Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Humpy Wrastlin’ Good Times

So I went to the circus this past Saturday, and by that I don’t mean the Puyallup or Skokomish rivers, though I did fish for salmon.

Amy, River and I hit the big top in Everett — elephants, tigers, nutso acrobats, clowns, women fired out of a cannon, the whole shebang.

Pretty fun, actually — but it was a pretty close thing that it wasn’t me getting fired out of the howitzer.

I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but in a sense, my life has become a circus act itself, with me tightrope walking between magazine job, pregnant wife, being a dad and expecting No. 2 around Thanksgiving.

On Saturday, I figured I had just enough time to take my high-wire act to the Skykomish to fish for humpies for about an hour, hour and a half –maybe an hour and 45 minutes if I was lucky and there were no complications.

The first major hurdle was getting River to sleep for his two-hour midday nap. No nap and he’d be our own little caged lion at the circus, which started at 3:30.

Still, it’s fairly easy to get him to fall asleep. Drive car, play soothing music, maybe sing a lullaby or two, River nods off.

Only this time he didn’t so easily. I had to keep driving up Highway 522 further than I wanted before he finally fell asleep and I could turn around to drop him off at my parents’ place. Where he woke up.

Argh.

I laid the 26-month-old on the couch and covered him up. He watched me with tired eyes, so I shooed my mom out of the room in hopes he would nod off as I made a quick sandwich.

He still was laying down as I made for the door — but he was also still awake. I told mom to maybe hold his hand to help him get to sleep, then prayed he would drop off.

I was already 15 to 20 minutes behind where I’d wanted to be, meaning even less time to fish, so I zipped out to Tualco on the Skykomish below Monroe and bounced across the farmer’s field/parking lot to its far corner where I jumped out of the car at precisely 11:42 a.m.

There were more than a half dozen rigs there, which didn’t bode well, but all I needed was a rock from which to wail on the pinks. I skinnied under the barb-wire fence and then held onto my two float-rigged rods with one hand and a green rope with the other and rappeled down to the river.

There were three guys in my spot — but all in the wrong spot.

Well, “wrong” spot may be too strong as they had a pair of bonked pinks in the shallows.

But they were also fishing with a big, ol’ downed tree in the water in front of them. Puzzling, especially considered there was an open rock downstream.

Oh, well, it was mine now.

I hopped aboard and started running my crappie-jig/speed-fishing routine.

At this particular hole, and with this particular setup — bobber, 1/2-ounce egg sinker, 30-inch leader, 1/16- or 1/32-ounce jighead and pink/light pink crappie tube jig — you can make three, maybe even four casts a minute because you’re really only fishing about a 20- to 30-foot stretch of the river, and only fishing, at most, 10 feet out.

Any further out and the setup becomes ineffective, possibly because of depth and current speed affecting its presentation. Run it too far downstream and you’re wasting your time with a wrist-reeling exercise.

At least that’s what I’ve discovered in extensive test fishing here in previous seasons.

Probably having a billion fish in the river helps too, no?

Indeed, pinks were splashing their way upriver, past the gang of anglers on the bank about 30 yards further down, past the guys in the drift boat, flat bottom, kayak and, yes, float tube. They splashed on past me, up towards the horde at Hanson’s, and then towards Monroe and beyond. The Sky was pink, pink, pink.

So it wasn’t too long before I had my first takedown — and first completely lost setup, a result of a bad knot-tying decision (an embarrasingly common occurence, I must admit).

I reached for the other rod, which sported a size 1 half-and-half Dick Nite under a bobber. I’ve had fantastic luck on DNs in the past, mostly drift-fishing (earlier that day, and a bit below where I now fished, a friend hooked and released 15 on them), but I’ve found that they occassionally work underneath a float.

With limited time, I gave it about five minutes, but without any takedowns, I set that rod aside and retied another crappie jig on the other.

What followed was approximately 1 hour and 14 minutes of humpy wrastlin’ good times.

Pink after pink bit (yes, bit; the hook was in the tip of their snout or upper jaw every time). I easily missed more strikes and lost more fish on than I got to shore. It was ridiculous, and I didn’t want to leave, even though the sun had moved well around on my left cheek and was beginning to peer accusingly into my eyes.

Yes, I know, it’s getting late, now go away!

I was starting to get bit another way and wanted to experiment with it. At the tail end of some drifts, as I either clicked the thumb-release over or began to reel up, fish were biting, probably as the jig swung up in their faces.

I gave it another dozen last casts.

And then another dozen more.

But by now my fairly fine-tuned inner clock was starting to scream it was getting late. I’d budgeted about an hour of driving time between the river, River and home again, where I needed to pick up Amy before going to the circus, and the damned clock said I was pushing it.

So, after a final satisfying battle with a humpy that got away at shore, I called it a day.

As I walked past, one of the three anglers who’d been fishing above me (and catching fish) said, “You were thumpin’ them down there.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but it almost wasn’t fair. I could see them coming through in big schools right in front of me.”

I climbed up through the brush, jumped in the car and saw I’d used up every single available minute of fishing time. It was 1:33. I had 57 minutes to get River and meet Amy to go to the circus.

River never did fall asleep at my folks’, but as I prepared for a pretty serious and deserved evil eye from Amy, I lucked out again. Junior zonked out JUST as we got back to our place, picked Momma up. And then he awoke fully refreshed as we arrived at the circus 40 minutes later.

Phew, close one for AW.

Otherwise, yours truly might just be blogging about his new life as a clown working for Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey.

The Interim Becomes The Chief

Phil Anderson, who’s served as the interim director at the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife since last December, was chosen yesterday to be its new director.

The 59-year-old longtime Westport man was among six finalists for the position that the Fish & Wildlife Commission looked hard at over this summer before they voted to hire him permanently.

Twin press releases from the Commission and WDFW laud him as “an avid hunter, fisher and birdwatcher.”

Commission members said they sought a director with a strong conservation ethic, sound fiscal-management and leadership skills and expertise in intergovernmental relations.

“We’ve had a healthy discussion on the future of the Department of Fish and Wildlife and we’re confident that together the commission and Phil will set the priorities to guide the department in its vital mission of protecting Washington’s natural resources,” said Miranda Wecker, chair of the citizen commission.

Tony Floor, director of Fishing Affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association and Northwest Salmon Derby Series as well as a retired WDFW staffer, was hopeful for sport fishing.

“I have known Phil for 35 years, by fishing alongside of him on his Westport-based charter boat to countless meetings at WDFW. He is as sharp as a blade and understands the sport fishing industry. It is my hope, through Phil’s experience and knowledge, that we can continue to elevate sport fishing and related seasons to a higher plateau. Easier said than done,” he said.

A press release from the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission today is headlined “Anderson Good Choice to lead WDFW.”

Anderson took over after the resignation of Dr. Jeffrey Koenings late last year, and so far the job has been anything but a cakewalk. The department had its budget slashed severely and had to lay off a large number of employees, neither good for morale. If Gov. Gregoire buys off on it, he will be paid $141,000 a year.

Anderson previously served as assistant director of WDFW’s Intergovernmental Resource Management Program, leading the department’s North of Falcon team which sets annual salmon-fishing seasons for marine waters including Puget Sound and the coast. Anderson also is WDFW’s representative to the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC).

Anderson joined WDFW in 1994 after serving seven years on the PFMC as a private citizen, including duties as PFMC vice chairman and chairman. Anderson began his professional fishery career over 30 years ago as owner and operator of a charter fishing boat business. He attended Grays Harbor College.

I can’t say I have a lot of experience with Anderson, but I’m willing to give the guy a chance, see what comes out of the agency now that we’re past the budget and personnel issues. For starters, he’s almost always returned my phone calls, which can’t be said for some of the brass in the wildlife department. When I’ve seen him in action, such as at North of Falcon or Puget Sound salmon management, he’s stressed working with the tribes, perhaps not a popular tone with some, but that’s what comanagement of the resources is about.

Early online reaction at piscatorial pursuits included this by fishNphysichian:

“Cautiously optimistic that Phil can take the agency to places it has never been.

I think he will be a champion of maximally exploiting selective fisheries to ensure that conservation objectives are met.

All we need is for the tribes to buy in the concept more whole-heartedly.

Without the same conservation objectives, the co-managers are like two unyoked horses pulling a very heavy wagon. Each horse can pull as hard as it wants in the direction it wants, but until they have a mutually agreed upon game plan, that wagon ain’t goin’ nowhere.

BTW… congrats Phil. I had faith in you every step of the way.

Responded Grizz1

The other finalist looked like a shoe in until the tribes put massive pressure on governor Gregoire who in turn put lots of pressure on enough commissioners to turn the vote in Phil’s favor. Those huge tribal contributions to Gregoire created just the political capital the tribes needed to get their good friend Phil into the office. Expect Phil to shed his temporary sheep’s clothing quickly and cave to the tribes. The next NOF series of meetings will be proof of this prediction. Selective fisheries such as those in areas 9 & 10 are already in jeopardy on the tribal drawing board. Politics as usual is in the driver’s seat.

Oh, No, The Jacks Are At It Again

Remember that whole off-the-chart jack Chinook run this spring on the Columbia?

Not to be outdone, fall’s jack kings are running up the count at Bonneville Dam as well.

“The total jack return is already the second highest since at least 1990,” a fact sheet released by Washington and Oregon salmon managers minutes ago reads. “The cumulative jack count to date is over twice as high as any cumulative jack count to date since at least 1990.”

The counts at Bonneville through September 9 is 67,831.

The ten-year average for August 1 through that same date? Just over 17,150.

“A record daily jack count of 4,293 occurred on September 9,” managers add.

This spring, nearly 82,000 jacks returned, more than three times the previous record.

So what the heck does it mean?

For starters, it means that a lot of Spring Creek fall tules, Bonneville Pool and upriver brights went out as 2-year-olds and found pretty good ocean conditions, says Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission supervisory biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver.

So good that some of those jacks caught in the Lower Columbia in the past month and a half were the size of small adults rather than 3-year-old salmon.

And how about next year? What might this surge of jacks mean for 2010’s URB run?

While high returns of springer jacks have not neccesarily meant strong adult returns the following season in recent years, fall jack returns are more reliable for plugging into jacks vs. adult return prediction models, Hymer says.

Stay tuned.

A Big Bull And 3 Big Kings

Stop sending these killer fish and game pics, folks — they’re TOO distracting as I run up against the deadline for my next edition!! How am I ever gonna get anything done when I’m drooling all over my keyboard??!!

Of course, I’m just kidding about not sending shots — you could win big prizes from Hi-Viz and Lazer Sharp — but, my god, the elk yer killing and kings yer catching are something else!

Take the 7×7 bull that came in late yesterday afternoon.

Let me repeat that, a 7×7 bull.

For a first-time bowhunter.

And let me repeat that part too.

First-time bowhunter.

It wasn’t THAT easy, of course, and there was a chance Ted Spencer would never recover his trophy … Abby Spencer picks up the tale:

“First-time bowhunting on the Oregon Coast, Ted Spencer got a 7×7 elk hunting with his dad, brother and family friend.

“They went out on the second day 8/30/09 after opening day for bow elk season. His brother went up the canyon and Ted stayed down below. His brother called it in and it came charging at Ted. He pulled back his bow and fired an arrow at the elk.  He fired a second arrow and the elk took off.

“Ted, knowing that he shot the elk, went on the hunt for the trail.  They hunted for 9 1/2 hours, losing the trail on and off.

“Sick that they hadn’t found it, defeated they headed back to camp for the night allowing the elk time to bed down.

“The next morning, all four of them went out after the trail again. Within an hour Jack Spencer, Ted’s dad, had found the blood trail and they had found the 7×7.”

The money shot:

TED SPENCER JOINS OREGON'S BIG-COAST-BULL-KILLIN' CLUB IN HIS FIRST SEASON WITH A BULL. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

TED SPENCER JOINS OREGON'S BIG-COAST-BULL-KILLIN' CLUB IN HIS FIRST SEASON WITH A BULL. (HI-VIZ PHOTO CONTEST)

Then there’s the trio of gorgeous — gorgeous — fall Chinook from the Columbia at Rainier, Oregon, a whopping 75 pounds worth of salmon caught on wobblers and homemade spinners by the Olson clan of Thorpe, Washington. They emailed their shots exactly 2 hours and 25 minutes after I got Spencer’s photos. I’ll let the Olsons’ pics speak for themselves.

MADELYNN OLSON, 9, AND HER 25-POUNDER. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

MADELYNN OLSON, 9, AND HER 25-POUNDER. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

BRENDA OLSON'S BRIGHT KING, ANOTHER 25-POUNDER. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

BRENDA OLSON'S BRIGHT KING, ANOTHER 25-POUNDER. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

JOHN OLSON'S KING WENT 25 TOO. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

JOHN OLSON'S KING WENT 25 TOO. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

I ain’t making ANY guarantees, but I’ll tell you what, Ted’s bull pic has caught the eyes of the Photo Contest Judge. The bowman stands to win a $250 gift certificate from Hi-Viz Shooting Systems.

And the Olsons’ fish pics are pretty nice too. Monthly Lazer Sharp winners get a package of premium Lazer Sharp hooks, swivels, bobbers, baits, scents as well as a Lazer Sharp hat, and in the running for our grand prize, a fishing trip for two up north and $770 worth of Wright & McGill gear for the trip!

Tuna-tastic Year Off Oregon

In the early years of this decade, it was a good year if anglers hauled more than 3,000 albacore back to Newport, Depoe Bay, Tillamook and other ports on the Oregon coast. These days they often land several times that many in a week.

And through late August, Beaver State sport fishermen have landed the second most albacore on record, some 37,300 — during what has turned out to be a pretty decent coho year too.

JASON HARRIS SHOWS OFF ONE OF THE ESTIMATED 37,300 ALBACORE LANDED OFF OREGON THIS YEAR THROUGH LATE AUGUST, THE SECONDMOST SINCE 1999. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

JASON HARRIS SHOWS OFF ONE OF THE ESTIMATED 37,300 ALBACORE LANDED OFF OREGON THIS YEAR THROUGH LATE AUGUST, THE SECONDMOST SINCE 1999. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

This late in the season it’s doubtful we will hit the all-time record — 2007’s 58,900 — but it’s proof that Oregon’s sport fleet has adapted quite well to this new offshore fishery.

“It wasn’t that long ago that ago that guys didn’t feel comfortable going more than 10 miles out,” says Eric Schindler, an ODFW ocean catch-sampler in Newport and albacore angler himself.

He says that better boats, GPS systems and more reliable equipment has led to the surge in interest and catch.

“The fleet has changed. They changed to go offshore for Pacific halibut. If anything, going 35 miles out has become no big deal,” Schindler says.

Reliable catch data begins in 1999, when an estimated 1,500 albies were brought back to port, according to Schindler. And while it’s grown pretty much every year since — 2,900 in 2000, 8,600 in 2001 — there have been fallback seasons when warm water stayed well offshore or the weather just wasn’t good enough.

Then again, in early July, tuna weather was poor, keeping anglers off the ocean for awhile — and then the next week, they caught 11,000, ODFW tweeted. That helped make this season’s catch nearly half again as large as the next closest, 2008’s 24,300.

Schindler says 3,600 were landed in 2002, 10,400 in 2003, 17,700 in 2004, 5,000 in 2005 and 11,600 in 2006.

“It’s exciting to see the fishery grow,” he says. “It’s fun.”

Washington’s largest tuna catches occurred in 2007 and 2006. Both saw 25,000 landed at Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay.

Will Oregon’s good albacore fishing continue? Schindler thinks so, pointing out to sea to strong year-classes.

But we couldn’t help ourselves: What, we wanted to know, will be the Next Big Thing off Oregon? Will it be Humboldt squid?

While Schindler hopes this “very voracious predator” doesn’t keep coming north from Baja and California, he doubts they will ever be anything more than “one of those off-the-wall fisheries, things guys do from time to time.”

“We get guys talking about swordfish, salmon shark and thresher shark,” he adds. “Swordfish are further out than albacore. Bluefin tuna might be it. There’s not a lot caught, but the numbers are going up. We’ve got people talking about how to do it. They’re supposedly a better fighter, a better sushi-grade fish, it’s something different.”