the top-10, all-time, and hunters can expect to similar numbers, or more, of whitetails this year.

“We feel we’re in pretty good shape, and it’s going to be a normal year,” said Clay Hickey, wildlife manager for the Clearwater Region.

Winter in prime whitetail country in the Panhandle and north/central Idaho was closer to average than southern Idaho, although Hickey pointed out there was more snow than usual at lower elevations. Fish and Game doesn’t monitor whitetails the same as it does mule deer, but Hickey said there’s no indication of an above-average winter kill.

It’s also been two years since Fish and Game has detected outbreaks of the lethal hemorrhagic disease that hit some local herds hard in recent years. Hickey noted many of those herds have “rebounded as you would expect,” and Fish and Game is starting to get complaints from landowners about too many deer in areas where herds were thinned by the disease.

Whitetail hunters have lengthy seasons and lots of either-sex hunting opportunities, and hunters will see a good mix of age classes, and plenty of mature bucks. Hickey said Fish and Game’s white-tailed deer plan calls for 15 percent of the harvest to be bucks with five points or more (on one side), but it’s currently higher.

“We’re averaging over 20 percent of the bucks in the harvest are five-points or more in almost all our whitetail units, and lots of units are over 25 percent,” he said.

whitetail buck

Creative Commons Licence
IDFG

While the areas north of the Salmon River have the highest densities of white-tailed deer, the animals are widely distributed throughout the state and provide hunting opportunities in most places, but typically at lower densities.

 

Salmon Fishing Pier Closes In Downtown Seattle

I’ve been bombing my local beach fairly regularly this summer, with the usual mixed results, and a thought recently flashed through my mind.

I could sure as hell use a pier to cast further out there.

“Further out there,” in this particular case, was approximately where the two guys in the canopied sled had just pulled a salmon out of the drink in front of me during blustery, misty weather this past Sunday morning.

Even with a big 3XH-size Buzz Bomb lashed on my line, I wasn’t coming anywhere close.

A FISHING PIER IN SEATTLE NORTH OF THE BIG WHEEL HAS BEEN CLOSED DUE TO “PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERNS.”

Salmon anglers around a few points to the south of me recently found themselves in the same proverbial boat after they lost access to their pier.

Pier 86, on the northeast side of Elliott Bay by the big grain terminal, was locked up earlier this month.

No, it wasn’t the annual temporary closure for Hempfest.

This time it’s for “public safety concerns.”

Insert eye-roll emoji here.

As an angler, public safety concerns just go with the territory of fishing — loose rocks, muddy banks, mad cows, crazed dogs, rusty hooks, rusty hooks through various portions of the anatomy, etc., etc., etc.

But in this case it’s a public pier, one that had been jointly managed by the Port of Seattle and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife until 2009.

Undoubtedly some back-office hack somewhere has been fretting over insurance rates and liabilities, etc., just knowing that while an angler would waltz out on a creaking, dilapidated pile of debris to take a cast, probably fall in, crawl out to take another cast and consider it all just the cost of doing business, per se, a fresh-off-the-boat tourist who stubbed their toe at the entrance would sue for a trillion.

“Safety hazards associated with the pier’s structure and utilities prompted its indefinite closure,” says a note from the Port of Seattle.

It’s affecting business at a B&T right there.

“I’m losing money here,” Ronn Kess of Fish on Bait and Tackle Shop told KOMO last week. “The fishermen can’t fish. I can’t sell bait, hooks and lures.”

In a radio interview with John Kruse of Northwestern Outdoors Radio to be broadcast on KRKO 1380 AM this Saturday between 8 and 9 a.m., WDFW Regional Manager Russell Link pointed to frequently vandalized lights and tagged equipment.

He said a “condition summary” from a few years ago pegged the cost at $435,000 to bring the facility up to snuff.

However, an Aug. 10 press release from the agency that mentions “cracked piers” lists the repairs at $2 million to $5 million.

Link says that both parties have agreed to look for funding for those repairs.

It’s a shame that public access to a salmon fishing spot was closed as the fish arrived (the port and WDFW point to Pier 69, down by the Olympic Sculpture Park, as an option).

And it’s even more of a shame in a year where we see the absolute A-1 prime beaches along Admiralty Inlet closed as of Sept. 5.

I sincerely hope money is found for the fixes. I notice that the Capital Budget still hasn’t been passed. I know there’s a process. I like fishing access.

New Procedure For Bringing Canadian-side Salmon Back To Sekiu, PA

Biggest misnomer in Northwest salmon fishing this season?

That Sekiu’s closed for coho.

While US waters are indeed off limits in September and October, not so the Canadian side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, making this über-fishy port a prime jumping-off point for intercepting silvers heading for Puget Sound and southwest British Columbia rivers.

YOU MIGHT SET A COURSE FOR SEKIU AFTER ALL THIS SEASON — RULES HAVE BEEN AMENDED TO MAKE IT EASIER TO LAND STATESIDE WITH SALMON CAUGHT IN CANADIAN WATERS. (NOAA)

Yes, you’ll have to bone up on the brand-spankin’ new rules for bringing fish back from the Great White North’s waters — and yes it’ll be worth it, thanks to a bigger forecast than 2016 when it was “on fire.”

Mark Yuasa, formerly of The Seattle Times, makes his debut in our pages with a September issue piece about heading Strait across for silvers.

“There isn’t a reason to say the town of Sekiu is closed while salmon fishing is thriving in Canada, and it’s so easy for an angler to still get out and fish,” Brandon Mason, owner of Mason’s Olson Resort (olsons-resort.com) in Sekiu, told Yuasa. “By boat it’s a short 7-mile (25- to 30-minute) ride to find some great fishing opportunities.”

In the lead-up to the fishery, WDFW has just issued an emergency rule-change notice that updates how to bring salmon landed in BC back to Sekiu.

To wit:

Amends Canadian-origin salmon transportation rule

Action: Changes the method for obtaining clearance for transporting Canadian-caught salmon into Washington waters from a Canadian phone line to an online form available on WDFW’s website.

Effective Date:  Effective 12:01 a.m., Aug. 16, until further notice.

Species affected: Salmon.

Location: Washington marine areas.

Reason for action: Canadian Customs and Border Security regulations related to requirement for obtaining a customs clearance number have recently changed. This regulation is needed to provide an alternate means for persons seeking to possess and/or land Canadian caught fish in Washington waters or ports of call.

Other information: Visit http://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/canadian_catch.php to obtain a confirmation code. The form requests basic trip and contact information from the party leader that must be submitted prior to leaving Washington with the intent of fishing for salmon in Canada. The party leader will receive an email from WDFW with your confirmation code.

Information contact: Fish Program: Ryan Lothrop, (360) 902-2808; Enforcement Program: Dan Chadwick, 360-249-4628, ex 1253.