Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Sportsmen Help Head Off WDFW-DNR Merger

A Friday-night budget amendment keeps WDFW as a separate agency, but would still force several million dollars in cuts.

The Senate Ways & Means Committee had proposed folding WDFW as well as State Parks into the Department of Natural Resources through SB 6813.

However, according to department Director Phil Anderson, outcry from hunters, anglers, commercial interests and environmental groups last week convinced the committee to restore WDFW.

“They did not want these three agencies merged,” Anderson told Northwest Wild Country Saturday morning, “and I think the Senate heard that message loud and clear, and it was evident in their actions last night to amend the Senate’s budget to restore these three agencies as they exist today.”

He terms it “good news from my perspective,” but he may still have follow up on last year’s painful cuts, which included letting 160 in the department go.

“We’re running on a pretty skeletal crew,” he told the radio show, which is hosted by Joel Shangle and cohosted by Bill Herzog and Mike Perusse.

It appears that laying off enforcement officers is now out of the picture, but the department may still have to lay off others as the Senate reconciles its budget with the House Ways & Means Committee’s as well as Gov. Gregoire’s in the final two weeks of the off-year session.

“If we’re absorbing something between $2 million to $6 million, that equates to  something on the order of 10 employees for every million dollars, so if we have to cut 20 to 60 additional employees, we’re going to have service reductions,” he tells Northwest Wild Country.

He says the agency would be forced to look to hatchery production, fish and hunting management and other places for possible trimming.

Stay tuned …

More Salmon Forecasts Out

A Federal fishery management group’s salmon forecast finds just a hair more Puget Sound Chinook this year in the ocean and a solid jag more Sound coho, but mixed news for Willapa Bay silvers and kings.

And factoring in this year’s Columbia River salmon forecasts, early word is “more Chinook opportunity but less coho opportunity in 2010 ocean fisheries north of Cape Falcon.”

The news comes from a press release put out today by the Pacific Fishery Management Council and their “Preseason Report I: Stock Abundance Analysis for 2010 Ocean Salmon Fisheries.”

PFMC uploaded the 113-page report yesterday, the second of four documents it will produce this winter and spring “intended to give perspective in developing 2010 management measures” as Washington, Oregon and California set summer fishing seasons.

The annual North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process has already kicked off in Washington, with a meeting last week on Strait of Juan de Fuca fisheries. WDFW will set out its forecasts and potential seasons next Tuesday, March 2, at a meeting in Olympia.

Meanwhile, here are some highlights from PFMC’s report:

PUGET SOUND CHINOOK

The 2010 preliminary forecast for Puget Sound summer/fall stocks is for a return of 225,664 Chinook, slightly higher than the 2009 preseason forecast of 222,371. The 2010 natural Chinook return forecast of 42,981 (includes supplemental category forecasts) is lower than the 2009 forecast of 56,568

Nooksack/Samish kings: 30,300; 09: 23,300

Skagit summer/fall kings: 13,000; 09: 23,400

Snohomish hatchery summer kings: 5,600; 09: 4,900

Hood Canal hatchery kings: 42,600; 09: 40,100

South Puget Sound hatchery kings: 97,400; 09: 93,000

PUGET SOUND COHO

The 2010 total hatchery and natural coho ocean recruit forecast for the Puget Sound region of 613,930 is 5.4 percent above the 2009 forecast of 582,462. The hatchery coho forecast of 316,133 is 6.7 percent below the 2009 forecast of 338,968, and the natural coho forecast of 297,797 is 22.3 percent above the 2009 forecast of 243,495.

HIGHLIGHTS

Skagit wild coho: 95,900; 09: 33,400

Snohomish wild coho: 99,400; 09: 67,400

Snohomish hatchery coho: 24,500; 09: 53,600

Hood Canal wild coho: 33,200; 09: 48,600

Hood Canal hatchery coho: 51,200; 09: 52,000

South Puget Sound hatchery coho: 186,400: 09: 188,800

South Puget Sound wild coho: 25,300; 09: 53,600

COASTAL KINGS

The 2010 Willapa Bay hatchery fall Chinook ocean escapement forecast is 31,135, which is lower than the 2009 prediction of 34,817. The 2010 natural fall Chinook ocean escapement forecast is 2,023, about the same as last year’s prediction of 1,951, but still less than the WDFW spawning escapement goal of 4,350.

For the Hoh River, the 2010 natural spring/summer Chinook ocean escapement forecast is 814, below the FMP conservation objective of 900. The natural fall Chinook forecast is 3,250, above the FMP conservation objective of 1,200.

The 2010 Quillayute hatchery spring Chinook ocean escapement forecast is 1,477 and the natural summer/fall Chinook forecast is 7,468 (1,184 summer, 6,284 fall). The FMP conservation objectives are spawning escapements of 1,200 summer Chinook and 3,000 fall Chinook.

HIGHLIGHTS

Willapa Bay fall hatchery kings: 31,100; 09: 34,800

Quillayute summer/fall kings: 7,500; 09: 6,800

COASTAL COHO

The 2010 Willapa Bay hatchery coho abundance forecast is 78,700 ocean recruits compared to a 2009 preseason forecast of 59,420. The natural coho forecast is 20,400 ocean recruits, compared to a 2009 preseason forecast of 33,544.

For 2010, Grays Harbor natural and hatchery coho forecasts were not agreed-to by the co-managers at the time of this report. This forecast and a description of the method used will be provided at a later date.

HIGHLIGHTS

Willapa Bay wild coho: 20,400; 09: 33,500

Willapa Bay hatchery coho: 78,700; 09: 59,400

NORTH OREGON COAST CHINOOK

Based on the density index of total spawners, the generalized expectation for NOC stocks in 2010 is
above recent years average abundance. Specifically, the 2009 spawner density in standard survey areas for the NOC averaged 60 spawners per mile, the lower bound of the FMP aggregate goal of 60 to 90 spawners per mile.

If there’s some really good news, it’s that PFMC doubles the forecast of Sacramento-bound Chinook this year — 245,000, up from a forecast of 122,000 in 2009. Officially, that “should provide adequate spawning escapement to meet management objectives and provide some fishing opportunity.”

While the Klamath River forecast is down, 331,500 this year compared to last year’s forecast of 505,700, it too “should provide adequate spawning escapement to meet the management objectives and provide some fishing opportunity.”

Again, these are abundance forecasts for which managers will then determine how much are needed to meet spawning goals and how many surplus will be available for all fisheries.

Senate Budget Kills WDFW

Budgets released this week by majority Democrats in both houses of the Washington Legislature show one branch wants to merge WDFW and State Parks with DNR while the other would keep the agencies separate.

The Senate Ways & Means Committee’s 2010 supplemental budget, put out yesterday, zeroes out WDFW’s budget for 2010-11 and consolidates it with DNR and Parks through SB 6813.

However, the House Ways & Means Committee’s budget, sent out this morning, keeps WDFW as a separate agency.

As the state has grappled with monstrous budget deficits, the Senate’s move follows up on efforts last year exploring whether to merge the natural resource agencies into a single entity, DNR. Late in 2009 word came out that a merge wasn’t recommended, but it still appears the Senate at least has it on the table through 6813.

Recently, the Fish & Wildlife Commission came out against the bill, which has been mired in a committee since introduction in late January.

TVW has a piece that talks to one of 6813’s sponsors, Sen. Rodney Tom. He explains a merger would save $10 million a year “from a combination of personnel and operations — ending leases on the duplicate buildings.”

TVW also speaks with Sen. Joe Zarelli who points out that putting WDFW under DNR would mean the agency would be under a statewide office holder “who might be more inclined to direct decisions around politics, which has been the historical problem. The commission has all but worked through that issue and would hate to see a reversion.”

DNR is overseen by Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, an Okanogan County Democrat who defeated Doug Sutherland, a Republican, in 2008.

Even as some sportsman claim WDFW has become the “Department of No Fish and No Wildlife” — an agency “less interested in enhancing deer and elk herds than it is in bringing back wolves and giving them a big hug” — game advocates are still sounding the alarm about the Senate’s move, firing off a “high priority action alert” this morning with instructions to readers on what to do.

They suggest contacting the 22 members of the Ways & Means Committee and stating that “hunters and fishers of the state are adamantly opposed to merging WDFW into DNR.”

Warns Dave Workman, a longtime observer of Washington politics and game species:

Want to talk about a disaster? This is the kind of scenario that the late Irwin Allen would have put on film as The Towering Bureaucracy. If hunters think they have little influence now, wait until that mega-agency becomes a reality.

He worries that under DNR, hunters and anglers would be the folks at the bottom of the totem pole. Above us would be “hikers, commercial fishermen, wolf lovers, loggers, bird watchers, campers,” among others.

On piscatorialpursuits, a poster claiming to be a WDFW employee points out:

“DNR is a resource extractor. Fish and Wildlife is a conservation agency but the hunting fishing side is similar to the resource extracting for DNR. The scary aspect is thatthat the 3 agencies are not merging. Instead DNR is taking over the WDFW and state parks functions. My job is safe short term and possibly the long term. But DNR butts heads with Fish and Wildlife all the time. What will happen once DNR has a say in who the Assistant Directors are for the Wildlife, Hababit and Fish programs.”

(As an aside, House Bill 3144 “Requires the director of the department of fish and
wildlife, before appointing or employing an individual as the regional director of a departmental suboffice, to ensure that the candidate is fully vetted with the local community.”)

WDFW is the bastard child of a 1994 merger of the Department of Fisheries and Department of Wildlife (the latter known as the Department of Game until 1987).

Workman, who remembers those days, says instead of a merger, split WDFW in half again, one part dealing with tribal and commercial issues, the other a “Department of Fish and Game, whose job it should be to put ten million more trout into our lakes and streams, produce two to five million more steelhead, increase the deer herds by 50,000 and add 10,000 more elk, and that’s just for starters.”

Meanwhile, the halves of the Legislature will try to reconcile their budgets as well as Gov. Gregoire’s.

“All three budgets would raise taxes to fill at least part of the budget gap,” reports the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

He’s ‘INN’ Tune With NW Game And Fish

Ever walk away from your duck blind to go pee and have flocks finally drop in?

Or put your rifle away and watch as a buck suddenly appears at deer camp?

Or move from one fishing spot to another only to have the bite happen where you just were?

Been there, done that.

And so has Bill Monroe, the venerable columnist for The Oregononian.

He’s figured out that our game animals aren’t just hard-wired for survival: They’re also wired up to the Inter-Nature-Net, a “network among wild things through which they not only connect and track our every movement, but also read our minds.”

The creation of the Internet by humans is a bit of a breakthrough in understanding the foundations of Mother Nature’s secret, but the Inter-Nature-Net (INN.wild, or INN for short) has been eons in development. We’re no match for advanced silent communication. Even ESP and Hollywood imaginations pale in comparison. The better a critter tastes, the more tuned it is to the INN.

This is, of course, the revelation we’ve suspected all along, the only logical excuse for shortcomings in the field, where evidence abounds.

Pretty good stuff. You can read the rest of it here.

Late Feb. Steel Ops Shrink In ’11-12

If you’re a Nooksack, Skykomish or Snoqualmie River steelheader sitting at home this mid-February weekend instead of trying to tangle with a wild winter-run or two — or maybe card a late hatchery fish — get used to that empty feeling.

This season’s early close of fishing will be repeated the next two years, at a minimum.

Not that there’s a whole lot of steelhead in those rivers to chase this time of year — and that’s the problem.

Returns of hatchery and native fish have been declining for over a decade. Search WDFW’s news releases and you’ll find an article about eight North Sound streams that closed for a month during the winter of 1997-98 to ensure that hatchery broodstock goals were met.

Then in November 2000, it was announced that the Skykomish’s popular spring catch-and-release wild-steelhead fishery would be a no-go. It was one of eight streams, from the Skagit to the Puyallup, that were closed early that winter.

While the Sky’s C&R season managed to stay in the fishing pamphlet for half a decade, managers finally wrote it out of the book.

And now the Fish & Wildlife Commission has edited the book even further, chopping out the last half of February on a host of North Puget Sound streams including the lower Skykomish.

At its meeting earlier this month, commissioners approved moving the end of the season up by two weeks to Feb. 15 for the 2011 and 2012 winter seasons.

In addition to the streams listed at the top of this piece, Pilchuck Creek and the Snohomish, Pilchuck, North, South and Middle Forks of the Nooksack, Stillaguamish and Raging rivers come under the new rule as well.

The end of retention and start of catch and release seasons on the Skagit was also moved up a month to Feb. 15, except from Highway 536 to the Dalles Bridge where you can still keep two hatchery steelies a day under selective-gear rules from Feb. 16-March 31 next winter.

April on the Skagit? Adios, it seems.

For now, the Sauk would still be open in the fourth month — just not this year.

The Fish & Wildlife Commission also approved closing wild steelhead retention on the Green/Duwamish, Hoko and Pysht rivers, moved the start of wild steelhead keeper season on the remaining West End rivers to Feb. 16, and tightened gear regulations there too.

According to WDFW, these new early closures are meant to “provide more protection for wild steelhead present in these rivers.”

The fish were listed under the Endangered Species Act in spring 2007.

At that time we all wondered what, exactly, the affect of the federal listing on the fishing would be.

Weren’t many answers at the time, but officials did suggest there would probably be more targeted seasons.

That’s becoming apparent.

Under the new rules, the Skykomish will stay open through the end of February from the mouth of the Wallace River upstream to the forks, the Snoqualmie from Plumb Landing up to the falls to intercept pokey hatchery fish waiting to enter Reiter Ponds or Tokul Creek.

And WDFW’s statewide steelhead manager Heather Bartlett told me for our November 2009 issue that rivers without hatchery traps will no longer be planted with smolts.

The Tolt, a Snoqualmie trib without a trap, hasn’t seen a winter-run stocking since 2004; 2006 was the last year for the Samish, Canyon Creek, South Fork Stillaguamish and North Fork Skykomish. And in the future, the list will include the Raging, Sultan, Sauk and more.

Bartlett also said that traps will be kept open longer to collect as many fin-clipped fish as possible, but that all broodstock steelhead must be in hand by Jan. 31.

“Get a fish Feb. 1? You can’t use it,” she told me.

It represents a massive change from the winter waterscape that King and Snohomish county steelheaders have known for decades.

“There was a time when a guy could go fish almost any river in north Puget Sound and there was an opportunity to catch a hatchery steelhead,” a source told me. “Now that opportunity is not going to be there in a real sense. There may be a stray fish or two, but if a guy in December goes down to, say, the Pilchuck, they’re going to be wasting their time. They’re going to be fishing vacant water.”

It’s a new world for Northwest Washington steelheaders, and that’s becoming clearer and clearer.

We’ve been told, in so many words, that our job is now to remove as many hatchery steelhead from the spawning grounds, to keep them from breeding with the wilds and messing up the genetics.

Over on the upper Columbia, we’ve actually been required to keep every hatchery we catch this season.

Kayaker Karl Stomberg just this moment sent me a pic that shows he’s doing his part, pulling a near-limit from the Okanogan last weekend. He describes his adventure over Northwestkayakanglers.com.

OKANOGAN STEELHEAD FOR KARL STOMBERG OF STANWOOD. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

Back on the Westside, the problem is that the new shorter season may not always coincide with good fishing.

Mark Coleman of All Rivers Guide Service and several others wrote letters to WDFW this week, arguing that the early shut down of fishing effective yesterday on the Snoqualmie is ill-timed with a number of fin-clipped fish still in the river.

“Seeing an abnormal amount of these late hatchery fish is great except for the fact that the WDFW is shutting the rivers down after today. That means instead of being able to catch, kill and remove these fish from the system … these hatchery steelhead will remain in the system. Sounds like some fine management again, don’t it!?” Coleman stated.

Fine management or not, this is what the future looks like for now.

Bank Only Spring King Fishing Above I-205

A pair of fishery managers, one from Washington, one from Oregon, signed off on spring Chinook regulations Feb. 18 that will give this season on the Lower Columbia a different feel from usual.

While much of the river will see the usual hoglines and fleets of trollers, the water from the I-205 bridge to Bonneville Dam will be completely bereft of boats.

Only bank anglers will be allowed to work the big river in that stretch for this year’s projected record return of upriver spring Chinook — some 470,000 fish.

And the best bank fishing will likely be just below Bonneville Dam — at least before hordes of sea lions show up, as they have in recent years.

According to one longtime fishery observor, it will be the first time since at least 2000 that that sort of regulation has been put on the lower river — and may be the first time ever. But with the Columbia running lower than in previous seasons, it’s a way to keep from chewing up impacts on ESA-listed wild fish too quickly.

And then there’s this year’s catch-sharing agreements. As Allen Thomas of The Columbian writes, “Pete Hassemer of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said Thursday the big fleet in the lower Columbia is catching a disproportionate number of spring chinook from four Idaho hatcheries, shorting inland anglers.”

The seasons are emblematic of managers’ caution with this year’s return. The past two seasons have seen forecasts fall flat on their faces — returns of just 54 percent and 66 percent of the preseason prediction in 2009 and 2008.

There’s also that massive jack return last season, some 82,000, and whether all those 3-year-old fish will translate into adults this year.

But if the run comes in, it would be the largest return since at least 1938.

We preview the best spots to fish, top rigs, run science and more in our March issue, out to subscribers and on newsstands starting next week!

Here are reactions to the seasons from overnight:

“It’s going to be very difficult for us to explain to the angling public why there’s a half million fish in the river and their fishing options are so constrained.”

Liz Hamilton, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, as reported by Joel Shangle of Northwest Wild Country Radio

“Ok ive read it several times. So my understanding is that you will not be allowed to fish for springers Above 205 on the columbia holy man that sucks!! I love that water I think im gonna cry now all those boats that fish that area will be with all the boats that fish 205 I-5 water oh my!!”

Metal Head on Ifish

“Guess I will have to throw away all the eggs and learn to troll herring.”

Kevin Lund on piscatorialpursuits

“WTF April 3rd Look at the old counts things don’t even get going til around the second week. Un believable!! Maybe they want to buy my damn boat!! “Fishing From the Bank ” It is the damn Coumbia river one of the largest in the world. Come ON!!”

fire escape, also on piscatorialpursuits.com

“It doesn’t seem right to discriminate on the basis of geography.’’

Bob Morgan of Washougal, quoted by Allen Thomas of The Columbian

“I’m extremely frustrated again that anglers in the Gorge are going to bite the bullet for spring salmon.”

Sheilla Cannon of Dodson, Ore., also quoted by Thomas

“Above I-205 sounds like “Boating to a Bank” may be a good option to try.”

Wheatie, also on Ifish

“It looks about normal to me … restricted fishing to protect the ESA listed stocks and areas determined to help extend the season as long as possible … We’re going to have to work hard to catch 17000 fish … tune up your reels, re-tie your knots, sharpen your hooks, grease your axels, test your motors … this warm weather is going to light up the fishing!”

Pete, an administrator on Ifish

“Calm is a good thing … I’m pleased with what we’ve done here today.”

Steve Williams, ODFW, on the “remarkably smooth” season-setting process this year as compared to previous go-arounds, as reported by Henry Miller of the Salem Statesman Journal

“The message sent to the sport anglers of Washington and Oregon today by the Columbia River Compact: Learn how to fish upriver.”

Joel Shangle, Northwest Wild Country Radio

“Compared to the past two years, anglers will have much more generous spring chinook seasons in the lower Columbia River this year.”

Tom Paulu, Longview Daily News

Shangle and Paulu are both correct.

Managers say they’re “encouraged” by the forecast — 559,000 fish overall when you add in a good Willamette run plus the Cowlitz and other tribs — and say they’ve approved rules that will “provide Columbia River anglers with a full range of fishing opportunities above and below Bonneville Dam in March and April.”

They slapped a 40 percent buffer on the run to ensure that upstream tribal and recreational anglers can fish, as well protect wild stocks.

“This approach gives us the flexibility to match fishing opportunities to the actual size of the run,” said Guy Norman, WDFW regional director, in a press release.  “As we’ve seen in the past two years, it can create real problems when runs fall short of expectations.”

A run update will be done in early May.

“Thanks to the large run forecast this year we are able to craft a spring chinook season that includes plenty of fishing opportunity throughout the river,” said Steve Williams deputy administrator of ODFW’s fish division, also in a press release. “If the forecast comes in as expected we may be able to provide even more opportunity.”

Norman and Williams were the two gents signing off on the fishery.

While the bank-only fishery from I-205 to Bonneville rankles some anglers, as Shangle points to, there’s a whole lot of opportunity above the dam.

Indeed, Stuart Ellis, one of the guys who we both talked to about how he and a technical committee came up with the springer forecast, warned me months ago, “The opportunities may not be in your favorite area, or your preferred area to fish. You may have to go to choice number two or three.”

Managers approved 7-day-a-week fishing from Bonneville to McNary from March 16 through May 31. While it’s also bank only from Bonneville upstream to the Tower Island power lines, which is six miles downstream from The Dalles Dam, there’s a lot of water up here for boat fishing. Plus you’ll be able to keep two hatchery Chinook a day in that stretch.

We’re also learning that springer fisheries below Lower Granite, Little Goose and Ice Harbor dams are probably.

Bill Monroe, a columnist for The Oregonian, blogged about yesterday’s season-setting meeting as it happened.

As it stands, spring Chinook seasons for March and April are:

* Buoy 10 upstream to the I-5 Bridge: Seven days per week from March 1 through April 18, except closed on the following Tuesdays: March 9, 16, 23 and 30.

* I-5 Bridge upstream to I-205 Bridge: Seven days per week from March 1-14, except closed on Tuesday March 9. Beginning March 18 through April 3, fishing will be limited to three days per week, Thursday through Saturday.

* I-205 Bridge upstream to Bonneville Dam: Bank angling only, seven days per week from March 1-14, except closed on Tuesday March 9. Beginning March 18 through April 3, fishing will be limited to three days per week, Thursday through Saturday.

Anglers fishing below Bonneville Dam will be allowed to retain one adult adipose-fin-clipped spring chinook salmon per day.

ODFW also announced that the Willamette River will stay open seven days a week, with a daily bag limit of two adipose fin-clipped Chinook or steelhead in any combination. The agency is forecasting a return of 62,700 Chinook in the Willamette, which is one of the strongest returns in several years.

As outlined in WDFW’s rule pamphlet, Columbia River anglers may retain shad and hatchery steelhead when fishing is open for spring Chinook.

Sprague Boots Out Limits

“It was a good way to start trout season,” says Leroy Ledeboer about he and a friend’s trip out to rainbow-stuffed Sprague Lake yesterday.

The Moses Lake-based Northwest Sportsman writer and Glen Steffler both limited on gorgeous pink-meated trout, one of which went 21 1/2 inches and fought as hard as a “salmon.”

BIG FISH OF THE TRIP, A 21.5-INCHER FOR NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN PEN LEROY LEDEBOER. (GLENN STEFFLER)

The duo were dragging three lines — Ledeboer’s taken advantage of Washington’s new two-rod license — two of which were spinners and worms, the other a Needlefish.

Red and silver seemed to be the color of the day: That was the color of the Needlefish, which accounted for three trout, as well as the pattern on the spinner blade.

They also used a two-toned yellow and green blade in front of worms, a color that’s done well at the lake other times.

Ledeboer says they ran the spoon straight off the back of his boat at about two and a half colors of leaded line while they ran the spinners off downriggers set from 8 to 20 feet.

After launching at the gravel launch on the eastern end of the lake off the Max Harder Road around 9 a.m., Ledeboer had a fish on within 20 minutes. But it wasn’t for another hour before the next three bit, “bing, bing, bing.”

That said, Ledeboer says the action was not red-hot, but they didn’t have to venture more than a mile from the launch either.

“I’d bet that if we’d gone to midlake or further, we’d have done the same … I just think there’s a lot of fish in that lake. To try and narrow it down and say, ‘You gotta do this,’ you’re kidding yourself. But if you aren’t catching fish, experment. And stick with it,” Ledeboer advises.

It took them till around 2 p.m. to finally limit.

After October 2007’s rehab, Sprague was stocked with huge numbers of trout fingerlings and catchables (200,000 and 160,000, respectively).

Ledeboer and Steffler’s catch ranged from 13 inches up to Ledeboer’s gorgeous 21 1/2-incher. Some fought well, but others were more lethargic.

And he feels there are larger rainbows to be caught at Sprague; 3,200 triploids were planted in 2008, 2,165 last year.

“They should have grown to tremendous sizes by now,” he says.

With steady weather forecast for the next half week or so, Ledeboer feels that fishing should continue to be good.

He says there were maybe a half-dozen other craft out on the lake yesterday including a couple of fly fishermen on pontoon boats.

And as uncrowded as the lake was, the rainbows’ tummies were full up.

“Those fish were crammed with chironomids,” he says. “Maybe that’s why it wasn’t a red-hot bite.”

A NICE PAIR OF SPRAGUE RAINBOWS FOR GLENN STEFFLER. (LEROY LEDEBOER)

Ledeboer says that Sprague Lake Resort, at the eastern end of the lake, is closed for the time being.

Wolves A Tough Hunt, Idahoans Find

Last September, as Idaho prepared for its wolf hunt, we talked to a pair of Panhandle sportsmen about how the season might shape up.

Former guide Brian Peters told reporter Ralph Bartholdt that hunters would have a tough go of it, if his experience in Alaska had any bearing.

“In most cases, (my clients) never saw a wolf,” Peters said.

As for how to hunt them, he said you could try howling them in, but also that “Wolves learn fast.”

Ralph also spoke to Milt Turley, a 60-year North Idaho resident described as an “avid elk hunter” and who was eager to  shoot a wolf. He writes of an encounter Turley had with watching a wolf kill site over several days”

“Wolves are extremely intelligent, and the patience of a hunter who plans to take part in this year’s scheduled Idaho wolf hunt must rival a wolf’s smarts.”

Today, Turley’s back in the news, in a Spokane Spokesman-Review article.

Despite living in wolf country, he has yet to fill his tag.

“We’re finding out that it’s damn difficult to kill a wolf,” he tells reporter Becky Kramer, adding, “I’ve seen four or five wolves this year, but boy, are they quick. And, they’re wary now.”

Which probably is for the best, if you live, work or recreate in the region.

She reports that 155 wolves in Idaho’s 220-animal quota have been killed. She also writes that, according to IDFG aerial surveys, elk populations are actually higher in the Panhandle’s Unit 7 today than they were when wolves first showed up in the area in 1998.

Kramer has another article on wolves today too — indeed, the Spokesman-Review’s front page is all wolves, all the time. It’s about how large Idaho wolves are. Based on IDFG data, the average of hunter- and road-kills have been 86 pounds for adult females, 101 pounds for adult males.

That’s well below the larger size some outdoorsmen claim, though there was at least one 130-pound male.

Meanwhile, in regional anti-wolf/elk-advocacy circles, questions are being raised about the kind of wolves reintroduced into the Northern Rockies back in 1995 and about a tapeworm those animals carry.

Those are parried in Kramer’s article, but they will continue to make the rounds as Web sites like savelk.com and http://washingtonwolf.info draw attention to the issue of wolves in the Northwest and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife works on its wolf management plan.

And there was also news recently about National Park Service biologists suggesting using triploid, err, neutered wolves to help keep deer and elk populations in check in national parks. Though it’s just in the “germination” stage, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist who’s in charge of wolves in the Northern Rockies, Ed Bangs, reportedly said, “Wolves fix very few problems compared to the ones they create.”

30-pound Steelhead!

Northwest steelheaders have been getting cantankerous in recent days.

Dave Vedder posted a pic of his first 30-pound-plus steelhead over on piscatorialpursuits while steelbum on Ifish threw some adult beverages down his gullet and reports that it turns out he’s caught a mess of 30s too.

Vedder was kidding; steelbum was too.

But in their own ways they were pointing out the dread condition known as catch inflationitis. Seems particularly contagious around this time of year when we’re catching large wild steelhead sans digital scale and Mom’s sewing tape measure, snapping pics of the fish with our hands held towards the camera, and posting ’em for all the world to see.

(DAVE VEDDER'S 30-POUNDER THREAD ON PISCATORIAL PURSUITS.

If truth must be known … I’m a recovering catch inflater.

Yep.

Happened 11 years ago next month.

With the nearest certified scale 40-plus miles away, I pronounced a wild steelhead I caught on the Grande Ronde River a 14-pounder.

Because, you know, it looked like a 14-pounder!

It had a thicker, longer body than the hatchery fish also in the river, plus its jaw was kyping.

Which totally put it into the midteens.

At least in my mind.

The buddies of my fishing partner that day — guys who’d long fished the Ronde — later rolled their eyes at my “14-pounder.”

In retrospect, was it a 13? Perhaps

A 12? More likely.

An 11? Well …

A 10? Hey, now, you’re cutting it a bit thin, buddy!

And that’s the thing. In reality, most of us regular joe anglers ain’t gonna catch 30-pound-plus steelhead. Heck, many of us won’t top 20 pounds.

But we can in our minds.

Till someone on a board somewhere points out otherwise.

‘These Were Not Kids With BB Guns’

I know we are only 33 days into 2010, but I’m very, very sorely tempted to go ahead and award three Renton, Wash., men Northwest Sportsman magazine’s Jackasses of the Year award for their boneheaded decision to shoot … flickers.

Yeah, northern flickers, those songbirds with the white patch on their back, just a bit bigger than a robin, very pretty, protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and state law.

“The excuse they gave is they were shooting them for food,” says Capt. Rich Mann of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Enforcement Division in Yakima this morning.

“That’s a bogus excuse,” says Annie Morton at Audubon Washington in Seattle. “You are what you eat, and they eat lots of ants so they would be very acidic.”

The trio were allegedly caught in late January with 19 flickers and several other birds as well as expensive “high-tech” air rifles with “muzzle suppressors,” Mann says.

“These were not kids with BB guns,” Mann says.

He gave the rifles’ retail value at $1,500.

Officers just happened to be in the right spot — along the Yakima River near Union Gap — at the right time to catch them.

Mann says that day officers were actually going to run a plain-clothes patrol in response to complaints of illegal harvest of wild steelhead in the river. When they arrived on the scene they saw one of the three men about to enter the woods. They called a sergeant and “caught the guy in the act,” says Mann.

The other two initially stashed their guns and birds and denied they were hunting, but eventually retrieved the items, Mann says.

“They were basically hunting the Russian olive thickets,” he says. “They knew the patch very well — much better than a person on their first trip over.”

Officers interviewed the men to try and establish a commercial-sale angle — flicker tails are used in Native American regalia.  Last March, four men, including three from the Yakima Valley, were arrested as part of a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service investigation into the illegal killing and selling parts of flickers, golden and bald eagles as well as other birds of prey.

Mann says case reports will be forwarded to the Yakima County prosecutor in the next few weeks for charging.

News also came out today about five sea lions and seals shot and washed ashore dead in West Seattle. The National Marine Fisheries Service is investigating.