Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

‘A Year To Remember’ At Tillamook

If you’ve ever logged onto Ifish or spent time at Buoy 10 or Tillamook Bay, you’ve probably run into a guy going by the name “AndyCoho.”

As the name implies, Andy loves coho.

He’s made this Andy love coho too.

AndyCoho, also known as Andy Schneider, took yours truly out to the CR Buoy in mid-August for some of the madness.

So it was kinda amusing when I got an email over the weekend from the Portland-area writer with the words to the effect that the coho became something of a pest at times last week.

That’s only because AndyCoho turned AndyChinook for five days, spending it with family and friends on his beloved Tillamook Bay.

“I’ve had a tradition of spending a week in October on the Northern Oregon Coast for as long as I can remember,” he wrote in an email to me and others. “This year the family and I opted for the first week of October and it turned out to be a wonderful week. Weather, fishing, crabbing, family and friends truly made October 2009 a year to remember and compare following years to. ”

“We fished lower Tillamook Bay and the ocean with herring, upper Tillamook Bay with spinners and tidewater with FlatFish all in hopes of finding a Chinook or two. My dad was able to fish with me for all five days and was lucky enough to get two of the biggest fish landed on my boat all week — a 37.6-pounder and a 33-pounder! My friend John Lacarno joined us from Forest Grove and found himself a nice, big Tillamook Bay hen too.”

OL' MAN SCHNEIDER WITH A TILLAMOOK BAY CHINOOK. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

OL' MAN SCHNEIDER WITH A TILLAMOOK BAY CHINOOK. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

“When the Chinook bite slowed, the coho would keep us busy…almost becoming a pest at times. What? Wait, did I just say that coho were becoming a pest? On second thought, coho are a good ‘problem’ to have!”

Salmon fishing wasn’t all the Schneider clan did either.

“While fishing we soaked crab pots in the ocean in 40 feet of water north of the bay entrance.  Crabbing was beyond expectations and huge Dungeness crabs were standard and ‘keeper’ crabs were sent back to the ocean floor. After just two days of crabbing we had enough crab to satisfy our family and our friends families.

JOANNA FENNER AND MISSY SCHNEIDER WITH OCEAN-FRESH DUNGIES. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

JOANNA FENNER AND MISSY SCHNEIDER WITH OCEAN-FRESH DUNGIES. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

“Joanna Fenner and my wife Missy teamed up for a day of crabbing and fishing on a extraordinary calm day on the Pacific, Joanna had some previous crabbing experience and it payed off pulling traps and sorting crabs.  The Dungeness didn’t seem to have a preference for bait — albacore scraps, salmon carcasses and tender index fingers (it still hurts!).”

“Tillamook Bay 2009, a year to remember….and the season is just starting!!!”

3 Strange Things

Item #1: You know that post a little below this one, “Brother, can you spare a red plug”? It’s a little story about how my buddy Chris Spencer of Longview, more of a spinyray fishermen in recent years than a salmon guy, has been using his deep-diving plugs to catch coho in a Columbia slough.

It was completely by accident. He actually started out trying to catch walleye when that first silver bit.

So typical for Spencer.

Anyway, yesterday, he reported that a guide boat with six clients aboard pulled up on the school in Carrolls and proceeded to do pretty good casting plugs for silvers.

Well, a little further up the Columbia and a reggie up the Willamette, bass anglers throwing plugs are apparently also catching coho.

That according to a Bill Monroe blurb yesterday in The Oregonian.

Bill Egan, information coordinator for the Oregon Bass and Panfish Club, says his members are finding lots of coho above the falls this fall as the state’s latest exploratory salmon run begins colonizing new tributaries in the Willamette Valley.

Daily limit is three coho above the falls and in various tribs.

Item # 2: Speaking of bizarro bites, Northwest Sportsman’s own bass troller — yes, troller — Brian Lull will be out dragging plugs along Lake Washington’s shores for smallmouth tomorrow.

He reports that with still-warm water but shorter and shorter days, they’ll be hitting aggressively.

He says he and a client landed a 17-incher and several smaller ones last weekend before the Huskies’ game cut their day short.

Lull will be taking his wife, Gina, out; she apparently loves trolling for bass.

Trolling for bass? So untypical.

Item # 3: Completely unrelated, but the last week I’ve been tearing my house apart trying to find my hunting gear. It was all in a green pack, last I recall.

“It” would be knives, .308 cartridges, hunting vest and hat, two-way radios, first-aid kit, etc.

Need to find it for the start of Washington’s rifle season two Saturdays from now. Dad and I plan on heading back to Wolfville, err, Winthrop for the opener, maybe even the second weekend if I can talk my pregnant wife into it.

She didn’t know where my green pack is either, and in desperation I fired off several emails to dad and a friend in recent days: “Hey, did I leave my green backpack at your house/that DNR gate/deer camp? Could you look for it?”

Neither have seen it.

Meanwhile, yesterday Dad sent me an email. Seems there’s a buck in the backyard ripping up one of his willow trees.

BACKYARD BUCK RUB. (TOM WALGAMOTT)

BACKYARD BUCK RUB. (TOM WALGAMOTT)

Reminds me of the time, a couple years ago, that Dad and I got to deer camp 189 miles from the house and I checked my voice mail. Mom had left a message, something like, “Hey, there are three bucks in the backyard, including a one-, two-, three-, four-pointer.”

So typical.

Course, Mom won’t let us hunt the homestead.

Speaking of home, my hunting stuff? It turned up last night. In my garage.

So typical.

Go, Ro!

I was pretty proud the winter day I filled the back of my pickup with trash I collected along the banks of the Skykomish at Monroe, but Rosendo Guerrero’s got me beat — by a dumpster load.

Rosendo’s the 45-year-old Federal Way angler who organized a clean-up on the Puyallup last Saturday, an effort which brought together 80 volunteers including fishermen, People for Puget Sound, a City of Puyallup work crew, a City of Puyallup council member, WDFW enforcement officers and community members.

A photo on a Facebook page he created for his group Sportsmen for the Preservation of our Rivers and Streams shows the mountain of garbage — a ton’s worth — that everyone helped haul off the river that day.

cleanup

A fan of the Puyallup, Ro was distressed with the crowds who descended on the river as pinks and kings ascended it this summer.

He emailed Jeffrey Mayor of the Tacoma News Tribune that he and others were “irate over the way what we call the Johnny-come-latelies (are) coming to our river and leaving their trash.”

Mayor got a mess of other emails from other anglers who felt similarly, including Stan Elliott who wished he knew where the trash dumpers lived so he could leave it at their house.

Garbage and poop left behind by anglers were the subject of several late-summer TV reports. The misdeeds of a few cast a bad light on sport fishing as a whole.

But that image is being cleaned up and repaired now, thanks to Rosendo and others like him.

“I’m just an angler who enjoys and respects nature and will not let these idiots destroy the beauty of our natural rivers and streams,” he wrote to me via email last night.

And in addition to angler trash, there was plenty of other junk that was removed from the Puyallup last weekend — tires, furniture, bikes, clothing and other debris that probably wasn’t left behind by slob fishermen.

Others involved in the cleanup included Murrey’s Disposal of Fife which supplied the dumpster, and Walmart, Sportco, Wholesale Sports, Starbucks, Johnny’s Bar & Grill, Mama Stortini’s, McDonalds and People for Puget Sound all made donations to the cause, according to WDFW.

Rosendo’s planning another river day, this one Oct. 24 on the Skykomish in Monroe.

“We’re gonna rock that place!!!!!” he wrote on his Facebook page earlier this week.

If you’re interested in participating, contact Rosendo at (253) 861-8964 or rosendo64@yahoo.com.

ODFW Closed Oct. 16

Note to self: Do not call Jessica Sall, Eric Schindler, Michelle Dennehy, Todd Alsbury, Todd Lum, Brad Smith, Vic Coggins, Shannon Hurn, Keith Kohl, Rick Swart, Rick Hargrave, Tim Bailey, Rick Boatner — or any other ODFW biologist, supervisor or flack — next Friday, October 16.

They ain’t gonna be in the office that day.

Nor will they be in Nov. 27.

And forget about reaching them on March 19, April 16, June 18, Aug. 20, Sept.17 and Nov. 26 in 2010.

As well as March 18 and May 20 in 2011.

I’ll have to get last-minute quotes, run forecasts, catch tallies, secret spots, etc., before or after.

Those dates are required furloughs for ODFW and other state employees.

Knock all you want at the door of the field offices in Lakeview and Enterprise, pound as hard as you want at the big house in Salem, they ain’t gonna open.

In the short term, for elk hunters, it means that with Oct. 16 being the deadline to purchase a general season Cascade bull tag, you will need to instead buy your tag online or at a license sales agent that day. If you want to exchange a Cascade bull elk tag, that must be done at an ODFW office by 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15.

For Sauvie Island waterfowlers, it means that Nov. 27 is a no-go day. The Portland wildlife area will be closed for hunting.

Elsewhere, hunters will still be responsible for checking in and out of wildlife areas using the self check-in process, according to ODFW.

For fish lovers, hatcheries will be open to visitors on Oct. 16 and other furlough days, but staff won’t be around to yap about what’s in the big tanks, why the fish are so colorful, whether they get any marlin back to the facility, etc.

The furlough days were ordered by Governor Kulongoski due to the current budget squeeze. It’s anticipated the state will save between $2 million and $2.5 million in payroll per day.

NOTE: THIS VERSION CORRECTS THE SPELLING OF MR. HARGRAVE’S LAST NAME AND RECHARACTERIZES THE REASON FOR THE OFFICE CLOSURES. — The Editer

Brother, Can You Spare A Red Plug?

UPDATED 8:55 a.m. FRIDAY: Pity my friend Chris Spencer. He lost his last hot plug, and the coho won’t hardly bite anything else.

Since late September, the Longview, Wash., angler has been doing pretty good in the Columbia’s Carrolls Slough where he’s been dragging a metallic red Hot Lips around. But after his last plug snapped off the line yesterday, fishing’s gone downhill markedly.

Oh, the coho are still there — and how.

“On my depthfinder, there were huge numbers of coho,” Spencer moaned as he drove home from the river this afternoon.

And that’s where the fish will likely stay until Luhr Jensen gets another shipment of the size 18 divers into Bob’s Merchandise or other tackle shops within driving distance of Longview.

“There are none in Cowlitz County,” the angler reports.

After his first report to me Sept. 22, he stocked up on the plugs, but either his knots are suspect or this year’s fish are extra strong, because he burned through his supply in three trips.

“There are three fish out there swimming around with my Hot Lips,” Spencer emailed me last night. “If anyone sends in a report of an extra lure with their fish, let ’em know I want my lures back!”

While he’s gotten a bite or two on similarly colored plugs and seen other anglers catch salmon on big orange inline spinners, he insists it’s that particular lure’s beady yellow-and-black eyes that makes the coho crankiest.

But without any more of ’em, he says he’ll be reporting back to work tomorrow.

POSTSCRIPT: Early today, Wednesday morning, I got a call from Spencer. Didn’t sound like he was at the job site. Instead, he was heading off to scour the tackle shacks in Portland for his favorite lure.

POSTSCRIPT 2: Somewhere in the afternoon, Spencer called again. His hunt for The Plug had taken him clear down to Portland where he scoured a pair of Targets (no luck), back to Vancouver where he ran through a Walmart and then to the parking lot of Wholesale Sports. Along with 30 others, he waited for it to open at 10 (“Don’t they get it that we get up early?”). It paid off with six plugs for slightly under $30, and he was on the water by noon. However, fishing was pretty slow in the afternoon; he reports only one landed, but says he’ll be out again today.

POSTSCRIPT 3: Just got my morning report from Spencer. He and his pops just got out on the top end of Carrolls Slough, and though he reports a gillnet boat leaving the scene, he says he just landed his first coho — yep, on one of those much-searched-for plugs.

It came immediately after he saw an ironworker friend of his land a “big freaking fish” as well as another coho go over the gunwale of third boat.

Spencer says there are about six boats on the slough, with more of the fleet out in the mainstem Columbia anchored up for sturgeon.

Carrolls is just downstream from Kalama, on the Washington side.

We’ll probably have another update this afternoon.

POSTSCRIPT 4: This is so typical Spencer luck: He drove all over the place yesterday to find THE hot plug and guess what? Another color and brand has taken over as THE hot plug today.

Spencer, who’s still on Carrolls as I write this, reports that his buddy the ironworker has caught three today, all on an orange Wiggle Wart.

He says that other trollers have also picked up a fish apiece, and that some guide with a large sled pulled up on the school and then instructed his boatload of clients to start pitching plugs at the coho.

“They boated 12 in an hour,” Spencer says.

What!?! The hell didn’t you and yer pa do the same?

He muttered something about the guide making the rest of the boaters a little cranky.

Actually, the reason Spencer just called was to say that he’d put a second coho in the boat.

“He’s freakin’ huge, twice the size of the others I’ve been catching. Out of the blue, bam, she hit,” he says.

And that piggy did bite one of those brand-new lures he got yesterday.

CHRIS SPENCER OF LONGVIEW WITH A PAIR OF CARROLLS SLOUGH COHO. (JAMES SPENCER)

CHRIS SPENCER OF LONGVIEW WITH A PAIR OF CARROLLS SLOUGH COHO. (JAMES SPENCER)

POSTSCRIPT 5: “Freakin’ huge”? Spencer? Well, I’ll give this one to you since you’re still dialing in actual coho sizes, but in the meanwhile, I’ve worked out a correction factor for your adjectives.

Big = 7 pounds

Huge = 8 pounds

Freakin’ huge = 8 1/2 pounds

Monster = 9 pounds

Gargantuan = 9 1/2 pounds

The biggest coho I’ve ever seen in my whole entire life (three exclamation marks) = 10 pounds

Get the camera, call Walgamott, where’s the weigh station, I think I’ve got a new state record = 11 pounds

Deer Lagoon In Anti-hunters’ Crosshairs

A few years ago, there was a concerted effort to halt hunting on a state wildlife area near Stanwood, Wash.

The argument was that waterfowl and pheasant hunting on Leque Island didn’t go well with the new 4,100-acre Nature Conservancy property right next door, in Port Susan Bay.

All that shotgunning was scaring the birds — “the densest concentration of wintering and migratory birds in the region.”

Only problem with that argument, as I wrote in the March 10, 2005, issue of Washington Fishing & Hunting News, was that Leque had been open for public hunting since at least 1973.

In other words, Port Susan still hosted “the densest concentration of wintering and migratory birds in the region” despite at least 34 years of shotgun booms there every fall and winter.

If that didn’t illustrate the flaw of hunt opponents’ arguments, I also pointed out that they claimed our “bullets” — I couldn’t make that up if I tried — would hit cars crossing over the island on Highway 532 and they worried we’d willy-nilly blast their Fifis and Fidos.

“Come on, get serious,” I wrote.  We’re fathers and sons and sisters too, not Genghis Khan’s wildly firing horde.

At a public meeting called to discuss the issue, there was a huge turnout of hunters. End result: Leque Island is still a public hunting area and, by golly gosh, birds are still flying into Port Susan.

But now, 18 miles to the south-southwest there’s another effort to halt waterfowl hunting, this time at Deer Lagoon, on Whidbey Island’s southern side.

Island County Commissioners will hold a special session October 12 to consider two ordinances that would ban shooting there. Public comment will also be taken. The meeting starts at 6 p.m., at the Freeland Hall, 1515 Shoreview Drive, Freeland.

If you’ve never heard of Deer Lagoon, join the club. Located at the head of Useless Bay, it’s one of those not-so-well known Westside duck and goose areas, a place a half-dozen guys might be a crowd.

Two posters at Duckhuntingchat.com call it “a great” place to hunt.

But to the south, along East Shore Avenue, is a string of beach houses.

deer lagoon

Some residents there have been itching to ban hunting at Deer by finding ways that we might pose some danger to them, their pets or property. And they say they’re afraid to wander into the marsh during hunting season, according to a Sept. 25 article in the South Whidbey Record

Sympathetic county commissioners have gone from allowing shooting in just a “doughnut hole” of the county’s 370 acres on the lake to now wanting a complete ban, the paper reports.

Never mind that even from the edge of the doughnut hole, it would take a steel pellet with wings to make it the 200-plus yards to the nearest house.

Then there’s just plain wacky claims, as if we were gun-toting terrorists or something.

Writes Frances Wood, a South Whidbey Record columnist:

Here on Whidbey, we enjoy a rich and peaceful homeland and a precious sense of personal security. Yet, beginning next month, we will knowingly allow snipers to fire holes into our homeland.

At Deer Lagoon, a few hunters — an informal count indicates there are four or five regulars — will disturb the quiet lives of those who live nearby and unwittingly disrupt some of the richest bird habitat in our county.

During duck-hunting season, it’s not just the ducks that die.

Most hunters don’t realize the migrating shorebirds are disturbed by gunshots and stop feeding. An ounce or two of fat becomes the difference between making it to the next feeding station or expiring on their trip south.

The kingfishers that depend on the fish in Deer Lagoon are frightened from their feeding grounds.

Scoters are hunted even though their populations are decreasing and no one eats them. Western Grebes, the most elegant of seabirds with long graceful necks that used to gather in large flocks of hundreds of birds, suffers also. Their numbers have dropped 97 percent.

The caller and I, and perhaps you, desire a secure home without the worry of stray bullets and a homeland with quiet, gunshot-free mornings.

How can we spend billions to protect our homeland from attack, and yet allow our landscape here on Whidbey to be destroyed gunshot-by-gunshot, bird-by-bird?

Adds Ellen L. Callahan, “From dawn to dusk, seven days a week, we can hear gunfire and distressed birds as they are shot at or are frightened from their wetland habitat.”

Dawn to dusk shooting, eh? From a half-dozen guys, all week long, from late October through late January?

I am not the most experienced Western Washington waterfowler, but I’ve never had a day here that offered such spectacular hunting. More like 10 minutes at dawn, a bit of shooting through 10 a.m., and then an extremely long lull until 10 minutes at dusk most days of season.

Dawn-to-dusk shooting would imply either Deer Lagoon hunters were poor shots, or that every single one of the 4,000 ducks and 300 geese killed in Island County last year came from here — never mind Penn Cove, Camano Island or Swan Lake.

As for anyone being harmed by shotgun pellets, a poster going by the name “criticalthinking” points out, “There is a much greater danger of one of these homeowners running someone over on their way out to get a Sunday morning latte and paper than there is for a hunting accident.”

Indeed, what about all those beach houses next to the lagoon? Does living there, driving along the road or having dogs which may get loose into the marsh affect bird use?

And here’s another thing. As with Leque and Port Susan, how in god’s name did Deer Lagoon become such a rich birding area if we’ve been hunting there all along?

How about the residents themselves — they feel afraid to go into the lagoon during fall and winter, but wouldn’t that also scare the birds away?

Argh. The typically flawed arguments annoy me. But it’s not just that. It’s this constant hammering away at public hunting land.

The contributions we have made for decades to bring back North American bird populations through taxes on guns and ammo — money which has gone towards buying habitat — are too often overlooked by those who would ban shooting. It’s as if, in their mind, all these shore birds and waterfowl have suddenly just appeared out of the fog of time rather than off the millions of acres that our money has helped preserve.

We both want the same things — birds, lots of many different healthy populations, and lots of room for them — but at least at Deer Lagoon, one group wants it all for themselves.

How fair is that?

Carrolls Coho

A week or so ago, a buddy of mine and his pop had Carrolls Slough more or less to themselves, and they worked it over for four nice silvers.

This morning: “It’s the war of the salmon trollers,” says that friend, Chris Spencer of Longview.

“There’s probably 50 boats in here, trying to hug the banks,” he reports via cell phone.

Carrolls is on the Columbia just upstream from the mouth of the Cowlitz.

Spencer’s got one coho in the box, and says he’s seen six others netted. His bit a red Hot Lips, and two others were on plugs, but the others have been landed on big orange inline spinners.

(LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

(LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

With tide change a bit ago, he says the action’s picked up.

Which may actually not be good for his own heart.

“I’m still shaking,” he says of trying to drive his boat through the floatilla, fight his fish, net it and untangle it. “I get a fish and they all converged on top of me.”

We’ll check back with him in a couple hours, see how the action’s going.

POSTSCRIPT: As he blazed back to the boat ramp, Spencer called with an update. Two lost plugs and one coho on for him, and six landed by other anglers.

“There’s definitely fish there,” he reports.

A couple other boats, however, appeared to be trolling for something besides coho — walleye, Spencer thinks. He hooked a 16-incher in Carrolls a couple weeks back.

Groups Say ‘No’ To SJI Orca-only Summer Zone

It was a strange crew, but kayakers, whale watchers, sport anglers and commercial fishermen all came together last night in Seattle to speak out against a proposal to make part of the San Juan Islands a no-go zone to protect killer whales.

“You wouldn’t believe it. Everybody said, ‘What are you guys, crazy?'” says Tim Bush of Outdoor Emporium (206-624-6550) who attended a two-hour meeting put on by the National Marine Fisheries Service at the Seattle Aquarium. “Everybody was against it.”

The Feds want to make a 1/2-mile strip along the west side of San Juan Island a no-go zone from May 1 through September, as well as bar most vessels from approaching within more than 200 yards or block the paths of the ESA-listed marine mammals in Puget Sound.

NMFS argues that orcas are affected by boat noises, though sport fishermen dispute that — and then there’s that famous YouTube video that shows killer whales eating a big Chinook right off the end of a fisherman”s line.

Anglers also fear the proposed closure is only the beginning, and that more quality fishing areas in the Juans and Puget Sound will be shut down.

Bush reports a full house last night. Among those in attendance were Bear Holmes of CCA-Pacific Northwest, Nelson Goodsell and Ron Garner of Puget Sound Anglers, Larry Carpenter of Master Marine in Mount Vernon, Gabe Miller from OE and Sportco in Fife, and Rob Endsley and Tom Nelson from Outdoor Line, according to Bush.

In a post entitled “NOAA vessel rules rejected at Aquarium,” Orcasphere blogger Steve Viers reports at least 50 individual comments.

The 1/2-mile closure zone would affect waters from Mitchell Bay southeast to Eagle Point, a beloved fishing area for Puget Sound anglers.

“It’s disheartening to see a large piece of water that’s extremely productive during certain parts of the summer be closed,” Jay Field of Dash One Charters in Anacortes told Joel Shangle, West Coast saltwater columnist for ESPN Outdoors. “I get calls from people who specifically want to fish the west side of San Juan Island, because you can get a 40-pounder there. It’s one of our best Chinook spots, and to lose that part of our fishery is disappointing, and a little alarming. If NOAA shuts this area down, are the rest of the San Juans next? The killer whales travel down Rosario Strait and they go down Bellingham Channel, too. Are those the next to be shut down?”

THE PROPOSED NO-GO ZONE. (NMFS)

THE PROPOSED NO-GO ZONE. (NMFS)

Adds Tony Floor, fishing affairs director for the Northwest Marine Trade Association, in his monthly newsletter today: “From my viewpoint, closing an area along the shoreline of San Juan Island is not a reasonable solution. A reasonable solution is to participate and encourage the improvement of water quality in Puget Sound. A healthy Puget Sound is good for Orca, salmon, and the people who live in the great Pacific Northwest.”

Commercial anglers, kayakers and whale watching guides are also questioning the proposals.

Officially, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife “is still developing our response,” according to spokesman Darren Friedel in Olympia. “We will be submitting our comments.”

There will also be another public meeting Oct. 5 at the Grange Hall on First Street in Friday Harbor.

Comments on the proposal may also be submitted via email through Oct. 27.

POSTSCRIPT: Plus1 on BloodyDecks rounded up a summary of news articles, and blog posts on this issue, which includes a link to some interesting boiled down comments made by Mark Anderson of Orca Relief as reported by the Islands’ Sounder’s Mark Rasmussen:

Mark Anderson, founder of Orca Relief, said he would “pass” on excluding kayaks and sport fisherman from the no-go zone, noting the little disruption either have on the ability of a killer whale to use its sonar and locate its prey. Instead, according to Anderson, federal officials should be targeting the “flotilla of boats” that follow the orcas all day long, seven days a week, and which, he insists, pose the greatest risk to the survival of the Southern residents in the short-term.

A video news piece done by KCPQ-13 speaks with Anderson,whale-watch charter skipper Shane Aggergaard, and Lynne Barre of NMFS who wrote the protection proposal.

E. Wash. Deer, Bird Previews

I don’t know about your part of Washington, but the part I’ve been roaming the last few days has been downright chilly — and I couldn’t be happier. It means hunting season is finally here.

Indeed, it snowed a couple inches at Stevens Pass and we’ve heard reports of freezing temps near Chelan. That’ll crisp up the apples, and get the bucks’ attention, signaling that it’s time to move out of the Kettles, the Pasayten and the Sawtooths for their winter ranges.

And as the deer put on their winter coats, hunters are beginning to don theirs. I chuckled when a friend emailed me this morning to say he’d quit shaving to grow out his beard for the midmonth opener to the rifle hunt. Time to start mine as well.

JEFF COMA'S 24-INCH-WIDE WHITETAIL FROM THE OKANOGAN. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

JEFF COMA'S 24-INCH-WIDE WHITETAIL FROM THE OKANOGAN. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

Deer aren’t the only game in town this month. Prospects look pretty good around Eastern Washington for upland birds, especially quail, and there will definitely be local waterfowl around too.

Scan10026

RANDY DAVIS OF SCHWANA WITH A CANADA. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

I’ll tell you, it just ain’t fair that there’s only one October on the calendar. We need at least two, and preferably four there’s just so much to do.

Here’s a roundup of prospects around Eastern Washington, courtesy of WDFW’s Weekender:

NORTHEAST WASHINGTON
Pat Fowler, WDFW southeast district wildlife biologist, said quail brood numbers are looking good, and the best areas to hunt are along the major river drainages – Walla Walla, Touchet, and Tucannon rivers, plus Asotin Creek.

“Chukar and gray partridge broods observed to date appear to be good sized, so hunting may improve from last year,” Fowler said. “The best areas to hunt chukar are along the Snake River breaks from Lower Granite dam upriver to the Washington-Oregon border, and along the breaks of the Grande Ronde River. Huns can normally be found in these same areas, but concentrate efforts along the edge of agricultural fields and brushy draws.”

WDFW’s Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area Manager Juli Anderson said that although Hungarian partridge can be tough to find on the area in central Lincoln County, they’re out there.

“I strongly advise hunters to bring a dog to find the Huns,” Anderson said. “There are no quail to speak of here and very few pheasants. Hunters need to be able to identify upland birds before shooting on and around Swanson Lakes to avoid take of protected sharp-tailed and sage grouse.”

RINGNECK HOUND "SKY" POSES WITH MASTER KIL KIM'S BIRDS. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

RINGNECK HOUND "SKY" POSES WITH MASTER KIL KIM'S BIRDS. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

Anderson said waterfowl hunting opportunities will depend on the amount of water in the wildlife area’s potholes and in the Lake Creek drainage. “It’s very dry right now,” Anderson said. “Even our larger pothole lakes such as Florence Lake have dried up. Z-Lake off Telford Road might be the best bet for waterfowl, although it’s a mile-plus walk from the county road.”

Anderson expects mule deer hunting success in the Swanson Lakes area to be average to below average this fall.

“At the headquarters we’re seeing somewhat lower numbers of deer than we did last year,” she said.

Fowler reports Blue Mountains area mule deer and white-tailed deer populations have both declined over the last three years.

DYLAN KOHLER'S FIRST DEER, TAKEN LAST FALL NEAR REPUBLIC. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

DYLAN KOHLER'S FIRST DEER, TAKEN LAST FALL NEAR REPUBLIC. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

For mule deer, it’s been lower fawn survival, he said, and for white-tailed deer it’s been Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) outbreaks in localized populations.

“Mule deer populations appear to have stabilized along the breaks of the Snake River and in the lowlands,” Fowler said. “Mule deer populations in the mountains are still depressed, and hunters will find fairly low success rates in those areas. Although white-tailed deer populations have declined in some areas, the population overall is still strong and will offer excellent hunting opportunity. The foothills of the Blue Mountains and river bottoms hold the largest concentrations of white-tailed deer. Much of the foothill lands are in private ownership, so seek permission before hunting.”

WDFW Wooten Wildlife Area Manager Kari Dingman said that a new shooting range on the area, built last spring, is available for hunters to sight their rifles. The range is in the old gravel pit, about a mile south of the Last Resort campground off the Tucannon River Road. Dingman said hunters can drive to a parking area, then make a short walk to the range. The area is a “pack-it-in-pack-it-out” site, with no garbage disposal service.

The northeast district of the region is traditionally the white-tailed deer hunting capital of the state. Although the Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille county areas will still likely produce some of the best whitetail harvest, overall harvest may be lower this year than the average of the past decade, said District Wildlife Biologist Dana Base.

“The long-term population trend for white-tailed deer here continues to drift downward with the continued loss of acreage in cereal grain and alfalfa hay farm production,” Base said. “Two bad winters back to back, with excessive snow and cold, have further exacerbated this situation. Mule deer appear to have weathered these past couple winters better than the whitetails, but their populations also show the same spotty pattern as whitetail populations – some areas have stable to increasing numbers and other areas are in decline.”

NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON
WDFW district wildlife biologist Rich Finger of Moses Lake expects quail hunting to be fair to good this year in the Columbia Basin.

“Winter conditions were harsh for quail but did not likely cause large scale mortality,” Finger said.  “Spring conditions were fair with cool weather and localized rains in June that may have reduced productivity to some degree.  Riparian areas will offer the best hunting and hunters can increase their chances by securing access to private lands where pressure can be considerably lower.  If pressure is high, some coveys can be found settling into shrub cover a considerable distance from heavily hunted areas”

Finger says gray partridge occur in low densities in the Basin but are rarely targeted by hunters, taken incidentally while hunting other upland game birds.

“Most partridge will occur on private farm fields – particularly in the dryland wheat portions of Adams County and, to a lesser degree, Grant County,” Finger said.  “Gray partridge are a resilient bird and thus likely fared well through the winter.”

Most chukar partridge hunting in the district occurs in Moses Coulee and Coulee Corridor areas, Finger reported.

“Chukar are a challenging game bird to pursue,” Finger said. “Hunters can expect to chase their mocking calls across fractured basalt only to watch them flush out of range and glide out of sight.  Most chukar probably survived the winter in fair condition.  However, chukar numbers appeared to be low last fall and thus the adult breeding population may have been small despite the moderate winter conditions.  Expect another tough season for an already difficult quarry.”

Farther north in the region, WDFW district wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin of Winthrop says California quail numbers appear to be up compared to last year due to favorable spring weather conditions improving nesting success. Quail hunting prospects are anticipated to be better than last year. Favorable spring weather conditions also likely improved nesting success for gray and chukar partridge within the district this year, Fitkin said, and hunting for those species could be somewhat better, too.

“Prospects for mule deer in the district continue to be down, due to an average 70 percent over-winter fawn mortality during each of the three winters prior to last winter,” Fitkin said.  “Even though last winter was not as bad, fawn numbers did not improve as anticipated with spring surveys showing 31 fawns per 100 does in the Methow and 42 fawns per 100 does in the Okanogan. We attribute this to poor forage conditions on the winter range.”

GARY LUNDQUIST'S 2008 MULEY, FROM THE TWISP RIVER. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

GARY LUNDQUIST'S 2008 MULEY, FROM THE TWISP RIVER. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

Fitkin noted that white-tailed deer are less abundant than mule deer throughout the district, but are found in most all valley bottoms where they fared better over the last four winters.

Prospects should be somewhat better for those hunters targeting whitetails, he noted, but since most are on private lands hunters must seek permission for access in advance of the season.  Fitkin also noted that recent cooler, moister weather may improve deer hunting prospects for muzzleloaders already in the field.

New this year in the Columbia Basin is inclusion of Game Management Unit (GMU) 272 (Beezley) in the early muzzleloader mule deer season now open through Oct. 4. District biologist Finger reports most deer harvest in the Basin overall occurs in that unit and 284 (Ritzville), which has been part of the early muzzleloader season for both whitetails and mule deer.  Both units are also open for modern firearm deer hunting.

Finger noted that when hunters review the latest harvest reports (available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/harvest ), they will see success declined in GMU 272 from 28 percent in 2007 to 24 percent in 2008. But that was caused by a 12 percent increase in the number of hunters, he explained, rather than declines in local deer herds. He noted the number of hunters in GMU 284 similarly increased by 11 percent, but hunter success remained relatively constant at 34 percent.  Post-hunt surveys last year yielded buck-to-doe ratios of 21 per 100 in GMU 272 and 24 per 100 in GMU 284, suggesting moderate buck escapement rates during the 2008 season despite increased hunting pressure.

Finger reminds deer hunters that GMU 284 is mostly private property and that access permission must be secured prior to hunting. GMU 272 includes 53,000 acres of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area Complex, most of which is open to hunting. He expects deer harvest in GMU 278 (Wahluke) – which is open now for early muzzleloader whitetail hunting and will be open for modern firearm hunting Oct. 17 – to be low again this year. Since 2001, total harvest in GMU 278 has averaged just 35 deer with hunter success running about 17 percent. GMU 278 does provide about 36,000 acres of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area Complex, most of which is open to hunting.

“Overall, deer hunters in all groups should fare quite well during the 2009 season in the Basin,” Finger said.  “Last year’s post-hunt fawn-to-doe ratios indicate herd productivity was moderate in all surveyed units and buck-to-doe ratios have steadily increased the past few years. Despite last winter’s formidable conditions, we did not observe above normal winter mortality and populations are believed to have remained stable or increased slightly.”

Opening weekend of waterfowl hunting in the Columbia Basin should offer good numbers of mallards, teal, wigeon , and gadwall , Finger reported, even though overall duck production in the district was down about 25 percent this year.

MATT LITTLE WITH A LIMIT OF GREENHEADS FROM CRAB CREEK, TAKEN A BIT LATER IN THE SEASON. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

MATT LITTLE WITH A LIMIT OF GREENHEADS FROM CRAB CREEK, TAKEN A BIT LATER IN THE SEASON. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

“That will primarily affect early season hunting,” he said, “since the peak number of migrant waterfowl is usually in December.  Regardless, there will be local birds available on the opener, including some wood ducks concentrating in stands of flooded Russian olive trees in the wasteways.”

Finger said hunters using the Winchester Regulated Access Area should be cautious about pintails , which can be abundant there early in the season. Only two of the seven duck daily bag limit can be pintails.  Rules for using WDFW’s Regulated Access Areas can be found on page 28 of the 2009-2010 Migratory Waterfowl hunting pamphlet.

SOUTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON
Jeff Bernatowicz, WDFW district wildlife biologist from Yakima, reports quail populations are looking better for the first time in half-a-dozen years.

“Nesting was late but as summer progressed we saw more and larger quail broods,” he said. “I think hunters can expect better numbers than last year anyway.”

Gray or Hungarian partridge numbers in the district should also be better, but still not many birds, Bernatowicz says.

“Chukar populations have also been low the last few years, probably due to an extended drought,” he said. “But decent rain fell during May and June this year and good production was seen in some areas. Populations should be up, but probably below average long-term.”
Mike Livingston, WDFW district wildlife biologist from Pasco, reports few partridge, but probably a better year for quail hunting in the southeast end of the region.

“Spring precipitation was favorable with lots of nesting and brood rearing cover,” Livingston said. “We’ve had plenty of insects and seed producing plants for chicks. Field observations indicate lots of broods of various ages are present.”

Livingston says the best quail habitat in district is in north Franklin County on and surrounding WDFW’s Windmill Ranch Wildlife Area and the register-to-hunt Bailie Memorial Youth Ranch. Other areas include the Hanford Reach National Monument’s Ringold Unit, Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge along the Columbia, and the Army Corps of Engineers Big Flat and Lost Island Habitat Management Units along the Snake River.

“Anywhere along the rivers where riparian and herbaceous vegetation intersect will provide quail habitat,” Livingston said. “An ideal setting is where Russian olives or willows are adjacent to black greasewood or sagebrush.”

Local waterfowl production appears to be low this year in the south Basin, Livingston noted, with both breeding pair counts and brood counts below the five-year average for the district.
“There should be plenty of ducks for opening weekend, but success will likely taper off as the ducks get ‘educated,’” Livingston said. “Then we’ll have to wait for the migrants to arrive in the mid- to late-season.”

Good waterfowl hunting is available on small ponds and lakes on WDFW’s Windmill Ranch Wildlife Area, Bailie Memorial Youth Ranch and elsewhere in north Franklin County. The Army Corp of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provide hunting areas along the Snake and Columbia Rivers for both bank and boat hunters.

Waterfowl production in the northwest end of the region increased over a poor year in 2008, Bernatowicz reported.

“Most of the harvest in this district is on migrant birds later in the year,” he said. “Local grain production is up, and if favorable weather conditions occur, there should be enough food to hold migrants in the area.”

Bernatowicz notes there might be a slight increase in deer numbers this year in the Yakima district.

“Fawn production has been pretty good, but the hair-slip syndrome seems to be a nagging problem,” he said. “We’ve seen a deer population decline by 30 to 50 percent since about 2003, first documented in Game Management Units 328 – 346, then spreading south through GMUs 352 – 368.”

VIC MONAHAN'S BIG KITTITAS COUNTY BUCK. (VIC MONAHAN)

VIC MONAHAN'S BIG KITTITAS COUNTY BUCK. (VIC MONAHAN)

Livingston reports deer population estimates in the southeast district are below the five-year average for the area, and this year’s hunting may not be as good as last season.

“Our highest concentrations of deer, which are mostly mule deer with just a few whitetails, are in GMU 381 Kahlotus in Franklin County,” he said. “We get a large percentage migrating in from northern units later in October and November. Hunter success rates here average about 33 percent for modern firearm, but that tends to be high due to restricted access and lack of cover for deer.”

Livingston notes most of the district is private, open country farmland. There are some WDFW “Feel Free To Hunt” and “Hunt By Written Permission” acres where hunters can gain access to deer, but he advises pre-season scouting.

Hot Steelie Opener On Wenatchee

Don Talbot trundled a cooler down to the Wenatchee River very early this morning, and the few anglers gathered there for the steelhead opener chuckled.

But not for long.

“I’ve got a full cooler here,” notes Talbot, who was manning the fishing counter at Hooked On Toys (509-663-0740) in Wenatchee when we contacted him just after 10:30 today.

SHANE MAGNUSON WITH TWO WENATCHEE RIVER STEELHEAD FROM THE 2007 SEASON. (uppercolumbiaguideservices.com)

SHANE MAGNUSON WITH TWO WENATCHEE RIVER STEELHEAD FROM THE 2007 SEASON. (uppercolumbiaguideservices.com)

He says he bonked half of his daily limit of four hatchery steelhead at the Walking Bridge Hole just above the mouth, and the other anglers there also enjoyed good action.

So what the heck was the hot lure?

“Spoons first,” says Talbot, Ste-Lees, Wobble-Rites, Pot-o-Golds, “then bobbers and jigs, Corkies third. But we never even got to the Corkies.”

He spent part of the morning videotaping the fishing.

“I was a very busy man jumping all over the place,” he says.

So were the fish, by the sounds of Talbot’s report, jumping all over, throwing hooks — but not all of them. Two of the fish that hit the beach went at least 15 pounds, he says.

“I think some B-runs got lost,” Talbot chuckles.

The Wenatchee is open from the mouth to 800 feet below Tumwater Dam under selective-gear rules. Also, all adipose fin-clipped steelhead must be retained, and there is a night closure is in effect. Steelhead with one or more round holes punched in the caudal (tail) fin must be released.